A few months ago, one of my readers asked me what I would do differently if I started my business today. How many times in your life have you said, “If only I knew what I do now”?
But if you had done something different in the past, you wouldn’t know what you do today. It’s easy to recognize your mistakes in retrospect.
Regardless of the advice that you receive from me or others, you will still make many mistakes. It is important that you learn something from them. Some of your most valuable lessons will come from your biggest blunders.
1. Develop Good Work Habits
Many people want to achieve ambitious goals before they develop the habits that make these goals possible. Habits are the compound interest in self-improvement and a successful creative career.
Developing good working habits, routines and rituals contribute significantly more to the growth of your company than almost anything else.
One of my goals was to write a book with a publisher. I didn’t even get close between 2009 and 2013. Then, I started writing 1,000 words a day, a habit that changed my life forever and helped me achieve my goal.
Why is This So Important?
Contrary to popular belief, authors do not write books fueled by sudden bursts of inspiration. Entrepreneurs do not build companies because they have a spark of insight. That’s just how these endeavors begin.
Execution is bridging the gap between idea and reality. It is crucial to making ideas happen. And your ability to execute depends on your work habits.
You can have the most brilliant idea in the world. Someone else could have an idea as stupid as the pet rock. If they execute, but you don’t, their foolish idea will be more successful than your brilliant one.
How To Do It
The little things you do today will get you where you want to be tomorrow, in a week or a year. You want to develop work habits that are consistent with your goals, but if your habits are not sustainable, they won’t stick.
Use Minimum Viable Actions
Don’t underestimate the power of starting small or the profound power of consistency. You’re better off doing little things every day than do a big thing once a month.
One concept that has helped our Unmistakable Prime members make a ton of progress in their 100-day projects has been the minimum viable action. You can identify a minimum viable action for each habit by breaking them down into individual parts.
At the most basic level, a daily writing habit can be broken up into the following minimum viable actions:
- Get out something to write with
- Get a notebook off your shelf or open your writing software
- Open your notebook
- Put pen to paper
When people ask me how they can develop a daily writing habit, I encourage them to do nothing but open a notebook for seven days in a row. If you commit to it, your brain will eventually say, “You keep opening that notebook, you might as well write something.”
James Clear calls this identity-based habit formation. What you are doing is developing the behavior and identity of someone who has a daily writing habit. By stacking minimum viable actions, you will ultimately turn the desired behavior into a habit.
Reduce The Activation Energy
If you want to write every day, put a pen and notebook on your desk. It will be the first thing you see in the morning. Even if it seems small, eliminating the step of getting out your notebook will make you more likely to follow through.
Focus and Flow
Attention is the currency of achievement, and flow is the creative superpower that helps you make the impossible possible. If you are serious about building a business, assume that anything irrelevant to your goals is a distraction.
This is easier said than done because marketers and other people shout from the rooftops about the latest killer app or something every business owner needs to do. Following the advice of someone who says everyone should do something is the height of stupidity. Listen to them at your peril.
You might remember this thing called Google Plus. It was all the rage for six months. Bloggers and marketers said it was going to be the next big thing. Social media marketing blogs wrote about it. But in the end, it was a big distraction instead of the next big thing.
Your job as an entrepreneur is to create value for your business and your customers, not hop on stupid bandwagons.
The Deep Work Equation
Cal Newport’s equation for deep work is Time x Intensity of Focus = Quality of Work Produced.
Let’s say you apply this to the goal of writing a book. It’s easy to measure time, but we don’t have a metric for the intensity of focus. So let’s say 1 is the lowest intensity level and 9 is the highest.
It’s not about the time you do something, but the intensity of the focus you bring to the task at hand. It doesn’t help much to have more time if you can’t concentrate. A concentrated hour of uninterrupted creative time a day leads to an exponential increase in productivity.
Once you’re able to do this, you will start to get into flow. The paradox of flow is that you have to work hard, but it feels effortless. Hours will feel like minutes, and both the quality and quantity of your output increase.
