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31 Things You Can Do To Build A $1 Million Dollar Business In 3 Years.

31 Things You Can Do To Build A $1 Million Dollar Business In 3 Years.

It’s been almost three years since my wife Irene and I quit our day jobs to pursue the dream of building a business.

We were both at a stage in our lives where merely working to make a dollar was not rewarding enough. We wanted to create something.

And we did, in a way. Today, Arielle has a team of 5 staff and in 2015, our revenue will reach $1 million. All without taking a single dollar of debt or investment.

Although the numbers look promising, the journey of building the business has been an unpredictable one, often hair-raisingly confronting and far from smooth.

Here I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned on this path.

1. Realize That You Are The Problem.

The business you’re about to build will be a direct extension of you. Its DNA will mirror your own beliefs, motivations, worldviews, strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re experiencing a problem in your business, it’s because you haven’t yet developed a capacity for something that the world requires you to learn in order to move forward on your path.

2. Address Issues At Their Core.

One of the main challenges for a new business, for example, is to get enough clients. If there’s not enough of them, you might be tempted to view it as a marketing problem.

While that is true, there’s more to it than that. At a deeper level, it’s also probably an empathy and generosity problem on behalf of the person in charge of marketing.

If this person is not wired to solve other people’s problems and doesn’t experience joy from a pure act of giving, teaching them about USPs and SEO will be a poor investment of time.

3. Embrace Personal Growth.

Your business is a giant classroom in which you’ll get an opportunity to learn about your own barriers and – if you’re willing – to move past them.

The aim is to use your role as a business founder as an opportunity to grow as a human being (which will, in turn, bring about happiness and fulfillment; not to use your business as a vehicle to build fame and fortune in order to bring about happiness (it won’t).

4. Believe That Final Destination Is A Myth.

When I was starting out, I watched too many YouTube videos in which business founders talked about raising millions of dollars and being bought by Google in the space of 6 months.

This led me to be distracted by the promise of a magic, fictitious destination – one where I have “made it”, there are no struggles, no threats and little stress.

5. Enjoy The Process Of Building A Business.

The reality of achieving business goals is that every time one is reached, a new set of challenges present themselves, some of which were not relevant or visible at earlier stages.

It means that the very process of building a mature business has the effect of moving goal posts back hardwired into it.

A business that’s struggling to define its value proposition, for example, has little concern for refining processes and writing manuals. However, one that’s trying to scale will view those as a priority.

The lesson here is to cease aiming for a future where life is effortless and learn to enjoy the day-to-day challenge of solving new problems.

6. Don’t Let Your Time Be Easily Wasted.

Results are a product of your effort multiplied by traction.

The problem is that when you’re starting out, you don’t really know what you’re doing, so you don’t have much traction.

It means that a lot of your effort, and possibly money, is wasted on spinning your wheels in the mud. You simply haven’t yet figured out which of your actions create the most value – and that’s totally normal.

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7. Believe That Woody Allen Was Right – “80% Of Success Is Showing Up” – Woody Allen.

This leaves you with just one other variable which leads to results – the amount of effort you put in.

If you’re juggling your business commitments with a desire to maintain a healthy social life, attend yoga classes, be a great parent, look fashionable, cook nutritious meals, read Charles Bukowski and take regular holidays, you might find that you’re a startup founder more in theory than in practice.

8. Sacrifice Three Things.

For someone who decided to build a business, learning to consciously pick battles which you want to fight (and win) is critical.

If you’re not saying “No” to most of the requests for your time and money (from yourself and others), you’re probably sabotaging your success as an entrepreneur.

Chances are, your current life is not set up in a way that is helpful for building a business. Decide which 3 significant demands on your time and money you’re willing to give up in order to make room for your startup.

Be honest with yourself. Are you prepared to abandon hobbies, let go of friendships and/or move to a cheaper area to chase your entrepreneurial dream?

