Entrepreneurship: Year One

My first post in 2011. Good thing it’s an important one…

It’s been one year. One year since I started this maiden voyage of entrepreneurship. One year since I walked into my nine to five and walked out with two weeks severance and a “have a nice life”. Today marks the one year anniversary of leaving corporate America and giving things a go on my own.

Now on my second business, I’ve learned a lot and grown exponentially as a professional, and more importantly, as a person. There have been ups and downs, many times where I’ve wanted to say “screw this” and get back into a nine to five routine, but as other business owners and entrepreneurs can attest, their is something addicting about living live by your own terms and being the master of your own domain.

The word of the year for me, by far, was focus. Focus encompasses everything I’ve been through this year, and focus has helped guide every decision I’ve made. Focus is the one thing, above all else, that any aspiring entrepreneur must have to see “success”. It’s the one thing I’ve continued to find solace in as a professional and as an individual.

And truth be told, this has been a very successful year. I don’t like to toot my own horn or dust my shoulder off, but I’m big enough to embrace my own successes, just as I’ll be the first to admit when I’ve fallen short and, by public definition, failed.

Through it all, I’ve been very transparent online – I’ve allowed all of you who are interested into my life on a very personal level, and many of you reading this have watched me evolve over the past year. Without your support, this would have been a much, much more difficult road to travel, and since the very beginning of this still relatively new chapter in my life, the readers (that would be you) have been there to wish me the best.

So, in true “year in review” fashion, I have a couple of “life lessons” to pass along to those who may be traveling down a similar path or are thinking about turning over a new leaf in 2011.

Believe in yourself and trust your instincts

God, it sounds so cliche’ I almost hate myself for writing it, but it’s said over and over  for a reason – because it’s true. The one person you MUST learn to trust completely is yourself. Your instincts will not steer you in the wrong direction, and if they do, embrace the poor decision and learn from it. The worst feeling in the world is having to say “I knew I should have done that”. Don’t be that guy, go with your gut and stay true to yourself.

Focus on your client’s happiness

Your ideas and your vision will get you far, but at the end of the day, success falls on your client’s happiness. Do everything you can (within reason) to make them happy. As a designer, developer, and strategist it’s my goal to get clients thinking in new and innovative ways, guiding them toward “outside-the-box” reasoning – but there’s a fine line between enforcing your ideas and FORCING your ideas – don’t do the latter – guide your clients toward the light, but let them be the decision makers and do everything you can to reflect their vision (without losing yourself). A satisfied customer is the best customer.

Don’t underestimate (or overestimate) your value

Having traveled quite a bit in the past year, chatting with current and aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s unanimous that one of the most difficult tasks of an entrepreneur or freelancer is determining your own value? The age old question: “How much do I charge”? I can’t answer that one for you, but I am here to tell you that you’re probably worth more than you think, just maybe not THAT much.

Also, an extremely important note: Your pricing model will change, your rates will evolve as your own personal needs change and your skill-set evolves. Don’t be afraid to up your rates – know your worth and own it. There’s no “going rate” for what Proof does, you can pay peanuts or you can empty your bank account for marketing services – it’s not about competing, it’s about knowing your position in the market and embracing your worth.

Ironically, the best part of working from home is not working from home

Sounds weird, I know – you’d think being able to work from home would be the best part of being an entrepreneur, and don’t get me wrong, all the Saved by the Bell reruns and Law and Order marathons are great, but my productivity exponentially increases when I get off the couch and head into a coffee shop. It’s like Jedi-mind-tricking myself into thinking I have to wake up, shower, and head into the office. Changing up your scenery does wonders.

Total freedom is a fallacy

Hear me out. The one thing you’ll hear every entrepreneur talk about is freedom and how great it is to have freedom. And it is great – but total freedom is something we trick ourselves into thinking we want. Now that I’ve been doing this for a year, I find myself craving structure – not “work from a cubicle” structure but structure to my work-day so I don’t find myself constantly working all hours of the day and being on call 24/7. I now appreciate structured freedom and am working now more than ever on finding my own work-life balance. Like everything, it’s a work-in-progress.

Be up front about setting your own expectations

One of the lessons I learned very early on is that you can’t be everywhere all the time. You can’t do everything. You can’t please everyone 24/7. So stop trying. You will absolutely drive yourself nuts (been there) if you create the expectation that you’re always on call. Don’t create an environment for yourself in which your clients believe you’re always reachable. Why? As soon as you do, you create an unrealistic expectation. The minute you can’t reply to an email at 11pm, the minute you cant fix someone’s website at 3 in the morning, your clients are panicking wondering where the hell you are. Put simply, don’t do it to yourself – be up front about your expectations and relay those to the people you work with.

And for God’s sake, don’t let your work consume you

The best part of what I do is that I love doing it. I love my life and I’m humbled that I’m in the position to be writing this post at 25 years old – I never thought I’d be here, but I am here, so here I am. But, you enter treacherous territory when work is more than a part of your life, it is your life. Know where to draw the line. Know when to unplug and spend time with your family. Know when to call it a day, know when to say no to a new project that comes your way. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and don’t try to do it all.

So there you have it, a year in review, and what a year it’s been. I take everything I’ve learned in year one and will carry it with me as I continue down the path of year two. There’s a lot of great things ahead of me, a lot of challenges to overcome, and a lot of success to be had. I’m looking forward to every minute of it…

(Photo c/o Rob Williams)