The inner workings of startup-life
The goal of my column here is to reveal the inner workings of start-up life, and with that life comes an entire spectrum of emotions. I feel like I should post a large emoticon board on my wall so every day I can circle one of the emotions as to how I feel. That changes minute by minute depending on what I am dealing with. No, I am not bi-polar. That’s just how it feels to have a startup.
I was recently asked in a private Facebook group “why do you do what you do?” When I first read the question I did a double take just to read it correctly. That felt like a metaphor because I needed to think about what I was reading and then actually think about the answer. Why DO I do what I do? Because i’m passionate! I’m passionate about the consumer, transparency, being an entrepreneur, the need to make a living, disrupting, creating something people like, technology, the schizophrenic highs and lows of success and failure, seeing if others think like I do, making a great product, efficiency, useful data, the unknown, asking the question “why” and “why not,” and because someone told me once…”you cant do that!”
I have no idea if anyone will relate to these answers or not.
A third business venture
This is my third venture in business and I can happily say I wouldn’t trade my first two experiences for all the tea in China. They are what has made me who I am today, for better or for worse.
We were labeled “pioneers” at my first company. What did that translate to? Nothing but experience. What we did do was blaze a path for many who followed. We pushed forward the evolution of an entire industry. A lot of people who followed in our footsteps made a lot of money. I did not. But I helped changed the way an entire industry operated and I helped champion a cause for the consumer.
My second journey was by accident. It was after my first company was no longer in operation that I accidentally fell into homebuilding. The time was right. I had been raised in a family that was extremely architecturally conscious, I had an eye for design, I am crafty by nature, and many people over the years had said, “you should be a homebuilder. You would be great with your eye for detail.” So, I said what the heck? It was a great run for 10 years building million dollar plus spec homes, but we all know how that ended.
Back to the question of why
Which brings us to today. Why am I here? Why do I do what I do? I already listed the reasons. The problem is that doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t always make it fun.
Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough. One of my favorite commercials on TV is for Staples where a single person named Dave is cast in his office doing 12 different things all by himself. He walks down the hall, saying “Hi Dave”, as he waves to his alter ego. As an entrepreneur with my own startup, that is my life.
The real frustration for me is the reliance on others to do things I wish I could do myself but aren’t qualified. On the top of the list…WRITE CODE. I would give anything to be a programmer.
Currently, my programming is outsourced. This was the only option to create my beta product. My team is excellent! There are, however, inherent issues that I face. They have other projects. I am not in control of their time. I rely on them for application management. As an entrepreneur starting a company, there is NO ONE willing to work as hard as me, as long as me, or to create a product as well as me! If I could do all of the things I pay others to do, I would never sleep. It is very difficult to get others to share your start-up passion.
Getting others to share your start-up passion
Case and point: on occasion, we will push out a release to our production site. After the fact, I might notice a bug. If I was able, I would work tirelessly to push a fix, but I CAN’T. It kills me because no one feels quite the same about that [bug] as I do. Yes, I want perfection. Is that so bad? Everything I am creating depends on delivering the best product and the best customer experience possible and once it makes it to www, it is a reflection on us.
My team does their job and does it well, but I will soon face other issues. I need better controls on what we are doing. I am a one man show right now. Our dev takes place in a completely virtual environment. I work daily with a team of four. Three live almost an hour away and one is in London. We are extremely agile.
Two ways to develop
For those of you who dont know what I mean, let me explain. As I see it, there are two ways to develop:
First, you can sit down with a company, pay them to do a Scope & Discovery with you for a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 dollars where they will go over as many details of your application as you can think of. They will help you develop user stories, functionality, workflow, and if they provide assistance in business consulting, they will throw in some strategy planning as well. Strategy might consist of pre-launch planning such as creating a buzz, capturing sign-ups to keep prospects “in the know,” beta testers and when to take out your MVP (minimum viable product).
The BIG problem is after you have spent a week with these guys, they will want a big deposit. Then they will want you to GO AWAY! They will try to create and code your product, working from what they have as their understanding, with as little contact as possible. The reason for this is logical. They want to knock out as much code while not allowing for any scope creep. This is actually a good business practice [for them]. If you are a hands on type of person (like me), you will not be sleeping for an indefinite period of time.
