Pixabay — how cool would it be if there were 7 clocks in this image?
“There’s too much competition, not enough clients and it’s really hard work. Just don’t bother.”
This was the advice I received back in 2015 when I called up an old friend. He had successfully ventured into the same industry that I was interested in. Naturally, I was eager to soak up some tips and tricks from someone I could trust.
After the phone call, I was gobsmacked.
Was he serious?
His social media feed was endowed with images of success and virtue. To the lay observer, his new business looked rather lucrative. This could only mean one of two things: either he was telling me the truth (this would suggest that his social media presence was total bullshit), or he didn’t want to compete with me. I suspected it was a combination of the two. As a result, I said to myself, “fuck this guy,” and I started my business.
Five years later, I’m happy to report that the advice I received that day was in fact, as shitty as his Macklemore hairstyle.
It would have been swell if someone had invested a few minutes giving me the advice I had kindly asked for. This is why I have compiled a short list of wisdom nuggets. These are the tips that I would give myself if I had a time machine.
Let’s dive in.
It Doesn’t Matter If Other People Are Doing It
Everything has already been done. Ideas are great, but execution is better. If you think you have a great idea, I guarantee someone else has already thought of it or is already working on it.
I started a wedding entertainment business, specialising in DJs and MCs. It was already crowded as fuck. Every one’s awkward uncle was a wedding DJ. At first glance, my chances of earning a living from this appeared rather dismal.
The fact is, if the market is crowded, it’s a sure sign that there is a receptive audience. Additionally, the odds are that you can do a better job than the majority.
Just look at the hospitality industry. How many local cafes are earning a living by doing an average job? Let’s be brutally honest, it’s the majority. We are impressed when we receive a dining experience that is above average, even though the majority of businesses should be better than average.
The same goes for tech startups, law firms and flower shops. Businesses consistently earn a living by being average.
Therefore, you don’t have to be the best to earn a living, you just have to be average.
Consistency Is Everything (well, almost everything)
There is something to be said for just showing up, almost every day. Most people won’t even do this. The majority of people will be consistently inconsistent. They start a new diet and quit after four weeks, they give up guitar when they don’t sound like Tommy Emmanuel after a few Youtube lessons, and they change business ideas like fast fashion changes ‘seasons’ (52 per year, to be precise).
I’m a believer in doing a little bit everyday (well, almost everyday) to drive the needle forward. It’s the aggregate of small gains that produces the greatest chance for overall growth.
I could talk for hours about how many of my competitors have come and gone over the years. Many of them have been destroyed by a string of bad decisions. This was despite a history of performing well and serving their clients. In fact, many of their ‘bad decisions’ were the byproduct of being inconsistent.
Whilst it’s practically impossible to do your best every time, you can probably maintain a 7 out of 10 on most days. This counts for more than a few isolated top scores, because the bad scores stick like feathers to honey. Psychologists call this ‘negativity bias’. Bad experiences affect our emotions more than positive experiences. This is why we instantly search for the worst customer reviews when browsing for the best Indian food in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. An equally positive review carries less impact. Therefore, try to remain consistently average, or even a bit better than that, and you will stand out from the pack.
Small Investments, Over Time
The majority of people invest too much money starting their business. They rationalise their purchases by saying, “Ya gotta spend money to make money”. Whilst this is true, it’s contextual. For example, it took years before I owned all the equipment and assets that I have now. I bought the absolute bare essentials and borrowed the rest. As I earned more, I invested more.
If you find yourself obsessing over an Amazon wishlist and your next big purchase, take a deep breath. It’s okay. Your brain likes it this way. The truth is, buying stuff requires less creative thinking than doing something you’ve never done.
Watch an episode of Shark Tank and you’ll see people who have put it all on the line before getting their first client. This type of risk-taking is a one way ticket to financial ruin.
I suggest you find a way to get on your feet without buying everything you need.
Just Get Started.
This tip gets thrown around more than the word “connection” on an episode of The Bachelor. I’ll be brief. You know enough to get started. Just do it, now.
I see a lot of people fuss over their logo for months before they even have their first client. If you look at my website and branding, you’ll see I don’t even have a logo. In fact, when I started my entertainment business, I got my first client before I even had a website or business name.
Clients first, logos second. Can someone please turn this into a t-shirt?
Be Good To Your Clients
I care about every client I’ve ever had. Contrarily, when I was an employee, I didn’t give a shit. There’s something about running my own business that fills me with an urge to serve my clients.
When you’re good to your clients, they are good to you (99% of the time). A genuine personal recommendation is the best form of advertising for any brand.
You Don’t Have To Spend Money On Advertising
Put an emphasis on have.
I think that most businesses (if not all) should master the art of free marketing. There are endless opportunities these days: social media, Google SEO, networking and word of mouth. The list just goes on.
Paid advertising is also a fantastic option for increasing traffic. I just don’t think it’s worth the money if you haven’t already mastered the art of free advertising. After all, free advertising is the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t. There’s no point pumping money into ads that no one wants to see. As the old saying goes, don’t flog a dead horse. Actually, that might not translate 100% here, but I’ve always been fascinated by the thought of someone flogging a dead horse. Seriously, who the fuck came up with that? I can only guess they saw someone wasting their time by flogging a dead horse. If so, fuck that guy.
Your Friends and Family Don’t Know Everything
If I had listened to my friend (remember Mr Walmart Macklemore who told me not to start my business?), I probably would have taken a job stocking shelves at the local supermarket. Instead, I took a calculated risk and it paid off.
Just because someone thinks your idea sucks, doesn’t mean it sucks. In fact, it’s probably a pretty decent idea, you just haven’t told the right people about it yet.
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you had an idea for a cryptocurrency called “bitcoin”. Let’s assume cryptocurrency isn’t a “thing” yet and no one knows what the hell you’re talking about. What would your parents say if you told them about your new business idea? I suspect most people would think you’re nuts and overly optimistic about its potential.
What does this mean for you?
Starting your business is the best type of market research. Whilst this goes against popular advice, it’s incredibly difficult to obtain reliable data without actually putting it to the test. This is why I suggest you start with minimal financial cost. After all, most businesses can start for free, or extremely cheap. Once your audience is compelled to put their money where their mouth is, you will know if your big idea has legs.
Even though our loved ones generally have the best of intentions, this doesn’t always translate into the best advice. It can dictate our actions and steer us off course. Fussing over logos, starting and scrapping business plans, and attending expensive motivational seminars.
I hope these 7 tips serve as a useful reminder that you don’t have to be the next Zuckerberg or Gates. In fact, you probably won’t and neither will I. This is okay. I would rather take the occasional day off so I can stuff my face with Cheetos and binge the latest season of Silicon Valley.