The Value of Being Authentic In Business

Authenticity When The Focus Is On YouStarting your own business, or becoming a solopreneur or freelancer, isn’t unique. Thousands of people embark on this journey every day. Some succeed, and some fail. It’s this possibility of failure that holds so many people back from pursuing their dreams. And it’s the mystery of success that holds back others.

Dreams and Ideas

People like guarantees. But when you have your own business, certainty is a luxury. Competition is tough, and always will be. Even if you come up with an idea that no else has, a first of its kind, whether an idea for a new product or a new service, it’s ephemeral. If you do nothing with your idea, you’ll wake up one day, weeks or months later, to read about it being launched by someone else on the other side of the world. If you move forward and action it, and start your own business around this one killer idea, you’ll wake up weeks or months later to discover a dozen competitors have sprouted up around you, seemingly out of thin air.

Anyone can have a great idea. Many people have great ideas every week. Successful business are never about the idea, and always about the execution. Before Facebook, there was MySpace. Before Google, there was Yahoo.

Execution and Outcomes

The thing about execution, is that it resonates on so many levels. Product, marketing, sales, engagement, delivery, strategic, tactical. There’s no single magic combination of elements that consistently produces a sucessful outcome. What works for one business or industry doesn’t work for another. That’s the risk that every entrepreneur and solopreneur takes on a daily basis.

Yet there exists a whisper of commonality that gives rise to a certain flavor of ‘survivalism’ among our ilk. And it has nothing to do with stockpiling food and living “off the grid”.

A Single Thread

Whether you’re an entrepreneur running a funded start-up company or a solopreneur paying your bills with income created from your own business, you are the beating heart of your company. You determine the paths taken, the values adhered to, and the boundaries respected. You decide how far you’re willing to go for success. For profit. You decide how far is too far, or not far enough.

In a global marketplace of tough competition, it’s all too easy to crack beneath the overbearing pressure. To imitate your competition, rather than admire them. To follow the trends, rather than define them.

Don’t be a poor imitation of someone else’s value proposition.

Being authentic is not determinant of success for a business. Indeed, in some circumstances, it may mean choosing failure rather than compromising too much, too far, too deep. Choosing to be authentic means refusing to be something you’re not.

So, yes, authentic businesses fail.

But authentic founders are strong. They’ve had their strength tested, and persevered.

They move forward, knowing there’s never a need to look back.

They look straight ahead, knowing they have no reason to look down.

They are the survivalists in a world of change and uncertainty.

 

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5 First Steps to Becoming Self-Employed

Self-employed home office

Many people dream about being self-employed and making money on their own terms. No more bosses, no more bullshit. But you can dream all day, and that won’t change your circumstances. The only one who can change your circumstances is you. It doesn’t need to be drastic or dramatic. Drama is best saved for the world of entertainment, not your professional career.  So you want to be your own boss? Let’s action that.

Start Small

I find people have pre-conceived notions of what “starting a business” means. Generally it’s whatever they’ve been fed in their daily diets of tech blogs and silicon valley success stories.

But there’s a big broad world of microcosms beyond those boundaries. Small businesses strive and thrive everywhere. With digital mediums and online marketing providing a lower cost of entry than ever before, people everywhere are making money for themselves.

If you’re an employee looking to step off the treadmill, do so at a reasonable pace. You don’t need to build the next Google. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the thought of renting office space, hiring employees, investing huge quantities of money just to ‘test’ whether your idea will work.

Start with what you can accomplish without a huge investment. Want to start a catering business? Cater a few small events initially for friends/acquaintances. Want to start an online business? Create a website and start actioning your plan for an hour or two each day, after your day job. Figure out what works and what doesn’t when the stakes are small.

Start With What You Know

Making money isn’t magic, and it isn’t dumb luck. It’s about generating value. People who don’t know what you know will pay you for that knowledge. And people who can’t do what you can do will pay you for that ability. Whether it’s a service (‘I don’t know how to do X, but you know how to do X, so I will pay you to do X for me’) or a product (‘I can’t create Y, and you’ve already created Y, so I will pay you for Y’).

