building a business and life you love
Personal Growth

How to Build a Business and Life You Love

A close friend recently asked me to lend a little counsel to a solopreneur who just started his journey. He’s launching a wellness and nutrition coaching business, and like so many kitchen-table entrepreneurs, he’s navigating the anxiety of leaving a secure corporate gig to do something entirely new for the first time in his life.

Starting something new brings the hope of something great, but also includes plenty of fear and uncertainty. I’ve been there, and I was happy to lend a little support. Here are a few excerpts from an email I sent after our initial conversation to help my new friend navigate his first 100 days as a business owner.

Writing the email helped me recognize that most of this advice still applies to my own business today. I hope it might help you also!

You’ve Already Won

Congratulations! Go celebrate.

Making the move to start your own business is a milestone worth commemorating.

Celebrate in a way that’s specific and memorable. Surround yourself with people you love. Go to your favorite restaurant. You have already won, my friend!

Most people are too terrified to ever really take the dream off the shelf and go for it. It can be an overwhelming, arduous process to trade in the secure corporate gig for the solopreneur hustle. I suffered for years agonizing over this decision until the great recession pushed me into placing a big bet on myself. It was the best bet I have ever made, not because of what I have accumulated, but because of who it has helped me become.

One of my best friends, who is also a trusted adviser and wildly successful entrepreneur, shared this perspective as I was getting started: “The only regret you are going to have is that you didn’t do this 10 years sooner.” Then he asked a favor. “Call me on the day you believe that is the truth.” To this day, it was one of the most satisfying phone calls I have ever made.

Decide What You Want

Decide what you want. Dream big. Commit. Write it down. Do it right now. Share it with someone you love.

Define your vision of your life and business 12 months from now. Why are you doing this? How does it feel? How do your customers feel? How do the people you love feel about you? Capture it all. You need this to focus on what matters and to be crystal clear on mapping your actions and activities in support of your vision.

Determine the next most important action you can take to create momentum and move you in that direction. Go do that.

Repeat that process.

Repeat it again.

You’ll learn that your time is your most important asset. Manage your time to move you toward to direction of your dreams. Map every decision in support of the vision. The key here is making meaningful, measurable progress every single day.

There are going to be missteps and mistakes. I made them all. Anticipate the adversity because it’s coming. The key is how you respond. Focus on the next, most important action you can take.

Here are 50 lessons I learned 3 years into my own entrepreneurial journey.

Act Like Your Life Depends On It

Some of the most sound, actionable advice I received when starting my business was from a mentor of mine who shared this sentiment over breakfast: “Approach this moment like your life depends upon it. Because it does.”

Of course, the advice wasn’t literal — leaving a secure job and starting a business certainly wasn’t life or death. However, it was my opportunity to create the kind of life I wanted to live. In order to capitalize, I needed to focus. This was my shot and he was reminding me that most small businesses fold inside two years.

How was I going to defy the odds?

He introduced the idea of a “quit list.”

What distractions could I eliminate? What additional expenses could go? What excuses was I making? What else was I going to quit?

We made lists. A few of the things that landed on my “quit list” were:

  • Playing golf.
  • Dining out.
  • Shopping.
  • Watching TV.
  • Driving to work (I’ll admit the walk wasn’t that far, but it gets really, really cold in Minnesota).
  • Interviewing for jobs (quitting my Plan B was an essential mind shift that helped me focus on moving forward).

I’ll ask you directly. What is on your quit list?

This was a defining moment on my journey that unleashed another level of hunger inside me. Failure was no longer an option. I was willing to fight to make it work. To this day I haven’t played a round of golf, simply to serve as a reminder that in order to earn this life that I love, sacrifices are required.

Quitting the things that don’t really matter to you will help you reach the goals that do matter. Remind yourself what you’re working toward and remove distractions that don’t serve or support moving you in the right direction.

I’ll add that “working less” and “getting rich” are two of the worst reasons I can think of to start a business. Solving a problem or deploying your talent against a legitimate opportunity are much better reasons. I still drive the same car and live in the same apartment that I did when I started my business eight years ago. Not because I have to, but because those things aren’t drivers of my happiness or essential to help me create a business or life I love. Money equals freedom and it’s the fuel I need to fund the growth of my company.

Brand The Customer Experience

The most important consideration for any new solopreneur is a paying customer. I’d spend a whole lot less time worrying about your platform, website, time management system, LLC or S corporation and start obsessing about getting your next paying customer to contract.

You have proven sales competency. You need to deploy that skill set every single hour of every single day. Eight years later there isn’t a day that goes by — not a single day — that I’m not focused on sales. It’s the engine that creates the opportunity for everything else.

Then, you need to deliver a little more value than your client expects every single time. I’m talking about shock and awe. Surprise and delight. You need to turn every single customer into a Brand Evangelist. Actually, that is all you need. Paying customers. Brand evangelists. Your business will grow.

Get clear about your authentic, differentiated, compelling value proposition and be remarkable in every single client engagement. Most solopreneurs fail because they can’t sell. You can. Use that skill to your advantage!

Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle.

This is my mantra. We use these words to remind ourselves what is required to compete, earn opportunities, deliver value, help people and as a result, succeed.

You know what hustle means. You were also hungry enough to take the dream off of the shelf. I promise that the journey forward will prove to be one of the best, most humbling experiences of your life.

Your Fear Is Normal

Just a few days after hitting send on this email to my friend, I found myself having coffee in San Diego with a C-suite executive contemplating his own transition from corporate life to the kitchen table to chase his dream. We talked through navigating that decision and what comes next. It isn’t easy, especially when you’re responsible for a family that includes four small children. If you didn’t feel a little fear when confronted with big decisions like this, you wouldn’t be normal! The key is using that fear to your advantage.

It was clear to me during the conversation how excited, inspired and alive he is when talking about “the dream.” It isn’t the next job for him, it’s what he was put on this earth to be doing. When you know that, my best advice is to go boldly in the direction of that dream. There is never going to be a perfect moment where the stars align in your favor. You are granted favor when you take bold, decisive action in the direction of your dreams.

There has never been a better time to do it and it’s worth the reminder: We only get one trip around the sun.

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