According to Steven Kotler, people experience a 500 percent increase in productivity when they enter a flow state. When artists and creatives are in flow, their output increase in both quality and volume.
When I’m not in flow, it takes 45 minutes to write 1000 words. When I am, I can do the same task in 15 minutes, and the writing is better.
Developing work habits that support my goals is the first of many things I would do differently if I started my business today.
2. Focus Intensely on The Exceptionally Valuable
If you pay attention to your work habits, you will find that a few activities produce the overwhelming majority of your results. What derails most people is how much time they spend on activities that don’t.
The authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution refer to metrics as lagging indicators. But doing is a leading indicator. Measure what you do before getting caught up in metrics.
As I ran my work through a filter of what is extraordinarily valuable, three activities led to most of my results. Anything else like updating Facebook and uploading pictures to Instagram was worthless when it came to the success of my business.
Why It’s Important
In the early stages of building something, people waste a lot of time on low impact activities that have a negative impact on their work.
- They tweak the design of their website or blog when no one reads it.
- They try to find the best podcast microphone when no one is listening to their show.
- They update social media, check email 100 times a day, etc.
Changing the design of your blog doesn’t attract readers. Writing something worth-reading does.
Great sound quality isn’t going to attract listeners to your podcast if it sucks. As Seth Godin once said about podcasts, “Nobody ever says, have you heard the sound quality in the last episode of This American Life“?
If you spend your time on low impact activities, the results in your business will reflect that.
How to Do It
Concentrate on the leading indicators. To achieve this, you need to switch from being result-oriented to process-oriented. Result orientation hinders your progress. Process orientation fuels it.
Focus on Progress Instead of Outcomes
First, you have no control over the results. Let’s say, an aspiring author has a goal of selling a million books. This is not a good goal for several reasons:
- First, she can’t control how readers react to her work or whether someone buys a million copies of her book.
- Second, it does not lead to visible progress. By the time she sells a million copies of her book, she feels that she is no closer to the goal.
- Third, she’ll lose her momentum. If it doesn’t get closer to the goal, she’ll eventually give it up.
You can track things like the number of words, hours spent on deep work, etc. However to track your progress, simply select metrics that you can control.
If you focus on the process rather than the prize, your results will sometimes exceed your expectations. But if you focus on the prize, it is almost guaranteed that your results will fall short of your expectations.
Ignore Your Metrics Until they Matter
One of the biggest mistakes all creators, myself included, make is to focus on metrics rather than mastery.
They obsess about the number of followers they have and the traffic to their website, but checking your metrics doesn’t make them go up. Creating something worth-consuming does.
Ignore your metrics until they matter. Focus on the process, and the metrics move in the right direction.
Be Exceptional at One Thing. Not Average at a Dozen.
The most valuable advice I got from my mentor, Greg Hartle, wasn’t about what to do. It was about what not to do. He had me make a list of all the things I was doing to make money:
- Freelance writing for a search engine marketing site.
- Managing social media for a professional surfer.
- Maintaining two web sites: The Skool of Life Blog and The Podcast.
- Helping authors with book launches.
He asked me a question that everyone who is building a business should ask.
Do you want to be doing any of these things you’re doing now 5 years from now?
Of the activities above, the only two that I wanted to do was write and host the podcast. When I asked him about this in one of our interviews, this is how he described it:
When you and I first started working together, I said, who are you? Write down all the things that you are and ask yourself in five years, do you want to be those things?
When you and I first started working together, I said, who are you? Write down all the things that you are and ask yourself in five years, do you want to be those things?
Because I knew that every day that went by that you were attaching yourself to that identity was one more day I was going to have to work my ass off. So, the sooner we could drop those labels of things that you don’t really want to be associated with your identity, the less work you and I would have to do.
It’s valuable to develop a range of skills in different areas and apply those to your zone of genius. But if you want to stand out in a sea of noise, master your craft, become exceptional at ONE thing instead of average at a dozen.
3. Ignore Your Competition
If your attention is focused on your competition rather than your business, you will look sideways only to see them blow right past you.