Everybody has knowledge about something. Everybody has skills. What do you know? What can you do? It doesn’t have to be unique. You don’t need to be the only one in the world with this talent. But it needs to be comprehensive. Comprehensive knowledge or skills means you can compete.

Start Now

People that talk to me about wanting to work for themselves, people who dream of being self-employed, consistently express one common theme – “when the time is right”.

Often, for those dreamers, the time is only right when it’s easy (‘I have $100,000 in the bank and nothing to spend it on, what a great time to be self-employed!) or when it’s necessary (‘If I ever lost my job, I’d become self-employed’). “Easy” will never happen; “necessary” happens all too often.

The problem with waiting until you lose your job before you start your own business is that you’re starting at step 0 at a time when you have 0 income. Not smart.

Whenever you start, you will not be an overnight success. This doesn’t happen. Depending on your business, there’s a better than average chance that you also won’t be successful in one month, or two months, and possibly not even in six months.

Starting your business in your own time, while you still have a day job, is the safest, least risky path to successful self-employed.  That wasn’t my path.  My hand was forced, and I had to react, and react quickly.  Vistria’s origin story was more big bang than slow burn.

While the pressure of not knowing whether you’ll be living on the street in two months’ time is certainly motivating, it’s a less than optimal way to get started.  Better to have a steady income while you slowly and gradually work on your freedom plan.

The downside? It’s a hell of a lot of work. You will need to sacrifice your evenings and your weekends on a regular basis. The end game and the payoff is freedom. Freedom from being at the mercy of your bosses and co-workers, to answer only to yourself.

Only you can answer the question how bad do you want that freedom.

Start Confidently

As much as we rely on our friends to give us valuable feedback, be careful about asking your friends for advice about quitting your job.  Especially if your friends are salaried employees. By all means tell them about your endeavour and listen to their feedback. But don’t take their advice.

Employees will always offer the same perspectives about non-employees – ‘sounds risky’, ‘what if it doesn’t work’, ‘what’s your fallback plan’, ‘how do you absolutely know it will work’, ‘what if you can’t pay the bills’. You likely already have these doubts inside of you. Good. You should. It will motivate you to work harder to avoid those pitfalls. But don’t let your friends comments reinforce your doubts to the point that you fail to move forward because you’re paralyzed by fear.

Friends mean well, but if they’re working a 9-5 job, especially if it’s a job they hate, they’re likely not going to encourage you to break free of those same chains. Misery loves company.

Make sure you leave misery by itself as you walk on by.

Start, and Don’t Stop

This is the hardest step. Once you’ve started, you’ll be faced with challenges and obstacles, and even some failures. Don’t give up. If becoming sustainably self-employed was fast and easy, then everybody would do it. The secret, the secret that everyone really knows if they stop and think about it, is persistence. Do you really think that all of those people who are making a living as contractors, as consultants, as life coaches, as online business gurus, as retail flower shop owners, as caterers, as landscapers, as designers, as app builders, and on and on are really so incredibly special that they can succeed where you can’t?

Of course not. The distinction,the ONLY distinction, is that they don’t give up.  They persevere.  They believe.

Final Reminder If You Want To Be Self-Employed

When you think you can’t, when you have your doubts, when everyone tells you not to, remember this: Start now, start small, and start with something you know.  Don’t let the pessimistics and naysayers and cowards drag you down.  And after you’ve started, do not stop.

How To Start a Business Without Money

Start a Business With No MoneyWhen I talk about how to start a business or the benefits of owning your business rather than working for someone else’s, people often leap to the conclusion that I’m talking about building the next Facebook.

I am not talking about building the next Facebook.

On the other hand, if you think you have what it takes to build the next Facebook, or Uber, or Google, then good for you. Make it happen. And then let me know how you did it.

But for the average 9-to-5’er who dreams of breaking free from the daily grind, there are very tangible and very attainable ways to make this happen. And no, you don’t need $1,000,000 in funding first. Or $100,000. You don’t even need $1000.

