The year was 2007, and we were going to enter the most significant recession in my lifetime (until now). Totally unaware of what was about to unfold I’d just purchased my first family home a few months before the recession hit. In my wisdom, I’d also kept my little flat as an investment. Sadly it all went wrong.
As house prices plummeted, I was now 50K in debt with my two properties. But hey, I’m now a landlord? My first tenant had just trashed my lovely little flat which had been my home for the previous two years, and the guy who was now renting it was avoiding me like the plague. He owed me £800 in rent and instead of paying me was having a good time in Egypt, spending my rent money. Before this, I’d never had any debt, always being a steady Eddy paying as I went, but now I had to try and get myself out of the mess I created so I decided to start up my own little business.
Outside my rented premises in 2008.
Inside the workshop. I never thought wed fill all the space but we’d outgrow it in 3 years.
As you can guess from reading so far, I’m no Richard Branson, and I’m not sure how but the banks lent me another £5k. So, with five grand in my pocket and a head full of enthusiasm, I started a little sign-making business in 2008. With no plan B, no free bail-outs, get out of jail free cards or interest-free loans from Dad, I set out on my journey. If it went wrong, there would be no second chance, so it had to work.
Was it challenging? ‘Challenging’ is an understatement. The early years were tough. Days would pass without a single sale or a job to do, and it was at times very disheartening. It’s hard to grow something that is starving, and the business was cash-starved. A cash strapped business won’t grow as you need money to invest. Whether it be for advertising, staff or equipment, you need money to grow and to create sales. It’s challenging work, with little or no reward and very time-consuming too. You do everything yourself sometimes working 18 hours a day. I would beg, borrow and sometimes steal my friends at the weekend to help me do some sign fitting in exchange for a curry and some beers.
It did get better though. Much better…
Before I worked for myself, I was always good at my job, excellent if I’m honest, and I only ever had two jobs in my life. The thing is though, it doesn’t matter how good you are in your day job; you have to be good in business to succeed and succeeding in business means learning about running one. There’s no ‘how to set up a business’ class. And let’s be honest, never trust someone who thinks they can advise you for a monthly fee. I’ve seen plenty of these so-called business moguls. If they’re that good at building a business, they wouldn’t be teaching others all these valuable ideas. Instead, they would be implementing them themselves.
A business is ever-changing; it’s spontaneous, and you have to learn and adapt every day to survive. Whether it’s invoicing, chasing a debt, creating designs for clients, sign fitting, manufacturing, visiting clients, bookkeeping, tracking stock. Even little things like making sure you put your order in goods at the right time to gain 30 days of extra credit with a supplier. I’d try and delay ordering stuff at the end of the month and instead order at the start of the month to earn an additional 30 days grace, meanwhile trying to keep the customer happy. All these things require planning and mental stamina.
It took many years of hard work with the first five being the hardest. But yes, it got easier. The days of begging and borrowing friends are long gone, but the passion and hard work has remained. I still have the hunger and drive that I had all those years ago, and I’m improving and learning every day.
Before we get onto the business tips, remember that there is no such thing as an overnight success. To be successful, you must be likeable and be true to your word. Avoid idle talk and do what you say you’ll do. Be loyal, reliable, trustworthy and never rip anyone off. I prefer to give somebody their money back rather than have upset a customer. If you live your life with honesty, kindness and integrity, then you won’t go far wrong. And remember, don’t be motivated by money. If you provide a quality product which is reasonably priced, and you can rest your head on the pillow at night knowing you tried your best, then the rest will follow.
1. Get up early
It sounds simple, but the most successful people in the world are up and out early. Getting up early in the morning gives us purpose to get things done. Rising early in the morning gives us time to plan the day, so you don’t feel rushed and can think more clearly. How many times have you woke up late after a heavy night feeling tired and lethargic and sat around all day? Plenty of us myself included, and the thought of it is enough encouragement not to do it. But how do you feel when you have had an early night, woken up early enough to hear the first of the morning bird song. For me, there is no better feeling than getting up at 6 am. I usually take the dog for a walk before breakfast which gives me time to think and to wake the senses. It’s on these walks that I can think about what I need to do during the day, which starts me off on a good ebb. It was on my walk this morning that I decided to write this article.
