E10 – Jeff’s Top 10! Tips for Becoming an Entrepreneur

In this episode, I’d like to talk to you about some of the tips that I have picked up over the last 10 years or so and that have enabled me to become an entrepreneur, all while going to school and getting my MBA, raising my daughters, and building a lifestyle that allowed me to work from anywhere, check off multiple bucket-list destinations and experiencing a life full of love, purpose, and positive energy. Being an entrepreneur for me has meant that I am now in control of my own destiny and that of my family.

Doing so has also afforded me the opportunity to restructure some basic truths that I had previously believed in, such as:

  • Yes, I can travel the world without being a millionaire.
  • I can work from some of the most interesting places on the planet and enjoy myself at the same time.
  • Working for just one salary sucks. That's why I now prefer to work for 40+ “salaries” (in the form of retainers). The risk to my livelihood is now much more distributed than before.
  • By choosing to work with amazing people around the world, I have been able to provide employment and purpose to many other entrepreneurs around the globe.

So on that note, I’d like to get into the 10 tips that I learned about being an entrepreneur and how you can apply them to your businesses today. Let’s get started.

1 - Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to get started.

First and foremost, you don’t need anyone’s permission, license or certification in order to get started in this game. A lot of people feel that they need some type of validation to “say that they’re good” before they actually get started. I’m sorry, this is such a load of B/S, I can’t even...

Just remember, we’re not doing rocket surgery here. Of course there are thousands of courses out there and many gurus that you can look up to. But you need to start with number one. That’s you, yourself, and no one else.

I think that another important facet of this is sheer self-confidence. I'm not talking about the arrogant type, where you aggressively sell your service to anyone who’ll listen so that you can give a set of steak knives. Rather, it’s the calm and cool presence that you give off by arching your back, chin up and shoulders back (even when you’re talking on the phone) that gets communicated in the cadence of your voice.

At the end of that, it’s indescribable the feeling that you get when you make your first dollar online. It’s also amazing to reap the benefits of performing a good service for another business, making them money, all while expanding your own expertise as well.

2 - You can learn this **ALL** on your own...

I remember way back when I was looking for what would be the best degree for me to get. I ended up settling on the MBA because at the time (and I still believe this), nothing beats the classical ”degree” because there are only two types of degrees that can put you into everything. And that’s business and law. I chose the business route. I remember scoffing at the fact that at the time, the University of Phoenix was offering a bachelor's degree in eCommerce of all things. And I was thinking to myself, why on earth would anyone get a degree in that?

Don’t get me wrong, I‘m all for getting an advanced degree in your profession of choice, especially if that profession requires you to have some minimal standards and hours completed, like a doctor or a lawyer.

But nowadays, you can find all of that information online. And for free. I’m sure that I could take my course syllabus from my MBA courses and replicate my education that way. And it would probably be just as actual, factual, and meaningful as when I sat in those classes every Saturday, all day, for two years straight.

There are also a multitude of ways for you to consume all of this content. You can watch well made courses on YouTube and Udemy. You can listen to books and discussions on Audible and your favorite podcast app. And using your browser, you can find blog posts and articles that can explain in fascinating and exacting detail just about everything.

I mean really?! Who here hasn’t automatically just turned to Google to find out how to install something, understand what ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) is and how to calculate it?

We are now living in a time where ALL information is INSTANTLY available to everyone. That’s no excuse now for not being able to find it.

3 - Take the time to learn about coding and even how to do it yourself.

I know that a lot of people think of coding as some black art, ninja-stuff or just plain Matrix-shit. While some of that may be true, that’s not an excuse for you to not learn it yourself, if only to understand what it’s all about ANNNDD learn about what’s possible so that you can articulate it going forward.

What I mean is this: It might not be reasonable to assume that you do have the time in order to learn this skill in order to be proficient at it. But actually that doesn’t matter.

Think of it this way... When you have a vision, or a problem. You need to articulate it, right? You don’t just take your car to the mechanic and say “There’s a problem, can you fix it?” No. You tell him:

  • The car doesn’t accelerate, but only when I’m in first or second gear.
  • Also, there’s this pinging after 30 miles per hour.

My mechanic immediately knew that I needed new spark plugs and coils after that. $500 dollars later, it was all fixed.

You see? You wouldn’t believe how many people have called me up and asked me: “How much to create an app?” And when I ask for details like: “Well, what do you want the app to do?”, and they respond: “OK, it’s sort of like Instagram, but more social...”. You get the point.

Knowing how to code opens your mind to what’s possible. It also helps you in articulating ideas so that you can convey it properly to a real programmer or programming team that will be able to build out your idea for you.

And if you can build it yourself, great! You’ll save yourself a lot of time and money if you draw it out yourself first, build a prototype and then pass it off to someone more qualified to build it better.