Why it Matters
Competition is a big distraction. In his How to Start a Startup class, Sam Altman said the following about competition:
“99% of the time, you should ignore competitors. Especially ignore them when they raise a lot of money or make a lot of noise in the press. Do not worry about a competitor until they are beating you with a real, shipped product. Press releases are easier to write than code, which is easier still than making a great product. In the words of Henry Ford: “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”
This also applies to bloggers, podcasts or small business owners. Obsessing about the competition does not make your business grow. Working on it does.
How to Do It
The following are the principles and guidelines that I have used to ignore my competition:
Don’t Worry About Rankings and Reviews.
The rankings fluctuate. The only thing worth knowing about your competition is that there is always someone ahead and someone always lagging behind. The only person worth competing with is yourself.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Successful People
People look at other successful people and attempt to extrapolate a formula for success, but overlook the obvious variable that throws off every success formula: themselves.
If you follow a formula, at best you create a pale imitation of your predecessors, at worst you are completely ignored. Having a point of view allows you to stand out in a sea of noise, which is difficult when you compare yourself to other successful people.
Below is a list of things that may seem productive but are not:
- Reading other people’s income reports
- Consume infinite amounts of content on how to build an audience
- Trying to reverse someone’s entire path to success
Treat what you learn from competitors as ingredients, but come up with your recipes. Only is better than the best. And if you are the only one, competition becomes irrelevant.
Stop Chasing Influencers
When I started the podcast in 2010, I assumed that I would interview famous people, that they would share my interviews with their audience, and that every interview would go viral.
It became clear that it was our listeners, not our guests, who made our audience grow. Today, fame or a large following does not matter when choosing podcast guests for The Unmistakable Creative.
I’m so ruthless that our contact form says, “We turn away more people than Harvard, Stanford and Yale combined. Take this into consideration when you send your pitch.”
And that’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
4. Choose Your Partners Wisely
When you run a small business, the people who work there have a disproportionate impact on results. You can’t afford to work with people who are toxic, lazy, or unreliable. Sam Altman says that the first five people can determine the fate of a start-up.
Why It’s important
Of all the decisions you make when running a business, who you hire can determine whether you succeed or fail. Hiring the right people can speed up your progress, but the wrong ones can slow it down or stall it.
When it comes to your business partners, work with people who complement your skills and compensate for your weaknesses. The opportunity cost of working with the wrong partner is much higher than a bad hire. Bad partners are dead weight to any business or project.
Time is invaluable, and the wrong partners can lead to you wasting years of your life.
At the beginning of 2013, after two years of working together, I split up with a partner. He was incredibly talented and not a bad guy. But we had different priorities. Within six months of separating from him, I had achieved more than I had in the previous two years.
How to Do It
When it comes to people who work with us on creative projects, I’ve noticed three qualities that are valuable to someone who is working on any creative project, even if they don’t have a team:
Hire People Who Can Navigate Ambiguity
Everyone who has involved in the early stages of a startup must be able to navigate ambiguity. The path from A to B isn’t clearly defined. It’s paved by the people involved.
You can’t know if all the traffic lights in Chicago will be green when you sit in your driveway in LA. Lack of clarity gives you an excuse to sit on your ass, procrastinate, and pass the buck. If you need clarity, you’ll end up just sitting in your driveway without driving the first mile.
I think the greatest strength of our community manager is her ability to navigate ambiguity. When I hired her, I told her, “This is the result I envision, but I have no idea how to get here. I need you to fill in the gaps and figure it out.”
She didn’t know the path from A to B. She created it by taking action.
Every time you take a step forward, your perspective changes. You see what you could not do before. Clarity is the result of action in the face of ambiguity. It doesn’t come from sitting on your ass, waiting for the moment when everything is crystal clear.
Hire People Who are Self-Directed
When it comes to doing high-quality work with a significant impact, you have to be self-directed. Self-directed people don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
They develop ideas and implement them.
My sound engineer, Josh, is self-directed. While editing one of our episodes, he heard me tell a guest that I wanted to go beyond the interview format but did not have the editing skills for an NPR-style story.