Then you show up to review your deliverable and, VIOLA, it’s nothing like you expected. Now you have to pay for the time already spent in dev and the time it’s going to take make corrections. It becomes a “he said, she said” argument about how it was SUPPOSED to be. Everything becomes subject to interpretation. The developers say…”you never said that”. You say…”I thought that was understood,” and the cycle begins. I have painted a worst case scenario here, but it happens.
The second method is developing in a very agile environment which is more of a “make it up as you go along” routine. This is more favorable for the hands-on entrepreneur, and arguably better for the team because there are less mistakes along the way, and things are constantly being refined to be exactly the way you want it. However, with this model exists the dreaded “scope creeeep.”
Scope creep is when you want to add one “neat” little thing. That turns into three “neat” little things and so on and so on. Now you are off track from the prioritization of the deliverable. The devs have spent time appeasing your need for instant gratification, and the project is taking twice as long as anticipated on twice the budget. As ugly as this may sound, it is still my preference.
Every day, subject to their availability and other projects, my team and I are banging on IM’s, group calling on Skype, emailing, sharing files and previewing work on our dev site. This is as close to being a developer as I can be, without actually being one. I love that!
My next challenge
Now comes the first problem as we move forward. I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land. But that brings me back to… if I could do it myself… I would!
There are time to market concerns. I wrote last week about the blistering pace of technology roll outs in the real estate technology space right now. That keeps me up at night. I know of only a handful of companies that seem to be headed in the same direction as NuHabitat (my company), but I’m sure there are others. Some of these guys are the big boys with deep pockets, and others are like me.
My next challenges lie ahead and there is a great deal more I have to do to get my company where it needs to be, but that is the life of a start-up – constant pursuit of perfection.
How to turn your passion project into a successful business
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Surely you have a favorite hobby by now, well what can you do with it? You can grow it into a full time business, but how?
Almost everyone has a hobby they enjoy doing in their spare time — something that sparks their creativity and engages their senses. If you look forward to your weekend pastime more than your nine-to-five job, perhaps it’s time to turn your passion into profits.
This path requires dedication and commitment. However, as you turn your hobby into a profitable reality, the hard work pays off. Getting to that point requires several steps. Thankfully, there are many resources out there that will help you pave the way.
- Establish the Basics
Establishing the basics will act as your roadmap for turning your passion into a business. This plan will no doubt change along the way, but it’s important to have preliminary ideas of where you want to take your enterprise.
First, establish what you’ll be selling. Most hobbies can become a business, but you’ll need to hone in on what people will be buying. Anything of value — like products and services — can be an enterprise. Once you have that in mind, you can decide if you want it to be a part-time or full-time job. If you already have a job, managing your time between the two can get tricky.
To stay on top of your tasks, you can look into a time management app or software. With these platforms, you can input how much time you spend on certain projects. From there, you can properly divide your time and give your new business the attention it requires.
Next, you’ll have to conduct research. Is there a market for your product nearby? Can your business realistically take off in your location? How much needs to be e-commerce? Market research can help you determine who’s interested in buying and what you’ll need to get your business off the ground.
- Know Your Finances
Your finances are one of the biggest factors when starting a business. Too often, people rush into things without planning their expenses and resources first. Be sure to ground your plan with actionable steps. For instance, If you’ll be working from home, you can save on renting costs. However, some businesses require a storefront, so keep that in mind.
You can also look into financial planning software or budgeting tools. Research relevant tips for budgeting when starting a small business. One pro-tip to keep in mind, if renting, is that you’ll want to save around six months’ worth of rent beforehand. That way, when you get started, you won’t rely on revenue to pay this expense.
Additionally, don’t forget about taxes. You’ll likely need to pay estimated quarterly ones and potential sales taxes, too. There are multiple tools to help calculate these expenses online. Don’t be surprised by the costs, a hobby can be inexpensive but ramping up to a business can be costly, but worth it.
- Take the First Steps
As you form your plans and goals, you can start to take the first steps toward a sale. This phase consists of setting up space in your home or a store and developing your products or services.
