A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

How Shonda Rhimes and Howard Schultz Set And Achieve Their Goals


I haven’t been writing as often on my blog lately. People often ask, “What happened?”

The truest answer I can give is that 1Up Repairs, our chain of repair shops, took off beyond our wildest imagination. We now have six stores and will do several million dollars in revenue this year.

Running repair shops is not what I expected I’d be doing with my life after running a funded software company previously. But honestly, it’s been really good for me. It’s been 3 1/2 years since we opened a single store in the middle of Austin, and what a ride it’s been.

It’s also been nearly a year since John and I committed to getting me out of the day-to-day aspects of our repair shops, and getting back into writing, shooting informational videos, and coaching. We’ve mostly succeeded at this point, which is why you’re starting to see new blog posts from me.

Shonda Rhimes and Her Train

I’ve been reading Shonda Rhimes’ book, “Year of Yes.” (If you don’t know who Shonda Rhimes is, she’s the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and several other top shows for ABC’s Thursday night lineup.)

In it, she talks about how she writes for several of her shows. Her shows, she says, are like a train:

“Every single writer I met likened writing for television to one thing—laying track for an oncoming speeding train. The story is the track and you gotta keep laying it down because of the train. That train is production. You keep writing, you keep laying track down, no matter what, because the train of production is coming toward you—no matter what.

Every eight days, the crew needs to begin to prepare a new episode—find locations, build sets, design costumes, find props, plan shots. And every eight days after that, the crew needs to film a new episode.

Every. Eight. Days. That train of production is a’coming. Every eight days that crew on that soundstage better have something to shoot. Because the worst thing you can do is halt or derail production and cost the studio hundreds of thousands of dollars while everyone waits. That is how you go from being a TV writer to being a failed TV writer.”

That train is her pressure. That’s how she performs every week. Is her writing always perfect? No, but it’s arguably always good, and even more importantly, it’s done on time.

Success Often Comes When Your Back Is To The Wall

I’ve read countless biographies of successful entrepreneurs. One concept that often comes up in the beginning, when they were just getting started, is a driving force–a motivation so deep that failure isn’t an option.

This is my chance to be contrarian: I don’t think for many people their initial motivation was a lofty goal of changing the world. Sure, it becomes that later. But for many people who are successful–including me–their initial driving force was to get out of a bad situation.

Howard Schultz, the self-made billionaire who built Starbucks into a global empire, says: “Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families.

And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible. I may have a suit and tie on now, but I know where I’m from and I know what it’s like.” (Howard Schultz interview)

When I started my hosting company, my primary motivation was not having to go back and live with my parents, which I saw as a failure. That motivation drove me–it kept me up late at night writing code, creating ads, and building our website. Six years later, I sold the company for $1.1 million.

With 1Up Repairs, we took on a lease in a highly-visible area. The landlord had me put my house up as collateral. You better believe that was a huge motivation for both of us. If we couldn’t make the store work, I was going to have to sell my house. Long story short, we smashed it out of the park and 1Up Repairs became my most successful business to date. It makes more revenue and profit than my hosting company did when I sold that.

Shonda Rhimes has her train. Howard Schultz desired more money and a happier family. I had my fear of failure, and then my fear of losing my house. These sorts of gut motivations may not always be pretty, or highly aspirational, but they’re what drive entrepreneurs to huge successes.

Most People Don’t Want The Uncomfortable Truth

Here’s another hard truth: If you live a relatively decent life now, and running a business won’t add much to your quality of life, you won’t start a business. Or you’ll start it and wonder why it’s not flourishing.

The answer? You don’t have your back against the wall. You don’t have a huge motivation to become something you’re not.

That’s hard to hear for a lot of people. “Well, I’m not risking my house/family/life!” I totally understand. Shonda Rhimes doesn’t have a fear of losing her house driving her. But she does have an entire crew depending on her. That creates the same pressure that squeezes out a successful business.

