Updated: Aug 16
The life of an entrepreneur has its own unique challenges. Entrepreneurship is the same as being a professional creative, you put your passion, heart, sweat (especially sweat equity), and even life on the line for what motivates and drives you to wake up and get going every day.
But what about when things don’t work out. You put everything into a goal and it just doesn’t “hit” it doesn’t take off and become anything close to what you wanted it to be. Do you give up and stop moving or do you pivot, collect yourself, and apply what you learned into a new opportunity?
As the “love affair” and popularity of being of an entrepreneur grows, which many contribute to the growth of the gig life movement and freelancer boom, I wonder how are the life long entrepreneurs like myself fairing out there. Are they learning when they face setbacks? I know I did. It takes an undying drive to succeed to win in this life as an entrepreneur. The stats don’t lie, almost 56% of businesses started in 2014 have stopped operating as of March 2019. And this has been a very consistent statistic over the last 35 years. Years 1 through 5 are critical, and most companies don’t make it past year 5. Just a fact. Most business owners say that the hardest thing is raising capital, but the truth is the main reason businesses fail is because the entrepreneurs stop. Stop learning. Stop being humble. Stop growing. Stop doing it for the love of it and forgot why they started. They just stop. They take a setback as a permanent “dead end” instead of a “speed bump”.
I love clothes. Fashion is the best way of showing off and flex your personality and spirit. Having a great sense of style and enjoying fashion it shook my world when I had the opportunity to create and operate my own fashion line. I spent hundreds of hours to learn about fabric, supply chain, importing and exporting, product photography, etc And applied everything I learned as I was going, learning through experience everyday. But for some reason I was more stressed than I was happy and enjoying the ride.
When I “closed the doors” of ButtaFly Jeans and Apparel, LLC in late 2018 I took it as a failure. I thought about all the time, money, and creativity that I spent on this failure. When actually all I had done was learn, build, and put myself into a better position than when I co-founded the fashion line. Now I’m sharing a few of the lessons that I took from this professional education that hopefully will save you, yes YOU some headaches, money, and get your company going in the right direction.
As usual, the little guy entrepreneur was a head of the game in a lot of business tactics. When your budget is limited or your team is small but passionate, you actually get more creative. You use what you have, to do more than you should be able to do because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Our first promotional photo, which blasted across the internet for 1 year before our first online store was open, featured our first model bare back with the logo imposed. All she had on were a pair of ButtaFly jeans. And it was all an accident. She was sitting there fixing her hair on a stool and we couldn’t figure out how to show the jeans. So the photographer took some shots and we got a set of pictures that inspired the slogan, “ButtaFly Jeans, Wear Nothing Else Matters”
We promoted and shared these images like crazy and struck enough attention to get some sales and people talking about us from day one. Although it didn’t make us millionaires overnight, we were creative and passionate enough to be imitated by competitors. For instance, take a look at the social media ad from this well known brand of women’s fashionable fitness apparel from 2017.
To overcome the limitation on advertising budgets I worked with models, singers, and personal trainers on Instagram and Pinterest in 2015 to 2017, basically as social media influencers before that became a real “thing” to do for larger brands. Most of the models became our extended sales force as well. Beyond affiliate links in their posts, the models would purchase some product wholesale and resell the products to their own customer base. The goal was for everyone to win, don’t be greedy and build a strong team. Our models became “Brand Ambassadors” and became very successful.
But the cost of operations took me way far away from my strengths and passion — the branding. Marketing is the business function that truly merges the right-and-left side of the brain; that is my playground. It was creativity that kept bringing traffic to our sites, selling products, and generating awareness to our brand. But in-order to do this effectively it takes a team and 100% dedication.
I invested lots of time, money, and creativity into the fashion line as expected if you want to get anything worth bragging about in return. Making something from nothing is what entrepreneurs do. So you are a creative, even if you don’t realize it yet. Creating unique business models, product features, and offerings is what sets the super successful businesses from the rest. What it takes to flush out those ideas and creativity is time and energy. In-order to succeed you need to apply dedicated focus on the goal; but it is hard to win a foot race when you have one foot in, one foot out which I would come to learn the hard way.
Maximize your creativity. Don’t use what others have done before if it stifles your uniqueness. Your creativity is your greatest asset to generate PR and audience attention because you are always being watched.
Take every opportunity to showcase your unique vision to build a greater connection to your audience.Learn from competitors by focusing on what they are not doing for your target audience. Supply what the audience demands that competitor can’t or won’t fulfill. Don’t be afraid to be different.
You Will Get a Full Return on Your Investment
At one point I had 4 legitimate hustles, gigs, plain and simple JOBS! So my “time and energy portfolio” was very diversified over the following accounts…
Day gig 65%
Fashion line 10%
Leading a record label 5%
And yet I expected to get 100% ROI from each one? Yup madness and it happens to many of us entrepreneurial folks. You have to put 100% into your goal and expect nothing specific. But if you are going to add the pressure of expectations, then expect nothing more than the time and amount of effort you dedicated toward your goal. There are no guarantees, although by expecting a significantly high return based on minimal to low efforts of investment then you are more so gambling and playing a game of chance than truly investing in your goals. Yes you will have highs and lows that is life. But if you start a business that you want to become the next Amazon or at least a sustainable company that provides you with a good living then you better dedicate your energy, specifically time to making it your living.
