For most of my life, I’ve chosen to live within a nice, predictable box. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s a relatively fear-free zone for me. So why in the HELL am I risking pretty much everything to start a new business?? Something that pushes me so far out of my cozy little box that I literally can’t breathe? Believe me—this question keeps me up night after night. But six months in to this crazy roller coaster of an entrepreneurial adventure, I wanted to take a break in the action to fill you in on some of the lessons I’m learning. They’re helping me become a better businessperson—and just a better person. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful, too:
1. Want to make a difference? Know your “why” and your “who.”
It’s not enough to know what you’re going to offer your customers or clients. You need to know why you’re in business. Using Apple as an example, Simon Sinek does a great job of explaining this in his book Start with Why (affiliate) and in his incredibly popular TED Talk:
“Here’s how Apple actually communicates. “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”–Simon Sinek
Apple’s “why” isn’t about making great computers. It’s about challenging the way things have always been and facilitating our ability to “Think Different.”
You also need to know exactly who you’re targeting with your product or service. It needs to be more than just something like “women 50+.” Instead, your “avatar” should be as specific as this:
“My avatar’s name is Beth. She’s 53 years old and is just now taking the leap to start her own business. Her kids are in high school, so she still has daily ‘mom’ duties. But she really wants to flex her entrepreneurial muscles. The problem, though, is that she’s overwhelmed by all of the information there is about how to launch a business. And, because of that, she just can’t seem to get moving. She needs help getting focused and she needs to find the confidence to take that first step toward building the business—and the life—she’s always dreamed of.”
Now that you know this person so well, you can create products and services that answer “her” specific pain points. In other words, you can provide real value that will result in you having a community of raving fans who look to you for solutions—and who will be willing to pay you a fair fee for them. If you don’t know who your avatar is, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to find ways to connect to your audience. And you can pretty much forget being able to deliver anything of tangible value to them.
2. Be clear about what makes you different and figure out how to communicate it.
Marketing today—whether online or offline—can feel a bit like yelling into the wind on an empty beach. Nobody hears you. More than likely, there’s someone else doing or offering exactly what you’re doing or offering. So you have to find a way to differentiate yourself in order to avoid being completely ignored.
Remember–what makes you different is YOU. No one else talks like you, has the same perspective as you or can establish the same connection as you. So, when you write a blog post, create a video, give a talk, host a webinar or communicate in any way, shape or form about your business, be yourself. We want to hear you. We want to feel like we know you. And we want to believe that you know and care about us. Also, regarding the product or service you’re offering, make it BETTER than what everyone else is offering.
3. Don’t say, “I think I can.” Say, “I will.”
It’s a scary thing to commit to something. There’s always a chance of being disappointed. What if it doesn’t work out? What if it’s too hard? What if it’s not as great as you thought it would be? But I’m telling you–if you don’t commit 100% to your new venture, there’s little to no chance it’ll ever gain any significant traction or grow in any significant way. Jump in with both feet. Believe in yourself and in your dream. Yes—there will be obstacles all along the way. And some days you’re going to want to shift directions instead of figuring out a way to overcome those obstacles. Maybe you’ll even want to quit out of frustration. But, don’t. Keep going. That’s what successful people do.
4. Beware of shiny objects. They’re closer (and so much more distracting) than they appear.
I don’t know about you, but my inbox is absolutely overflowing every day with offers to help me earn more, do more, BE more. And everybody has THE solution that you just have to implement (i.e., purchase) or else. Two words of advice for you: Don’t engage. Unsubscribe from every single newsletter or email list of people you don’t have a deep amount of respect for and a great deal of faith in. I can count on one hand the number of “experts” in my industry that I listen to. The rest? They’re just annoying chatter that takes up too much space. So, I’m getting rid of them. At least from my inbox.
One concept that’s really helped me narrow down who and what I listen to is this:
F.O.C.U.S.—Follow one course until success. This simple—yet powerful—idea keeps me productive instead of just busy.
