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Friday, October 2, 2015

The Toughest Part of Being Self Employed - Maintaining Frame, Perspective and Learning to Step Back - Playing the Long Game

I wanted to take some time today to address what I have found so far to be the most difficult aspect to being self-employed which is maintaining a positive frame of mind while forging ahead, keeping a balanced perspective and learning to step back and savour my accomplishments.

Like most entrepreneurs, I'm a very driven person. I want to get everything done NOW. I see what is left to be done rather than what has been done in my goal to build my business. I work intensely until 5:00 or 12:00 am (2 nights a week) and afterwards, I find it very difficult to switch off. When work is over, I find myself on my phone looking up ways to drive more traffic to my e-bay store, and ways to improve my blog writing, and other topics of general business improvement. This, when I should be relaxing and unwinding. Sound familiar? All the while, you can think that you are just like these people:

Image result for steve jobs      Image result for women ceos

Image result for Bill Gates

When what everyone around you sees is this:

And after a while, you actually begin to feel like that character in the Shining. The isolation of working by yourself, day after day is enough to drive anyone crazy. When we work in offices we take for granted the benefit that we receive from feedback and "best practices" ways of doing things. We have the comfort of knowing that if we do our jobs competently, that we will ultimately succeed in our careers. It feels mediocre to us, which is why we leave to do our own thing, but there is some comfort in the familiar.

When we start out on our own we are exhilarated by the fact that we can call the shots. We can spend the entire day, every day doing what we think is necessary to make the business succeed. But after the initial excitement abates, we quickly realize that the War Chest that we assembled to support ourselves and out families while we are growing our business is slowly but surely being depleted. That is when the first real fear overtakes us: what if we aren't doing the right things in the right ways?

I must have spent hours in the past 2 weeks reading articles online written by people who swear that E-bay is an evil organization that doesn't care about its sellers and stories by sellers about how E-bay made policy changes on a whim that essentially wiped out their businesses. I'm not sure it was such a good idea to read them because it made me feel like I am on a futile path. It is very easy after I have been sitting here all day for 12 hours listing stamps on E-bay to think that when all I have sold all day long is $20 worth of stamps. It is very easy to forget that we are playing the Long Game and so is E-bay.

As an entrepreneur you have done the homework. You have a product or service that you KNOW people want and are willing to pay for. BUT the biggest hurdle is reaching customers and establishing a trusted presence in the marketplace. All of that takes TIME. It is entirely possible that your business and my business will not reach the point of economic viability before the money runs out. But if you structure your online business properly, then you can simply go back to work for a year or two while you continue to develop the business and build another War Chest. Sure, it is by no means ideal, but there is no reason why your business has to fail unless YOU decide that it is not worth the continued investment in time and resources.

In my example, I know that there is lots of demand worldwide for stamps. All I have to do is go to Facebook groups and see how many of them there are and how many members some of the larger ones have. Sure it is nothing compared to the most popular groups on Facebook. But it doesn't matter - it shows that there are enough stamp collectors to keep many dealers busy and living a good life. Since I was a child I have always wanted to be a stamp dealer. But for so long it was impossible because it required so much investment in overhead. There was no internet, no-ebay, and no scanning. The only way to present merchandise to customers, was in-person at a shop that had expensive monthly rent. The only way to reach those customers was through expensive print advertising. If you wanted full colour pictures in  your ads of what you were selling we would have been talking about thousands of dollars - in 1980's dollars.

Today though, there are an unprecedented number of resources at your disposal that were unheard of 20 years ago. There are business plan templates that you can download that will take you through a business plan step-by-step. There is Google, where you can type in a question for anything you don't understand or know how to do and you can be certain that there will be something posted online that you can read or watch to learn. Social media allows you to reach more people all over the world than would ever have been possible with the most expensive ad campaign in the 1980's. But the thing is you have to believe in what you are doing enough to play the Long Game and do the work. This is what I mean by maintaining frame.