You’ll also want to set up a digital platform where you can access information at any time. In this central base, you can refer to all the details about your plans, finances and marketing strategies. With tools like Google Docs and Spreadsheets, creating accounting documents and client lists become easy.
- Create Marketing Strategies
Your first sale will likely be to someone you know. That’s an important step. No matter who it is, though, marketing and advertising can take your business to the next level. Make sure you have a strong online presence. With social media and Google’s resources, you can increase your reach.
Having social media pages on multiple platforms can help spread awareness of your business. You can use hashtags and locations to establish yourself so others can find you. Most of these platforms have analytic tracking, too, so you can see who engages with your pages and when.
From there, you can work with Google Analytics. It connects to your website and tracks activity and sales. It shows you which visitors come from social media, referrals and search engines. Then, you can focus your marketing strategies on strengthening those areas.
Additionally, it’s vital to focus on search engine optimization (SEO). SEO works with search engines like Google to push your listing to the top with keywords and links. As you cover your bases with SEO and social media, your online presence can grow along with your sales.
Outside of the online world, you have options for growing your business, too. Local companies can work together to help each other succeed — you can look into other small businesses in your area for new opportunities. People often overlook the power of collaboration, but it can bring about significant results.
If you can provide a service or product to local businesses, they may be able to advertise for you at their locations. For instance, if you’re a florist and provide arrangements for a local coffee shop, it could put your business cards next to your display. Customers will see your information and know they have a local option should they need flowers.
You can also bring this connection to the digital realm. When you interact with other businesses on social media, people will see that engagement and click on your pages. That dynamic could translate to more traffic and sales. Check online to find the communities of your chosen hobby, the people there can fill you in on vital info that may be missing, or be a customer base you can connect w
- Keep the Growth Going
The last step is to perpetually keep your business growing. In this phase, you can quit your full-time job or reduce your hours to be a part-time employee. You can then focus on your new enterprise.
You should expand your outreach through email newsletters, deals and coupons. You can give rewards to loyal or returning customers if you’d like, too. You can also add a blog or a section for customer service and inquiries to your website. Once your business grows enough, you may need to hire help.
As you progress, adjust your goals. You’ll see that your trajectory differs from your original ideas, but you can keep building to take it to the next step. Set new milestones and watch your business thrive.
When a Hobby Becomes a Business
You should be aware that this a long-term process. Building a brand won’t happen overnight, but the small changes will add up until your company is a force in the market. It’s also an ongoing activity. The more you grow your enterprise, the more possibilities open up. It all starts with your hobby and your entrepreneurial spirit, which can take you anywhere.
5 side hustles that could turn into your new career
(EDITORIAL) With COVID throwing jobs out of whack, maybe now you can explore something new and actually make a career change. Here are five side hustles to consider.
When you think of finding a side hustle, you might picture yourself finding an obscure job as a bike courier three nights a week or maybe even walking your neighborhood dogs. Both of these positions can be fun and pay extremely well depending on who you work for.
There are endless opportunities for part-time, enjoyable, profitable side hustles. However, if you take on any of the following side gigs, you could end up with a new career.
1. Day trading
Day trading is the purchase and sale of a stock, bond, or security all within the same day. Many entrepreneurs are drawn to day trading because it’s fast-paced and risky, but with the right skills, day trading presents a potential for serious profit.
If you’re curious about day trading, RJO Futures published a guide on how day trading works. RJO’s article explains that whether you trade from a large firm or on your own, you’ll need three tools:
- Access to a trade desk. This will give you instant order actions the moment your trades are placed.
- Analytical software. Analytical software will help you identify key indicators to inform your next move.
- Access to news outlets. Day trading – specifically day trading futures – is volatile. Prices move by the second and having access to news outlets will give you a heads up if your market might be affected.
Be aware that if you enjoy day trading and get good, you might want to go full-time. It’s possible to turn day trading into a career, but the learning curve is steep.
2. Investing in real estate
Real estate is a lucrative industry, but it’s not for everyone. Popular among entrepreneurs, investing in real estate requires long hours of study, extensive research, and getting your hands dirty.
Usually, real estate investors have side hustles to supplement their income. However, many people get into real estate as a side hustle and end up turning it into a career.