Your motivation can be negative (I’m going to lose something huge if this doesn’t work) or it can be positive (the world needs this, and I’m the person who can provide it.) It can be internal or external–Shonda Rhimes’ is external; people depend on her.

So how do you create this driving force or motivation? You have to decide for yourself that wherever you want to go with your business is so much better than where you are now that you’re willing to make huge sacrifices.

What Has To Motivate You

If you know that starting a business is what you want to do, you must internalize that it’s not going to be easy, but the result is going to be worth it. You must be able to continually make the decision to go outside your comfort zone. In order to be successful, you must be more driven by what’s possible than by what’s comfortable.

This is difficult. It’s why most people don’t succeed. They think, “What’s the harm of spending another 30 minutes on Facebook?”

They can’t hold themselves accountable. And they don’t have enough of a driving force, a burning fire, a motivation to make it work.

Make Better Choices

Every day, when you wake up, you have a choice of what to do. Just like you (probably) are, I’m addicted to social media. Social media sites like Facebook employ thousands of people whose job it is to capture our attention for as much of the day as possible. Like cigarettes or caffeine, Facebook taps into our brain and sucks our motivation away. All so it can show us ads and make about $12 a year off of us.

Nine years ago, I wrote about passionate disgust and how I use that to create businesses. I refuse to let staring at social media continue to suck hours out of my life. I’m ready to create instead of consume. That lights a fire in me.

Creating is harder. Building a business is harder. It’s easy and fun to post on social media and count your likes. But it’s an empty high.

If you’re really motivated to leave your mark on this world, or even just give yourself a better life, you have to move social media to the back burner and put the time in to create something real. Something more challenging than a quick, flippant post.

Take some time after reading this post and figure out what motivation looks like to you. You have my permission to make it totally personal if that’s what drives you. There’s nothing wrong with being driven to make your family’s situation better. It’s exactly how Howard Schultz got started.

What, exactly, is going to force you to close Facebook out and stop watching TV? What’s going to be so motivating that you will step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis? What does that really look like to you? Get detailed. Get personal.

That’s where your successful business lies–right in the middle of that burning pit in your stomach.

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How To Create a Simple, FREE Weekly To-Do List with Trello


Free simple weekly to-do list with Trello

Many people make to-do lists or apps into a complicated slog. They write long blog posts or videos with detailed guides on setting up to-dos.

This isn’t that.

I find I end up not using complicated to-do lists or apps. I need to keep it simple–the simpler, the better.

I also needed a weekly to-do list that was accessible anywhere I go. I always have my phone with me, so I wanted something that would work on my phone.

And hey, it doesn’t hurt when it’s free to use!

Given those criteria, a few years ago, I set up a system using a free app called Trello. I keep it simple: Trello is available as an app on my phone (works on both Android and iPhone), at trello.com, and is also an app for both Mac and Windows.

Here’s a quick, 8-minute video of how I use Trello to create a weekly to do list:

You can also view and subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/c/ericabiz – more videos coming soon!

In case you’re curious: Yes, I really do use Trello in this manner pretty much every working day.

I address this in the video, but just so it’s in writing as well: I didn’t get paid to make this video, and I don’t have any sort of financial relationship with Trello. In fact, I don’t pay for Trello either–I use the free version. I made the video because I’ve seen way too many people overcomplicate to-do lists, and I would love for you to see how easy and simple a weekly to-do list can really be.

On a personal note, I’ve cleared up a significant amount of time so I can start creating more blog posts and videos. If you’d like me to answer a business question you have, or share more about how I set up my “work life”, please feel free to email me (erica at erica dot biz) or ask in the comments! I do read every email and comment.

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Sounding the Alarm: Now Is The Time to Be a Cockroach


I build businesses that high-flying tech startup investors generally don’t like.

The businesses I build are profitable, focus on cash flow, and sell commoditized services. They’re considered unexciting to tech startup investors, who want to invest in the new hotness.

I’ve tried to contort myself into building that type of business, but it’s just not for me. That’s because, in my view, those businesses are unnatural. A business must (eventually) make a profit to survive. And many of these fancy tech startups die once they’re forced–by the economy, their investors, or the public markets–to make a profit. They can’t turn the corner.

