Quick Wins (or why most people give up after the first try on life-changing projects)

The screen shot photo above is pretty much how I’ve felt this past week. I call that my “boo-yah!” face. But before we can celebrate, let’s give a brief history… (and if you can’t see the photo I’m talking about, click here)

**This is a lengthy post. If you’re pressed for time, scroll down to the header that says “Quick Wins” and go from there. If you’ve got a little more time, sit back and enjoy the story :)**

Frustration

For the past few months, I’ve been learning, reading, working, and failing – to set up a secondary income from a product-based business. I have considered myself an entrepreneur for the past 2 years based upon the following definition:

“(someone who) shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.”Jean-Baptiste Say (French economist)

However, it’s not the typical definition of what the average person on the street would consider an “entrepreneur”. I’ve wanted to run the biz-nazz! And maybe you have too. If you’ve ever been bit by the entrepreneurial bug, but have lost sight of the goal at some point along the way, then this post is for you.

No expert

Before I give a helpful tip (and it’s just one small tip…as there are HUNDREDS of tips that can and do help) on what has held me back, beaten me down, and kicked me to the curb (and is probably doing the same thing to you if you can relate), I have to give a disclaimer. I am no expert. And that’s for sure! I’ve been following in the footsteps of some real giants, and have struggled along the way to get to where I am right now. But please believe me, I don’t have all the answers on this topic, I’m just excited to help those that might be a few steps behind me. The information that I’m going to share is a conglomeration of 2 years of learning from folks like Seth Godin, Robert Kiyosaki, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jason Fried, Tim Ferriss, and a large chunk from Ramit Sethi. These guys are the experts, and if you want to get serious about starting and running a successful business, they’re the ones to listen to! Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

A mental shift

It’s a difficult (but WORTHWHILE) process to shift from an employee mindset (mainly, taking orders from someone else) to an entrepreneurial mindset (taking control of your financial destiny). It’s one that took me over a year and a half just to change how I thought, and that was only 2 years removed from receiving my bachelors degree in college! I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for someone who is an employee for longer when the entrepreneurial bug bites them. The longer you’ve been an employee, the more you’ll have to UN-learn before you can LEARN to think an entrepreneur. This isn’t just my own meandering opinion, it’s what I’ve heard from people who have made the shift later on in life than when I decided to make mine.

I referenced Robert Kiyosaki above. Two books of his that really do an excellent job explaining the importance of becoming an entrepreneur (not for everyone, but if you’re still reading this post, then you’re probably one of the people who needs to consider becoming one) are Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and The Cashflow Quadrant. He really does do a great job explaining the basics and helping to foster that mental-shift required to move from order-taker to decision-maker.

Learning translated into action

Once enough knowledge is captured, a basic business idea may come to mind. You may want to sell a product, or start offering your services (this is more of a self-employment mindset, which Kiyosaki talks about, but for the sake of this post, we’ll also consider it under that category of “business owner”, as it still falls under the basic definition of an entrepreneur). If you are itching to start a business but don’t know where to begin, there are a million different suggestions to finding your passion, finding your product, finding your niche, etc. The easiest method that worked for me was to create a product or service that I myself would use or need, or work to promote one that I already was using (almost like an affiliate type of deal).

After reading the Four Hour Workweek, and after a 2-year stint in the customer service industry (it wasn’t a pleasant one), I began fantasizing about owning a product-based business. There would be less customer service needed, it’d be easier to tweak, and there would be potential to outsource and automate. It just made sense. I won’t go sharing the details with the product that I had in mind (as I still plan on picking this product up, now that I’ve got a little momentum created elsewhere…and yes, this is a physical product I’m talking about), but I will share what happened to me, and what may have happened to you (or may even be happening to you right now).

My gory story

The idea was in my head. I had it all figured out. I would find a supplier to negotiate with, get my product at a fantastically sexy price, implement genius marketing, start local, move to domestic, then sell internationally. I would do it all online so I didn’t have to open a physical store. I’d set it up with a distributor, get a fulfillment house in on the action from the get-go (so I didn’t have to do any of the packing or inventory). As a matter of fact, why would I have to really do any of this at all? I know! I’ll outsource even the research process to a virtual assistant so they can do all my dirty work while I sit on my couch and watch the NFL playoffs!

Boy, was I wrong…

After the first 3 failed VAs (the time and language barrier really didn’t help), terrible research on my part, awful first impressions made on my part with potential wholesale distributors, multiple domain purchases for “potential” business names (I still own them and no, I will not end up using any of them…what the heck was I thinking?!?), hours upon hours of design for said potential domains (again, what was I thinking?!), sample of product after sample after sample, confusing legal paperwork for a business that I wanted to start without even understanding the necessary tax documents I’d need to provide, and a whole laundry list of other failed attempts on my part, I finally threw in the towel and went back to working on things that I knew were working for me (extra time with my Army Reserve unit, and some serious Ebay’ing).

