Through my self-employed career, one question has been omnipresent: what do you do and how have you done it? Mostly, of course, from people who look in and think my life is spent on a laptop, in interesting locations, simply making money. If only life was that simple and business that easy to generate. It’s not.
Of course, in an ideal world, that would be the ideal scenario and somewhat the reason behind the idea of Short Motivation. To inspire people to get motivated, active and out of the office and into a pair of shorts. Ideally, we’d prefer you not have to return to the office, but of course, everyone has to work to earn money to pay the bills.
But, is this really possible? Can you really find a life equilibrium where you explore different locations (or effectively choose to live anywhere), work from a laptop, yet at the same time earning enough money to justify this lifestyle (plus pay bills, put enough money to save and not worry about the near future)?
Actually, it is possible to reach this equilibrium. There are a few variables you need to put in place first. The key thing is a platform. You need to build a platform in order to get yourself in a position where you can launch this lifestyle.
There are some basic rules you need to follow if you want to be successful, work for yourself, but make it a cost-affordable entity. The first rule is, do not live a lifestyle you cannot afford. Sad, but true, Millenials have grown up on a lifestyle of borrowing where it’s become all-too-easy to temporarily ‘enjoy’ life at someone else’s expense – whether it’s someone else paying or putting it on your card to worry about later. That “later” almost never comes around and you constantly circle around a lifestyle you’ve developed where it has to be constantly financed by third-parties.
Ask yourself, when does this cycle end? How will it end? Are you suddenly going to wake up to a huge unexpected pay rise? Hoping to win the lottery? Are you waiting/hoping for someone to offer you a tonne of cash to pay off all these card bills or are you going to wake up one morning and think that it’s about time you do something about it, yourself?
Having The Right Attitude
The difference between a person who succeeds in their own venture and someone who limits themselves to working for other people mostly stems from having the right attitude.
By attitude, you have to wake up on a morning, wake up early, with a sheer determination to succeed. It has to be your primary goal (at least until you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve), it has to be the driving force. This attitude is a will to make a point to yourself and other people. Make a difference. It’s a driving force that underpins how you view your day and what you want to achieve.
This attitude is also a major stumbling block, too. If you’re too laid back, you’ll never have the fire to succeed. It has to come from inside, your belief. Nor can be taught or can it be offered to someone. If you find you wake up on a morning and the only things you think about are what you have to do to get through the day, then this is the opposite attitude to what you need to make a difference.
Look at the people who surround you who have made a difference, who have set up their own business and made it successful. What do they have other people do not have? It’s probably not very obvious unless you look carefully.
They have vision. This is a longer-term view of plans and what you aim to achieve. By ‘vision’, we don’t mean day to day tasks such as saving for a mortgage, going travelling or moving to another country. Effectively, anyone can do these things. By ‘vision’, we mean these people want to make a difference. They know they can make a difference and they can see, clearly, how they are going to make a difference.
They then set out with a determination to make this vision happen. It might take months, it could even take years, but they’ll see it through.
So, set an end goal. Where you want to be or where you want to end up. Figure that end goal and then work backwards and establish the methods required to reach this objective. This is your vision. Write down the various paths you need to get there – it might not always pan out exactly as planned (it almost never does), it might take far longer than planned (often the case), but keep that fixed end goal in mind and you’ll succeed.
Money Shouldn’t Be A Driving Factor
When I first went to university in a cold Newcastle, one of those days where a combination of these elements struck me one morning. In those days it was just complicated to get people connected to the internet. It was almost as if internet service providers only wanted geeks to get connected, so your average home found it too difficult so didn’t bother. There had to be another way. An easier way.
So, in 1996, whilst at uni, I made it my mission to make it easier to get people connected. This was my vision. A longer-term vision of change. Something I was determined I was going to happen. I had almost no money as I was at university. But money wasn’t the driving factor. I didn’t want to do this as an idea to get rich. I didn’t even know how I was going to make it happen, exactly. I wasn’t a developer (not to that level, anyhow).
I saw a clear vision and an idea. It was much more about finding a mechanism to help people get connected, plus, if I’m fair, I wanted to be known for making a difference. I know if I made it work, people would talk, magazines would promote and that was my initial goal. Everything else follows naturally.
Over the next 12 months, I woke up each morning with a passion. Continued with my studies, but my driving factor was now the will to see out my vision. Behind the scenes I planned, talked to people who I could help, shared my idea with people who I thought could be trusted and started on the bare bones of the project.
