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

Posts published in the Entrepreneurs category:

“Hustle Porn” Is Making Us Sad and Suicidal

Kevin O’Leary of “Shark Tank” recently told CNBC’s “Make It”: “If I have to give one piece of advice to someone who’s thinking about starting a business, I tell them this: Forget about balance. You’re going to work 25 hours a day, seven days a week, forever. That’s what it takes to be successful.”

Excuse me while my eyes roll all the way to the back of my head!

Here’s the truth: I made my first million dollars at a very young age, from a bootstrapped company.

And the other part of the truth: That business absolutely killed my health.

Today, my husband John and I run a company that generates several million dollars a year in revenue. And we typically don’t work more than 40 hours a week.

We did work long hours when we started. But, especially once we had a beautiful daughter, we realized the long hours we were working wouldn’t be sustainable.

John and I made a conscious decision to hire people and sacrifice extra money in the short term, in order to not kill our health long-term.

I am a ruthless outsourcer. John, who came from the restaurant industry, was knowledgeable on how to hire and grow a team. Together, we “bought our freedom.” We had full understanding that we could work longer hours, hire fewer people, and make more money in the short term…and we chose not to do that.

Instead, we hired employees and trained them, then hired 2 top-notch folks to be our executive team and help us grow and scale the business.

The result? A business that makes several million dollars a year, that also provides for our employees and their families, without killing us.

We Also Gave Our Employees More Time Off

I am a big believer in a shorter work week making people more productive. To that extent, we used to have our managers do a 5-6 schedule (5 days a week one week, then 6 days a week the next week.) This is common in the restaurant industry, but I was not a fan of it. Neither were our two executives.

As soon as our numbers allowed, we made the switch and all managers now only work 5 days a week.

In addition, this year we gave our employees an additional week of vacation, which now applies every year. Happier employees means a healthier business.

“Hustle Porn” Is Directly Tied to the Puritan Work Ethic

The “hustle porn” mentality, which basically says “Never stop working!”, appears to be mostly an American craze. I believe it stems from the old Puritan work ethic. It’s the same mentality that causes people to shame others for hiring help, such as housekeepers.

It also is the source of people working through lunch–and feeling guilty for taking breaks or vacations. The average employee who receives paid vacation only took about half their vacation days (source.)

Why? According to the survey, fear is responsible: “They fear getting behind on their work (34%), believe no one else at their company can do the work while they’re out (30%), they are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and they feel they can never be disconnected (21%).”

This is unequivocally harmful to our happiness as a society. I think a direct link can, and should, be made between “hustle porn” and the skyrocketing use of anti-depressants. “The number of Americans who say they’ve taken an antidepressant over the past month rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014. One in every eight Americans over the age of 12 reported recent antidepressant use.”

One in every eight Americans! Is anyone saying that “hustling” will make us happier?

It gets worse. Here’s an article published yesterday. “The suicide rate among Americans of working age increased 34 percent from 2000 to 2016, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

In the image above, I drew a direct correlation between “hustle porn”, reading about your friends bragging on social media, straight through to increased anti-depressant use and even suicide. We’re spending more time hunched over our phones flipping through the social media “trophy case”, and less time on relaxing and taking a break.

“Hustle porn” and the glorification of overwork is making us both sad and suicidal.

What’s the Alternative?

I don’t want to just breathlessly drop statistics and not offer alternatives. Here are a few ways I’ve stopped myself from overworking while still building a successful business:

Every Sunday night, I set 4 main goals for my next week. I try to set the week up so I have 4 goals and 4 days to work on them. My fifth day of work can then be consumed by any emergency that might pop up, doctor’s appointments, etc.

Every day, I wake up and decide which of my 4 goals I’ll be working on today. That starts my day off strong and focused. For instance, one of my 4 goals this week is “Write and publish a blog post.” That’s what I’m doing today!

I check off 2 “annoyances” and 2-3 household tasks every single day. Yesterday I paid bills, sent clients invoices, and cleaned for 20 minutes. (The 20-minute cleaning is a life hack called a “time block”, where I spend only a certain amount of time on a task to avoid overwhelm.)

When my annoyances, big task for the day, and household chores are done, I STOP WORKING. That’s right! I sometimes do a day from 10AM-4PM. This also gives me incentive to stop procrastinating, because once I’m done for the day, I’m done! I do not push myself into additional work at that point unless I’m motivated. Instead, I go outside and play some Pokemon Go, watch a movie, or read a book–guilt-free!

I have an earlier post where I talk about how I use Trello to organize my tasks. You can see there how I set up and plan my week.

Time and time again, when creatives (writers and software developers in particular) are surveyed, we say we can’t do more than 4-5 hours of creative work in a day. The rest of our time is spent on boring and mundane tasks–many of which I would recommend outsourcing if you run your own business.

Or, if mowing the lawn makes you happy–do that yourself and outsource other items. I’ve learned how to cook and enjoy cooking, so I outsource cleaning and mowing the lawn, but I buy groceries and cook frequently.

If there’s one thing I would love for you to take away from this, it’s that it’s completely possible to build a 7-figure-plus business without killing yourself. It’s OK to hire people (as you have the money to do so.) There probably will be a time at the beginning of your business where you’re working long hours. But it most certainly does not have to be “forever”, no matter what Kevin O’Leary says.

“Hustle porn” does not make any of us happier people. Be OK with being happier instead of being a hustler.

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My Stake in the Ground: What I’m Building This Year

Local business 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!

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“What Kind of Business Should I Start?” A Surprising Answer from A Successful Entrepreneur

What kind of business to start I often get asked what you might think is a simple question: “What kind of business should I start?”

For the first time in many years, I find myself in the same boat as the folks who ask me that question. I (surprisingly) don’t have a concrete answer to this question for myself right now–but, as I’ll show you in this post, I have a way to figure it out. (more…)

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Why “Charge Less” is Almost Always the Wrong Advice

When I decided to become a coach in July, I sought out several experienced coaches for advice. After all, if I was going to make this my new business, I wanted to know what to do–and what not to do–to make my business successful!

One coach I spoke to advised me, “Charge less so you can build up a client base.” At the time, I had an almost visceral reaction to it. I replied, “No, I’m going to charge more.” She looked at me with surprise. (more…)

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How I Helped Ramit Sethi Break Through Barriers and Earn Millions of Dollars

This post could potentially help you create the next huge online business. I’ll get into that more below, but first, since you’ve been asking, here’s what happened in the aftermath of my last blog post!

It’s been 2 1/2 months since I shared the story of my startup failing here on my blog. And I’m happy to announce I can now share the epilogue to that story: After I wrote the post, Whoosh Traffic was acquired by another local Austin company, OwnLocal. (more…)

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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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