We celebrated the 10-year anniversary of my company this past Thursday. I launched the business in 2008 in the midst of an awful economic and real estate depression. I invested my entire life savings to get the business off the ground.
During the first year, I was a one-man shop who worked 18-hour days every single day of the week. Yes, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Any dollar I earned during the first year went straight back into the business, which meant I had no money for myself or my wonderful dog, Lucy.
During that first year, I scrounged through sofa cushions for a $1.06 in coins to eat a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger, or I would head to the Panda Garden Buffet on Emmet Street with ziplock bags stuffed in my pockets. When no one was looking, I would sneak Chinese food from the buffet into the crinkled ziplock bags. This was our breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few days. Yes, even Lucy, the beautiful brown dog, ate Chinese food with me. She loved it; I was sick of it.
While that first year was the most difficult of my life, I never really focused on the hardship or the negativity. Instead, I chose to focus on “what if I do this differently” and “maybe I should pivot in this direction” or “is the market heading that way.”
I started my day at 6:30 am. I worked. I networked. I slept. I did it again the next day.
Eventually, I convinced a few business owners to give me a chance at improving their brand placement and advertising strategies. I understood the importance of social media, digital marketing and mobile marketing before most anyone. I realized that my competitors were dismissing or forgetting about social and digital in 2008. I knew that was my competitive advantage.
I also “under promised and over delivered” on every project. Under promising and over delivering was paramount to my success. The early clients who gave me a try were impressed by the hard work and the deliverables. They became evangelists for the business. Soon, my phone was ringing. My inbox went from “zero new emails” to “three new emails” to the “300 new emails” we get today.
The life of an entrepreneur is not an easy one. It’s about taking strategic risks and betting on yourself to beat the market to the punch. It’s exhilarating, exhausting and entertaining. Every single day is different. But if you do it right, and you work your ass off, you can make a tremendous living for your family and your team members. That’s what I’ve done.
Today, we are the top advertising agency in town and own two awesome brands in I Love CVille and Scoutology. I’ve also hedged my risk by slowly purchasing commercial real estate around my beloved Charlottesville DowntownMall. Today, I own 12,300+ square feet of rentable real estate and have 23 tenants and counting who often ask for entrepreneurial advice. Of course, I’m happy to help because I remember being unsure about those same questions.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the last 10 years as an entrepreneur:
(1). There is no substitute for hard work. If you are willing to work harder than everyone else, you will eventually gain traction in business and start winning.
(2). If you are willing to sacrifice food, shiny things, vacations, clothes and entertainment, then you will have an advantage over most folks because many are just “trying to keep up with the Joneses.”
(3). Network, network and network some more. Hit the bricks. Shake hands, kiss babies and get as much face-time as possible with as many decision makers as possible.
(4). Surround yourself with honest, hard working people who are committed to working together as a team.
(5). Stay positive. Entrepreneurism is an emotional rollercoaster ride. The highs are epic, the lows are devastating. Try to remember this: “It’s never as good as you think and it’s never as bad as you think.”
(6). Offer your community something of value even if you have to do it for free for an extended period of time. It’s basically a “loss leader strategy” that will build goodwill and equity for you within your community.
(7). Lastly, enjoy the ride. When you have some success, celebrate and revel in it. Then, forget about it and keep busting your ass.