9. Don’t Be A Hipster.

Building a business is quite the trend these days. You see fashionable-looking people with Macs at cafes and think that’s what your life would look like if you were an entrepreneur.

Don’t be fooled. Most of those people do not have a real business. Even if they do hand you a business card with a fancy title. I’ll get to that shortly.

Take an honest, hard look at your motivations. If you are drawn to entrepreneurship mainly because of perceived glamour of it all, you won’t survive. Most of it is very, very non-glamorous.

A good test for examining your true motivations is the amount of sacrifice you’re prepared to make (see the point above).

10. Understand Why Business Isn’t Glamorous.

The idea of starting a business like Uber or AirBnB might seem cool – until you consider that you’re simply in the business of selling cheap transportation or accommodation – and being hated by a lot of people in the process.

Most successful companies in the world sell very boring products – e.g., toothpaste, consumer goods, gadgets, clothes, cars, etc.

Arielle sells job search tools. It’s not glamorous at all, however what’s important to me as one of the founders of the business is not the perceived glamour value of our products, but the quality of the problem that our business has been built to solve.

11. Find A Problem Worth Fixing.

I’m passionate about Arielle’s mission because I know that the recruitment industry is rapidly changing, which means more and more talented people are getting overlooked by employers.

To me that is a problem worth fixing – and our job search tools are one of the ways we help people get noticed.

Always start with a problem that you want to fix and work back to product.

Don’t be surprised if most people think your product is boring. The people who you’re building the product for won’t.

12. Utilize Every Single Minute.

I’m a little extreme in how I operate, but let me make a few examples just to give you context for how I chase higher levels of productivity.

I typically work in hyper-focused mode for 10 hours a day. Most mornings I’m at my desk by 7:15 am, having already been to the gym.

I also keep an iPad in the toilet to leverage my time there. Before my bathroom call is up, I typically flick through a few articles on my Feedly reader in order to get up to speed with the latest SEO/SEM/PPC news and schedule in a few tweets via Sprout Social.

Maybe someone has figured out a way to build a business whilst living a well-balanced life. I have not yet met such a person and it’s certainly not been me.

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(I personally don’t think that it’s possible for one simple reason – business is a competition and your competitors are running forward, not strolling along).

13. Know That Cash Flow Is King.

Irene and I had no savings to fall back upon on, so we had to find a way to generate a profit quickly.

To be specific, when we started we had less than 1 month worth of wages in the bank. If we did’t get some clients during that period, we’d have to abandon our startup idea and get jobs.

Having our backs to the wall like that was not comfortable, but it taught us a valuable lesson – lack of cash can be a great catalyst for creating results fast. Being comfortable typically leads to sloppy thinking and wastefulness.

14. Accept That You Are Selfish.

I got into entrepreneurship primarily because of my own selfish reasons.

Specifically, I wanted to experience fulfilment from getting to build something every day and I didn’t like the idea of just swapping my life for money.

I don’t use the word “selfish” in a negative sense here. Everyone becomes an entrepreneur for selfish reasons. For most people, building a business is a path to having more personal power, fulfilment and/or freedom.

15. Become Expert At Creating Win-Win Situations.

However, being selfish creates an interesting problem as soon as you decide that you’re “officially” in business, as I mentioned earlier.

The first few years for a startup founder is essentially a marketing and leadership game. And winning at it means learning the skill of giving more thought to other people’s problems than those of your own.

The trick, at least how I’ve approached it, has been to connect other peoples’ problems with mine in a way that benefits everyone.

16. Come To Terms With The Fact That You Do Not Work Here.

When you’re starting your business you wear all kinds of hats – marketing, customer service, accounting, blogging, etc.

It’s easy to slip into the mindset of “I must get through all this work” and begin to think yourself as a CDO – a “Chief Doing Officer”.

Incorrect! As a founder of a young business, you might choose to work in it, however your focus is different. You do not identify with the part of you that attends to enquiries, writes blog posts, settles accounts, etc.