Are We at The Top?

We are, right now, in a state of economic expansion that has lasted for 10 years. Having lived through two major downturns (2001 and 2008) as an adult, I’ve trained myself to recognize the top of the market. And though I may be wrong, I feel confident in saying we are at the top right now.

That does not mean the economy will not continue to expand. “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent,” John Maynard Keynes wisely said. Timing the market is extraordinarily difficult.

I closely watched the financial news during the last two economic expansions and contractions, and for the last 3 months I’ve seen the same indicators I saw at the top of those two expansions.

So, if we’re not at the top, the markets will certainly only get more irrational and frothy from here.

Why do I mention all of these economic indicators? Because now is the time for you to start being a cockroach.

You should irrationally focus on profitability and putting as much money into the bank (liquid cash) as possible right now. And from a personal level, you should be focused on paying down debt, not taking on new debt, and stacking as much cash as you possibly can. Get money now while the economy is at the top.

As much as you can given your time and health, take on paying gigs now. Then put that cash in the bank and keep it there. You will need it when the economy tanks, whether that’s later this year, next year, or 2-3 years from now.

Why Save?

I say “irrationally” above even though what I just wrote seems rational to me, because in our consumer-driven economy, saving money and making a profit are not considered rational. Why save money when you can always just go drive for Uber to make more? (Because that option won’t always exist.) Why be a profitable business when you can just go get more funding to pursue the next hot thing? (Because investors will shut their doors on you once the economy tanks–ask anyone who tried to raise money in late 2000 or early 2001, or in 2008.)

I am warning you now: Do not take on new debt at this time, whether business or personal. It would be rational now to pull a line of credit as backup for your business–and then refuse to touch it except for emergency. (We are in the process of doing this for our business right now. Get credit while the economy is good.)

Pay off your cars. Pay off your phones. Stop buying new cars and phones. Pay off your student loans. And stack 3-6 months of money in your emergency fund.

Why Am I Saying All This?

I am blaring this horn of urgency while the rest of the economy is still having a party, and I am doing so for this reason:

In 2001, I was a web developer, working at Sun Microsystems on Sun.com (a job I hated, and was underpaid for.) There were no other companies hiring web developers, especially ones like me who were self-taught with no degree.

I eventually quit and subsisted on contract work, a lot of crappy food, and at least one eviction notice. My boyfriend at the time ended up moving in with me to my small 1BR apartment in the East Bay and paying the electric bill to avoid my utilities being shut off.

My landlord reduced my rent (when was the last time you heard of that happening in the Bay Area?) because so many people were leaving that they wanted someone to sign a 6-month lease. Please sign it, they begged. I negotiated. I got even lower rent.

After my 2001 horror story, I resolved I would never be caught unaware by a downturn again.

Throughout 2005-2007, I became obsessed with financial news as the market became irrational. By 2008, I was prepared. I correctly predicted the real estate downturn on this blog. I sold my hosting company on September 7, 2007, within a couple weeks of the peak of the market.

And then I took 4 years off without having to worry about money, while the rest of the economy tanked and everyone struggled. I built this blog, eventually reaching over a million unique visitors a year. I learned marketing inside and out.

This is not a “brag.” This is me telling you why I’m sounding the horn now. I understand it seems ludicrous to worry about this, especially if you’re young and didn’t have to live through 2001 and 2008. Those were incredibly rough years.

Now I am battening down the hatches again.

If I’m wrong, I come out of this with no debt, some savings, and a decent business (no plans to sell our business this time.) If I’m right, I can subsist on contract work again for a few years, this time eating slightly better food.

From Cockroach to Billionaire

I urge you to do the same. Cut unnecessary expenses, pay off the cars you have, make sure your business is profitable, trim unnecessary expenses there, and do not take on new debt at this time!

