So recently I've been having conversations with a new friend and fellow spooncarver who wants to take the steps to find themselves in a few years in the spot where I am now, fully self-employed and in control of my financial outcome and growth. He has done a lot of things in life, and just had a kid, and is realizing that hustling for himself will probably have a greater likelihood of him finding himself in a position where he can support his family and live a satisfied, fulfilling life. We had a long conversation last week where I spilled my guts about how things went for me up until now, what I thought was important and things he should prepare himself for. Most of these points and topics are also in my upcoming book that's coming out from Chelsea Green Publishing this spring (I'd give you the title of the book but we haven't figured that out yet despite the book being written by now!). So if you like thinking about this stuff, you would probably dig the book.
I started off by warning him that whatever time frame for "success", whatever that means, he had probably needs to be doubled or tripled and even then it might not be accurate. That despite this truth, the most important thing is to start the thing you want to do, and not wait for the time to be right, or the thing to be perfect, or yourself to be qualified.
I talked about how important it was for me to come out from hiding behind a handle or business name and start building myself up as a brand (or reputation, if that phrase makes your stomach turn). How sharing the journey worked better than pretending to be on top of everything. How being thoughtful about how you portrayed yourself was important, but so was just being consistent about producing content.
While the goal might be to become ridiculously good at whatever your thing is, that's too high a bar to set for beginning. Instead, the true bar is, are you good enough to bring value to someone at a price point you can accept for now? If so, then begin, and let the economic incentive drive your improvement in your chosen thing by getting you to do a lot of it. I heard a story about Tony Robbins the motivational speaker (although I think he doesn't use that term) how when he was starting out, he looked at people in the field he was just starting in with so much more experience than him, and he set out to close that gap by just doing what they were doing, but doing four times as much in the same amount of time. You can do this same thing with whatever you do.
Say you have a job and you need to keep it until whatever you are starting begins to bring in money, right? Get up at five, or work in the evenings instead of watching whatever show you are bingeing. Keep kicking that can down the road. Telling yourself that you have no idea what you are doing with bookkeeping? Have the mild panic attack, take a deep breath and break that problem down into its constituent pieces. Nothing is so complicated that you cannot figure it out. You don't need to know the answers to begin. You do need to ask the questions and begin to educate yourself.
Remember that everyone, EVERYONE, started out in the same spot. Don't even bother comparing your situation to someone else's unless it is to reverse engineer what they did so you can do it too. Other than that, run your own race.
Spend your money on your business. Spend it on a bookkeeper to help you a few hours here or there, or on insurance, or on a printer or on a website. Don't spend it on buying more tools or clothes or dinner out or some new toy. You can waste a lot of money in life. Use your money to further your goals.
Speaking of goals, write them down. Figure out what steps would get you there. Write those down. Now throw that out because how you think you will get there is almost certainly not how you will get there. Business plans are not something that is written down that you adhere to. Business plans are the ever shifting sense you have of what is now possible that wasn't possible last week, or the week before, because you have been active and aren't in the same place now that you were then.
Be prepared to be poor. We have been poor for many years, and are just now in the strange space of not being poor and not NOT being poor. Part of this is that my wife has been in school for the last three years and will be for another year and a half. Part of this is that it takes time to build anything up. If you want to experience the joy, frustration and deep satisfaction of building something yourself, of owning it, then be prepared to tighten your belt, at least for a few years.
Finally, being self-employed, especially in these early lean years, means hustling. I was recently at an outdoor table at a fantastic Moroccan restaurant on a date with my wife, when I overheard a young man next to us say that he could never work for himself because he doesn't want to hustle. And I thought, "yup, spot on", because when you are pushing to grow something, the one thing you can't leverage is your time. You only have so much, and it will always be a limiting factor, used to the max. Here I am at 10:44 pm, finishing telling this to you and then I will go to bed and get up at 5:30 to hustle some more. That's just the truth. When you are supporting your family, or when you have big dreams, or when you can taste that this moment in history or in your life is a particular pivot point, how could you do any less?
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.