It has been exactly one year since I’ve started my company, Afro-Icon Media and in some ways I’m much further than I thought I’d be, yet in other ways, I’m not nearly as far as I’d hoped I’d be. I’ve made many mistakes and failed numerous times. My concern, however, is not for the countless times I’ve failed, but for getting up, re-grouping and re-strategizing, and dusting myself off every time I fall. And while I’ve made several mistakes doesn’t mean that you have to. So I thought I’d write a little post about the top 10 things I’ve learned during my first year of entrepreneurship.
If you’re thinking of taking the leap next year (or the foreseeable further) perhaps this post will offer you some guidance and save you from the many mistakes I’ve made. So here goes…
1) Be innovative
There’s a reason that I’ve placed this one first. To me, the number one attribute of an entrepreneur is innovation. Innovation is which distinguishes an employer from an employee. If you are an entrepreneur, you’re designed to look for solutions. If you cannot think of new ways to do old things, then you should rather hold off with those business ideas. It is vital for you as business owner, for your business and for your employees that you continue to explore new avenues. This is surely the number one reason I absolutely love being an entrepreneur. I love being creative, to think out of the box and to try new things. Not saying all the things I try will work, on the contrary! I think 90% for the things I’ll try won’t work, but to quote Thomas Edison, the inventor if the light bulb; “I have not failed. I’ve found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
2) What’s your goal?
Before I started my company, I noticed a genuine need for my services in our small area. When I decided to quit my day-job, it was primarily because I felt that I could really make a contribution towards those in need of the services I have to offer. I’m extremely passionate about what I do and if I can help someone improve their communication in any way, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Without expecting any form of compensation. Of course being compensated for my services is fantastic but that’s an added privilege. The biggest gift you can give to the world is to share your skill, your passion and essentially fulfilling your greater purpose in the process. When you pour your heart and soul into something, it shows. Trust me on this. When you have a vision, when you work with that kind of passion, you are in the process of creating a nuclear bomb that is literally unstoppable. I believe my purpose is bigger than my mind can ever conceive. Let you goal be bigger than receiving a monthly pay check. To me, my work is invaluable anyways. In other words, I don’t think someone can pay me (in rands and cents) what my work is worth, so no matter how much or how little I earn for my services, it is irrelevant in relation to the ‘bigger’ contribution that I’m making. That is what I truly believe. Let your goal be ‘bigger’ than simply filling the financial gaps. Live to serve a greater cause. It’s only once you’ve realised that, that you can fulfil your greater purpose in life.
3) Show and tell
Before I started my own business, a business owner and acquaintance advised me to never work for free. He said that I can even charge a very minimum fee, but to never work for free. That was the worst advice I’ve ever received. I’ve sent out a dozen quotations and a hundred dozen emails to potential customers and never heard from them again. I’ve realised it’s one thing to tell people that I’m capable and able to do the job, but it’s quite another to actually show them. So I created my little blog and contacted just about all the businesses in my little area to asked to do a review of their business for them. And who wouldn’t want some positive, free publicity for their brand? This resulted in two things; previously when I called or emailed, wanting to make an appointment with the owner to introduced myself and my business, I got the ‘usual’ “we already have someone doing that, but we’ll contact you should we need your services,” answer. So I knew I had to find a way to get the owners to sit down with me. However, once I started calling them to do a review of their business, my phone rang non-stop. The other advantage it offered was that interviewees could experience my expertise first-hand and the overall reaction has been fantastic. Again, re-group, re-strategize and repeat. Persistence is key, don’t take no for an answer. Sooner or later someone will ‘see’ you, and that’s a guarantee. If you’re starting from the bottom, you have to work for free.
4) Feel good, do good
There’s a psychological link between your mind and your body that affects your productivity. I believe this full-heartedly. I’ll even go as far as saying that if you want to be successful, then you have to be of sound body and sound mind. What I mean with that is that if your body functions optimally, i.e. it is healthy and you exercise regularly, then your mind will inevitably follow suit. When you feel great and you feel healthy, then you won’t have that sluggish feeling of dismay when things don’t go your way. And even if things go askew, you know it’s only temporary and tomorrow you’ll get right back on that horse again. So look after your health, it is one of the biggest contributors toward your success. Successful people are healthy people.