Take on additional paying work if it pays decently and won’t kill you health-wise. Use that extra money and put it away as cash. Do not invest it unless that investment pays cash-on-cash returns (aka dividends) and you have read the financial statements and believe the business will be OK in a downturn.

Be a cockroach, right now, while everyone else is still getting wasted at the party. Warren Buffet famously said, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” Now is most certainly the time to rein in.

As an added bonus, stacking cash now will enable you to take advantage of market opportunities when others go bankrupt later. I am already making some plans in this area (involving commercial real estate, if you’re curious.) But now is not the time to invest. Now is the time to stack cash so you can invest later.

Billionaires often get created during downturns. In a few years, it may be your time to shine.

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How Chris Guillebeau Built A “Cult of Personality”


Chris Guillebeau Recently, an up-and-coming fitness coach and friend of mine asked me how to get more visibility online. I’ve built successful marketing funnels for web hosting companies, this blog, a software-as-a-service company, and now a chain of retail stores. All of those marketing funnels are different, but the one a coach or a consultant follows I would call a “cult of personality.” It’s what I did with this blog, and it’s also how several people I know became quite famous and are making large incomes online.

Let’s explore one of them: Chris Guillebeau.

I got to know Chris Guillebeau when, many years ago, he asked on Twitter if there was a place he could stay in San Diego while he met with his agent (this was as he was writing his first book!) A mutual friend suggested me, so I got to hang out with Chris for a couple days at my house and get to know him on a personal level.

Be Dedicated. Turn Off the TV!

The first thing that struck me about Chris was his complete dedication to his readers. There he was, sitting on my couch one night…I knew a mutual friend of ours who was really into “The Amazing Race”, and wanted Chris to see it. I had a couple of recent episodes saved up on my Tivo, so I queued them up for Chris.

While I was engrossed in the show, Chris was furiously typing on his laptop. It turns out he was responding to every email he received and every comment he got on his blog (a dedication that Pat Flynn also picked up and used to his advantage.) Chris didn’t watch TV or do anything else until he got those emails done. And the thing about Chris was, even back then, I don’t think the emails ever stopped coming in!

Back then, Chris used to post pictures of his cat on his blog and call his cat his assistant. I encouraged him privately to get a real, human assistant, but I understood why he didn’t. He wanted all those people to know he really cared about them, and he felt like an assistant would weaken the connection he had with his readers.

With my low energy levels at the time, plus bad (undiagnosed at the time) ADHD, I wasn’t good at replying to emails and comments. (I’m better today, but I’m still nowhere near Chris’s level.) But those replies, to whatever his readers had on their minds, helped him develop an unmistakable bond with them. I suspect many of them still read and buy everything he has to offer, because 8 years ago he took his personal time to respond to their email. I have massive respect for his dedication in that area.

Achieve a Really Difficult Goal…And Share Everything Along the Way

Chris got publicity by having a really difficult goal and then writing constantly about his efforts toward achieving it. If you know Chris or follow him, you’ll immediately know what I’m referencing, because everything he did or said looped back to it. If you don’t know or haven’t followed Chris, his goal was to visit every country in the world by the time he was a certain age.

He did end up completing this goal in 2013, but when he stayed at my house he was still working on several of the more difficult countries–ones that wouldn’t let him get a visa or had exorbitant entry fees–and it was really unknown whether he was going to make it or not. He shared that doubt honestly in his blog, and it drew readers in like nothing else.

I’ll dig in to some of the factors that made this a huge success. First, Chris, if you know him, is a really genuine and unassuming guy. But he’s also dogged in pursuit of his goals. The goal itself was polarizing to a lot of people (if you can’t imagine why a goal like that would be polarizing, well, welcome to the Internet!) There were people who complained he was wasting his time, that he was ruining the environment by flying so many places, and–the most common complaint I saw–that his goal was stupid because it didn’t do anything or prove anything.

But his true fans got it. Chris’s personality helped; he was an introvert, but people genuinely liked him. The dude had basically no ego (I doubt he does even now; though I haven’t seen him in a while, he struck me as the type of person who would be exactly the same when he achieved his goal as before he achieved it.)