Whilst in the last year of my university course I shocked my course leader by informing them that I wouldn’t be applying to go and work with an existing company for 6 months (in the late 90s, university students would often have a ‘sandwich period’ where they’d go and work in a successful company, learning the ropes, for 6-12 months), that I was going to start my own business instead.
Their initial (and second and third) response was a point-blank “no, that’s not part of the course. You have to learn from another company and then write a report on your work experience. No-one has ever launched their own business on a sandwich course!”, but that vision and determination shone through. I insisted I was going to start the business and even went on to say I’m starting it whether they like it or not (I’d already spent 12 months working on the plans).
So, they asked for detailed business plans, which was presented. They relented, the business was launched. With that attitude I mentioned above, I woke up early each morning with extra determination to succeed. Now I had an additional reason: I had to prove to the course director that a) a student could launch their own business, b) make it a success and c) write up a report on their own launch.
After hiring developers from Germany (and many German trips later, which seemed very odd as a student in the 90s), NetConnect software was launched in 1997, lauded, obtained a huge amount of press in the UK, Germany, United States and other countries and point was proved.
One thing I’ll add is that there’s no better feeling than starting your own company which can both make a difference and become successful. There’s nothing as entertaining, exciting and beneficial as your own launch. You can work for any commercial brand, the biggest brand, embrace their framework, but it will never ever match the excitement of seeing people talking about your own products. The fruit of your own hard work.
One of the key reasons people fail to start their own business is that they simply lack belief in themselves. But, you do not need to be amazing at one particular skill. A long time ago I realised you only need to be very good with a couple of different skills you can bring together. If you’re good at sales and good at technical content, bring those together and you have two key skills you can combine.
But, it’s the belief you can make a difference is the driving factor. If you don’t believe, it will never ever happen. If you don’t make other people believe, they will always be hesitant.
People still think they are “young” in their early 30s. External expectations wait for no-one. The natural life cycle moves on and leaves you behind and younger people, who have recently left university, with lower bills and living costs, come up behind you and do it all better, meaning it’s much harder to make a difference, later (unless you are blessed with a lot of spare cash) and when you are still young, you don’t always realise this until it’s too late.
So, start young! By your early 30s most people are settling down, are planning a family and, frankly, that scuppers most people’s ability to take a risk, have belief and start their own business. Why? A family takes priority, takes additional funds and also requires stability.
Remember, in your 20s, you feel you can take on the world. Super-fit, in your prime and you think this feeling will never end. By the time you reach your forties, you’re a different person. Harder to get enthused to graft, less energy to see you through the day and the feeling of ‘been there, done that’ which makes it tougher to get started. If you don’t start young, it’s less likely to happen later. Again, that’s a lack of foresight and a benefit of hindsight – you know how energetic you were 20 years prior.
Listen To Your Mentors
Frankly, they are often right and you only realise they are right, years down the line when you’re their age. Life genuinely does benefit from a lot of hindsight as foresight is difficult for anyone to predict. Those mentors have seen it all, been there, done it, have taken the risks, failed, succeeded and realise what works and doesn’t work. So listen.
Surprisingly, they really do know what they are doing, even though it doesn’t look like they know what they are doing. Never ever give a mentor a hard time. Never cross a mentor. Remember, ultimately, they don’t need you. They offer support and advice as a gesture of goodwill. One day you’ll be in that privileged position and you’ll realise what you have to offer other people. So, again, listen and learn.
When you’re young, it’s hard to accept advice. You think you know it all. It’s easy to get angry when offered advice. But anger gets you nowhere, apart from being effective in a fight. If that’s your vision, fair enough, but if you want to succeed, you need to completely alter your entire mindset.
Essentially this is hindsight versus foresight. It’s just much more difficult to see the benefits of putting foundations in place, but it’s easy to see how they benefitted you in hindsight. But you don’t have hindsight unless you take the risk, listen to your mentors, take advice, trust and see it through.
It’s highly unlikely you can start a successful business on your own. Through my self-employed career, I’ve nearly always had to hire other people, whether as an employee or business partner.
There are two golden rules. Work hard. Just because you employ someone, it doesn’t mean you should let them do all the work. It’s your business! You need to be seen to be hands-on and that attitude should rub off (and if it doesn’t, ask yourself if they are the right employee or partner).
The second rule is, share the same vision. If you work with a business partner, potentially one with a different skillset from yours, both partners should share the same vision, same determination and same attitude to succeed. If only one of the partners is the driving force behind the business, the result will be tension and a much more plodding and meandering road to the end result (if you get there at all). It will simply take longer to reach the shared vision.