The next day, he sent me a message and said, “Dude, why didn’t you tell me. I’m a sound designer, that’s what I do.” With his help, I was able to expand beyond the interview format.
Hire People Who Are Decisive
People who work in small teams and small businesses have to be decisive. If the CEO has to make all the decisions, the company will execute at a snail’s pace. I would prefer someone who is confident and makes a mistake than someone who sits around and waiting for me to tell them what to do.
Josh understands what it means to be decisive. Sometimes the recording of an episode gets mangled, or I forget to add the link to the recording in our database. Because we’re on different sides of the world, Josh picks an episode and tells me about it.
A typical job description might include traits like attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions, but our best employees are those who do not need instructions but create them.
If I started my business today, I would always hire people who are:
- Able to navigate ambiguity
- Able to make crucial decisions
You don’t want to be the type of person who micromanages everyone and you don’t want people who need you to tell them what to do every day.
Avoid Working with Entitled People at All Costs
When people become good at what they do, there is always a risk of ego and entitlement, both for you as the owner and for the people you work with.
Working with entitled people not only drains your energy but also harms the results of your business. Instead of running your business, you waste a ton of time dealing with emotional dramas.
Hire Slow. Fire Fast.
This is easier said than done. Over the years, I have had to part ways with people I thought I would work with for the rest of my life. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t painful.
I also wasted a lot of time working with people who were inconsistent and unreliable. It’s easy to justify keeping people around you. It’s much harder to fire them.
The copywriter Dan Kennedy has a simple rule that sounds harsh but saves you a lot of headaches: If I’ve woken up with you on my mind three mornings in a row, and we’re not having sex, you’ve got to go.
This is a good rule of thumb for vendors and people you work with. Of all the things I’d do differently if I started my business today, this is the biggest mistake I have made.
Use Results Descriptions Instead of Job Descriptions
A typical job description lists the skills you would like to have in a potential hire to have. But just because someone has the skills you need does not mean they will be able to achieve the desired results.
“The number one reason for making bad hires is that companies do not have a clear understanding of what they expect from the role. Most companies write “job descriptions.” I insist that all my clients write “results descriptions.” After all, you’re not looking to hire someone for a job, you’re hiring someone to produce results,” says Victor Chang in his book, Extreme Revenue Growth.
A common mistake in hiring is to look only at a person’s resume. But a resume isn’t tangible evidence of someone’s abilities.
5. Don’t Follow Your Passion. Develop Valuable Skills.
When I launched my first blog in 2009, everyone was talking about lifestyle design, digital nomads, and living in a four-hour workweek, but hardly anyone was talking about developing valuable skills that people are willing to pay for. Many aspiring digital nomads gave up their jobs and pursued their passion into poverty.
I didn’t start the Unmistakable Creative because I was passionate about it.
People would ask me what I was planning to do after business school. I’d say, “something that has nothing to do with the Internet.” The podcast was a byproduct of following my curiosity, discovering something I found engaging, and refining my skills.
In graduation speeches, passion is the starting point, but in reality, it is a by-product of all that comes before it.
The most useful thing you can do for the success of your business is to develop valuable skills that people will pay for. Of all the things I would have done differently if I had started my business today, this is at the top of the list.
Why It Matters
“Follow your passion” is an often repeated phrase that appears in self-help books and other literature on personal development, but the people who write and say it only do so in retrospect.
I was never passionate about podcasting. To this day, I hardly listen to them. But the more people I interviewed, the better I became and the more engaging I found it. Passion was a by-product of it.
As Tina Seelig says, passion follows engagement.
How to Do It
Pay attention to what you find engaging. Do it for a while. If it is still engaging, then you will begin to develop rare and valuable skills in an area that you find engaging.
If you’re passionate about something that no one pays you for, you have a hobby, not a business. You build a business by developing skills that people pay you for. The key to developing those skills is your working habits.
Treat Your Day Job as the First Angel Investor in Your Side Hustle
You may not know this, but I had a day job or the first year I set up my business, and that job was invaluable for several reasons:
- First, it gave me enough money to pay rent for an apartment in Los Angeles. I only had to be there three days a week, so I had the freedom and time to surf and work on the podcast.
