There’s a lot to be read on the subject of entrepreneurship. Some nuggets, some nonsense. Entrepreneurs are lots of different things… including very juicy targets for every two-bit hustler with an online course or self-published book to sell. Sigh.
There are some foundational stuff worthy of your eyes and brain. Generally, some management textbooks won’t hurt. Subject specific stuff relevant to you more specifically might be valuable – slightly deeper dives on product development or sales or marketing or finance or whatever gaps need to be filled. There are also some good nonfic tomes – good and valuable books that inspire, inform or help to reinforce the will to continue as you wade your way through deep jungles. Books on negotiation, time management, planning, productivity, hiring, culture, industry structure or what have you.
I like these things and have benefited from many of them. It’s great to have a model, it’s fantastic to have a plan.
But as Mike Tyson said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face – and the entrepreneurial reality is you’re going to get punched in the face. Not just once, this I assure you.
What I have found lacking are some coping skills for those very times you’re having your ass handed to you.
It’s not necessarily about failure. Failure is easy – you fail, crash, feel sorry for yourself, slowly heal, eventually move on. Survival is the hard part – the pressures of incremental success, the sheer pressure and wind-changes of a rollercoaster on the move, whiplash from no’s where yesses were expected, having to catch up to unexpected yesses.
There are tons of resources about how to think, how to plan, what to do, what the best practices are, what works in theory, which models to emulate or simulate, which golden rules apply. But I’m yet to find a little zen garden of peace to offer some calm balm to the exasperated individuals that have the masochism, bravery, vision, decency and sheer guts to go out into an uncaring world and dare to build something new and beautiful from scratch.
To me, entrepreneurs are actual, bona fide heroes – worthy of far more than the mere lip service they are paid between wall-to-wall coverage of strikes, whines, complaint-dumping and systemically dramatized self-pity.
So I hope they will permit me to offer some potentially useful methods I was lucky enough to pick up, steal or inherit along the way. If I had the time I’d write a nonfic book with these principles expounded and expanded – but the truth is my focus right now is elsewhere, though I still want to share it. Bonus for you, because that means you get it free and don’t have to pay for a book, seminar, class, webinar. Sad for you because it’s just a few pointers rather than chapters worth of self-plagiarism and reiteration.
When you’re in the middle of the boxing round, as you become ever busier, as things gain traction and chaos surrounds, consider these as potential crutches to help you through. Some of them have worked for me.
Some of these you might have heard before. This is true for a lot of tips. But this is a free list, PLUS I won’t need to spend too much time giving it a unique angle to justify charging you for the intel. This is simple list making. Put all the things you need to do down in a list. Put the smallest niggly; biggest most difficult; most important or lucrative things first – whatever works for you. Just put it down in a way that works for you. Then attack the list. It seems simple, but when the buzzards of emails, phone calls, crises, anxieties and the likes hit, that list might just carry your ass through more than a few bad rounds. You have a plan of how to get to a desired place and then you put one paw in front of the other and the art of sequencing is really about giving yourself the permission and the clarity of IGNORING a whole bunch of distractions. Some prefer getting the annoying little tasks out of the way first so they can focus. Some say do the most important things first, or the most unpleasant things first. You know yourself, do what works – and if you don’t know yourself then experiment and figure it out. But then make the damn list, and work through it. Daily. It might be you seldom finish the whole list. Be fine with that too. Notch up all the completed items as wins – over time they add up. That list is unlikely ever to be done – so just follow it until the bell rings and you can retreat to the corner to nurse your wounds. That’s what lists are for. To put up automatic priorities when you’re too dazed to think.
This trick is about using generalities to help along specifics. Put yourself in place. In terms of the people around you, the places you operate, the goals and objectives you have, the ways in which you can mitigate or manage drawbacks or weaknesses. It’s about deliberately putting yourself close to those things that will be positive. The proximity principle. It’s kinda like the young kid wanting to work in film. He could do a lot worse than to hang around film sets. Put your business, yourself, your headspace, your physical presence, consistently close to the things you want. The closeness itself will ensure that any drift you experience in the day to day is likely to bump into something valuable or useful. If networking is something you need to do more of and don’t like, set yourself up a few events which will force you to do that, a little bit. If you’re in the aerospace industry, put your office among other folks in aerospace. Get as close to the things that you need more of and stick around it. Over time, being close to the right things ups the chances they bump into you. Your active work is of course critical – all your deliberate and directed intentional acts. But putting passive little helpers in place won’t hurt.