And the goal itself was an interviewer’s dream: Why would someone come up with that goal? How did he plan to achieve it? Where did he get all that money for travel (Chris was quite intelligent about this and turned his unique way of getting frequent flyer points into a “travel hacking” course and several blog entries)? Who was this introverted, slightly awkward kid with huge dreams who wrote about visiting every country in the world on a blog?

How to Build Fame When You’re Nobody

Now, if you’re wondering what you can take away from this, it’s that you don’t necessarily need to be “already famous” to make it online. But what you can do is have a polarizing, challenging goal and write about it. Think about what people would want to read about in a magazine. Then build a blog and videos and show yourself, every day or at least a few times a week, working toward that goal. Make people believe it is possible. Build your audience–get an email list going and have them sign up. Then, as you draw in fans, respond to their fears, concerns, and goals that they write to you about.

I look back at myself at that time and I certainly could have gone the “cult of personality” route. In fact, by 2012, this blog drew in over a million unique visitors a year. But I decided I didn’t want to; instead, I wanted to grow another business that was larger than just myself. Ever since then, I’ve been growing businesses, including the chain of retail stores I now co-own that has been hugely successful.

The Downside of “Cult of Personality” Businesses

My health then was precarious; I didn’t want to grow a cult of personality based all around me and then fall ill and suddenly stop producing content. That’s the negative side of any cult of personality business–it’s all based on you and your ability to perform. So consider this before you jump in with both feet: yes, it feels great to be famous, but can you really commit to living, breathing, and growing this business every day? To taking risks and being exposed if you do fail (and believe me, you’ll fail!)? To continuing to produce content even when you’re not on top of your game, and to producing extra content when you are on top of your game so you can take a break or be sick sometimes? You must consider all of this carefully before you begin.

If you think you can–then, by all means, grow a cult of personality! I’ve given you some insight on how to do it. This is why I’m back and blogging again; I’ve finally gotten my health in the right place to really commit to being here and showing up for my readers. I’m aware of the commitment it takes and I’m willing to do it this time around. The only question I have for you is: Are you ready, too?

NOTE: I didn’t reach out to Chris or interview him for this blog post, for a specific reason: I didn’t want to be influenced by what he felt made him successful. My goal was to write from my own perspective of knowing and following him in his early years and watching him grow his blog and business. If you’d like to learn from Chris in his own words, I encourage you to take a look at his 279 Days to Overnight Success manifesto (written back when he was still getting started) or his more recent “Success as a Travel Blogger” post.

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New Year, New Business


Wrestling the alligator You may have wondered why I haven’t blogged in so long–until this week! The answer is pretty simple: 1Up Repairs exceeded all our expectations in terms of revenue and growth, and between that and learning how to be Mackenzie’s mom, I didn’t have time to really type out a blog post. We were running full-speed ahead just trying to keep up with unprecedented growth.

To give you some idea of how fast we grew, in 2013 we did $x in revenue, which was a solid “1-person business” number. In 2016, we did 20x our 2013 revenue!

By a large margin, 1Up Repairs is the most successful business I’ve ever bootstrapped, and I’m so proud to have helped breathe life into it and help it grow so quickly.

We have 9 fantastic employees now, 2 franchise investors (just signed our second one!), and we’re profitable. In 2017, we will turn a corner and start replicating what we have. All those systems we built over the last 2 years–now’s the time to put them into action and build more stores, hire more staff, etc.

My creative passion with growing businesses is in the first part–getting them off the ground. We decided together in November that with where 1Up Repairs was, and what I wanted to do, it didn’t make sense for me to continue full-time with 1Up. I’ll still help with getting more stores off the ground, but I really wanted to get back into marketing, blogging, and coaching full-time. With the business no longer needing as much of my specific skill set, I saw this as a good opportunity to step back into an owner/board member role instead of an active role running stores or building more stores.

All of this means that 2017 is the year of NEW for me. NEW is my #themeword for 2017 — a concept I came up with in 2008 and that has since gone viral. The goal is to come up with one word that you think will describe the next year for you–a “theme” for the year.

