Photo: Eileen S
Over the last few weeks Nick and I have fought some battles over here that have reminded me of 2006, the year we decided to quit our corporate jobs and go it alone.
Today I’m going to share a few of the lessons we’ve learned going from zero clients, zero revenue, zero everything to today having served hundreds and hundreds of clients, with over 500 investment properties worth over $130,000,000 in real estate and growing.
If you’ve been hanging out here for any length of time you know that I was a Sales Manager who was going to put my head through my drywall office walls unless I made a change in my life.
Luckily, Nick, my brother, was at a very similar point and we agreed to go down the path of starting our own business together.
It’s now five and a half years later and here’s a little of what we’ve learned:
1. When you’re starting your own business knowing how you will get the phone to ring is more important than anything else.
We’ve seen people waste a lot of time on business cards, letter head, branding, pretty $10,000 websites etc. It’s all pretty worthless to you when you’re starting out.
We got a bit lucky. We ignored all of that stuff and focused on creating ads that got people to call us for appointments. For twelve months we didn’t have pretty business cards and we didn’t have a website for one and a half years.
If you’re thinking of quitting your job and starting your own business our advice would be don’t do it until you have a strategy to get new clients to call you and a process to close new business. We would spend 100% of you every waking minute on this.
2. The stress you’re going to put on your family is going to be huge.
Nick was in the process of getting married and I had been married for 7 years already and had two kids, a four year old and a new born, when I pulled the plug on my six-figure salary.
I wasn’t really that scared because we had already tested out our advertising and marketing and had a small sense that we could get the phone to ring with new business – it was a very small amount of phone ringing, but it was a start.
The bigger point is that the amount of stress I put on my family and Nick put on his has been huge.
When you start your own business the amount of energy it takes is ten times more than you expect.
For example, that first year we were writing articles for our newsletter, writing new newspaper advertisements (we used advetorials a lot), stuffing marketing material into envelopes from 11pm to 1am in my garage and then in my basement, meeting clients at all ours of the day, figuring out how to stick CD labels onto audio CD’s that we were mailing out as marketing pieces, finding people to interview for our monthly audios, scouting real estate properties every day, meeting with potential new clients for 1.5 hours only to have them walk away, creating new training classes, buying cheap printer’s and VOIP telephones, finding our first assistant, finding our first new sales person, dealing with newspaper ad reps who placed our ads incorrectly, lose thousands of dollars on ads that didn’t work, lose thousands of dollars doing colour photo copies when black and white was good enough, writing our first little book, finding mentors to help us, negotiating with the real estate brokerage to get a higher share of our commission, sending out a weekly email to our clients, hosting our first client event, dealing with the ridicule of people who said we’d never make it, switch databases several times and valuable prospect data in the process, etc. etc. etc.
There’s more, I just have blocked some of it out of memory I think.
And on top of this we had to both make time for our families. Our wives, our kids, date nights, vacation time, sports, school activities, holidays. And I’m not so sure I did the best job with the balancing act of it. Thankfully, I have a very supportive family who put a lot of faith in me. If they didn’t support me the way they did we would have never made it out of the “launch” phase of the business.
It’s not going to be easy on your family. You’re gonna have to find a way to support them as much as they support you.
And after you get out of the “launch” phase of your business things get a lot easier. You can actually go home for dinner, it’s great.
Today, we’re in the growth phase with a whole other set of issues that we’ll share another day.
Is it all worth it?
100%, absolutely yes.
3. Priority management was more important to us than time management.
Starting out we didn’t have enough time. Period.
But what we were fairly decent at was knowing where to spend our time. For example, developing a corporate website was a waste of time. Figuring out how to pay for a new advertisement that would make the phone ring was a good use of time.
Calling our real estate brokerage to get permission to do certain things with their name/brand/logo was a waste of time, just going ahead and offering free classes for our potential clients was a good use of time.
Dealing with emails was a complete waste of time. Instead, going out to find great investment properties to email out to our clients was a good use of time.
Balancing our books to the penny for the first six months was a waste of time (we’ll take slack for sharing this). Studying some marketing courses was a good use of time.
We used Stephen Covey’s four quadrant model … I think it’s his anyway, we share how we used it here.
To make sure we spent time with our families we did crazy things.
I used to wake up at 4:30am for well over a year so that I could get things done, then be around when then family woke up and not feel guilty about hanging out for breakfast.
Remember earlier we mentioned that the amount of energy you need to start your own business is huge … this took a lot of energy.
Bottom line … implementation of your ideas is the difference between success and failure.
4. The people you surround yourself with will make or break you.
Good people will grow with you and are your most valuable asset. Find good people, do everything you can to find good people.
Along the way some people will burn you, leave you, screw you … BUT, if you treat people well then you’ll eventually surround yourself with an amazing group of characters that will make everything you’re doing have a new special meaning to it.
We had one person take our marketing strategies and begin sharing it with another brokerage. That was not a fun day. We fired her on the spot. Her husband was one of our very best clients. It didn’t feel good but it had to be done.
Nick and I have been lucky to have each other – we’re so lucky that way.
We’ve leaned on each other over the years often.
5. You need to watch the bottom line.
We spent approximately $80,000 dollars on marketing and overhead before we got our first rush of revenue. If we only had $50,000 to spend we wouldn’t have made it. Looking back we could have done things a lot more cheaply but we didn’t know what we know now.
Expect to spend more than you think … a lot more.
But we looked at our marketing as an investment in the business and not as an expense.
Twelve months after starting we hit a bit of rough patch and had to cancel a few services and return a few things for refunds to raise cash. If we hadn’t been watching the bottom line closely it could have got ugly. Thankfully, we did.
You need to figure out if you spend X to acquire a new client that it will return Y. Once you know that number you’re golden.
6. You’ll never have all the answers.
I used to think that if we could just survive 12 months we’d know everything.
Now, the more we grow the more we’re learning.
We have a lot to learn and are constantly investing in books, mentors, courses. Our own education is an investment, not an expense.
7. You’re gonna make mistakes.
Get over ’em quickly. Otherwise your own inaction may eat you alive.
8. Move quickly.
One of our very best mentors used to say that money has a velocity to it. And that the faster you move the more of it you pull into your orbit. He was 100% right. When you’re starting out you need to focus on revenue producing activities and implement them at a furious pace.
Moving quickly has been one of our very best strategies in everything we’ve done to get to this point.
9. Going out on your own means you’ll be very A-L-O-N-E.
Another mentor of ours has this great quote, “The entrepreneur is the loneliest person on earth.”
Your problems, challenges and issues are unique and most of your friends and family won’t understand them. Be ready to live in entirely new world. The old dinner conversations with friends won’t be the same once you journey out on your own.
10. The successes are great.
The personal development and freedom you achieve is amazing. It takes time … I don’t think I went on a decent vacation for two years after starting our business except for Nick’s wedding in Cabo, Mexico. But that could be due to our small kids than anything else.
There’s nothing like it in the world and after you go out on your own you’ll likely never be “employable” again.
11. Your word is your bond.
Integrity is everything. Do what you say you’re going to do.
We all drop the ball occassionally but a mark of a successful person is in their small habits.
If you say you’re going to follow-up with someone, do it.
If you say you’ll take care of something, handle it.
If you say you’ll be there when they need you, be there.
This may take you further than anything else.
And that’s it. Definitely not a comprehensive list but hopefully there’s something in here that helped you or sparked a new thought.
And if you think you can help us … then please share!!
We’re always ready to take good advice!
Until next time … Your Life! Your Terms!