Sleep is essential to our wellbeing, so get to bed early. I know we’re all different, and some of us need more rest than others. Make sure you get 6-8 hours of regular sleep every day. Get into a routine. I know many people who don’t get enough sleep and spend countless hours in front of the television every night watching mind zapping, worthless TV shows. Get your body into a routine and try and go to bed at the same time every evening. Doing this will get your body in balance, so in the morning when you wake you wake refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
2. Don’t put things off. Act now.
Delaying tasks is something which we have all done at some point in our lives, its part of our psyche to take the easy option. If I was to think of one trait which I believe separates the successful and average is the drive to achieve, which means getting your butt into gear. To get what you want from life, you must be a doer, and we must have the want to move forward. To move forward and achieve, you must not procrastinate on tasks. If you put things off or delay things, you will never achieve your goals. Think of how many people you know who always find an excuse to be idle. I remember some expensive equipment I needed to purchase in my first year of business. The banks were there but they weren’t lending to a liability like me. After seven failed attempts for funding, I turned to the trusty credit card, 20 of them in fact – which I swapped and changed money from one to another clearing the debt using balance transfers on the cards which were offering the most extended credit. I acted on my impulse, and I didn’t put off what I needed to do.
We all know someone who’s an expert in excuses. These might be…
“I’ll start at the gym next week.”
“I’m thinking of going back to college.”
“Next year I’m going to start saving for my retirement.”
“I’ve always wanted to play the Piano.”
They are usually the types who talk a lot but rarely put what they’re saying into action. We can all talk about doing something, but to achieve anything in life, you need to take action.
Don’t delay in taking action.
- Write emails and respond to people when things arise.
- Make plans and act on them, whether it be personal development or a business decision.
- Start promoting a new product or service.
- Write that business plan you have been putting off.
- Decide now to make changes to your situation.
3. Set goals
Setting goals is the best way to start moving forward. Goals are essential as they keep us on track and focused. Imagine getting into your car with no destination? Without knowing where you are going it is pretty pointless. Setting a goal is like tapping the destination into a sat-nav. You have the route in front of you and have clear instructions on how to get there. Many people fail to make goals and stick to them and will make excuses when they go off track. You must decide on the task at hand. You need to be clear on what the goal is, what you need to do to complete the task, and what is the timeframe. Setting definitive goals with a clear objective will make each job along the way more manageable and won’t drain your cash flow.
Stop talking and get doing! We all know heaps of people who run around all day wasting time and getting little done? They are usually talking about what they are going to do, or if not they’re on twitter thinking of ways to slip #goals into a post.
Break your goals down into steps. We are here, and we need to get to here. What’s the quickest most effective route? Whenever focusing on a task, break things down into smaller bite-sized sections and methodically work through each one. So to recap,
- Set Goals
- Break down goals into sections
- Stay focused and on track
- Be constructive
4. Surround yourself with positive people
I liken this to the old saying ‘you are what you eat’ Well in this case you are what your friends are. It’s a tribal thing. Like attracts like, It’s in our nature. We surround ourselves with people with similar outlooks and interests. Make sure to learn from people who are better than you are. Associate with positive thinking people. Stay clear of the naysayers and toxic people. If you surround yourself with people who have motivation and ambition, then, in turn, this will rub off on you.
There are also the gossips. The gossips are mostly small-minded critical individuals who love to chat and discuss other peoples business. Tittle tattlers are mostly jealous people with too much time on their hands with a deep desire to see you fail. If they spent more energy on themselves, they might be better off for it. And why do they talk c#ap? They wish for you to fail because they want you to be as miserable as they are. The best thing to do with the gossips is to tell them little or nothing.
5. Delay gratification
Delaying gratification is a vital factor in becoming successful. What do I mean by delaying gratification? It’s about having a strong will power to fend off urges. It could be deciding not to eat a big slice of cake when placed in front of you. Or suppose you’ve been saving for years to move house, but you’ve just seen a new car you like. Your head is telling you not to buy the car, but your heart though really wants a new Range Rover on the drive. The sensible option here is to keep saving your money and buy a new home; however, the most comfortable option or the path of least resistance is the new car.
When I started my business, money was tight, so tight in fact that there were no holidays for five years and the first holiday being my honeymoon. I didn’t even own a car as I sold that to buy a works van, my trusty Transit was my only form of transport for several years. You have to go through the pain and deprive yourself of some luxuries to get where you need to be as quickly as possible.