5. Get a coach and/or join a mastermind group. (Maybe even get a great therapist!)
Two things I’ve done this year that are making a HUGE difference in the growth of my business are getting a coach and joining a mastermind group. Yes—they are financial investments. But when you find the right coach who can help you avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities—it’s totally worth it. Also, the mastermind group has been fantastic because it’s helped me realize that I’m not alone in this entrepreneurial world. There seems to be an unwritten code among entrepreneurs that we’re all in this together and we’re here to help each other out. LOVE that!
On a more personal note, I have to say that I’m not a huge believer in therapy. BUT—I found an amazing therapist a few months ago who really gets what I’m trying to do with my life and has proven to be a fantastic source of support during what can be a very trying time during the start-up phase of business. Like my business coach, she’s part of my “team.” She’s helping me move forward toward my goals. But, UNLIKE my business coach, she’s helping me understand the personal changes that I’m experiencing as I grow into my new role. How is it impacting my parenting? What’s the best way to manage my fear and anxiety? How is my perception of myself changing? And let me just say—having her guidance is a significant factor in my ability to take very scary steps forward each day.
6. Stop gathering. Start doing. Now.
My name is Michele and I’m an information addict. There. I admitted it. Maybe you are, too. How can you tell? If you keep collecting information—whether it’s in the form of blog posts, newsletters, courses, books, videos, you name it—but you rarely (if ever) DO anything with it. You don’t implement the tips you’re given. You keep doubting your readiness to take the first step toward what you say you want. Sound familiar?
One of the major changes I’ve made in how I’m living my life is that I’m becoming a doer rather than merely a thinker or dreamer. Thinking and dreaming are great—and necessary. But they don’t do anything on their own. You have to take action. You’re going to mess up and make mistakes. I certainly have. But I can say that in every single case, I’ve learned something that’s made me better at what I do. And I’ve certainly learned FAR more by doing than I ever have by just gathering.
7. Have a daily plan of attack to kick the can down the road.
Before you turn the lights out each night, write down a list of action items to accomplish the next day. And be specific. Don’t just say something like, “Work on my website.” Instead, narrow it down to something like, “Complete a draft of the copy for my About page.” And if you can’t hold yourself accountable for progress—find an accountability partner who will hold your feet to the proverbial fire.
One thing I’ve seen is that some days I feel like I’m doing a lot of little actions with no results. But, in reality, these “little” actions add up to big results over time. For me, the goal has become to do something specific—no matter how big or how small— every single day to move my business forward. And I do this even when I don’t feel up to it. Because I have seen that this consistent action really DOES make a difference. You sometimes have to be a little more patient than you want to be in order to see the impact.
8. It’s okay to be scared.
One of the toughest things I ever posted in my mastermind group was a declaration of how scared I was that things weren’t going to work out. I did it really late one evening, in a moment of complete despair. And I couldn’t be more glad. The responses I got were so supportive, so helpful and so empathetic. I realized that the way I was feeling wasn’t just something that I alone was experiencing. And that changed everything.
It’s okay to be scared as an entrepreneur. It’s not weak. It’s not cowardly. It’s normal. If you’re not scared—then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. And you’re not going to make any significant change in your life. I never thought I’d say this, but fear is a good thing. It means you’re doing something very, very right.
9. You’re an entrepreneur, dammit! And that in and of itself makes you AWESOME!
A lot of people talk about starting a business. But very few ever take the leap to do it. (Sort of like all of those people out there who say they want to write a novel—but never put down the first word.) Yes, it’s scary. Friends and family might even think that you’ve completely lost it or that you’re being careless or selfish or unrealistic or any number of other unflattering adjectives. But, DO IT ANYWAY! This is your life—so LIVE IT!
“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”— Unknown
One thing I’m learning as an entrepreneur is that there’s really no better way to get to know who you are as a person than by taking this leap into the unknown. It tests you in ways you never thought possible. But it also rewards you in ways you never dreamed of. So—onward we push despite the obstacles and the naysayers and the voices of doubt in our minds. There are so many lessons to be learned, so many new friends to be made and so many adventures to be lived. Let’s go!
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Learning some lessons of your own as you move forward along the entrepreneurial path? Share them in the comments so we can ALL learn from them!