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.
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:
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.
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!
Then, although it wasn’t my intent, I went radio silent on this blog for over 3 months! What happened? Well, two surprising things…both good.
One, our business at 1Up Repairs took off more quickly and grew much faster than we had anticipated. We’ve currently 8x’ed our revenue year-over-year, which is way more revenue than we expected to do this soon. We even set sales records all summer, which we thought would be our slow period since we’re on a college campus and most students are off for the summer.
We’ve hired two new full-time employees just to help keep up, and are planning on hiring a third in January. We still have a lot of work to do on the marketing side, since John and I, until now, have basically been running the store while hiring and training people.
If this level of growth keeps up, next year we should do over a million dollars in sales — wow. That’s way more than we expected, but we are so grateful!
And then, of course, there’s one other thing I’m super grateful for — I’m pregnant!
My first trimester was rough — I won’t lie. I felt alternately nauseous and vomiting for weeks on end, and I was unable to work full time, which was frustrating, especially with our business growing so rapidly. My doctors assured me it would ease up by my second trimester, so by week 10-11 I was counting down the days.
By week 14, I was feeling “normal” again — more tired than usual, yes, but the nausea and vomiting had passed. The second trimester has been good, and I’ve been able to return to work, which mostly meant working 1Up Repairs’ front counter and maintaining my coworking space, Opportunity Space. Between those two businesses, plus the added tiredness, I haven’t been able to keep up with my blog as I’d have liked.
Difficulties Bring New Insights…
With every difficult period in our lives seems to come a new insight, though, and this has been no exception. Forced into not working full time, and worse, not knowing when or what would trigger my next bout of nausea, I started to deeply tap in to my body’s natural rhythms. Instead of just reading about time management and seeing which “techniques” I could apply, I lived and breathed for the moments where I felt “okay” enough to work. I developed a keen sense of understanding exactly when my best work hours were, and how to focus through even small amounts of time.
It hasn’t been perfect. There are still tasks that have sat on my to-do list for months. But overall, I’ve been able to work fewer hours and get more done — so much so, in fact, that I’m tempted to build my first course on freedom.biz not as a marketing course, but as a time management course — focused on learning to adapt to what your body has to say, and using your own natural rhythms and flows to get your to-do list done at optimal times, while feeling less overwhelmed and stressed.
I fear, though, that most people won’t want to hear this, because unfortunately I have a feeling their bodies are going to say the same thing mine did for the first few weeks: “Rest. Rest. Rest!”
The whole time management industry is devoted to this crazy “stacking” of to-do items into some sort of wizard-like pyramid, and then when it comes crashing down on you because you try to fit too much into it, it is, of course, your own fault for not grokking “the system” well enough. It reminds me a lot of the weight-loss industry, which is so focused on “Eat less; move more” or “Eat this, not that” that your body’s subtle cues are lost in a sea of screaming blog posts with 10-point checklists and pictures of ridiculously-too-fit people.
The message of listening to your body is incredibly important, but I have a self-conscious complex about it; I am simply not a paragon of crystal-clear, perfect time management myself. I have emails I haven’t responded to in weeks or months. Some days I don’t want to do anything (I’ve learned, by tapping into my body, that those aren’t “lazy” days for me; they’re my body telling me it’s overworked and I need to take some time for self-care instead of ignoring it and getting up and working. One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn in my whole life!)
My Unhealthy Perfectionist Instinct
In other words, I’m still learning, and I don’t feel worthy of teaching until I’ve learned more or become somehow “better” at it — my perfectionist instinct at its absolute worst, I admit.
Perhaps, though, it is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe I’m not meant to sit up here from on some sort of perfect, figured-it-all-out platform and dictate to you how to build a successful business, or how to manage your time. Maybe I’m meant to “teach from the trenches” and learn as I go.
Perhaps, as Brene Brown put it in her TED talk on vulnerability, this isn’t my time to “control” or “predict” time management, but just to roll with it and accept that I am not perfect at it, and that no one really is, but acknowledge that my stories about it and what I’ve learned are still important.
Is it possible I don’t need to be a paragon of time management to teach it; that I can be a normal human being with ADHD who forgets things and has 466 emails in her inbox (that’s the actual number, right now) and none of that actually matters when it comes down to teaching it? That it is, as Brene Brown puts it, I just have to believe that I am worthy of teaching it. Whatever it turns out to be — whether that’s time management or marketing or building a business.
Or heck, just writing and publishing a freaking blog post! My perfectionist instinct has killed several potentially great blog posts as well, that now sit in my Drafts folder (some with over 4000 words) instead of being shared with the world.
For The Cynics
I should add, here, for the cynics in the audience, that there are people out there who want to teach without having learned or lived what they teach. This is common in the “make money online” market — a market I’ve done my best to pull away from in the past few years. People make a bit of money online and they suddenly have some sort of “epiphany” (often guided by someone else who has made just a bit more money than they have) that the Next Great Thing they can do is teach other people how to make their first $400 online, or whatever thing they’ve just done for the first time. At the worst, there are those who haven’t made any money online and are still trying to teach others how to make money online.