Saving is not that pleasurable, so most will buy the new car because it’s giving them instant pleasure. In doing this, you have just undone all the years of saving in a few moments. Not to forget that you’re now worse off than before with higher running costs to pay. I have known many successful business people who have not mastered the art of delaying pleasure, who spend money as fast as they make it. To be successful, you need to master delaying pleasure and invest back into yourself or your business; this then enables you or your business to grow. Not that we shouldn’t have fun and spend some of our earnings, but there should be a balance between having a good time and being reckless with cash.
6. Put the hours in
For every action, there is a reaction, and Newton wasn’t wrong. You will only get out of life what you put in, and we can look at so many examples where this applies whether it be in a classroom, office or wherever. You will only achieve good things if you put effort into achieving them. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said “You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” as it’s so true. Without effort, grit & determination, you may as well give up now. No person ever achieved anything without getting their hands dirty and putting in the hours.
When you start out working for yourself, you have to put the hours in. In the beginning, It wouldn’t be unusual to get into work at 5 am (it still isn’t but not as much) and sometimes not leave until midnight. If I did get an early finish with 7 pm being early, I’d generally be asleep on the couch at 9 pm from exhaustion.
Being lazy isn’t an option for successful people; they get up and get on with it regardless. We all know the person at work that does only the bare minimum. They will skive off at any given opportunity and phone in sick more than most, usually on a Monday or Friday. Yeah, we’ve noticed how it coincides with the weekend. But how’s life progressing for this person? Not so great, I reckon. Whether you work for a company or want to be a guitarist in a Rock band, or you are training to be an athlete, the same principles apply. You must prepare and practice your skill with unwavering enthusiasm and spend time doing so. The more you learn your craft, the more of an expert you become and the only person that can put the hours in is you. So work harder and smarter, and eventually, the effort will pay dividends.
7. Think positive
The mind is the most powerful asset you will ever own. Start using your brain and think positive thoughts. Now, this isn’t some airy-fairy bull; this is real life-changing stuff with the power to change your life. What you think about the most is what you will become. I believe in the power of positive thinking and have read numerous books on the subject from the likes of Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie. With positive thinking, a person can believe and achieve goals on a whole new level.
How many times in boxing history has the loser already lost before the first bell. Remember the early Mike Tyson fights and the brutal knockouts. Look them up on Youtube and see the fear in the opponent’s eyes before the first bell. So what separates Mike and the other man? Mike knows he can win, and the other man doesn’t. Think about it. Here are two men each man has two arms, two legs, one body and one head. It’s how that person has developed and honed their skill over years of training and believe in positive thinking. I know that some people are naturally more gifted than others and it’s sad how many people had a god-given skill but abused it and not used it to its full potential? There is nothing more powerful than a positive mindset.
Think optimistic about anything you want to achieve, whether it be losing some weight, gaining a promotion or setting up a new business. Dream big. Positive thinking is all about Dreaming big. Spend time dreaming about achieving your goals. Go to bed thinking about them and awaken your subconscious mind into visualising your dreams as fact. Sit and see yourself achieving a promotion or envisage yourself walking through the door of your new house or raising a trophy after winning an event.
We use only a small percentage of our brains capacity. Start to think bigger; become a master thinker. I can honestly say that I think deeper than most and have done from a young age. I can also tell you that I was an average student who scraped through a handful of average grade GCSE’s. So is there a connection with being a big thinker and performing poorly at school? I can only speak for myself, but yes, I think there is. I cannot remember the last book I read about a famous business person that excelled in school. Most are average pupils who have problems with following rules and show little interest in subjects. The School system feeds you information, but won’t let you think for yourself. Having everything laid out for you in a standard format takes away the creative power of a young mind. A brain box will know a fact on every subject, can list all the kings and queens on the British throne but would struggle to solve a simple business problem. Why because they have to think for themselves. Should we be clogging up our brains with pointless facts? I’m not too sure.
A quote from Henry Ford
“Any man can learn anything he will, but no man can teach except to those who want to learn.”
8. Don’t allow people to waste your time.
Time is finite. You can’t create any more time. Once it’s gone, you can never get it back, and we’re only here for a short period. We should look upon time wasters as common thieves. Now I don’t want to sound mean here, and of course, we should help our friends, family or somebody needing a helping hand. From a business perspective, over the years, I’ve experienced many clients and so-called friends who will gladly waste your time. These individuals think nothing of stealing your ideas and getting you to draw up free banner designs and then go and use a competitor as they had a quote £20 cheaper. So I have only one piece of advice here, let them waste your time only once.
Time is your greatest resource.
Use it wisely. Know your hourly rate. Now I know it sounds simple, but many don’t understand. Each hour worked regardless of what you are doing then you should be charging for it.