I was putting in time, but not dedicated time toward one goal. Being the type of person I am; I created documented processes, SOPs (standard operating procedures), and business development performance measures so I had the elements to the formula that could delegated but was too deep in the forest so I couldn’t see the trees. I have many different interests that I want to turn into a profession, but by starting 3 simultaneously I couldn’t truly maximize or fully enjoy anyone of those interests and just got burnt out, especially when I wasn’t seeing the desired results.
I had to take a real inventory of what I wanted to achieve in life and do what would make me happy. I got back my “why” and removed all the other noise that was taking me away from doing what I wanted to do. So I left the record label and closed the fashion business. Converted my consultancy from an incorporated sole-proprietorship into an LLC. Drafted business models that I could train and replicate. Most importantly, I created an exit plan with a clear goal that feeds into my other goals.
Remember less is more. You can do anything you want but you don’t have to do it all at once. Focus on a core opportunity the one that drives you the most, your “why”. Then learn how to work through people in-order to achieve all your goals and win with others, that is team building which I’ll get into next but first…
Understand early the difference between active investment that produces both active and passive income and an investment that produces income only when you’re actively working (trading your time for dollars).
Creating a business does NOT generate passive income but creating a company CAN. a company is a business that has active resources e.g. workers that will do the activities which generate your passive income. Even in real estate, MLMs, and investment groups there is an amount of activity that you must investment in-order to generate a steady income, especially at the beginning.
A side hustle will generate side returns, so don’t expect to completely replace your “day job” until you treat your hustle like it is your day gig.
When starting the business identify what tasks, processes, and operations can be delegated and replicated by team members.
Don’t Strive To Be Rambo
Being an entrepreneur is a thrill ride. Although challenging and sometimes daunting, especially when you come from a social-economical position in a society that has numerous barriers deterring prosperity, being an entrepreneur makes you feel like Rambo. Remember Rambo? The one man army character created and played by Sylvester Stallone. He was like crazy combination of G.I. Joe and The Punisher! You feel like it’s you against the world and to start it is. It is your dream, personal passion, and desire to create that kicks this crazy idea into reality but it cannot end there. This is where it starts — with you but to grow into a real company and true force you need to build and develop a team.
This is two fold. You need a strong network and a close team. Your team has to buy in and share the dream. I got more done when I started following my childhood comic book hero — Captain America — that’s right. Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine were all pretty cool, but Cap is the ultimate leader. Rambo fought and won, all by himself but honestly the whole one man army is not as admirable as one may think initially.
Jay-Z once said,“I’m not a businessman I’m a business, man!” That’s nice but that means you are the product or service, your time is given in-exchange for some form of compensation. So if you’re not working and producing then your revenue stops. Almost all entrepreneurs start this way and if you want to trade your time for hours then by all means go for it. But I’m talking to those that want to start and run successful companies, which means this is not just about you. Leaders lead others, not just themselves. Create the formula, then replicate through others.
Even if you can do the job better than anyone else out there, you need a team. Train them, develop them and grow with them. You will grow as a leader and better yet as a professional by helping to develop others. And although I love Hip-Hop culture and rap music, I prefer one of Warren Buffet’s statements (like the one above)
Success is great, but many very successful people would say that you’re not a real success until you help others to do the same, which is one of the best aspects of building and developing a team with a common goal in mind, winning together with those that have been there during the roughest times is the greatest part of any accomplishment. This is also a key to generating continuous, residual revenue.
I had taken the time to create processes and procedures for myself, so instead of making the same mistake and using these tools to help myself do all the tasks, I reached out and recruited like minded individuals that take those tools, use them, test them, and improve them. Not servants or assistants, but full team members that share in both the accomplishments and setbacks but we build and grow together.
I started by working with small groups of freelancers, then I short listed those that were the top performers then created working agreements with each of them where compensation, assignments, and any additional benefits was based on performance.
I went from a freelancer and consultant with numerous clients and business owner that was working 25 hours a day. To sharing the workload and the wins with one to three contractors that grew into a real company. We have been able to help 3x more clients in less than 2 years of working together because although I love my boy Cap, you need Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, the Hulk and Hawkeye to make the Avengers.
Use trusted templates to develop process documents if it’s your first time creating processes and to save time. A template is a great way to start without wrecking your brain. I have been using templates from Templates.net for years as starting point then and the appropriate branding, customization, and elements that me and my team’s require.
Your first teammates should be contractors; they are on a performance based evaluation. Find reputable, experienced, and world class talent on Upwork.
With a growing team and being a real leader you need to measure performance and collaborate in real-time. Create and collaborate in real-time right here on Asana. It’s the only project management online platform me and my team trust.
There is a clear difference between a failure and a setback that you can learn from. This why I love fitness. When you reach failure in an exercise, this is when you can’t do another rep in a given set. You literally fail to lift more. You have to stop. That’s failure.
On the other hand; dissolving your business, liquidating your remaining inventory to pay off business debt, and getting so overwhelmed with work that you lose valuable time with loved ones, these are not failures.
These are lessons. Start small grow gradually, do more when you have more to invest in promotion, focus more on business development in the beginning, don’t take on more debt than you can sustain or have a solid plan to convert into assets, have a business model that keeps product moving so you do not sit on it then have to liquidate. Develop teams that share in the workload, distribute the growth responsibilities, contribution of resources and share in the results. Don’t try to take on the world by yourself. This isn’t what a company is all about. Learn from my lessons then go learn some on your own.
I’m Ehren Muhammad,
P.S. This article was written while listening to “Right on Time” by Little Brother