- Second, because I didn’t have to live off the podcast, I focused on developing my skills as an interviewer, which eventually enabled me to make a living from it.
- Third, my job was to oversee the content strategy for an online travel company’s blog. And, since my side hustle was a podcast for bloggers, they complemented each other. Some of the first people I hired for our blog were former podcast guests.
In the early stages of building something, no one knows who you are, and you don’t have rare and valuable skills. If you try to do this without financial capital or skills, you are bracing yourself for failure.
It’s hard to devote hours, energy, and commitment to building a business when you are worried about keeping the lights on and the food on the table. As David Heinemeier Hansson once said, “You make terrible decisions on an empty stomach.”
In the words of Dyana Valentine, “Treat your day job as the first angel investor in your business or side hustle.”
6. Don’t Build Your Empire on Rented Land
Whether you have a million followers on Instagram or a Facebook page where your posts get 1,000 likes or 100 shares, you have built an empire on rented land.
Why it’s Important
Imagine that your business is a store in the mall. The company that owns the platform on which you build your empire is the landlord. This landlord can raise the rent or increase advertising costs. Or he could move your store to a low traffic location and change the algorithm. You’re always at their mercy, no matter how massive your following is.
One of my friends has a very popular blog. When she shared her articles on Facebook, they got 100s of shares. But when she published her first book, she only sold 2000 copies. It was because she didn’t have an engaged email list.
When I interviewed bloggers about how they grew their audience, they all mentioned the same mistake: they wished they had built their email lists earlier. While people who run social media companies happily tell you that email is dead, there is too much evidence to the contrary.
- James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, sold over 6,000 copies on the day he notified his email list, which has several hundred thousand subscribers. He could notify one million followers on Twitter and would not get the same results.
- The Skimm, The Hustle, and many others have built entire companies out of nothing more than an email list.
If you own the land on which you build your empire, you have much more control over your destiny.
How to Do It: Build your Email List Before your Social Media Following
Unless you’re Barack Obama or Beyonce, having a massive social following doesn’t do as much for your business as you think. An email list is one of your most valuable assets for two main reasons:
You own your data. If you wanted, you could send personalized emails to every person on your list. And, if you switch to another email marketing service, you can take the audience with you. That’s not the case with the empire you’re building on rented land.
You control the distribution channel: When you try to inform people about your content on social media, you compete with millions of other people who try the same thing, and these people often have bigger advertising budgets. Your email list connects your audience directly.
“Building an email list is a move towards self-sufficiency for any creator. By forming a direct and regular line of communication with your supporters, you avoid ever being disinter-mediated. That is an incredibly powerful asset” says Ryan Holiday in his book, Perennial Seller.
When they have an email list, writers don’t have to depend on publishers to sell their books, musicians don’t have to depend on record labels, and artists don’t have to depend on galleries to sell their work.
7. Ask for Help
No one has built a successful business or shipped a successful creative project without the help of other people. An author’s name may appear on the cover of a book, but behind the scenes, there are a dozen people who enable the person in the spotlight to work.
Why It’s Important
Even though I had an MBA, I didn’t know how to run a business because you don’t learn anything about running a business at business school. My first mentor Greg had built and sold several businesses, and taught me how to set up a company account, hire an accountant, and recruit team members.
Without Greg’s guidance, I wouldn’t be where I am today. We all have blind spots. Mentors and coaches help us identify them and fill in the gaps.
How to Do It
You can get help by taking online courses, hiring coaches, or finding a mentor. How effective each strategy depends on where you are on your journey.
Take Online Courses
The Internet is a fountain of knowledge. It can give you an education that kicks the crap out of the one you got in school but you were self-determined enough to take advantage of it. While you can attend many free online courses, you value something much more if you pay for it.
After graduating from business school, I asked my dad if I could borrow $500 to enroll in Yaro Starak’s blog mastermind course. Taking that course did several things for me:
- Instead of cobbling together ideas from corners of the Internet, I had a roadmap from someone who had built a successful blog.
