I get this question all the time (natural, I guess, since I teach people how to start or grow businesses): How long will it take before my business starts to take off and make money?
And there are two parts to the answer. One part is nuts and bolts — the processes of building an audience, uncovering market opportunities, crafting your marketing message, creating products and services.
But the other part is all the “fluffy” mindset stuff — the mental game that lets you take action on those nuts and bolts. And in my experience and observation, the mental game tends to be the hard part.
In this 23-minute episode, I talk about:
- Why “fluff” isn’t always as fluffy as you think
- The power of shaking up your habitual patterns
- Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
- How to compete on your strengths, but work on your weaknesses
- My three favorite tools for getting my head on straight
- Making a game out of the hard stuff
The Show Notes
- Unemployable, Brian Clark’s new project on mindset and the practical stuff for freelancers and entrepreneurs
- Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, about memory competitors
- Mindset by Carol Dwedk
- My post on the power of Small Habits
- Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner’s excellent language-learning system
- Anki, an extremely cool “flash card” system that can make learning/memorizing anything much easier (available for desktop, Android, and iOS)
- My podcast on Productivity for Flakes, Head Cases, and Other Natural Disasters
How Long Will It Take for My Business to Start Making Money? And Other Impossible Questions
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Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone, and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I am a co-founder and a chief content officer for Copyblogger Media.
I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
Today, I’ve been thinking about a question that comes up all the time — how long is it going to take my business to get off the ground? How long is it going to take me to start making some money? Specifically, usually with my online-based business. That’s a natural question since I teach people how to start or build businesses.
There is this school of thought that says it can’t be taught. If you have to ask, you shouldn’t even try. All of that makes me angry — of course it can be taught. The skills behind building a business, growing a business, making it stronger, getting it off the ground — they can all be taught. I’m going to talk about some of the maybe less obvious components to that.
I’m also thinking what you might call self-improvement for smart people. I say that because we have, for a long time, had Internet Marketing for Smart People. It’s kind of a theme.
The idea is working on your thinking patterns, working on how your mind works in an evidence-based way in a way that is consistent with all kinds of really, really interesting research that’s coming out of neuroscience and that is really based on a pretty solid understanding, as opposed to maybe mythology, wishing something was true, or a fast-talking self-help guru that wants to take money out of you, but really doesn’t have a firm foundation for the things they’re teaching.
There’s a whole new school of self-improvement, if you want to call it that, that is really based on science. There’s some very cool things that we’re learning about how people learn, how people grow, how people change, how people get better. I’m going to talk a little bit about those two things today — how long it takes for my business to start making money, and what are some of the best practices for changing my thinking patterns. Those two things go together.
There are two parts to being a business owner. There’s the practical stuff — building an audience, crafting content that gets shared, developing your professional network, building your products and services around what an audience wants. Then there’s the head game. In my experience, both personally and from observation, the head game is the hard part.
Why ‘Fluff’ Isn’t Always As Fluffy As You Think
I totally understand why it is that people think this whole conversation around the mental game of business is what’s often called ‘fluffy.’ There aren’t any really good action steps. I can sit here and talk to you about how to build an email list that will nurture your business and nurture prospects until they’re ready to buy. I can give you very solid steps, solid resources, and a couple of recommended providers.
When I start to talk to you about how to improve your mental patterns so that you’ll be more successful, I don’t have the same really concrete steps. I don’t have the same specific processes. It’s not something you can memorize. It’s not something you can just go download. It’s not like Neo when he jacks into the matrix, and then he knows kung fu. I can’t give that to you in that way. I wish I could.
The right set of steps for me might very well be a pointless, time-wasting exercise for you. But I do have to say, when I encounter a student who gets impatient with the fluff and the rah-rah — and you know I’m really into rah-rah, and I’m really into the softer, squishier elements of success — I get it when people are impatient with that.
The first thing I ask is, “Okay, let’s get started with some basics. What kind of audience have you pulled together that’s listening to your message about whatever your topic might be?” They have no audience. Okay, that’s fine. “What steps have you taken to get your audience in place? Are you blogging? Are you podcasting? Are you creating videos? Are you guest posting? Are you networking with other content publishers? Do you have your email list set up? Is the content that you have loaded into that email list solid?”
Nine times out of 10, I get crickets for answers. I just get a blank stare. That’s when I know it’s time to go back to the fluff. It’s not that we don’t know what to do. It’s that we don’t know how to get ourselves to do what we know we need to do.