How do you do this in the face of daily pressures and frustrations? By learning to step back and put your goals in perspective while reflecting on your accomplishments. When a fearful thought overtakes you, like "Ebay could make a policy change that will kill my business. Stop and think first about whether it would make rational sense for E-bay to make such a change. If it could, then the next step is to develop a back up plan today. For example, if you are dependent on E-bay like I am, start thinking about slowly developing your own website to compliment E-bay, so that if that change comes to pass and you have to leave E-bay, you can do so with minimal disruption. In terms of stepping back, I am going to try to start each day thinking about and visualizing where you were before you started and where you are today.

In my example:

6 years ago, I was a manager at a Toronto accounting firm. I had no E-bay store, no inventory and only a burning desire to pursue my passion that was going completely unaddressed because in large part I was married to an abusive partner that treated me like a utility (a wallet, a free chauffeur, a free handyman, a free shrink and a BFF all rolled into one) and wouldn't allow it.

Today, I have an E-bay store with just over 2,000 positive feedbacks, a solid 5 star seller rating, I'm a bronze power seller, I have three active blogs, 13 active boards on Pinterest and almost $1 million in inventory. I have a company backed by three investors who only own 30%. I still control everything. And most importantly, I have a loving partner who encourages and supports me.

What have I accomplished since July 1, when I started full time?

1. I took my feedback score from about 1,800 up to over 2,000. My seller rating hovered at around 4.9 because I wan't communicating with my buyers each and every time they bought from me. Now I am communicating with them, so my seller rating went up to the maximum that it can be. Because of this I now have a mailing list of over 60 new customers with e-mail addresses. Under Canada's Anti-Spam legislation, I have implied consent to communicate with them for up to two years after the last time we did business. Most of customers do not respond to my e-mails, but some do. And those people give me opportunities to do more business with them. All I have to do is listen and act.

2. I started a completely new blog (this one) that has had over 1,500 visits. I revived my Canadian stamp blog that had to July 1 only had about 50 visits and have now taken it to over 1,000 visits and two followers. I have started to cross post general stamp topics from the Canadian stamp blog to my existing Nigerian stamp blog. My Nigerian blog has had over 15,000 visits since I started it 5 years ago.

3. By learning to share my posts to 40+ Facebook groups, I have been able to quadruple my blog traffic just this week.

4. This week, I got my first customer as result of one of my blog posts. He will be my largest customer to date this year.

5. I now have over 1,550 items up for sale in my store compared with about 920 on July 1. I have listed almost all of my Queen Victorian material for Canada, which has comprised well over 900 items. This is the hardest material to list because it involves so much detail.

6. My monthly sales have been $2,000 in August and September.

7. I am just learning this week how to optimize keywords in my store and item descriptions, which I wasn't doing before. So I can drive more traffic to my listings.

That is a lot for 3 months of work! Until I actually sat down and listed these things here, I had no idea. Well actually, I had lost sight of it. All I could see was:

1. I still have $800,000 of material to get through in the next 12 months.
2. I haven't done any Youtube videos yet.
3. I don't have my own website yet.

and so on.

I had a reader this week comment on one of my posts. He said he was confused. He asked me how this business could possibly be worthwhile if all I was selling was $2,000 a month. He opined that I would have to be selling $100,000 a year for this to make sense. He is absolutely right of course. But what he is not considering is the Long Game.

As entrepreneurs you are going to face this A LOT: people, mostly employees who are motivated by stability and security (and there is nothing wrong with that) questioning your ideas, asking you if it really makes sense. To them a lot of the time it won't make sense because they are not used to the idea of working for a year or more without a paycheck. In most workplaces, things happen much more quickly because the businesses that they work for are established and have critical mass. Plus, they are not having to do all the work of the business - they are specialists. As entrepreneurs we often find that at least for a while, we are our only employees. We have to do everything. Because our businesses are not established, things are much slower and more incremental.

The danger of losing sight of this Long Game is that many people give up too soon without knowing how close they actually were to success. Don't fall into this trap. Take the time to enjoy a coffee on the deck in the afternoon. Eat a full lunch and a proper dinner and engage with your family after work hours. Remember that you are playing for keeps and that means that if your savings run out, you look for other sources of income, which may mean a temporary return to paid work. Be prepared to lose a battle to win the war.

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