- It connected me to peers. My first interviews were with people in that course.
- Last but not least, I lit a fire under my ass because I didn’t want my dad to think this was yet another money-making idea I’d abandon.
Taking online courses is something I still do today. When it comes to any online course, what you put into it will determine what you get out of it. If you do the work in a course, it’s an investment instead of an expense.
Hire a Coach
I resisted the idea of hiring a coach for a long time because I got so much free advice from my interviews. Unlike the advice you get from a podcast or online course, a coach, gives you personalized advice based on your business.
But hiring a coach doesn’t mean that he will do the job for you. You still have to take responsibility for your results.
Find a Mentor
The most significant mistake people make when looking for a mentor is the confusion of influence and impact. They assume that the right mentor for them is the person with the largest audience or the largest number of social media followers. But if you do this, you’ll overlook the people who can have a meaningful impact on your business.
My first mentor Greg Hartle had 150 followers on Twitter when I met him, but as you read above, he had a significant impact on the growth of Unmistakable Creative. I would have missed one of the most important relationships in my life if it had come down to his number of followers.
The other thing you can do is to offer something valuable in exchange for the help of a mentor. Ryan Holiday became Robert Greene’s apprentice because he understood how to use the Internet in ways that Robert didn’t.
Outsource the Things You Suck at (Which is Most of Them)
I edited the first 400 episodes of Unmistakable Creative myself, which was a huge blessing in disguise. And I am convinced that it made me a much better interviewer because I had to listen to each episode several times to find out what I did well and what I could have done better.
But you get to a point where you can’t do everything on your own, and nothing will make you waste more time.
For example, I was trying to mobile-optimize a landing page. After four hours, my roommate Tim said, “Why the hell are you spending your time doing this? Someone from Upwork could do it for $20.”
Put yourself on the path to the $1000 an hour mindset. It’s pretty simple. Categorize each task as follows:
- $10/hr a task
- $100 an hour tasks
- $1000 an hour tasks
At the end of each week, you ask yourself, “What did I spend time on that someone else could have done faster, better, and cheaper?” If you put a high dollar value on your time, you will be able to manage it much better.
There are very few things you are exceptional at. Figure those out and outsource the rest. But, before you outsource something and expect it to work, you need to know how to do it yourself. Otherwise, you spend your time managing everything you want to outsource.
8. Build Systems
In any business, many of your tasks are repetitive. Without systems, you reinvent the week for something you’ve done 1,000 times and increase the likelihood of making mistakes.
Why It’s Important
There’s a reason that big companies have processes and procedures that feel like bureaucratic bullshit. Without them, business growth would be chaos. When Victor Chang, the author of Extreme Revenue Growth, works with startups, he has them document every business process.
There are three main systems you need when you are doing creative work:
1. Idea Capture Systems
The creative process is not linear. There is a lag between when you have an idea and when you’re able to make it. That’s where idea capture systems come into play. The system is the soil, and the idea you capture is the seed.
It doesn’t matter how complicated or simple this is. What matters is that you have one. It will evolve as your business does.
2. Systems for Organizing Information
Systems for organizing information help you to execute your ideas. Regardless of the structure, the core principle behind it is to give every piece of information you allow into your life a specific place and to provide every tool or app you use a job.
Unless you have a system to organize information, you will spend a lot of time searching for files and moving things around.
3. Systems for Making Ideas Happen
Your system for making ideas happen is a combination of habits, skills capturing ideas, and organizing information. Above all, it consists of a series of checklists and repetitive processes.
The most basic version of our process for publishing a blog post is the one below:
- Write the first draft
- Revise the first draft
- Notify our assistant to add the posts we want to link
- Have a proofreader correct my typos
- Add any images
- Set it up in WordPress
- Publish it and send it via the newsletter
It would be easy to forget one of these steps if we hadn’t documented this process. You don’t want to use your creative superpowers to remember the steps in your process. You want to use them to make your ideas a reality. Therefore, you need to design a system to maximize your creative output.