4 - Take the time to learn some design basics

Learning about and implementing design is tough for some people. Or, they simply ignore it altogether. And that’s a huge mistake.

Design is something so basic we almost never really give it a second thought. Why should we? It’s everywhere. And the whole idea of great design is that we don’t really have to think about it.

Take the New York subway system. The font used for the signage is Helvetica, a classic font that is easily readable even from far away. There is a whole design language going on, as well, that includes shapes, colors, and of course, placement. This is what makes getting from point A to point B within the New York area so easy. Once you’re going in the right direction, all you need to do next is know where to get off, and you’re there.

Good design also adds credence to the product or service that you’re going to create. When someone lands on your website, it should be immediately clear what you want them to do or see. And all of that should happen above the fold, or before any scrolling takes place.

Another way to look at good design, especially good website design, is to ask yourself: “What’s the CALL TO ACTION here? What am I supposed to do next?”

Of course, we’ve all seen bad examples of this. I’ve seen billboards with a QR code on them or the type is so small, you can’t read anything.

A great landing page instills confidence in your product. It all starts with a clean photo or illustration. Then you have the right font, color scheme, and of course, action buttons or links that direct your customer to take the right action on the site.

Do this wrong and you have a confused customer. And remember, a confused customer doesn’t buy. So the next time you click on a link from an email trying to get you to sign up for something, or purchase something, or even get you to take an action of some sort, think about the design for a second. Sometimes, it’s the simplest designs that are most effective.

5 - Build a great team (or do it with friends)

Building a great team is probably one of the wisest activities that you can work on as a founder. No man is an island, and in order to build something great, you’ll need a team. While there is some benefit to sweat equity, I wouldn’t bank on it for everything. Therefore, it’s important early on to discover and recognize your talents and your shortcomings.

You would not believe just how much of a time suck doing EVERYTHING is. You see, when you try to wear many hats, you become less effective at the things that you’re really good at.

For example, I can tell you that I’m terrible at graphic design. Honestly, I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life. And color matching? I wear grey and black all day every day.

So building a great team doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to increase headcount or payroll. Rather, it could be as simple as finding content writers, programmers, and graphic artists on Fiverr or Upwork. In my experience, I usually start out with smaller projects so that I can accurately measure the quality and speed that the work is delivered. Afterwards, if things work out, you can negotiate either putting them on retainer or some other mutually beneficial agreement.

There are also a plethora of service-based companies that do exactly this type of work for digital marketers. While not endorsing these companies, you could take a look at DesignPickle.com for all your graphic work for social media, infographics or flyers. Or ContentCucumber.com for blogs and other writing projects. (Why all of these are using fruity names is beyond me)…

So just keep in mind. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, most likely there is someone around who will be happy and willing to partner with you on it so that you can go back to what makes you awesome. All you need to know is how to properly define your needs and where to find them.

6 - Start small

Alright. I know that you have world-domination plans. And that includes denting the universe back into shape. But trust me. Uber wasn’t built in a day. The truth is, all of your brilliant ideas may not be so brilliant once you put it out on the market.

Yonatan Snir from Cliclap in Episode 8 talked about this at length. He talked about validation. The truth is, all you really need is an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. This is the absolute smallest version of your product or app so that you put it out there and get people to pay you for it. Your customers will help validate the product for you. They’ll vote with their checkbooks and when that happens, then you’ll know that you’ll have something special.

Another reason why you’ll want to start small is so you don’t try to cram so much functionality into the initial build of your product, you’ll get lost in scope-creep.

Scope-Creep happens is where you start adding that one little feature, which may seem small at first. But all of those little “small features” serve as a distraction to the overall vision of your product. This also happens when you’re just starting out and you want to please everyone. So let’s say that you have finally landed your first client for your product or service. And they ask you to also add “this one little thing” that’ll resolve their issue. The problem with this is that once you start, it almost never ends. Even if the client is paying for the development, the distraction alone of taking your eye off the ball could hinder your overall vision for months.

So when you’re putting together your offering, just remember, Done is Better than perfect. Create the product, make it awesome. Get feedback, rinse and repeat.

7 - Do things that don’t scale - it’s the little things that make you memorable.

So this next piece of advice may seem counter-intuitive, but when executed properly, can pay off in spades.

Think about it this way… When you’re building your business, you need a way to make your product memorable. But just how are you going to do that in a crowded space? There’s only so much optimization that you can do to a photo, email copy, or website landing page.

One example from this is in Derek Sivers’ book titled Anything You Want. It’s a very quick read as he walks through his entrepreneurial journey of building up cdbaby.com out of his own house to selling it for $23 million dollars.

In the book, he describes the Thank You email that’s sent after every order. And in a rather tongue-in-cheek way, he describes the journey that the CD took from coming off the shelves to being packed, shipped, and then happily and gingerly arriving at your doorstep. The point is, that email was written in such a silly way that it was totally memorable and even became a trademark of ordering CDs from the site. People loved them. People remembered them, and most of all, people shared them.