17. Remember That You Are Building The Business.

You are – primarily – the custodian of your vision for the company.

As Michael Gerber famously said, your product is not whatever you sell, but the business itself.

What’s the vision you have for your business in six months time? 12 months? Three years? Five years? You must be wrestling with those questions on a regular basis.

18. Learn To Be A CEO.

Your projections will be wildly inaccurate and probably overly optimistic, if you’re like me, and that’s OK.

The point is not to get them 100 % right every time, but to train yourself as a strategist. Create the vision, make a plan which will bring it to reality, execute on it, then measure results. Repeat.

Always be working with a clear understanding of how each action you take fulfils on the bigger picture.

19. Get Ready To Suck At Being Present.

The flip side of being hyper-focussed on your business is the impact on other areas of your life.

Spending so much time in your head means that it’s difficult to be present – with your partner, friends and the world around around you.

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Switching off at the end of the day is difficult. There’s always an inbox of unread emails, always a number of projects which need to be moved forward, a client who is waiting, a problem that needs attention and a number of social media feeds that require input.

20. Accept That “Long Hours” Will Take On A New Meaning.

Irene and I have done a number of stints during which we’ve worked from 5 am until 10 pm, seven days per week, for weeks at a time.

During those stints, we paused only to sleep, eat and go for a walk around the block as a form of exercise.

21. Build A Team.

“I can do it all myself” is a common sentiment among startup founders. It was certainly mine.

I thought that we can learn to become jacks of all trades and that way, cover most of the vital business functions.

In a way, it’s true. However, it depends on your end goals. If you want to build something great or to lead the way in a niche, you’ll need other people to help you.

I think 5-10 people is an excellent size for a team because it’s big enough to pack a punch, yet small enough to be agile and not plagued with politics.

22. Consider Profit vs. Wages.

Separating profit and wages is a challenge in early stages of bootstrapping, because at the beginning they tend to be one and the same thing.

In fact, there’s usually not enough profit to pay your bills, which means you’re likely to view 100 % of your profit as wages. And probably make up the balance from savings or other income sources.

If you hold on to that habit as your business grows, however, you’ll rob it of the money it desperately needs.

23. Pay Yourself Below Poverty Line.

Your wages will be one of largest expenses the business will carry in its first few years and figuring out how much to pay yourself with them will be one of the most critical business decisions you’ll have to make.

If in doubt, give yourself less and the business more. Aim to take as little as you can personally tolerate whilst remaining productive, reasonably healthy and relatively sane.

When times get tough, and they will, the stress of an overhead in the form of an expensive rent or car repayment will significantly outweigh any comfort that such an item may provide.

24. Don’t Spend Money On Looking Good.

Learning to spend money well in your business is an art.

Most businesses fail because founders spend money away in a way that makes them look impressive in front of their friends, rather than yielding returns.

You probably don’t need a $2000 logo and a $5000 website. At least not until you have a steady stream of customers, anyway,

Arielle, as I write this, still has a logo that Irene designed in Microsoft Word two years ago and a WordPress template which we bought for $99 (redesign in coming in the next few weeks).

25. Know That Business Cards Are (Mostly) Useless.

I honestly think most business cards are created to satisfy ego trips.

Unless your business model relies heavily on networking or making face-to-face pitches to clients, you can spend your money more wisely during the early days. Namely, on whatever gets clients through the door in your business.

26. Obsess Over Data.

If cash flow is king, data is queen.

Begin to measure and track everything. At minimum, install website analytics which include goal conversion data.

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As the business grows, use a combination of simple spreadsheets and reporting tools. However, watch your spending on cloud-based solutions to measure enquiries, sales, expenses, hours worked, items sold, etc. Paying $25/month for each one of them doesn’t seem like much, but adds up quickly.

Track it all, even if you don’t use all of the data in a meaningful way now. It will provide you with a valuable context for your growth in the future.