The Power of Shaking Up Your Habitual Patterns
A lot of people start businesses, and a lot of people get over this not being able to make yourself do the thing — because they have to. My business partner started a project called Unemployable. It’s funny, but it’s not really a joke. All of the partners in my business have a definite unemployable streak in our makeup. For myself, my habitual patterns as an employee were just driving me out of my mind. To tell you the truth, I think I was also driving my colleagues out of their minds.
At that same time, the company that I was working for was facing some very significant challenges in the marketplace — external events, no fault of that company — but the challenges were very real. I was my family’s bread winner, and I have a three year old. I had a lot of reasons to develop some new and somewhat uncomfortable patterns as a business owner versus being an employee — because I had to. I put the pieces together because I didn’t have a lot of options, and I had exhausted the ones I thought I might be able to explore.
A lot of people do start businesses for this reason — because they have to. They are backed up against the wall. I didn’t fit into that traditional corporate structure very well at all. I’m not good at playing that game. I also hated it. I made something of my own instead.
I do not happen to believe that you have to get thrown into the deep end to learn how to swim. I don’t believe that you have to have your back against the wall. I think there is another way to do it, a kinder way, a less excruciatingly painful and terrifying way. It revolves around developing a habit of working on new habits.
In other words, becoming the kind of person who can consciously acquire new and beneficial habits. Both habits of behavior and habits of thinking. Science is very firmly on my side when I say that anyone can learn to do this. You have to just gather the right resources together and then get started.
Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
If you’re going to do something new — it’s not necessarily about starting a business, it could be anything new that you’re working on — you’re going to need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Joshua Foer wrote a really cool book called Moonwalking with Einstein. It was about memory champions, people who memorize amazing things competitively.
For example, these are folks who can take multiple decks of cards, play the cards down one at a time — ace of spades, king of hearts, queen of diamonds, two of clubs … just play the cards one at a time — and in the amount of time it takes them to put the cards on the table, they can memorize the order of that deck. When you scoop the cards up and turn it back over, they can tell you what order every card in the deck is.
The people who are good at it can do it with multiple decks in one stretch. It’s very interesting and impressive. Foer’s book is about how that happens, what kind of person you have to be. It turns out you do not have to be somebody with an extraordinarily gift for memory. It’s a skill. It’s an ability you can learn to do if you put the time in.
One of the interesting things he talks about in that book is an observation that time goes faster as we get older — and we all have that feeling. When you were a kid, time stretched out endlessly. As an adult, it goes faster and faster every year. In your 20s, time starts to pick up steam. Then in your 30s, it gets fast, and in your 40s, it gets faster.
Apparently, the reason this happens is because we have more of our routines, more of our behavior every day on ‘autopilot.’ We don’t remember those autopilot routines because they’re automatic. When things are new, they fix themselves to our memory. They’re memorable, and we have this perception of time being richer.
The business implication of that is, the more time you spend on autopilot, the less creative, the less innovative, the less attentive you’re going to be, the less you’re going to notice, the fewer opportunities you’re going to see, and the fewer areas to make the world better by serving customers in a new, interesting, and creative way.
Also, business advancement, especially when you’re somewhat new to business or new to running your own business, progress and advancement normally comes from working on those things that don’t work for you on autopilot at this point.
There are two schools of thought about this in business success, whatever you want to call it. Some people really advocate working on what you’re already good at, getting to be amazing at what you’re already good at. If you’re good with numbers, you should work on that and become Warren Buffet, become somebody who’s brilliant with numbers. If you’re good with words, you should work on becoming brilliant with words and then outsource everything you’re not good at yet.
On the other side of that is the self-help movement, which seems to think that you want to become an entirely new person — that everything about you is broken. We’re going to fix the whole thing. We’re going to scrap you and change you into something else.
Both of those have some problems. Rather than scrapping some part of yourself, rejecting it, throwing it away, or transmuting yourself into something unrecognizable, what I would love to see you do is to explore some parts of yourself that you tend not to spend that much time with. The purpose being to create more richness, more growth, more wisdom, better-roundedness, and to be able to do things that you might have put on a category of, “I’m not good at that,” and “I’m never going to get good at that.”
How to Compete on Your Strengths, but Work on Your Weaknesses
You might have heard of a book by Carol Dweck. It’s called Mindset, and I will link to it in the show notes. This was something that, when I first ran across it, it was totally and truly revolutionary for me because Dweck identifies, both in children and in adults, two general patterns of belief about how we think of ourselves.