How to Do It
Having systems is essential to increasing creative output and running a business, and it’s not as complicated as you might think.
- Identify all your outputs- social posts, content, newsletters, etc.
- Write down a step by step process or record a Loom video for how to complete these tasks.
- Have a central location where all these things live.
- Build templates for all the repetitive tasks in your business.
Systems free you to work in your genius zone, and the best indicator of a well-designed system is how little you need to be involved. I’ve gone weeks without talking to my sound engineer, Josh, and he never misses publishing an episode. The only exception was when ended up in the hospital with appendicitis.
9. Remember That You Run a Business, Not a Charity
Former the Unmistakable Creative guest, Jeff Goins, says that real artists don’t starve. But as a culture, we glamorize and glorify the starving artist. As a result, people overlook the fact that they run a business.
Part of the creative identity is dealing with struggle, grit and grinding. People believe that it is immoral or wrong to be paid for one’s creative work.
Although I have written a book about the value of creativity for its own sake, I believe that you should be paid for your creative work. If you want to make a living as an artist, you have to think less like an artist and more like a business owner.
Why It’s Important
Anyone who sells essentials for survival isn’t accepting hearts and likes in place of money. These include landlords, utilities, and grocery stores.
How to Do It
When it comes to running a creative business, you want to have the heart of an artist and a business owner’s mindset.
Stop Apologizing for Wanting to Earn a Living
Samantha Bennett once said on the Unmistakable Creative:
“You’re always getting paid, and you’re getting paid in the currency you’re asking for.”
So ask for money.
You would never go to the Louvre or MOMA in New York, try to steal a painting, and you wouldn’t complain if the police arrested you. But on the Internet, there’s this expectation that everything should be free.
Don’t advertise for me. Don’t sell me anything. Let me freeload is the mantra of far too many consumers on the Internet. What freeloaders need to understand is that paying customers to subsidize their ability to consume content for free.
It’s the reason you use Google, Facebook, and pretty much every other tool. Someone else subsidizes your ability to consume the content for free.
If someone complains when you ask for money, send the following e-mail:
I’m assuming you don’t go to your job without a paycheck. This is my job and neither do I.
We are running a business, not a charity. Please feel free to send a check for my rent, utilities, and other monthly expenses. Otherwise, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. The less polite versions: FU@#@ OFF.
Somehow we have it in our heads that something is wrong with getting paid for our work.
After receiving an angry email from a reader, I didn’t apologize. I sent him a link to an anger management video, wished him good luck, and removed him from our list.
Brick and mortar businesses refuse the right to serve anyone. If someone took a shit on your lawn, you would call the police. Don’t give them a free pass because it’s the Internet.
Businesses Promote Their Products
If you have a newsletter, people will complain that you send them too much email, whether you send one or five emails a week.
You can’t sell anything if you’re not willing to tell people about it. Self-promotion gets a bad rap. But if you’re not excited enough about your work to tell people about it, why would anyone else?
Do you think your favorite online retailers would make any sales if they didn’t tell people about their products?
Businesses Sell Things
Have you ever walked into Target, filled your shopping cart with products, and yelled at the cashier because she wants you to pay? Unless you’re a lunatic, I highly doubt it.
The fact that they’re not ok with selling is one of the main reasons why so many creative people remain poor.
There’s nothing wrong with offering a lot of value for free, but if you are not willing to charge money for your work, you will always remain a starving artist.
Because we consume so much content for free, it is easy to forget that it costs people to produce it. To create the Unmistakable Creative, we need to spend money on software, services, and personnel to make it possible. If we didn’t have advertisers on the show or sell digital products, none of this would be possible.
While I’ve used the Unmistakable Creative as an example, think about your own life. Where do you find yourself feeling guilty about the business of creativity? Where did you fail to ask for money when you knew you should?
Pleasing the person who is pissed off that you are selling doesn’t put food on the table. If thousands of people consume something for free and get value from it, it makes no sense to care about the one person who complains.
10. Manage Your Psychology
There will be ups and downs in every business, you will have moments when you feel like you are at the top of the world, and others when you will be tempted to quit.