27. Reinvest In Your Business.

Remember that as your business grows its expenses will grow exponentially.

If your revenue is $1K per week, then it will probably seem like you could take 80 % of it as profit. You do some math and dream of the day when your revenue hits $5K/week, because that will mean you’ll keep $4K per week in profit, right?

The thing is, to generate $5K/week you have to spend a lot more of your revenue on wages as well as tools and consultants to help you with legal compliance, accounting, analytics, recruitment, IT, marketing strategy, PPC, content, training and all those other things you didn’t think were relevant.

Remember that your priority in the first few years is to grow your business, not your personal bank account.

28. Reject Bad Business Advice.

Every day you’ll come across people who will offer you business tips (including me).

Often, their advice will conflict with your own viewpoints. It will also come from people who seem to have a lot more business and life experience than you do. How do you decide who to listen to?

My definition of bad advice is – it comes from a person who is not living a life that I want to live.

I look for mentors who have have a similar definition of success and have produced real results that I want to produce. Look out for know-it-alls who seem to be able to talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk.

29. Learn From The Greats.

Read Predictable Success by Les McKeown.

It was probably the single most valuable book I’ve read in the last 12 months, because it helped me understand how all the pieces of the business puzzle fit into the overall strategy.

The second most valuable book has probably been the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson because it taught me the power of focus.

30. Hire Positive People.

Job interviews are generally a waste of time because answers to standardized questions such as, “So, tell me about a time you’ve dealt with an upset customer” can be learned.

And just because I don’t have an answer doesn’t mean I can’t be effective at customer service.

What a job interview does, however, is provide an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the bigger picture faculties that are present in a person’s life.

Where does the person you’re thinking of hiring operate from – Acceptance? Trust? Reason? Or do you sense scorn, craving and anxiety?

31. Avoid Time-Wasters.

If you hang out around other entrepreneurs (e.g., at co-working spaces), you’ll regularly come across people who are always more than willing to chat endlessly when you bump into them and keep suggesting that you “should have a coffee”.

Networking and exchange of ideas are great.

However it’s easy to mistake talking about business with building a business. Before you know it, half of your day is gone and you still haven’t created any value.

If you agree to having a coffee, set boundaries at the onset – clearly articulate the purpose of the meeting and set a 15 minute limit. Don’t be afraid to skip the small talk and cut straight to the chase.

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Last Updated on December 5, 2018

How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

Being an efficient manager and a charismatic boss at the same time can seem like an impossible task. Is there a way to deliver the desired results for your business while remaining liked and respected by your staff?

We all know bad examples of team leaders who seem to fail at one aspect or the other, or even at both. But we’ve also heard of awesome managers who seem to juggle both things well enough.

How do they do it?

By sticking to few proven ways that let them maintain a positive karma score while remaining efficient. In this article, we’ll guide you through 11 smart management tips on how to lead a team and become something more than a boss – a leader.

1. Find a Management Strategy and Stick to It

There’s nothing worse than a boss that keeps changing his or her opinions and assignments depending on their mood or a book they read this week. Chaotic decisions increase the insecurity and frustration of your team, so you better find your strategy and stick to it.

If you do find some new methods you want your staff to follow, make sure they don’t contradict the general direction you are taking. Otherwise, you risk making your team take one step forward and two steps back.

2. Set Goals​ and Track Progress in Reaching Them

Set individual and collective goals​ for your team and track the progress in reaching them. This might sound obvious at first, but too often we find ourselves stuck between daily customer requests and monthly reports, and the bigger goal or vision seems to fade away.