NEW means I get to work with other entrepreneurs and help them grow, transitioning from 2 straight years of building a bootstrapped business at a breakneck pace. John continues as the full-time CEO of 1Up Repairs, with new investors and new stores to build!

And as for me? I was surprised how much I missed coaching. I help people build scalable businesses. I can help with hiring employees, marketing/copywriting, conversion optimization (setting up a conversion funnel–something so many businesses need help with!) and deciding how to get capital to grow a business.

So many business owners think that what they need is capital, but often it’s about more effective allocation of resources. I learned a lot from John, who came from the restaurant industry, in this space. We went without some things that I’m not sure many businesses would dared to have done–like not spending a lot of money on storefront signs, for instance. That saved us about $6,000 at a time when we really needed it–and we poured that money into more accessories, more stock on phones so we always had parts to get most repairs done same day, etc. I consider myself frugal, but this was a whole new level!

But we made it without having to borrow very much money at all. Instead of sweating about paying off debt, we aggressively invested back in what was working. We tested conversions on marketing and shot down anything that didn’t make money, with the result that the marketing channels we do use are insanely profitable for us.

Making Marketing Work for You as a Business Owner

Many business owners will throw what I would term “feel-good money” at marketing–stuff that the people selling it would say benefits the community, or helps attract a certain demographic. We tested many of those marketing channels–ONCE. We tracked absolutely every call or customer that came in from those. (How? We had a few really good ways, I’ll say that!) If they didn’t pan out, when the salespeople called back, we’d give them the actual numbers and politely decline to continue to advertise. We left a trail of disappointed salespeople in our wake, but if I showed you our marketing spend vs. our sales, your eyes would probably bulge out of your head at how little we spend to make what we make.

That sort of tight, almost Scrooge-like mentality about spending made our stores profitable to the point where we had quite easy conversations with potential franchisees who wanted to come in. To be honest, it also resulted in some heated conversations about where our budget should go. John learned to relax a bit on small expenses, and to allocate more resources to test various marketing channels as revenue grew. I learned to make even tighter funnels and cross the boundary of being able to track conversions from multiple online and offline marketing channels, all the way through a diverse funnel (since we’re retail.) Considering the wide variety of ways people can find us and come in, the system we built does a pretty good job of tracking what works!

That’s what I’m most passionate about building for businesses. Whether your business is entirely online or a mix of online and retail like ours, most business owners are terrible at tracking where the money goes. And yet you have to be great at it, because it can be the difference between a business that barely stays afloat and one that throws off hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in profit to you!

In 2017, I’m ready to take some business owners with existing businesses and take them to new heights with their business. I’ll really dig in to find out what’s working and what’s most profitable for your business–and where you can put your dollars to maximize your revenue and profit. This is the #1 thing I wish I had as a business owner. I look back from where I am today, and how profitable this business is, and think “Wow, if I had this 13 years ago, I would have made an extra million dollars or three.” That is not hyperbole.

So many business owners are overwhelmed by options when it comes to marketing and sales. Facebook ads, Google ads, webinars, flyers, Facebook group posts…and to make matters worse, there are a million “gurus” out there that teach one of those methods as if it’s the holy grail. And it might be…for the person selling the program! But I see the need for business owners to have a marketing and growth coach to help you decide what’s most effective for your business, and then put a plan into place to track spending and verify what’s working through conversions. That’s where I come in.

Growing your business? I’m launching my coaching program under my freedom.biz domain name. I’m putting together an elite group of business owners who are interested in being part of a tight, supportive group of people committed to taking their businesses to the next level. If you’re interested, sign up here.

Just getting started? I’m also excited to recommend Ramit Sethi’s course on starting an online business. He helps you come up with the right idea and take your first steps to making money. I’ve known Ramit for many years and he practices what he preaches–these are the same techniques that helped him grow a multi-million dollar business. Sign up here for his free “Bucket List Challenge” and start building your own business!

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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