All team members or partners, need to agree on their contribution and then add their equal share to drive the vision forward.
Listen To Positive Influences
Sadly there are a number of people out there who simply cannot understand your vision as they cannot see beyond next month. Most people live month by month, that’s why they work for other companies and are set tasks to complete. They worry about April, in March and June in May are rarely long term. This is a cycle that’s repeated, continues through life and rarely changes.
To be successful with your own vision, whether yourself or as part of a team, make sure you listen to the right people. There will always be people who do not believe in your mindset or vision, or try and talk you out of ‘taking unnecessary risks’, who think you should be focussed on ‘earning a regular wage’. This is all fine if that’s what you want. But establish what you want and your vision and stick to it and try and make sure you bring others on board. One day, down the line, it will be these negative people who wondered how you made it happen.
Also, remember, you can still earn and launch your own business. Few people just give up their work and fully commit to a new business unless it’s established. There’s a balance. But, make sure you graft. Only you can make a difference to your business. If you put more effort into living life or earning-to-live, neglecting the new business to a sideline effort, it will never ever get to the point where it’s successful. A new business needs to be nurtured and requires graft to grow.
Don’t Blame Others
Another modern day trait which has surfaced over the last twenty or so years.
These days people genuinely satisfy their failings based on other people’s influence or advice, citing that it’s their advice which got them into their mess. They claim the reason they can’t save is a result of influences on their current situation, not their complete lack of foresight.
People around them listen and believe, for so long. Until they believe no longer and sit up and realise that the influences are mostly their own – things don’t change. Then they disagree and split.
Everyone is their own castle. Ultimately, as the saying goes, you live or die on the sword. Take responsibility! If you find your life doesn’t change, over a period of time, there’s possibly a reason for this, which is closer to home. An ability to save is likely as you’re spending too much and overload your cards, rather than try and put money aside for future events.
This goes back to the ‘vision’ statement above. Have an idea of what you want to achieve, longer-term goals, see the end point and work back from this. What do you want to do and how are you going to achieve it, then work out how much you need to put aside to make it happen and make it your goal.
If you wake up every morning thinking “if it wasn’t for….I’d have achieved by now….” then nothing will change. If you want to carry on thinking like that as it makes you happier. Feel free. No-one will stop you, but you’ll be left behind.
This might sound very obvious, but some people really do not like things going wrong and when things go wrong, they dwell on it for months or even years. Things go wrong. It’s called human life. One thing you can’t control is other people (however much you try). You can’t control how their think, their emotions, their vision, their faults or their requirements.
Think of setbacks as an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to avoid in future, but don’t dwell on them. People will let you down. Companies may not pay you, you might get your fingers burned from time to time. It happens.
Every successful person has had their fair share of pain. No-one is pain-free, problem-free or issue-free. You might not be fully aware of their pain or setbacks as they choose not to share this with you. Succesful people like to portray success.
It’s how you build from mistakes, other people’s mistakes or these setbacks, that is different. If you dwell and think a setback should have been avoided, you’ll collect them over a period of time and they’ll burden you unnecessarily. Life is too short to burden your vision from previous issues, experiences or influences.
Put Yourself ‘Out There’
You’re not going to succeed sitting on the sofa on a laptop in your comfies. Life doesn’t work around your requirements. It doesn’t owe anyone a favour. It doesn’t guarantee anyone success. It has to be earned. The world won’t wrap itself around your lifestyle, either. You have to adapt, put in the graft. And if you don’t, don’t blame the world for failure.
You can only make yourself seen or heard by getting out and making yourself seen or heard. And you do it early, not later. Don’t wait. What are you waiting for, exactly?
Back in 1997, when setting up my own internet software business, despite being ridiculously young, I made it a mission to go to every meeting, network, go to every event and make myself known. I built a huge collection of business cards and had a collection of people who I’d regard as either a mentor, a successful person in my field or a potential investor. But, this wasn’t achieved from the computer. You can only email so many people and influence from your fingertips.
You might be thinking, here and now, who on earth carries a business card in 2018? Well, failure number one. You never know who you’re going to meet. You should carry one everywhere, even if it’s used as a token introduction. Remember, potential investors grew up old-school and by putting in a shift, handing our cards at events. If you want to impress, you need to impress the right people. The people who can help drive your business forward.
To succeed, get out and about. Sell yourself, sell your concept. Smile, be confident and good things naturally follow from your efforts. If you look at the small successful companies, often these are successful as the person who setup the company made an effort to go around and speak with the press, talk to (potential) customers and network.