According to Elon Musk (and many other successful CEOs around the Globe), it’s crucial to have a clear and motivating aim to where the company is heading. His aim for the space transportation company SpaceX is “to make humankind a multi-planetary species”.[1] That’s a huge goal but the company is slowly moving closer to it by reaching smaller steps and milestones, like launching self-landing rockets. This is also a very inspiring and meaningful goal that helps employees endure the company’s extremely high expectations and 60 to 70-hour work weeks.[2]

Even if your goals are not as grand, setting and reaching milestones will give you a clear insight into the team’s overall efficiency and daily progress. With time, you will be able to see the weak spots and improve your results.​

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3. Demand Learning from Your Team

CEO of print on demand startup Printful, Davis Siksnans, believes that:[3]

“The key for a company going through rapid growth is to empower your employees’ self-development.”

His company with 500 employees spanning two continents demands a culture of learning and provides all the tools necessary to do it.

Their idea is –  as the company scales, people have to grow in their positions too, which means that they have to be constantly learning. Siksnans says:

“We try to hire people for what they might become, but they need to have that drive.“

Alternatively, you can provide educational courses for your employees or invite informal lecturers to educate and inspire your team. You can also encourage peer-to-peer learning by asking employees to teach their particular experience or skill to co-workers.

4. Invest in a Pleasant Work Environment

Studies show that a well-designed office environment can increase your team’s overall performance by as much as 20%. You’ll be surprised to see that even very small interior tweaks that don’t require major investments can improve your workers’ performance.

Some ideas for a more productive and pleasing work environment:

  • Invest in modern furniture – offer ergonomic chairs, standing desks, and individually arranged workplaces​.
  • Start an in-house library – reading for pleasure just 30 minutes a day is proven to be enough to become more effective at work,[4] improve focus, and deal with problems like depression and anxiety.​
  • Play jazzy office music – rhythmic background music will help workers feel more energetic and enthusiastic while doing everyday tasks.​
  • Set up entertainment or break rooms – being able to relax and have fun at work creates a strong commitment, helps employees relax and clear their minds, and boosts productivity.​
  • Bring in uplifting office decor – it’s been found that art in the workplace can boost productivity,[5] lower stress, and even encourage employees to innovate.​
  • Decorate the office with live plants for freshness and a welcoming feel. Furthermore, plants are found to ensure better air quality and increase workers’ productivity by 15%.[6]

5. Be Kind and Sincere to Your Team

Did you know that 50% of employees quit because they dislike working with their manager?[7] In fact, most times when people leave their jobs they actually leave their managers. Being friendly and sincere may not be enough to be a successful manager, but it’s a big part of it.

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Some ways to show you appreciate and care for your staff:

  • Celebrate the progress and achievements of your employees. And don’t be shy to simply say thanks.​
  • Talk to your employees regularly and really listen to what they have to say. Address their concerns, help them reach their goals and do your best to improve their work and daily life.
  • If you’re having a bad day, don’t pour out your stress and anger on the staff. Instead, try to recharge yourself by appreciating the achievements of your team and setting the next goals.
  • Try not to overload your team with work. Every company has rush periods when it’s okay to have more work than usual. But remember that people cannot work under prolonged pressure and stress.
  • Don’t be selfish – it can be very demotivating to see that the manager only focuses on what you can do for him and doesn’t care about your goals and well-being.​ As the CEO of Xerox Anne M. Mulcahy put it,[8]

    “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled.”

Whenever you are having doubts about your kind attitude, remember – satisfied employees are productive employees which lead to satisfied customers and eventually – success for your company.

6. Offer Flexible Work Hours

The traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job is beginning to slip away. Increasingly more people are working remotely or having flexible work hours, and we can expect this trend to continue. To adapt to these changing habits and remain competitive in the labor market, more employers are offering the chance to choose your own work hours, work from home or even from another city or country.

Offering flexible hours is a powerful way to inspire your existing staff and give them intrinsic motivation. Why not let your employees choose their preferred working hours while keeping the 8-hour day? For example, night owls are unhappy and unproductive if they have to come to work before 10 AM, while others might prefer to start at 7 and finish earlier.