Now I know you might say well I’ve got to go and quote some jobs to get the work in which will take half a day? How can I charge someone to quote a job? Well, you can’t. Work out how much you should charge out your time out at to cover these periods of downtime.
I learnt the value of time management very early. I remember getting a call from a guy on the opposite side of the area that we cover who wanted a sign producing. With a few simple questions on the phone call, I could’ve saved myself a lot of time, but I was naive and stupid so didn’t ask the right questions. It was a cold Saturday morning in the middle of winter, and I set off on the half-hour trip to meet the client. Upon my arrival, I knew I’d wasted my time. The job was to replace a 2 feet x1 feet perspex panel. By the time I’d gotten home, I’d been out of the house 2 hours, and now I also had to quote the job as promised, which was made worse knowing that I would never get the job. This client was never going to pay for my time to make it worthwhile. While the manufacture of the sign might’ve taken half an hour, I had already spent 2 hours looking at the job, which means I’d need another 2 hours to travel and fit and also the artwork proof and visual that would need signing off. All in all the job would take nearly 6 hours and then I had to buy the acrylic panel. Anyway, I sent the quote as promised for the sum of £220 to cover my time and materials, knowing no one in their right mind would pay that amount. And guess what happened next? Nothing. I never got a response. So what’s the moral of the story here? Ask questions and find out exactly what the job entails. If we received the same enquiry today, we would thank them for their time and decline the offer and maybe suggest using somebody nearer to them. Even though this story was a disaster, we take away a valuable lesson. If we are not winning, then we are indeed learning.
9. Win or learn
Failing is part of life, and we must accept this as a fact. Each of us will fail at something each day. It could be little things like dropping a spoon or forgetting to be in when a delivery should be arriving. We are as humans very good at learning from our mistakes, and we learn from our mistakes quickly. It’s how we’ve survived so long in the world, we learn and adapt to any situation.
I can say with all honesty that running a business has got easier over time. And the main reason why it gets more comfortable is that I have learnt from my mistakes. And there have been lots of mistakes. I’ve had pretty much all things thrown at me from credit card fraud, scams, clients refusing to pay, purchasing expensive equipment which isn’t fit for purpose. I’ve signed into contracts with companies offering cheaper utilities only to discover its double the price I was paying before, and then having to pay to get out of the contract. You name it I’ve had it. And the thing is as the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. We learn from our mistakes, and should take a positive out of every negative and hopefully become wiser for the experience.
So take some risks.
In life, you need to take risks. Risks are what stop many people from pursuing something they desire. Failure is too much for some to bear, so they don’t bother for fear of failure. You should embrace failure. You are going to lose sometime. You need to understand that every time we are unsuccessful, we gain strength and knowledge from our mistakes. Each time we succeed it’s a step further toward our goals, so never be frightened to fail. You either win at something, or you learn from it. Dust yourself off and carry on, repeat the process and eventually, you will succeed. As a business owner, I take risks daily, some might be small others might be large, but you need to take them. If you never take a risk, you will never know. As a company, we have spent a fortune on things that have failed. We have employed the services of a company to deal with our search rankings on google. We have used different SEO experts more than once and had our fingers burnt on numerous occasions, so much for learning, eh. But we keep trying until we reach a successful solution. We’ve purchased expensive equipment which wasn’t fit for purpose, done work for companies that were never going to pay. All these things and whatever you’re doing always holds an element of risk. You have to use your head, be brave and always move forward and learn for your mistakes.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge US President 1923-1929
Persistence is probably the most essential characteristic of successful individuals. Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the electric lightbulb. However, he knew he could do it so carried on until one day he achieved his goal. If Edison would’ve given up at the 999th attempt, then he wouldn’t have made it into the history books. However, he didn’t give in. Every time he persisted, he got a little closer and ultimately accomplished his goal.
Whatever it is in life that you want to overcome, you need to be persistent. If you master persistence then eventually, you will conquer your desires. You can, and you will accomplish your dreams. Never take no for an answer, have faith in yourself and more importantly, never give up.
When I was 13, a teacher told me I would never achieve anything with my life. Every day I think about his words and make sure that each passing day I’m going to work hard, improve myself and get smarter. With the passing of each day, week or year, I get a little nearer to achieving my goal. I take strength and encouragement from the words uttered by him all those years ago; it’s the only motivation I will ever need.
Every day after all these years im waking up in the morning, still persistent in proving him wrong.