The fixed mindset thinks of ourselves as “I’m talented” or “I’m not talented.” I’m good at history and English. I’m not good at math and science. That’s a fixed mindset. The idea that, “I have certain talents and abilities, and those come naturally and easily to me.” Then “I have certain inabilities, and that’s because I’m not wired that way. I’m not meant to do that.”
The growth mindset is the idea that nobody comes into this world good at math and science. You get good at math and science by being interested in them and then finding out more about them, spending more time thinking about them, practicing math and science, digging into things that are a little bit difficult, not the easy stuff.
You don’t get better at math by adding 2 and 2 for 10,000 hours. That’s not how it works. You get good at math by doing addition until that’s easy. Then you add bigger numbers, and then you start doing subtraction, multiplication, division. You move on to algebra, trigonometry. You advance. You work on more and more complex kinds of math, and you get good at it because you are putting time in to what’s called ‘deliberate practice.’
Deliberate practice is practice that is on things that you’re not good at yet. People who are good at math are good at math because they spend a lot of time with it. They’ve spent a lot of time really delving into it and thinking about it on an ever and ever more complex level. It’s not so much that the growth mindset is correct and the fixed mindset is incorrect.
It’s that the growth mindset — in other words, the mindset of, “I can get good at that if I put enough time into it” — is much more practical. It’s much more useful. People who have that fixed mindset and who think that life is mostly about what you’re talented at or not talented at, tend to get discouraged very quickly when they run up against something that they’re not good at yet, and they won’t try.
You really see this with children, which is why, according to Dweck and some other researchers, it’s a bad idea to praise your kids for being smart. You don’t want to say, “Wow, you did four pages of math homework in 10 minutes. You must be really good at math.”
What you want to say is, “Wow, I noticed you went through four pages of your math homework in 10 minutes. Looks like you’re really excited about math. Maybe we should try and find you something that would challenge you even more because, clearly, you really like to work on math, and you like to work hard. Good job” — so praising working rather than praising natural talent.
I will tell you, if you follow this principle, you should outsource everything in your business that you’re not good at. If you’re not good with numbers or you’re not good at marketing, get somebody else to do it. That’s a great way to lose your company. It leaves you tremendously vulnerable to someone who is good at it and who might not necessarily have your best interest at heart.
There’s an athlete I really love. He’s a kettlebell athlete. He’s a former gymnast. His name is Mark Reifkind, very smart guy about fitness and strength. He says, “Compete on your strengths, but train your weaknesses.” In other words, if you have a monster dead lift and a really wimpy bench press, compete in a dead lift. Take your strongest lift and compete with that, but don’t use that as a reason to neglect your upper body and just turn into this kind of T-Rex with these giant legs and teeny weeny little arms.
It’s about learning to be comfortable with being good enough for some things. You don’t have to accept, “I’m not good at that.” You don’t have to accept that, “I’m not good at numbers,” or “I’m not good at marketing.” You’re not good at it because you haven’t put the right kind of practice in. But you don’t have to turn into a ninja, either.
You have to get good enough. You have to get good enough at numbers so that you can keep an eye on what’s going on in your business. You have to get good enough at marketing that, when you bring somebody in to handle your marketing, you have a very strong BS filter — this person’s doing a good job, this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You have to know enough to be able to outsource. You have to know enough to have some confidence and know what looks right and what doesn’t look so good.
My Three Favorite Tools for Getting My Head on Straight
I’m going to give you a couple of tools I really like for getting my head into the right place. Believe it or not, I was not a born business person. I was not comfortable with the idea of having my own business. I was past 40 years old before I thought I was the kind of person who could be a business owner. In fact, reading Carol Dweck’s book was one of the things that helped make a little crack in my understanding that let me think, “Maybe I could do that.”
I have three favorite tools for getting my head in the right place, but I also think this is an ongoing practice. You want to keep looking for things that are going to help you get to the right place. The first, you’ve heard me talk about it in the past, is meditation. Mediation is really about the practice of letting go of being on autopilot. You have this usual groove of thinking. You have a lot of habitual thoughts. You have a lot of mental chatter that kind of goes on and on and on. It’s not conscious.
Meditation is really about letting yourself pay attention to what is actually in front of you instead of the habitual storyline that goes through your head. It can really help you when you get swamped with this feeling of, “I’m never going to figure this out. I’m never going to get passed this.” It lets you say, “Oh yeah, there’s that thought again. Yeah, I recognize that one. That’s an old friend.” And you don’t have to get caught up in it. You don’t have to follow it right down the drain. You can just let it come and let it go.