So why did I fail?

The answer is so incredibly simple it slapped me in the face the first time I heard Ramit say it in his Earn1k program:

“Go for quick wins”

(Note: The Earn1k program is designed to teach everyday folks like you and me how to earn your first $1,000 on the side, apart from your regular income. It is mainly an introductory course to freelancing [and seriously, the BEST freakin one I’ve seen, and packed with more useful and actionable information that most of the classes I took in college…and I’m not kidding!], but Ramit is a psychological genius and the truth he shares in his products overflow into other facets of life. I would credit part of the psychology behind my guide on How to Start Motivating Yourself to Start Working Out to some of the wisdom I’ve gained from his teaching. I’m not an affiliate for his products [right now], but I KNOW that they work. Anything this dude is selling is worth FAR more than what you’ll pay for it!)

Quick wins

The reason I failed in my previous product idea, was because there was no opportunity for a quick win in my business plan. If the guy that I am now were to jump back a few months in time and tell the guy that had all these harebrained schemes about how to start a business, I would tell him this: “Go for quick wins!”

What invaluable advice! I had no idea what I was doing, so I went with what I perceived was the right thing to do. Stupid thoughts that entered my head were:

  • You can’t start a business without a proper tax ID
  • You can’t start a business without a website
  • You can’t begin selling a product until you have it designed perfectly, 100%
  • You can’t start without having every single piece of the puzzle in place
  • You need at least (quantity x) worth of inventory before you can begin testing to see if this is a good idea
  • (maybe the worst one of all) You need a set sum of $$ set aside in order to begin. After all, “It takes money to make money”.

Puke. What an idiot! If I had just gone for the quick win, the evil un-virtuous cycle of failure never would’ve occurred, and I probably would have that product up and running by now.

I made a mistake so you don’t have to

And that mistake is this: I didn’t go for the quick win.

What would a quick win look like? Let me also offer you once again, a personal story.

Wisdom applied – Other than Ramit’s Earn1k program, there are 2 books that really hammered this concept of “quick wins” into my brain – Seth Godin’s Linchpin, and Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. I DO want to recommend that you read both of these books if you haven’t already, but I’m going to give a few important nuggets from them right now.

Godin’s book speaks on the topic of “shipping”. Shipping consists of coming up with an idea, setting a date on when that idea will come to fruition (which could be in the form of a product release, a new service, a presentation, an important document, or any other form of “art” which requires “emotional labor” – both terms and topics discussed in the book), and then meeting that date no matter what happens!

Rework talks (among other things) how perfection is really the enemy of production. If a product or service has to be perfect in order for it to “ship”, it will rarely ever ship on time. This book echoes what Godin discusses also in picking a date and sticking to that date no matter what. Interesting…

The nuggets of wisdom gained from these two books and from Ramit is this: Quick wins help to create momentum. (Before you go and pick up a copy of my motivational fitness Guide, realize that this very concept is what can and WILL make the difference in your fitness as well.)

The reason that my business idea before never came to fruition was that I never gave myself a chance to create momentum. Getting quick wins does exactly that!

One more brief story of victory, and then a challenge

Fast forward from the first ugly story 9 months, and you arrive at a momentous event for me in the last 2 weeks. If you’ve been following me for the past month, you may be familiar with this story.

My good buddy David Crandall has begun testing out his business-coaching abilities. I was his first test subject. I think you’ll see that his coaching is working pretty good in a few minutes here 🙂

His advice for me, after listening to my full story and corralling some of the thoughts that were in my head was this: “set a ridiculously, uncomfortably-close date, and launch your first info product. I think 6 days from now is a great time frame.”

SIX DAYS?!? I didn’t even have enough time to focus on all the reason why I couldn’t do this. I committed to the date, began working furiously, and 6 days later, released my first info product on time and fully-functional. But an interesting thing happened with that entire experience, and you can probably guess what I’m about to say:

I finally got a quick win!

The momentum is rolling now, and after tasting and seeing what it’s like to have a product that I own and am selling (even on a small scale), I am MORE hungry now than I ever was in the past 9 months! A quick win did it all. Now I have plans in place to improve upon the existing product. I’m getting feedback from the first wave of customers who are loving it and offering up suggestions for what they’d like to see next, AND I’ve even made a few bucks from it. Woah! This is fun!

So what’s holding you back?

I don’t ask that question pridefully or in a snotty fashion. I’m asking seriously and humbly. What is the core piece to your entrepreneur puzzle that if you achieved it, would provide maximum momentum? Have you defined what it is you want? Have you identified what it is you DON’T want to do that would distract you from getting there?

If you’re an entrepreneur reading this, what advice do you have for someone wanting to get started that will give them a quick win (and momentum)?

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for taking the time to be a part of the story. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea. As always, I’m all ears to what you have to say!

– JC

Photo credit: The incredibly hilarious jeremyrowley

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