You can go even farther and hire remote workers – this way you’ll be able to recruit from a global talent pool and even save money on office expenses like desks, stationery, electricity, etc.[9]

7. Track Your Team’s Productive Time

Not monitoring your employees’ progress and efficiency can result in poor performance and slacking. Instead of letting things go with the flow, you should consider installing time-tracking software on your employees’ computers and see who’s doing great and who might need a productivity boost.

But don’t get it wrong – there’s no need to become big brother and watch every step your employees take. If you use the time-tracker as a spying tool, you will only see increasing suspicion and insecurity around you, and your employees’ happiness levels will drop.

On the contrary, choose software that allows employees to mark private time that won’t be tracked. In addition, consider these time-management tactics:

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  • Allow flexible work hours. (see Tip No 6)
  • Encourage breaks – studies show that employees who take regular breaks are more productive than those who don’t.[10]
  • Enable remote work to show your employees that you trust them and that they can work from home or even from another country (if they can maintain sufficient productivity).
  • Consider offering bonuses to your most productive employees (those who show productivity levels above 90 or 95%).

8. Use Only Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism means offering valid and rational opinions about the work of others, involving both positive comments and remarks about what should be improved. Constructive criticism is usually expressed in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.

When you evaluate your team’s work, give them feedback that’s helpful, specific, and sincere. Don’t be shy to praise, but also be direct and even strict when necessary.

9. Don’t Give Special Treatment to Yourself

The boss’s actions are – directly or indirectly – observed by your team. This means that your employees look up to you and often mimic your attitude towards your work and the company – especially if your actions don’t show commitment. Nobody wants to work for a leader who doesn’t go all in or inspire motivation.

What you should do is lead by example. If you expect your employees to arrive at work on time and work 8 hours, do the same yourself. If you want them to show initiative, show it yourself and encourage others to do the same.

Jeff Weiner is the CEO of LinkedIn – a company of 3,000 employees that consistently ranks as one of the best workplaces with a 92 percent employee-approval rating.[11] Weiner’s workdays are reported to be equally long or even longer than those of his employees, allowing him to stay “extremely credible as a leader.”

10. Empower Your Employees

Here’s a common mistake many managers make:

They don’t motivate their staff and assume they simply love to work for their company.​ Such belief can result in painful losses for the company – especially these days when many companies are in desperate need of a reliable workforce.

Instead of directly thinking about bonuses and perks, consider intrinsic motivation. For example, enable flat organization in your team and listen to your employees’ ideas when they come up with opinions and suggestions. Your company might actually benefit a great deal from the feedback, and the unique ideas employees come up with.

You can also start an initiative where employees can freely share or pitch their business ideas to you or the founders of the company. If the idea is accepted by the management, the project can be developed, and the employee can have equity options.

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If people feel they have an impact in the company, they become more motivated, engaged and interested in the company’s growth.

11. Nurture Your Company Culture

Company culture is the personality of a company that defines the overall work environment and relationships between teammates. It also includes company mission, values, ethics, and goals.

Some examples of company cultures are the Horizontal corporate culture (collaborative and equal; popular among startups and free-spirited businesses) and Conventional corporate culture (a more risk-averse and hierarchy-based approach common in traditional companies).

However, you don’t have to stick to pre-existing boxes when creating your corporate culture. You might think of your team as a family, a sports team, or even a hippie camp if it fits your business and purpose. But keep in mind that by the time a company’s size reaches 20 employees, the company culture is set,[12] and any changes will need to be implemented in smaller teams.

Whichever personality you choose for your company, make sure to live by it and nurture it. Some things that might help:

Team building events, relevant books in your office library and proper on-boarding for the new employees to get everyone on the same page from the very beginning.

Be a Leader, Not a Boss

Using the words of Printful’s CEO Davis Siksnans, the ultimate goal is to “Hire great people who don’t have to be managed.”

However, when you do need to demonstrate some initiative and control, act as a leader rather than as a boss.

In other words, don’t be afraid to show the personality behind your role. And keep these 11 tips close to your heart.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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