5) Resources vs Resourcefulness
Okay, so let’s face it; most of us (including me) do not have the latest tech gadgets. For example, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have an Apple Mac (even though I need it) and I’m not even on Instagram because I don’t have an android or iPhone, or a tablet of some kind. I know… shocking, right? But here’s the thing; there’s a massive difference between resources versus resourcefulness. I don’t allow for my lack of resources to hold me back precisely because I am resourceful. We often claim we’re not able to do certain things because we don’t have the time, the money, the iPhone, etc. But that shouldn’t prevent us from still going out there and doing great stuff! My time will come. I am patient, very patient and so I don’t worry about things outside of my control today, because tomorrow I may have learned a helluva lot more than you because I was forced to take the longer route instead of the shortcut. I believe that being more resourceful today will undoubtedly make me a better leader tomorrow. But seriously though… I do need a Macbook Pro. Just throwing it out there, use it, don’t use it…
6) Everyday I’m hustling
Note: For us non-Americans not familiar with the slang word ‘hustler’, here’s the long and short of it; essentially it refers to a person who does whatever it takes to make a buck. It can also be used as a verb, “hustle/hustling“, meaning to construct a way towards earning a buck to two. However, it received a derogatory connotation when it was used to describe drug dealers and gangsters. But it isn’t necessary a ‘bad’ word (in my humble opinion). My American followers can correct me, if I’m mistaken…
Nevertheless, to come back to my point; You can have the greatest plans in the world. You can even have a greater idea than Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, but if you don’t get up from your behind and go out and start to offer your skills to the world, your dream will remain just another dream. It’s been said that the richest place in the world is the graveyard because that’s where most dreams die with its dreamers. Dreamers who never had the courage to get out of their comfort zone and to start hustling. I did that for a short while during this year. I sat on my behind. I procrastinated. I thought ‘they’ would think that I’m silly. I thought they’d think I wasn’t smart, skilled, experienced, (fill in the blank..) enough. I was nervous as hell. But then it occurred to me; am I really going to give up my lifelong dream in favour of what ‘they’ thought? Who are ‘they’ anyway? And why do ‘they’ have such influence over my life? Funny thing is; they only have as much influence as I give them. The ones who believe in me and my dreams are the only ones that really count. I am enough. I am able. And so I went for it. And, like I say to most people I approach, the absolute worst thing you can do to me is to say no. And since I’ve had plenty of no’s, it doesn’t scare me no longer. So go out and start hustling. Everyday.
7) Invest in yourself
You are the best asset your company will ever have. The success of your company will largely depend on how you manage it. So it is absolutely crucial that you educate and inform yourself on matters relating to your industry, as well as how to run a company effectively. Or hire people who are experts in their respective fields (like me!). I always say that in the age of technology, ignorance is a choice. There is nothing (and I really mean nothing) that you cannot do. You can search the internet on how to do a kidney transplant, or how to build a car engine, or even how to go without sleep for three days. Omgoodness! How freaking amazing is that?! The possibilities are endless. For anyone to tell me they can’t do something is just beyond me. You can literally do, just about, anything. And I mean ANYTHING. So don’t tell me you can’t. Because if you can google it, you can do it. Period.
8) Don’t sweat the small stuff
I’m a perfectionist which, let me tell you, is an exhausting business. And since my business is a reflection of me, I needed for everything to be perfect before I could really go out there and market myself as the professional I wanted to come across as. For starters, it was crucial to have all my little ducks in a row before I could approach a potential client. I had to have my business cards and letterhead designed, printed and ready to go. I had to design and publish my website and I had to have my blog up and running with quite a few posts. But, looking back now, all of these little ‘trinkets’ were time-thieves. I wasted so much time on getting everything picture perfect in order to come across as profesh and proficient, that only now I realise how I could have used my time more effectively in truly building on my business. I regret that. My business could have been much further had I used my time better. I could’ve done so much more than calling my printers and taking the perfect picture for my website. It was an incredible waste of my valuable time. Be careful on how you spend your time. Be vigilant on were your daily hours go. Reflect daily to see how you can improve and become more effective. Don’t allow for small things to occupy your valuable time. Spend it wisely.
9) Twitter vs Facebook
This one is a little off-beat but I thought it’s an absolutely must-share since I really wished someone would have told me when I started out, and so I’ve decided to include it here. Starting a Facebook page was one of the first things I did when I started my business. I thought people would go crazy for my content, they’d love my posts and they’d share it with their fellow Facebook friends. As it turns out, to my utter disbelief; Facebook was not the greatest platform to share my content. My posts hardly got a “like”, nevermind a “share” (they still don’t) and I seldom get click-throughs from my Facebook page back to my blog. Initially, I wasn’t planning to post my content onto twitter because my twitter account is a personal account and I was hoping to keep my business and personal stuff separate. But after the dismal reception from Facebook, one day I just thought what the hell, and posted something onto twitter. And omgoodness! I was completely blown away by the response. I received so many hits from my twitter account. In fact, it was more than the combined hits I’ve ever received via my Facebook page. I wish someone had told me that Twitter is a better content sharing site than Facebook. After that, I immediately added a Twitter widget to my blog and I’ve received many followers that way. It’s really awesome. Try to tweet daily. Social media, and Twitter in particular, is the poorman’s marketing. You can reach an audience that you could only have dreamt off, a few years ago.
10) Make peace to live in fear
I work long hours. And when I’m not working, I’m researching or doing something related to getting myself and my business to the next level. For instance, right now it is Saturday evening at 11pm and I’m typing this post to go onto my blog pretty soon. When you start your own business, you need to make peace with the fact that you will never feel like you’re doing enough. There’s always something that you feel like you’re missing or that you should be doing. You should make peace with the fact that you will constantly live in fear that you’re not doing enough. It will never subside. Well, mine hasn’t yet. I still feel like there’s a million things I need to do. I feel like that everyday. I doubt I’ll ever get completely comfortable to the point where I don’t think I need to do more. Make lists. Do as much as you can with the time you have. If nothing else, at least it’ll help you sleep a little better at night.
I’ve been really fortunate to have been granted this wonderful opportunity in my life and I am so very grateful for it. Having to wake up every morning and working on something that you absolutely love has been the greatest gift. And everytime someone clicks on anything I post, I honestly get happy and excited. If you’re reading this now, thank you for your support. It has really been the greatest source of my inspiration this past year. I look forward to growing and learning more over the coming years.
Till next time, hugs and high5’s!