Real Life: The Early Entrepreneur Days

I know relatively little about being an entrepreneur. For the past few weeks, I have taken what I do know from past work experiences, and from friends I know who have successful businesses. I consulted the internet. I decided to stop shooting arrows in every direction, then took a week “off” to write a business plan. This has been a lot time on my own, collecting the information I can and trying to avoid a book on “Businesses for Dummies!” That book is probably pretty helpful, but it’s not how I learn best. I need to go out and DO.

So, I’m doing! And I want to be authentic about that process. Because it’s not all lattes and afternoon puppy walks and money piling up left and right. (At least, not yet? 🤔) As of yet, no two weeks (let alone days) have been the same for income, workload, or sanity. But these early days of being an entrepreneur are teaching me how to be focused, organized, and patient. I’m slowly learning to hold myself accountable, close Twitter, and avoid the urge to responsively answer emails. I’m chatting with you here today because I scheduled time to write.

In this early phase of entrepreneurship, my daily life has been made MUCH better by a few simple things. I love simple things. And I think these simple things are good for anyone, whether or not you plan on starting a small (or enormous) business.

  1. Write a business plan. Look, I have no idea if what I wrote would be considered a “business plan” by anyone but me, but it’s helping me stay focused and that was the point. If you’re on the Type A spectrum, you may want to look up a template and go from there. (I’m very much Type-B-ish, and desired no such direction.) It doesn’t matter how you write your plan, unless you plan on presenting it to an investor, in which case, you might have to follow some rules. For reference: I started with an outline, filled that in with paragraphs, and made some financial goals for the next few months. I included my nutrition and coaching philosophies, work I want to do and why I want to do it, how I will do that work, and what I will charge for it. I made a (vague) two year plan, but to be honest I can barely think past three months from now. So, I also made plans for the next three months. Business plan: check!
  2. Find your people, and consult them often. Last year I started an all-inclusive Dietitian Mastermind (DM) team on Slack. (If you’re a dietitian, come join us!) There are 230 people in that group right now, and yes, I have growth goals in my business plan. Last week, I started a mini Mastermind group with four other dietitians who are starting businesses. As I understand it, a Mastermind group is a small group of people that help, challenge, and support you. We had our first chat on Monday night and it was almost two hours long 🙌 . We’re sharing goals, advice, expertise, and skills. We’re going to chat every other week for now, and use the DM Slack team to chat between meetings. We’re honest about not totally having our shit together. We’re all doing the damn thing, though, and working together without fear of competition. It’s good stuff. Tribe: check!
  3. Monitor an (unproductive) habit, and then change it. This is one of Gretchen Rubin’s nine tips for making work-related resolutions. I will pick one habit every week, starting with the first hour of my work day. For reference: I have eight tabs open right now, just on this browser. I have ten browser windows (not ALL of which have eight tabs open). I open my computer to start work, look at all of it, and you can see where this is going. Lately, I’ve worked on not doing email first, or even second, but rather when I need a little break. After starting this habit monitoring, I decided to hone in on this first hour of work and picking ONE thing to do. It may not take me a full hour to do that one thing, but I won’t poke around on tabs (or open new ones) until it’s done. Productivity first: check!
  4. Track what has been DONE, not just what’s left to-do. At one point last month, I realized that I was doing a lot of things that weren’t on my “list” to do. If I didn’t finish my task list for the day, it felt like I wasn’t productive, even if I had done plenty of other things. So I started a “DONE” list for each week. It’s long. It has checkmarks instead of open boxes (for checkmarks to be added later). It says things like, “Sent pitch to XY.com” and “made Slack tutorial outline” and “Read HBR cover article.” These things may or may not have been on my to-do list for the day, but I did them anyway and wanted to mark that progress somehow. It’s also helpful to look back and see if I did something I had thought about but didn’t write in my calendar. One could argue I just need to be better about making to-do lists, but I like this approach better. And it’s my business, my rules.
    This “DONE” list may another form of ego-boosting, an assurance that I’m doing things even if  I’m not making a ton of income yet. That may be exactly what it is. But this week’s list is the longest I’ve had in a while and it makes me feel good. Track progress: check!
  5. Make things happen. Seriously. It’s so easy to overthink projects, posts, tweets, newsletters, or whatever else it is I’m putting out to the world. This is a one-woman show right now, so everything comes from me and that’s a lot of ego on the line. It also means that if I don’t do something, it doesn’t happen. In a startup, an idea turns into a real thing in approximately 0.005 seconds and someone is doing it and it might be you. There’s some pause to make sure it’s worth doing, and that it’s possible, but for the most part there’s little deliberation. I’m keeping that mentality here, because if I think too long or hard, I’ll probably just psyche myself out and never get anything done. If in my gut I know I can and should do something, it’ll happen within a week or two (if possible). Exhibit A: the run training group that I essentially formed while writing a blog post. That turned into 20 people training with me for a half marathon this spring! Swoon. (Still open!)
    In short: I see no sense in dragging out the process. Do the things: check!

That said, tomorrow I’ll be launching my next thing: a two-week class to help you simplify cooking dinner on a weeknight. This from someone who barely spends over 30 minutes making a meal on any given day. (See also: not dragging things out.)

If you’re an entrepreneur, side-hustler, creative with big ideas, or FT employee with big ideas, what helps you do the damn thing? What would you add to this list, for people who are just getting started and need some direction?

Comments

  1. January 30, 2017

    Love your ‘done’ list! I recently started writing ‘one good thing’ that happened in the day before going to bed each night. With a million things on your plate, it’s easy to lack a sense of accomplishment. I’ve also made a point to give myself ‘to do’ items that have nothing to do with work/school each day like reading a couple chapters in a book for pleasure or catching up on an episode of Grey’s, helps to keep the work-life balance in check a bit!

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