February 1st, 2009, was a very memorable day for me. It was the day I arrived back at my family home in Newcastle, England, to start working for myself full-time. I had just left a job which for the previous two years saw me working with companies like Nissan, Hewlett Packard and Land Rover as their social media manager. My position in the rat race was actually an awesome one, but it was nothing compared to being my own boss.
As some people here don’t care about making their living from the internet, I understand that this post will not be for everybody. However, if you’ve just made the leap to working for yourself, currently run your own business, or you’re looking to make your money online in the future, this article may be just what you need.
Over the last 18 months of working for myself, I’ve learned a ton of things on my journey. Not every piece of advice I took on board has helped, with many ideas quickly being discarded. From reading dozens of books, speaking with hundreds of entrepreneurs, and living this life myself for a year and a half, there are a few lessons I would like to share.
If you go to the website of any large company, you’ll usually find a detailed mission statement which cites the main aim of their business operations. They’re usually long, boring, and ignored. THe type of mission statement I’m talking about here is more of an elevator pitch: A sentence or two about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what you hope to achieve.
This isn’t an elevator pitch you need to tell anyone, or a mission statement you need to share. Instead, the aim of these sentences is to help you stay on track. If someone offers you a partnership in a large project, you simply have to look towards your mission statement to decide whether it’s a good use of your time. If you’ve heard about a new way of doing things, you simply have to look at your mission statement to see if it might be right for you.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll
Decide what you want your core focus to be, and write it down somewhere. Internalise it. Anytime a situation arises where you’re not sure what to do, look to your statement to help you with the answer.
Jerry Sternin, who worked for Save the Children, was sent to Vietnam and asked to “make a difference” with the malnutrition issues the country faced. He was just given just six months to fulfil his task. With problems in the water supply, ignorance towards nutrition, and a countrywide dilemma, he had a big job ahead of him.
Instead of looking to fix one thing, like providing clean water to the country – something he didn’t have the time nor resources to do – he decided instead to look at what was working. Why are there healthy children in areas that are full of children who are starving, who have the same finances and living conditions available to them, and what are they doing differently?
Sternin found some common factors between the healthy children in these rural villages, one being that they spread their food intake throughout the day, rather than just having two large meals like the children who were struggling with health issues. Their bodies couldn’t absorb the nutrients from such a lot of food each meal.
The advice Sternin gave to struggling families from his findings was simple, but he certainly made a big difference.
Instead of just looking to your mistakes and hoping to learn from them or tackling a huge project you want to overcome. Why not look at what is working for you in other areas of life or on other projects, and see how you can apply those factors to other endeavours?
You’re far more likely to have great results.
When you have all day to work on whatever you want, it’s very easy to get caught up in things which a) aren’t helping you grow and b) not as effective as other tasks. As early in your own business life as possible, define the most important things you can accomplish each day and give them utmost priority.
For me, my most important tasks vary, but generally include things like:
If I spend most of my day doing something other than these things, then I’m not being as effective as I could be with my time. It will be hard to stick to this rigid schedule at first, but the more you put yourself back on track, the more natural it will become to work on the things which help your business the most.
I was really not in the mood to write this article today, but I knew that I had to get what I want to say out to the world. I had the idea for the post in mind, and I was excited to see the feedback it was going to bring, but I couldn’t bring myself to put my hands to the keyboard. As I usually do when I’m in this situation, I tell myself I’ll just write around 300 words, and then do the rest another day.
What almost always happens is that I’ll get so into the flow of writing after those 300 words, that I keep going until I’ve written thousands. In fact, I’ve just passed the 2,000 word mark in this article (I have shuffled the order of the points, since writing this) on the same day I wasn’t in the mood to get going.
Whenever you have a big task ahead, just tell yourself that you’ll do a little bit and stop. There’s a good chance that the little bit of effort you exerted to get started, will turn into a strong push of energy which helps you get things done. Even if it doesn’t, at least you did something.
It may seem crazy that I’m suggesting you give yourself office working hours after finally being able to work whenever you want. After all, one of the main benefits of this lifestyle is to get to set your own hours. To take the edge of this idea, I’m not suggesting that you have to pick a 9-5 schedule, but you should pick something.
The reason I say this is simply because when you work from home, there is nothing harder than shutting off. While you’re eating, you may just want to check your email quickly. While you’re in the shower, you may have the idea for a blog post and quickly run to your computer to write it down. The times you start neglecting your normal life for your business surprisingly, yet quickly, add up.
If your aim is to just work for a few hours per day, whenever you want, then you can ignore this. If you find yourself working more than a few hours, or even a lot more than a few hours, then restrict the times you allow yourself to work. The time you allocate to a task is usually how long it takes, so working all day won’t necessarily help you get more done.
For all of the people who have no problems making money, many of them have problems keeping it. When you start working for yourself, it’s very easy to start thinking you need this and that, in order to really get going. The reality is that you rarely need as much money or material items as you think you do.