But I have an even better example, one that I received just this week. Rick Carlson, the CEO of SharpSpring, a cool marketing automation platform, sent me this email telling me that very soon I’ll receive something “A-MAZING” at my office. And sure enough, on Monday I get this Fedex package from them. The package was this photo frame with one of my company’s logos set in the center, superimposed on a maze. It even came with a felt-tip marker so that you (or anyone else) could actually do the maze in order to get the center. But wait… that’s not all….

The frame also came with a letter where he explained WHY he sent this. First of all, it’s not branded to SharpSpring. Rather, it’s my logo and focused entirely on MY agency. Furthermore, the frame comes with an offer to purchase lunch for my ENTIRE TEAM with no strings attached.

So, that…. Got my attention. A totally free gift with something for my entire team as well. And there wasn’t even a hard push to first schedule a demo to get any of this. It all just showed up.

Thinking about the economics of all this. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • SharpSpring has an amazing platform with every bell and whistle a digital marketing agency needs.
  • They could have just spent all of this money on Google Ads to get their product in front of my face.
  • But honestly, between Ontraport, Keap, Active Campaign and the plethora of other platforms out there, why would I bother?

This definitely got my attention. And every time I look up at the wall and see the cool looking maze with my logo that they sent me, I’ll remember them too. I bet their ROI on this campaign is much better than any other channel that they have considered.

So I’m sure that putting together this campaign was a herculean effort on their part. But it definitely cut through ALL of the other noise that I get on the daily.

My advice then would be to take some time and think about what would be the best way to reach out to your ideal client and get them to remember you. I’m sure that when you’re pricing out this equation, you’ll find that the return on that ad spend will be higher as you’re working to bring in more clients into your business.

8 - Expect, and learn, from failure

Look, we’re all failures here. But it's from those failures that we mature, learn from our mistakes, and then level up for the next go-around. I can directly trace where I am today to several failed projects that I have worked on over the years. When I first started college, I thought that I wanted to be a graphic designer. But then I realized that I have absolutely zero aptitude in that. I also tried to start a few retail stores - sucked at that big time as well. I even tried selling sunglasses and belly rings on eBay.

That didn’t work either.

We’ve all heard that morbid statistic that most businesses fail within the first few years. But the truth is, if you’re not failing forward, you’re simply not doing it right. Think about it: Are we all born with the innate ability to ponder and implement new ideas that need no tweaking? Of course not. That’s crazy to even think about it like that.

So just like Spiderman tripping over his newly enhanced body after the spider bit him, you too will need to learn about and harness your new superpowers. For me, the journey itself is just as satisfying as knowing that I did something, gave my best effort, and even learned something along the way. So failure isn’t just an opportunity for learning what you aren’t capable of.. it’s also a learning opportunity for what you ARE capable of. Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

9 - Ask yourself why

You know, as you’re working towards your goal, you should always ask yourself WHY am I doing this? This is important because while you’re bogged down in the details of your business, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you need to find that motivation to keep going.

For me, I ask myself this question pretty often. And it usually manifests itself in the different ways that I allocate resources in my business. I need to evaluate whether my actions and activities in this space, even producing this podcast, are in line with my values and my trajectory based on the goals that I have set for myself.

In my business, I’ve set up some base criteria for the types of clients that I want to work with and the types of contractor or service providers, as well. I have my own little cheat sheet of criteria that include things like:

  • Don’t build websites for hobbyists or someone with a business plan (or lack thereof) that I don’t believe in or can wrap my head around.
  • Ensure that with the contractors that I work with, don’t exaggerate the amount of work that I can give them. This helps in managing their expectations and also mine.
  • Evaluate that every task that I delegate has a measurable impact on the business in some way.

At the end of the day, you should be making a fulfilling impact on the world. And that includes your world, your family’s and the people you work for and with.

10 - Just start

And this last piece of advice should actually be the first one. But I left it at the end so that hopefully this is the part that’ll sink in the most. Just start.

That’s it. Just start.

Your idea won’t just auto-magically manifest itself into being. You need to lead. You need to make it happen. That’s because whatever is percolating in your head could possibly change the world. It’ll never be unless it gets out of your head and actually becomes something.

Think about it this way. People don’t build muscles by READING about exercise. They build muscle by DOING the exercise. It’s the same thing here.

So that’s it. Those are my 10 tips for entrepreneurs. Obviously, there are many more tips and things to learn out there. And my mission is to uncover them all here for you to learn from. In the meantime, I would love to hear back from you what you think. Which one of these tips resonated with you? Which ones can you or have you applied already? Let me know by sending me an email directly at [email protected]. I would like to hear your feedback and what’s working for you today. As always, thank you for your time.