Taking that situation and adding belief of worthiness doesn’t create value. That’s not what I’m talking about here when it comes to my situation. I’m not naively jumping in and saying “I know nothing about this and have never done it; let me teach it anyway!”
What I am saying is that the time management industry is broken; I believe I’ve developed some tools that will help solve it for some (not all) people, and I need to have the confidence in myself to launch that (or failing that, launch something I know I can teach) even if it’s not perfect.
I am the other extreme from the not-so-hypothetical “make money online person who has never made any money online” I outlined above; I have built multiple successful businesses, but time management still feels frustratingly out of grasp for me, and I believe that’s because the industry and the courses in it focus on the wrong things.
There are those who don’t know anything and try to teach it anyway, and most of them fail (although they often get a great learning experience in the process.) There is a large “happy middle” of people who have the self-confidence to teach, backed by experience, and many of them succeed. Then there is a small group of people who lack the self-confidence and are so hemmed in by perfectionism that even though they are perfectly capable of teaching a particular way of doing things, they never even attempt it because they are consumed by the fear of not knowing enough or of needing to know some nebulous “more” before they teach it.
I am in the latter group, unfortunately, and that’s why I’ve consistently struggled to launch products and even write blog posts. My statement on the matter has always been “This will change.” Now I’m saying “This is changing.” I do believe I am ready to teach what I know–now, I just have to get out of my own perfectionist loops long enough to do so.
This will be a great thing to show my daughter as she grows up, as well. 🙂
It’s been just over a year since my last company failed/got acquired, and I’m excited to announce the project I’m going to be working on for the foreseeable future!
I’ve long been frustrated by the state of marketing information for small businesses. It’s what led me to start my last company, and, today, a bit more than year after that company failed, I still get the strongest sense that that’s where I want to be as a founder and CEO. What’s out there now stinks!
Small Business Owners’ Issues with Marketing
In talking to small business owners, two big issues regarding marketing come up consistently:
1) “I have no time to do any of this.” What I see here that has huge potential: A system that makes intelligent recommendations for you and then offers you the choice to do that or hire it out to a trusted provider for a fee. We can also show you how much time each item is going to take to do.
2) “I don’t know what will give me the highest ROI.” What we can do here: Use intelligent recommendations to give you the highest-leverage items to do first. For instance, if you don’t have a website with a title optimized for your SEO keywords, we’d highlight that first, as opposed to–say–adding ALT tags to your images, which is going to be a lower-value item.
I still don’t know why this doesn’t exist. It’s where we were headed previously with Whoosh Traffic as we pivoted into MarketVibe.
My best guess on why it isn’t out there today is that small businesses are notoriously hard to gather as customers, and they don’t like to pay a lot of money for marketing. Still, HubSpot seems to be doing well (they currently claim 15,000+ paying customers on their homepage), and email marketing companies like MailChimp and Aweber are also thriving.
Going Back to Where My Heart Is
When we went for this out of Techstars a year and a half ago, I got dissuaded from the small business market and I lost my focus. That was my failing–as CEO, I should have stuck to my guns and said, “Look, this is our market!” I’ve always felt most passionate about serving that market. It’s hard when you are told by investors and mentors over and over that it’s difficult to build for that market. I think they’re right–it is hard–but I should have done it anyway, because it’s where my heart is.
The other big mistake I made was focusing on the software first. This time, I’m going to build it totally differently. I’m going to build it as education first, and then gradually work my way into the software/intelligent recommendations side.
Who I’m Looking For as Beta Testers
I’m looking for Real Business Owners (small businesses with a physical presence–this could be anyone from people who have a retail store, like John, to people who are personal trainers, coaches, or massage therapists), and build a course that shows them how to market their products or services effectively.
I’ll walk through what John and I have done to grow his business from a “pocket change” business generating less than $2,000/month to a powerhouse that is on track to generate over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue this year. By the way, we’ve done that in 6 months and we’ve spent less than $2,000 on marketing. And we have an ugly-ass website. It is possible!
This is what I most want to do. This is my stake in the ground. I’m tired of people telling me that I shouldn’t work with small business owners because they are difficult and frugal. Great! I am also difficult and frugal. 😉 I think we’ll be just fine.
Today, I’m announcing the acquisition of the domain name freedom.biz, where I’ll be building my new course for Real Business Owners. My goal is to launch the first iteration of the course by the end of June, and build a fantastic community of awesome business owners. For this first iteration, Freedom.Biz will be training on how to get more customers for a real (physical) business. Then, based on your feedback, I’ll build software, help you find done-for-you services that work, and continue adding to the course and community!
Are you a coach, consultant, store owner, or Real Business Owner who’s interested in being a beta tester for Freedom.Biz? I’d love to have you on board as a beta tester. Sign up here and I’ll keep you in the loop!