The single most important thing in entrepreneurship is planning. By contrast, planning is the single most useless activity in entrepreneurship. Look, no strategy survives first contact with the enemy. Tactics take over when strategy goes out the window. Training and habits and small-scale stuff, if practiced, prepared and ready at hand – might help you out of some tight corners when the big picture becomes some sort of academic, distant abstraction. On the ground, small scale, detail matter. Then again, if all you have is the daily grind and there is no big picture, you can end up fighting and winning battles every day and never get anywhere. We need big picture and small picture – both. Sit down and plot it out – it’s useful even if it’s unlikely to play out exactly the way you have it. What is interesting and new(ish) here, the little Eureka I offer, is that these modalities of scale can have motivational functions. Think about the big picture too much, and you get tired. Stay in the details too long, and you get tired. So as you go through the battles, I find you can go a lot longer when you switch. Do some work on the big picture things, and then, when you’re feeling winded, switch modalities to the small-scale stuff. Do that a bit, and then switch back. It is one way to continue momentum and squeeze some extra mileage out of your person or your day. A modality shift isn’t quite as good as a holiday, but sometimes it can feel like a breath of fresh air.
Speaking of breathing, in the life of warriors, it’s butterfly-stroke. You put your head down and you hold your breath and you get on with business. Effort effort effort – punch punch punch – work work work – get ‘er done. The thing about what we do is that it’s very easy for lines to blur. You don’t work from home, it’s more like you live at work. There are no clear boundaries when you work for yourself – your boss is an asshole and you don’t get to take lunch and insist on rights. You either eat or you don’t, and so there is a tendency to be always on. But when you swim butterfly-style, that really only goes only so far. So forget smelling the roses – remember to come up for air. And like any athletic endeavour, rhythm helps. Arm one goes roundy roundy, arm two, arm one, arm two, then up for air – and repeat. Schedule downtime and stick to it. Get some time away that you can have and use and enjoy without guilt. I need some time to breathe, get away from the problem, get my health bar back to green (if not full). This is important because this gig of ours is often creative, as well as technical and commercial – and when it comes to creative endeavours, what goes IN often determines the quality and value of what comes OUT. Don’t think of your breaks or time away as guilty transgressions. Rather, they might well be the key to enhancing the quality and value of the things you get done. Thus, it is imperative. Thus, it’s not good enough to promise you’ll get to it. Schedule that thing. Arm one roundy roundy, arm two, one, two – THEN UP FOR AIR – or guuuurl, you gonna drown.
It’s sometimes really hard to know how things are going. Hindsight being 20/20, it’s often a lot easier to tell how they’ve gone. This is about using reflecting constructively – that is, to look at the past in order to notice patterns, trends or trajectory. Assume I’m looking at budgets. Every year I get caught out when Christmas sneaks up on me and I have to buy gifts for an army of ingrates. Now if I looked at exactly what happened for the past 150 years, it turns out December comes after November. Almost like it doesn’t sneak up, I’m just not aware of it because I haven’t charted the course. I propose something similar is possible in business. Do you know if there is seasonality in your game? Not in your industry, but in your individual game? But it’s not about just comparing then to now. The nature of the gig is that any battle is followed by the next. It’s easy to feel like you’re never getting anywhere. Reflecting on successes is important from a mission point of view, it’s not just fluffy feel good. Instead of experiencing the venture as one darn thing after the other, there’s an opportunity to see a trajectory. That trajectory can actually provide a lot of clarity for the future, or indicate necessary course adjustments. Don’t use it as a way to get analysis paralysis, but every quarter or so, do a bit of a look back over the shoulder. Given the accuracy of historical data compared to projections, is this the course we’re happy with? If yes, take the win on the chin and smile. If no, course correct and fire up engine two.
