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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 April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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