The other tool that I find very, very useful in this kind of practice when you’re doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you, is the tiny habits movements, the small habits movement. There have been a number of excellent books out on it quite recently. If you’re not being thrown into the deep end to start a business, your back isn’t against the wall, you might think that you’re never going to be able to face learning all the things you have to learn. But you can.
Instead of throwing yourself in the deep end, you do just like you do if you take swimming lessons. You show up, and you start by getting your face wet. You start with a small habit, and you can build from that. I have a number of favorite books on this. I wrote a post about it, so I will include all of that in the show notes. If you are listening to this in iTunes, you can grab those are PinkHairedMarketer.FM. That practice of developing little teeny weeny habits and then letting those grow into bigger habits, it’s very well-studied. It’s very, very effective.
For example, if creating content is a stumbling block for you — writing your blog, recording your podcast — then you might want to work on content for literally 60 seconds a day, but do it every single day. What that does is you get comfortable showing up at your keyboard or your microphone, and you start spending more time.
Now, you’re not uncomfortable anymore, and you’re off and running. You might also want to look at my podcast on productivity for train wrecks where I give you lots of ideas about how to do things if you’re not one of those wonderful, efficient, getting-everything-done kind of people. Most of us aren’t. A few of us are.
I have one more tool. It’s actually been in my arsenal for a long time, but I haven’t been so conscious of it. That’s studying something challenging or hard. While I’m recording this podcast, I’m traveling in a country where their first language is not English. Every day, I have an experience where I feel like a total fool. The lady at the grocery store, every freaking day, asks me if I want a bag, and every freaking day, I stand there like a pig looking at a wristwatch, trying to process the situation, so I can come up with an intelligent answer. It’s pretty amazing.
Travel is inconvenient, and travel is expensive. We don’t get to do it all the time. I really love to travel, but I can’t do it all the time. One of the things you can do if you’d like to create the situation of getting comfortable, being uncomfortable, and making mistakes, would be learning a language. Learning a language is like traveling for your brain.
Again, many people think, “I would do that, but I’m not good at languages.” You haven’t put the time in to learning languages. There’s a great new book out by a guy named Gabriel Wyner. It’s called Fluent Forever. It is hands down the best resource that I have seen for using the latest research on learning and on neuroscience to show you how people learn, specifically, how people learn language and why you’re actually a lot better equipped to do that than you think you are. Then he shows you how to make it into a game.
If you ever wanted to learn a language, it is an amazing workout for your brain. It’s really fun. It lets you talk to new people. Wyner has a process for it that turns it into the kind of thing you’ll do for fun. It will replace watching TV, Facebook, or playing a video game because it’s fun at that level. It’s really absorbing and interesting, and you just want to make excuses to go do some more of it.
Even if language is not necessarily something you want to work on right now, I would recommend his book just to show you what it looks like to break up something scary and intimidating and turn it into a series of manageable, fun mini games.
Making a Game Out of the Hard Stuff
My friend, who’s a brilliant dog trainer named Susan Garrett, took a quote — it may be a Napoleon Hill quote, I’m not sure — that says, “The successful does what others will not do.” She turned it around. She turned the quote into, “The successful person makes a game of what others will not do.” I think that is a brilliant, brilliant observation.
Maybe for you it is starting a business, or it’s starting a family, going to med school, learning trigonometry, going back to school and getting your degree. I don’t know what the Big Scary Project is that has you nervous and excited, but also maybe hesitating to start.
Those three patterns have been powerful for me. Meditation, so I don’t get stuck in my own explanation of why I suck. Tiny habits, so I get into the habit of putting myself into that uncomfortable zone in a way that feels safe and comfortable. And then some kind of hard, but fun study project, so I can teach myself to actually enjoy learning and enjoy making mistakes.
I would love to hear about your big scary cool project about something that you’ve been wanting to do, you’ve been intimidated to try. You might have taken some small steps, but the small steps don’t seem to be rolling up to bigger steps because you’re afraid, you’re not quite sure how to break it down, or you’re not quite sure how to break through whatever plateau you might have reached. I would love to hear about it. Maybe we could even help you figure out a way to go to the next place.
If you would love to let me know that in the comments, I would to talk to you about it. Again, if you are listening on iTunes then, A) boy, a star rating or a review would be awesome, but B) swing on over to the site. Swing on over to PinkHairedMarketer.FM, and let us know. Leave a comment. Leave a question. Ask for more resources. I always love talking to you guys. You guys always leave really excellent comments. We’d love to hear more from you on this.
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Thank you so much for your time and attention. It’s awesome talking with you, and I hope to see you soon in the comments. Take care.