It’s natural to fear the unknown, common to experience anxiety and depression about it, and natural to think about it often. The lack of control, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, if anything at all. The chaos of thought that enters the mind about missed opportunities, failures, things you’ve could have done better, things you wanted to do but had to sacrifice, and whether or not it was all worth it.
The above can describe one of two things: what a person feels about death (or when they are about to die); and what a person experiences as an entrepreneur. There is no coincidence that these two topics share the same similarities. They are very much alike.
I am guessing that most of you who have started your own business know exactly what I’m talking about. I’d like to share 8 principles that I have learned in the first couple of years since I officially launched my computer business.
1. Managing Distractions
I put this as number 1 because this is one of the most difficult things that I have to manage. I have a wife, a 2-year old daughter, and run the business out of my home office. Distractions will occur, and they will not subside. This can be distractions from others, or from within. Both types need to be controlled and managed. I have found they very seldom can be avoided.
Lesson: Set goals, set a schedule, and do what it takes to limit distractions. Literally, do what it takes. I do computer repairs/services, write articles, run a website, and a few other ventures. The internet, family/people calling you up, the guitar sitting in the room… all distractions that need to be managed. Sacrifices need to be made or you will go crazy and service will suffer.
Read: “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield. A great short read about fighting distractions and internal conflict.
2. Managing Your Time.
Working full time while operating part-time business is in itself a test on how well you can manage your time. Throw in a family and you have quite a challenge, especially if you want to remain sane (but who said entrepreneurs were sane anyway?).
Lesson: This, like number 1, is and ongoing process. Honestly, it’s still quite a struggle for me. What I can offer is this: try not to take on too much too fast. I have had a tendency to do this, as probably most new business owners do. If your service doesn’t suffer from it, your health probably will. Also, write down a schedule and stick to it. If you have a family or have a significant other, make sure they are on-board with your schedule and they know when you are working on the business.
3. Managing Your Health.
A dead tech isn’t going to accomplish much, or grow a business for that matter (unless you are also an artist where your paintings will probably skyrocket in value AFTER you die; however, you won’t really benefit much from the boost in business!).
Lesson: Don’t forget the things that matter. More than likely your workout/health routine will be disrupted. It’s very easy to let this part of your life go as you are building your business. Be self-aware and know your limits; Lord knows I’ve pushed mine a few times.
4. Managing Your Thoughts.
If you don’t have the right mind-set, you’re dead in the water. This may sound cliche or philosophical, but as an entrepreneur, you must think differently. I can’t tell you how many times I have second guessed myself, been overwhelmed with work, or experienced depression, anxiety, or fear. These feelings come and go, but as far as I can see, they will continue to occur. Without a strong will, I know that I wouldn’t be writing this today… just another failed business statistic. Let me tell you, in my experience, a strong will needs to built. Just as muscles need to be worked out, so does the will. Depression, anxiety, second guessing, those are the weights, the resistance. By overcoming those barriers with positive and visionary thinking will strengthen your will, and in turn you will make progress.
Lesson: Your thinking will directly affect your success. Read books about entrepreneurs and business that inspire you. Do not listen to anybody who ridicules you about this or has negative commentary. Do things that will influence your thoughts to be positive, such as listening to music. I’m listening right now, and have for every article I’ve written. I usually have music going while working on PC’s/laptops on the bench. Simple things like this have made a huge difference for me.
I waited till I was 17 to get my driver’s license, a year longer than when I could have received it at 16. Why? I was nervous and fearful about driving. I didn’t trust other drivers and really didn’t trust my ability to deal with it. Then my father told me “look at everyone else, they are no smarter than you; if they can do it you can do it.” I have lived by those words ever since. Sometimes it may come across as arrogant, but it gets things done.
Another tip that I re-iterate to myself: “fake it ‘til you make it.” That doesn’t mean lying about your credentials and ability. It means to vision yourself where/who you want to be. The more you do this, the more you become your goal. You will hear many successful people say this, and I have found it to work at many different steps of my career thus far.