Like we mentioned earlier, you are your own PR company. Your company is reflected by yourself, not by your laptop. If you don’t make the effort, people will only make a limited amount of effort for you. Humans are social beings and this applies in business too – people prefer to see the people they are doing business with, as an example.
What’s The Worst That Might Happen?
I’m often asked, “what will happen, if…?”. If you live your life worrying about the circumstances of perception or what someone might say to you, based on your business decision making and vision, you’ll never achieve your goals as you’ll live your life constantly fearing the “what if?” scenario (which almost never happens anyhow).
This is definitely another recent phenomenon. Being successful is far more than just your image and, effectively, is a shallow approach to achieving success with your own venture. Of course, always look as good, as presentable as you possibly can – high standards will get you noticed and through the door.
Remember, there are many people who do not like you succeeding in their own venture as they secretly want to be achieving their own goals. In the UK at least, people love to see others fail. It’s almost a national past time. It doesn’t help people succeed as we fear failure based on what other people think of us. It’s better to have tried than not to have tried at all.
Bear in mind, most people do not care. I’ll repeat. They do not really care. This fear is self-generated by ourselves and is not real. The fear of what a friend might say or someone might think we’re something we’re not. Could there be a worse fear? Can you imagine being thought of something you’re not – I’d have sleepless seconds just thinking about it.
People care even less as they get older. They have a family and the primary focus is placed elsewhere. In your 20s, you spend your time worrying about perception – how people might view you. Their judgement of you and what you’re doing. Blame social media for this. Look at some people’s Facebook page and the only photos they put up are the ones showing them having a great time, so we naturally think they only ever have a great time and that’s what everyone is doing every weekend and so should we – you don’t see the arguments, fallouts or money issues.
Do you really care about those people? By the time you’re in your mid-30s you’ll wonder why you even bothered caring about what other people might (or might not) think as you’ll have more important things to worry about. And so will they.
Create A Platform
The easiest way to create any successful business is to start with a solid platform. This includes building an audience, creating a sustainable social media campaign and formulating a high enough standard to compete against organisations which have many years of experience.
Believing “ok” is sufficient enough to enable you to compete will never suffice when establishing your own brand, for one important reason: you have to be noticed. Whatever you choose to do, try and be the best you can become within your arena. Don’t think you can both develop a new brand and, at the same time, make it a success, just from believing the content, work or service you provide is “ok”. Sadly, being “ok” won’t bring in the revenue stream you require.
The primary advantage of being an employee for a large organisation is that they provide you with a platform (an existing audience, strong brand, established footprint, marketing funds, the tools to perform your job) and, frankly, you only need to be competent to remain an employee. Competent people will rarely be fired. Very competent staff will be promoted. Rare excellent employees will be rightly recognised. However, you aren’t working for a large organisation. You don’t have the luxury of being just a competent employee of your own brand. You have to be excellent, from the get-go or your new company will never be able to compete.
Once you create the platform (established audience, some brand awareness, recognition within your industry), then you are able to reap some of the rewards.
It Takes Time – Be Prepared
If you’ve never run your own business, be prepared for the length of time before you get started, make any money or even make a profit. When you start your own business, remember you start with….nothing. No customer base, no audience, no framework, no brand. This means it takes additional time to get these elements in place. Time to build an audience, build a brand people recognise, that other businesses will do business with and, in return, make a profit.
It can take years before a business goes anywhere, realistically. If you look at the history of even the largest company, most of them were launched and barely made an indentation for the first 2-3 years. On top, ask yourself, why, when you read through the company history, it fails to state how long it took to prep, put the foundations in place before the company officially launched. That idea may have come years before the company reached the market. Short Motivation was conceived as a concept, way back in 2011, but it was a good six years before it finally launched.
Remember, the day you launch your business, be prepared if you make a loss (or do not see any traction) for at least a year, perhaps longer. In that time, it might require graft, marketing, press coverage and a whole lot more before you even see any results at all – just don’t give up too quickly! You never know what’s around the corner. It can take one small deal to put your new business on the map.
Finally, Go For It (or Regret It Later)
You might never have another opportunity. Life offers limited opportunities and they become even more limited unless you can make them happen yourself.
Time progresses swiftly and waits for no-one. Financial expectations differ in your 30s and 40s, making it hard to take risks or launch your own business, which is a very good reason that you should consider every opportunity in your 20s.
If you have an opportunity, take it. If you have an opportunity whilst you are young, embrace it. It might be the only opportunity. They don’t come around as often when you’re older, especially if you’re battling each day to put enough money aside simply to get through the day.