If you want to get started in real estate, don’t jump to investing right away. Take the expert advice from the folks at Bigger Pockets and start by learning about the industry. Get a part-time job as an assistant property manager to pick up industry knowledge and learn your local landlord-tenant laws. If you’re going to invest in real estate to rent out, you’ll be a landlord at least for a short period of time until you hire a property management company.
If you know someone who can help you make your first investment, you don’t need to wait. However, to be successful you have to think outside the box to gain a full spectrum of industry experience.
3. Content writing
Every business needs content writers and many are willing to settle for any level of proficiency. If you have any writing skills, you can easily pick up some content writing gigs on job listing sites.
If you love writing, you might start out writing one blog per week and decide you want to pursue writing full-time. If it’s truly your passion, stick with it and you’ll find the right clients who will pay you generously for your work.
Whatever people are struggling with, there’s a coach to save the day. Life coaching and business coaching are the most popular, but you can coach people on anything you’re passionate about.
Being a coach isn’t easy. Even people who intentionally start a career as a coach struggle. What most people don’t realize about coaching is that passion does not equal profit. Coaching is a hard sell, but life coaching is especially difficult. Running a coaching business requires more than business skills – you need to be proficient at helping people solve their problems.
If you’re good at helping people solve their problems, there’s a chance you might get addicted to being a coach. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping people grow and transform their lives.
It’s not hard to find sellable items at your local thrift stores. However, you need an eye for what people want to buy. If you’ve got that eye, you could end up with a new career.
For example, Natalie Gomez, a former merchandise planner at Macy’s, took on thrifting as a side job and wound up making thousands of dollars. Gomez was interviewing for a new job when she realized she was already making a good living selling clothes.
Enjoy your side hustles
Even if you don’t turn your side gigs into a career, take on gigs you enjoy. Money is necessary, but it’s never worth sacrificing your happiness.
11 productivity tools for entrepreneurs that work from home
(BUSINESS) We asked remote professionals what some of their favorite (and most necessary) productivity tools were for the home office, and have 11 ideas that you might not have tried yet.
Working from home comes with its perks – comfortable pants (sweat pants*), working at your own pace, and not having your boss breathing down your neck are only a few. But staying productive and on-task can be a challenge when the only one watching is you (and your cat [who requires frequent cuddle breaks]).
We asked remote workers how they collaborate, stay on top of their work, and get shit done. Here’s what they said are their most reliable and necessary work-from-home tools:
First, let’s check out collaboration and team productivity tools:
“We use our own time tracking tool which we find essential for remote work and remote teams. It has everything you would need to give you an analytics of your workday and managing remote teams,” says Carlo Borja, Online Marketing Head of Time Doctor. This includes real time updates, gentle nudges to get you and your employees back on track, and a free trial run.
“One of the best tools that we use to keep in contact and make sure everyone stays on task is Azendoo,” says John Andrew Williams, PCC, Founder and Lead Trainer at Academic Life Coaching, “It is an amazing tool that allows you to assign tasks to members of your team, leave comments and messages, and organize everything based on projects. It has truly been the best thing for us to improve our productivity and stay connected when we all work remotely.”
What about brainstorming and collaborating with your team in real time? “RealtimeBoard is an online whiteboard and super simple collaboration service for marketers, developers, designers and creatives worldwide with user list exceeding 675k. It’s frequently used for project management, user experience planning, creative concepts visualization, story mapping, brainstorming, etc,” says Anna Boiarkina, Head of Marketing at RealtimeBoard.
Popular Favorite: Slack
“Without question, it is Slack! With our marketing team spread from San
Antonio to San Francisco, Seattle and Madison, we couldn’t do our job
efficiently without this messaging communication tool,” says Marcia Noyes, Director of Communications with Catalyze, Inc.
Noyes adds, “Before I took the job with Catalyze, I wondered how I could possibly stay on top of the very technical subjects of HIPAA compliance, digital healthcare and cloud computing, but with Slack, it’s easier than email or being there in person at corporate headquarters. I don’t think I could ever go back to being in an office. With this tool and others, I get so much more accomplished without the commute times and interruptions from water cooler talk and discussions about where to go for lunch.”