People assume managing your psychology becomes easier when you succeed, but it gets harder. You have more to lose than before. The higher you climb, the bigger the fall, and the more painful it is.
Why It’s Important
Mental health problems for entrepreneurs have led to founder suicides and some of the worst possible outcomes related to running a business. You need to learn to decouple self-worth from the success of your company.
But that is easier said than done. If you build something, it becomes a massive part of your identity.
It may be authentic to air your dirty laundry in a public forum when you hit a rough patch in your life or business. But it damages your business and your image. Understanding this is a big part of the psychology of building an audience.
In times like these, who you surround yourself with is incredibly important, and it’s not necessarily the people who will coddle you and tell you what you want to hear. It’s the people in your life who are willing to give you some tough love.
When Brian Koehn and I started working together, we had canceled a conference and we were hemorrhaging money, and I was at the lowest point I’ve been since I started my business.
He didn’t fill my ears with inspirational nonsense. He said, “Right now, you are the biggest liability in the business.” Many people would let their egos get in the way of heeding this advice.
But that’s exactly what I needed to hear if we had a chance to turn things around.
A word of caution: in personal development, people spend a lot of time managing their psychology without doing the work to run their business. This is an easy way to let yourself off the hook from doing your job.
How to Do It
Managing your psychology is probably the biggest challenge in running a business. And there’s no life hack to do this. But these are some of the things I would do differently if my business started today.
Realize Success Won’t Make Your Problems Go Away
My mentor, Greg, always said to me, “The problems never go away. They magnify.” What changes is your ability to deal with those problems?
What was once an all is lost moment becomes a minor issue. You begin to realize that some problems are speeding tickets in the grand scheme of building your business, but that doesn’t make you immune to significant issues.
As the Unmistakable Creative grew, I lost friends, had people betray me, and had to pay settlements to make people go away. I thought that my work did more harm than good in the world at moments like this.
No one has any intention of letting these things happen, but as every business develops, you will have to deal with problems you never expected. The only way to build tolerance for adversity is by going through it.
Be Emotional About The Work, Objective About Outcomes
One of the paradoxes of starting a business is that you are emotionally committed to your work but objective about your results.
Be wary of any new age bullshit that people feed you. And be hyperaware of what the data is telling you. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about a product that you want to sell. If no one wants to buy it, your passion for it won’t change their minds.
If you don’t believe in the value of your work, no one else will, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the numbers. It doesn’t matter how emotionally committed you are to something. If no one buys something you sell, your commitment won’t change that.
Go to Therapy
Growing up in the Indian community, seeking help for your mental health was stigmatized. I was always taught that therapy is only for crazy people. Fear of this stigma almost drove me to run the Unmistakable Creative into the ground.
When I started seeing a therapist, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner. Former the Unmistakable Creative guest, Elle Luna, likens seeing a therapist for your mental health to working with a trainer for your physical health.
Therapists can give you a less emotional and more objective insight into your life. If you are in a dark chapter of your life, the last thing you want to do is let your emotions guide your decisions.
Have Friends Who Knew You Before You Achieved Anything
The more people you know, the less you feel really know you. It becomes difficult to distinguish those who want something from those who really care about you.
You’ll experience the following stages of status elevation, which Mitch Prinstein outlines in his book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status Obsessed World
Even though I’m proud of my work, it’s me at my best. It’s not who I am at every moment. Because of this, I have to ask women who date me not to read my books or listen to the podcast until they’ve gotten to know me. Otherwise, they develop an unrealistic image of me that I’ll never live up to.
This is why it’s important to have the kind of friends who knew you before you achieve any level of success. They’re the people who knew you when you were nobody and still your friends.
As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s easy to recognize things that you would do differently in retrospect. You will fall on your face, make big mistakes, and take many punches in the face. Everything worth doing will take longer than you think it will.
Learn what you can pick yourself up. Get back to work and try again.
That’s not just true for business. It’s true for life. In the words of the psychologist, Susan David, “Discomfort is the price of admission for a meaningful life. It’s also the price of building a successful business.”