5. Working IN Your Business
By “working IN your business” I mean the actual day-to-day tech work that you perform, the actual services. Most people starting a tech service business will either be doing all of the service themselves, or may have a partner that splits the work. Either way, you’ll be wearing many hats. Plus, this is why you started a tech business, because you like working on computers! This is great and in the early stages of the business you will be the face of your company, on-site, off-site, in your marketing, administrative tasks, and services. I still do most of the services myself also, but this is currently taking a new direction in my business.
Lesson: There are a couple points I want to make about this principle, which leads into the next three principles.
1. Working IN your business is crucial to initial success because you will build the foundation for your company by the reputation you create for it. Provide great services, give great value, market what you provide, and you will have built a solid foundation. Please note, this does not mean that you have turned a profit yet or are raking in enough to quite your day job.
2. I have found that this is a double-edged sword. Working too much IN your business and not ON it will stifle your growth. The key is balance. I have no set rule for this, but in my experience, when something works, build on it like crazy. That sounds like common sense, but it’s amazing how people don’t know how to sell themselves. Did you recently make a customer very happy with a service? If it was a unique service then get a testimonial and market that unique service as your specialty. It wasn’t a unique service, such as a virus removal, hard drive install, etc., then engage with your customer on what they liked about the experience. Maybe it was how you handled the process, the way you communicate, or the value you offer. Once you get what people like about you, your company, and your service, AMPLIFY it! Don’t let a single, seemingly small success go unnoticed in your marketing! This is the kind of balance I found necessary to grow while not having a large initial customer base.
6. Working ON Your Business
I stated in number 5 that there is really a balance needed between working IN your business and ON your business when you start out. You will then reach a certain point where you will need to work more ON your business to make it grow. This is where this “entrepreneur” thing gets interesting. You started a business to work on computers and provide services, but now you will need to focus a bit more on “business” than tech work if you want to get to the next level.
Lesson: You will know when this point occurs. Either your business has hit a plateau, you are being overwhelmed with too much work, or you need to enter other markets (such as going from residential to small business service). Decisions will have to be made on hiring staff and contractors. What can you delegate to others? Maybe you will take on a partner who can either do the tech work or business development. This is a crucial point in the business because if you let yourself get too overwhelmed or dedicate yourself to tech work while not growing your business, it can lead to disaster. Trust me, if it doesn’t bring your business down, it will probably bring your personal life down. Nobody is a lone-wolf in business. When the time comes, you may need to abandon some things that you enjoy doing and delegate them to other in order to work on the business priorities.
In all honesty, I think this is the point where many small businesses crash and burn.
This is one of the most important facets of business and I can personally testify to the success networking can bring. Your network is such an important asset that some have jokingly proposed taxing it.
Lesson: Your network is GOLD. Build it, nourish it, protect it. This and number 8 will help to slingshot your business to success and places you may never have dreamed it to go. I have turned an fairly early and good profit in my business not just from pure marketing and computer services, but from utilizing and building a network that led to new opportunities.
This is an extension of number 7 and usually one of the benefits of building a solid network. However, there will be times when other opportunities for partnerships arise. The main point is to recognize the importance of strong business partnerships. This can be in the form of affiliates and referrals, sub-contracting, or even taking on a partner in your business (or joining somebody else).
Lesson: Computer technicians sometimes tend to be more introverted and less people-oriented. Not always, but many times, especially since we tend to think in technical terms. This is one area where the technician/owner will either need to hone their people and business skills, or partner with somebody who has those skills. I have found that key partnerships will help your business grow exponentially, but you do need to have some people skills to deal with other business and earn their trust. The better you are at this the quicker you can grow (in my experience). Just remember that nobody is a lone wolf in business. Even if you are a one-man-band, it will take more than just you to grow, whether it’s contractors, employees, partners, affiliates, etc. Don’t think that you have to do everything, and don’t be afraid to share some of the pie in a good partnership.
It would be great to hear stories, tips, and lessons from your experiences! Please share your comments!