Now, let’s move on to tools and tips for your health:
A treadmill desk
Gretchen Roberts, CEO of Smoky Labs, a B2B digital and inbound marketing agency says that her treadmill desk helps her fight through the afternoon slump. “The endorphins that are released from the walking get me right into a feel-good mood again, same as a conversation and piece of chocolate would.”
Not only is it great for you, but it keeps you awake and alert so you can fight the urge to take a “quick nap” right around 3pm. Good weather not required.
Then there’s always the issue of your health. We asked Dr. Barbara Bergin, M.D., Board Certified orthopedic surgeon her thoughts on how to best furnish your home office, and she had a few simple ideas that go a long way.
“Invest in a good chair, a McKenzie lumbar pillow (because no work chair has the perfect lumbar support), and a drop down tray for your keyboard and mouse. If you have short legs which don’t quite reach the floor, either adjust your chair (which means adjusting everything else) or get some kind of a platform on which to rest your feet. I recommend those old bench step aerobics steps.”
These are all suggestions that are easy to implement and positively impact your health (and wallet, when you consider chiropractic visits, massages or even surgery).
And some of our favorites – tools to manage time, data, and communications:
In a similar fashion to Time Doctor, ClockingIT is a time-tracking application that logs everything you do. This allows you to keep track of how much time you’re really spending on a project (or time spent off-task on a project).
“I work from home exclusively as a freelance communications and marketing manager. One of my clients, Simon Slade, CEO of SaleHoo, introduced me to ClockingIT. ClockingIT, a free project management system, is now a tool I can’t work from home without. It provides an easy way for me to log my time on different tasks and communicate project updates to colleagues without sending cumbersome mass emails. I like ClockingIT so much that I’ve created an account separate from SaleHoo’s, just for myself, and I use it to manage my work for other clients as well.”
This would be a great tool for freelance designers and writers who need to keep track of time so they can appropriately charge their clients.
Throw away the Rolodex. With all of the social media information, websites, passwords, and logins a company might need to remember, there is a better way. Molly Wells, an SEO Analyst with Web301 believes in the power of Zoho.
“The one tool that I can’t work at home without is the one that stores our many clients personal information. Links to live websites, production websites, their social media usernames and passwords. All of our own websites logins, social media logins along with all the tools we use. Rather than storing all of these on our server or on pen and paper, we use Zoho Vault. It’s a lifesaver for accessing information while at home or on the go. All of our passwords are all in one place.”
“As a freelancer, the tool I absolutely can’t live without is Cloze,” explains JC Hammond, “Cloze is a contact management app and website that is perfect for freelancers because it is highly customizable, links email, social, phone and notes in one place, lets you track interactions and statuses of projects, companies, and people and even delivers an informative “Morning Briefing” to help get your day off to a great start.
She thinks one of the most useful tools is the email read receipts and the ability to link with your cell phone provided to track calls. It also schedules and posts social updates to Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and other platforms. Because it’s designed for individual or very small team use, it’s easy to use and a user can efficiently run their entire day from the app.
When it comes to phone conferences, meetings and client phone calls, Jessica Oman, Planner-in-Chief at Renegade Planner loves Uberconference.
She says, “As a business plan writer who in 2014 made the transition from leasing an office to working from home, I can say that Skype and Uberconference are the tools I can’t live without! Uberconference is especially wonderful because it easily allows me to record calls, use hold music, and connect with people who either call in from computer or phone. It allows me to have a 1-800 number too. It’s like having a virtual assistant to manage my calls and I love the professional feel of the service.
And finally, a quick and simple idea – a timer. Jessica Velasco, Senior Editor at Chargebacks911 works exclusively from home. She uses the Pomodoro technique of time management: work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, work for 25 more minutes.
She says, “I use My Tomatoes. I like this particular timer because the countdown is shown in my browser tab. I can be working on other things and quickly glance over to see how much time is left. I like to race the clock; see how much I can get accomplished before the timer goes off. I also use it to limit my unproductive moments. Fun things like checking social media must end with the timer dings.”
Got a favorite?
All of these tools are yours for the taking, so why not give them all a shot? Then, even if you’re wearing your most comfortable pants (sweat pants*) – with all of the right tools, you can run your business from home like a boss, and give people the impression that you probably showered today.
This article was first published in 2017.
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