When I built PluginID, my blog which I later sold for a five-figure fee, I did so on a laptop that was five years old and had no hard drive. Every single time I booted it up, I would be presented with a completely fresh operating system. That meant I couldn’t install software or save any files. I saved myself $1,500 by finding workarounds for my problems, rather than just purchasing a new laptop straight away.
Before you go buying every item, eBook or software package you think you need, ask yourself whether you can work without them. The money you save early on helps you to grow bigger, and enables you to adopt an ideal mindset which will be invaluable later on in your business life.
One thing I love about being my own boss is that I can spend as much time with my friends and family as I wont (provided that they aren’t at work). If someone plans a long-weekend away or wants me to help them out with something during the day, I don’t have to ask anyone for time off to be able to do that.
Something your friends and family might quickly forget though is that you actually have work to do. Just because you work for yourself (or from home), it doesn’t mean that you can neglect the things you’re working on to spend time with people. Sometimes your business must be your priority.
I found it hard to get this point across to people but it’s important that you do. I quickly had to put an end to people arriving at my house just to chill out or expecting me to be able to make any event just because I set my own hours. Be social, but be serious about your aims as well.
Depending on how you market yourself and make money, this will apply to people in different ways. When I started freelancing at 17, I had a company website and would constantly refer to my “team” and our “enterprise” when I was just a one-man operation. This angle also entered my communications with potential clients, when I would try to write in a professional manner and be as “business like” as possible.
You don’t have to put up a front. You don’t have to pretend you’re behind a huge company. People do business with people. The sooner you realise that, and put yourself into both your work and engagement with customers or clients, the better.
It used to be that the designers would come up with an idea, the engineers would turn that idea into something physical, and then marketers were set with the task of selling that item. This strategy simply doesn’t work anymore. In the age of not only information overload, but product overload, you need to see that everything you do, in one way or another, is marketing.
When I leave comments on other blogs, that’s marketing. When I write a blog post, I’m marketing. How I respond to emails, is marketing. When I buy ads on other websites and pay for product reviews, that’s also marketing, of course.
Old marketing is still marketing, but now you have to realise that everything else is too. If you don’t recognise this you may be left with a great product that nobody wants, or something that people want, that doesn’t function as it should.
One of the easiest ways to make money is to solve people’s problems. You can see this online in popular products that teaching people how to get rid of anxiety, make money, or even just jump higher so they can slam-dunk. Problems aren’t just a great area to find a market, but they also help you create one.
A software product I’m hoping to launch in the next few weeks, came about by deciding to solve a problem I’ve had for a few years. It has to do with internet marketing, of which there are millions of other people in this space, so I’m sure it’s a problem a lot of other people have as well. Or, simply a better solution to help them do what they’re already doing.
While you’re on your focused path, don’t forget to see if there are hurdles you faced where there wasn’t an ideal way to get over them. You may have just stumbled upon your next big project.
The best way to learn what people want is to become a member of the market that is likely to want whatever you have to offer. Right now I’m working on software products for internet marketers, because after thousands of interactions and years in the business, these are the people that I understand the most.
Through your involvement in the market where you want to launch something, you’ll learn a lot from your audience. Things like:
Of course, sometimes you just have to get something out there (ship) and learn these things as you go along. You’ll save yourself a lot of guesswork and marketing strategy alterations though if you get involved in your market, wherever they may be, and find out what makes them tick.
When I worked on Cloud Living, I literally spent two months on the guide in order to get it how I wanted, and out there. With about three weeks worth of work left, I set a launch date for myself, a Monday, which I made sure I would stick to. The guide was finished on Sunday, the day before, after a frantic weekend.
There was one mistake in the guide, which I later fixed, but everything else was perfect. If I had spent a few more days on the eBook, I’m sure I would have spotted the small issue and had everything in order before getting the guide out there, but I was determined to stick to my launch date.
Cloud Living was actually created in response to the hundreds of questions I had received after releasing a 30-page eBook on the same topic, yet with much less detail. I used reader feedback to turn an average product into something I was proud of. If I had never put the freebie out there, even though it wasn’t a “Wow!” product, I would never have completed Cloud Living.
Making sure you ship your projects (just get them out there!) is not about putting in half the effort and releasing something you’re not happy with. It’s getting something to a stage where it’s great, and letting questions and feedback shape the product so it’s both perfect in your eyes, and in those of the end user. Getting a product that is 90% finished out there is better than never producing something with no flaws.
This post was with the aim of offering a guideline, rather than something you should follow word for word. The whole point of being your own boss is that you’re in control of how you spend your time, and what you wish to do with it. If you want to try things differently or completely ignore some things I’ve mentioned here, feel free.
Something I noticed recently is that the fun and passion we put into a task can quickly deplete when someone else tells us to do it. Even if we were going to do it anyway, just having someone say “do this” or “have it done by X date” takes away your drive to get things finished.
If you direct your own life, you’ll have a lot more fun on the way, and you’re far more likely to get things done. So, instead of taking this post as rules you must follow, view them as steps you can choose to follow or choose to ignore.
It’s the only way they’ll have any impact on you.