How to Start a Business With No Money

Create Value

Earning money is simple. If you can create value, you can earn money. We learn this as children, when completing chores or mowing a lawn or selling lemonade brought in that much sought after cold hard cash. The principle doesn’t change that much when you’re a grown-up. Do you have skills that other people lack? Are you willing to do work that other people shy away from? Do you have knowledge that other people seek?

When you have something that someone else needs, you’ve created value. When you’ve created value, you can earn money. Or exchange it for something you equally value, but that’s drifting too far off topic for today. Figuring out how you can provide value to earn money requires your brain, a pen and a notebook. Cost? $2.50 (plus your superior brainpower).

Tell People You Can Create Value

Tell people about your valuable thing, and how it’s for sale. People can’t buy it if they don’t know it exists. Starting a grocery delivery business? Let the people know. Tell them what you have to offer, and tell them how to get in touch with you. Keep it simple initially by creating or updating your LinkinedIn page, or Facebook page, or About.me page. Cost? $0. Pure sweat equity. And at some point you’ll need to evaluate this as well, but not just yet. Not when you’ve just started the journey.

Understand What Has Value For You

Everyone has a set of misconceptions about what they “need” to start a business. Why we have this clutter in our brains is debatable. Too many Hollywood tropes perhaps, that stick in our heads and prevent us from distiguishing between reality and fantasy. You don’t need a glass corner office in a high-rent district to start a business. You don’t need employees, at least not right away. You don’t even need business cards. You likely need a computer, or access to one. But it doesn’t need to be the best computer money can buy.

Make a list of what you absolutely need to create the value that you’re going to get paid for; not what you think you should have, or what would be cool to have, but what you need to get from point A (value realized) to point B (money received). If you’re starting a grocery delivery service, then you likely need a car. But you don’t need a Land Rover.

Understand what has real value in helping you meet your goals, and let go of optical value which exists only to impress people that you shouldn’t care about impressing. This is probably the most critical lesson for starting and running a business.

A continual process of separating substance from flash, and truth from bullshit.

Cost? Priceless.

Must Have Checklist for Starting a Business

Starting a Business ChecklistTurning dreams into reality requires action.  Imagining, day-dreaming, wondering, and googling only take you so far.  Which is to say, they take you nowhere at all.  Most people rationalize inaction as “waiting for the right moment”.  Really, they’re waiting because they’re either afraid/unsure, or they simply don’t know where to start.

So in that spirit, I pulled together some of the key “to do” items that must be checked off the list before embarking on any new business.

Top 10 To Do’s When Starting A Business

  • Make sure your business is something you have passion for. There’s no separation of “work life” and “personal life” when you’re responsible for generating your own income. For entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, freelancers, and other small business owners, work and life are highly integrated. If you don’t love it, you’ll leave it. Sooner than you think.
  • Make sure your business is something people need. It doesn’t matter that you would buy your service or product. It only matters that other people will.
  • Spend some time doing market research on your business idea. Get a sense of who the competition is, and who your potential customers are.
  • Figure out what value your service or product provides. If you had everything in place to begin your business tomorrow, how much effort would it take every day? How much would you charge people for your service or product? How much would people be willing to pay?
  • Figure out how much income you can actually generate. Make a list of potential customers who would buy your service next week, next month, next year. Determine what percentage of potential customers will become actual customers.
  • Find your bottom line. How long will it take to break even, and then how much longer after that will it take to start making a profit?
  • Invest in a consultation with a lawyer, to at least know what you need to have in place, from a legal perspective, before you start. Some things can be deferred until income starts flowing in. But some things you’ll need sooner that later.
  • Get the word out. Generate buzz. Create a web site. Keep it simple at first. Use digital and social marketing. Tell your friends and colleagues. And their friends and colleagues.
  • Know exactly how to collect and track money from customers. Manage your billing flawlessly. Invoice mistakes do not instill confidence, regardless of your business niche.
  • Hustle, deliver, improve, refine, repeat!