Metrify and Systemise
What is studied improves by the very fact it is measured. You don’t have to go ultra-nerd with numbers and metrics, in fact, going ultra-nerd might waste valuable time. But there are some key numbers, important indicators, that might help you. I’m not talking about the standard charts and ratios, the accounting formulae or click-through-rates or any of that stuff. Rather, your own metrics to help you. Say you want to improve sales. You’d want to spend time on making sales. How many mails did you send, calls did you make, hours did you spend this week vs. last. Find a metric that matters – whatever that is to you – and then use it to gauge what works and what doesn’t. Metrify that thaing. Strengths can be fine-tuned and weaknesses eradicated if you have a way to measure them so you can adjust. It could be as simple as saying you want to spend more time writing and less answering emails. In theory we’ll always get to it. Like eating heathier and working out. Sure. I will, I don’t need to make a spreadsheet, do I? But you don’t get to it. You never do. When you track your macros and calories, your sets and reps, the theory becomes real. I did eat healthier and I did work out more: there it is, in the numbers. Same thing with emails vs writing. If I spent 2 hours and 3 hours this week, respectively, then I know what I need to do – literally and in actual objective reality do – to get things better. Up this number. Down that one. Easy as pie, once I know what to measure. Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just keep your eye on a few key numbers so you always know where you’re at. And to systemise is merely seeing if there are things you can make automatic. I’m not a fan of automated funnel processes. You only send me one copy and paste mass sales email before I hate your guts forever, and I suspect more ‘consumers’ feel that way than digital agencies and YouTube gurus suspect. But making it part of business-as-usual is a nifty trick. Wash the dishes after the meal and the kitchen is always clean. Schedule time for rest and you know you’ll get it. Do sales for one hour every day before the bell rings and you’ll get it in. Systemise whatever is important and it will stay important.
An hour legally mandated lunch every day? Sick leave? Health and Safety standards to keep me cushy? ROTFLMAO. The law of entrepreneurs, that is to say the law of the jungle, is a lot simpler than all that. Don’t work don’t eat. Fair or not fair, you win or you don’t. There’s a lot of compromises and sacrifices you make because you have the guts to do your own thing. And it does take guts because you are taking risks. You are taking responsibility for things you more often than not can’t control, and it’s a lot of late nights, early mornings, self short-changing, et cetera. So Perk Biting is simply the art of occasionally noticing a juicy perk you wouldn’t have had if you did what every other person did working a cushy job somewhere, and then taking a big, nice bite. Always working? Make Tuesday morning between 09 and 12 cinema day. Claim VAT. Utilise the juicy bits when and as you can and enjoy that. Nothing crazy. Every now and then. A nice big piece of cake when you find it.
Don’t worry, I haven’t dyed my hair. Just saying. If you lose, too bad: you would have given everything and no one will care. If you win, they will call you rich and despise you for exploiting others. So, away from them – because them is clearly cluelessly stupid – remember why you do this. I know and you know, given what it takes, what it costs, what you have to give up – that you can’t do this thing for the money. There is something more at work. A passion, a mission, a big reason why. Remember that. The best way to keep the faith, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, is to practice it. If you turn to Mecca to pray five times a day, you elevate your thoughts five times a day. If you go to Church every Sunday, the discipline keeps you spiritually fit. I’m all for atheism – indeed, secular humanism have much to offer the psyche. But the problem is that the ability to do something whenever you want is not the same thing as doing something as a matter of course regularly. This is the religious advantage – its patterns, rituals and traditions for part of the rhythm of life and so ensures its relevance. Go to church brothers and sisters. Regularly, passionately and consistently remind yourself why you are doing all this. I find that those who succeed invariably do so because they want to solve real or serious problems. They want to serve or help people. They want to make the world a better place or do something truly amazing. It has to be more than money – and you need to honour, preserve and promote that more. Whatever your thing is, whatever your vibe is, and however you do that deep and meaningful stuff you like – I’m no evangelist. You do you. But by all means, do do you. Don’t forget it or put it off. This business thing and this life thing… it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And while the childish and the entitled can bleat about disaster and death – those of us who actually carry weight on our shoulders understand that dying is easy – survival is the tricky part. It is a sin to allow them to wear you down. That light you carry is sacred and special and worthwhile – and the world needs it. Rock on. Remember your reasons.
And with that, it’s on to the next paragraph of the next chapter of the next work. Hope there was some value for you.