What No 40-Year-Old Can Tell You About Modern Entrepreneurship
If you're a young entrepreneur just starting out, here's what you need to know.
Today, the word "entrepreneur" holds more meanings than ever before. For some, it implies running a multimillion-dollar company. For others, modern entrepreneurship is about building new relationships and living the life you've dreamed of.
Two years ago, I couldn't have even dreamed of calling myself an entrepreneur, let alone speak of a life full of speaking gigs and exciting freelance projects. All I had was a blind ambition strong enough to make me overcome my fear of sending an internship request to a company I admired.
Fast forward 24 months, I've established a website with a healthy readership and landed many first-rate consulting projects. I hate to brag, but I just want to show you how much can happen in a mere two years. For me, the path to success has always been paved with trial and error. In my first 23 years of life, here are the key learnings that will help you become an entrepreneur in the modern world.
1. You don't need any capital to get started.
More important than any investment are two things no money can buy: ambition and determination.
As you begin your journey as a young entrepreneur, you're going to have lots of downfalls and setbacks. There will be highs and lows. During the hardest of times, it takes a lot of persistence to push through and believe it will all come together in the end. Most of the time, things will work out just fine.
When I first decided to take the leap and switch from a secure full-time role to a freelance career, I lost my team and didn't have enough projects to sustain myself in the long-term. The way I survived the first months of no work was by keeping myself busy with learning and building my blog. Eventually, the blog started to get noticed, and new freelance projects followed.
Paul Graham, co-founder of a wildly successful startup accelerator Y Combinator, named determination as the No. 1 skill he values from startup founders. As long as you're over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is perseverance -- you'll have to be able to survive the low periods in life.
If you're confident in your plan and put your soul into it, the money will follow. The hardest part is motivating yourself while receiving no positive feedback for the first months (or even years). To get through this hardship, keep reminding yourself that you're doing the best work you can and rely on your ambition to make it through.
2. Most of the time, you don't have anything to lose.
Have you ever feared to hit the "Send" button of a life-changing email or to reach out to potential mentors? Especially when young, there are so many seemingly intimidating actions that will become second nature later in life. What matters is that you'll have enough courage to execute those things right now and push your limits on the way.
As you take risks and see them pay back generously, you will gradually learn a new rule: People are generally friendly and supportive. If you ask someone a question or look for some help, he or she will mostly respond with guidance and suggestions. This doesn't mean you can expect everyone to stop what they're doing and put your requests first. Whenever you ask another person for help, make it clear why they should help you.
The good thing about modern entrepreneurship is that while you're young, you don't have much to lose. Most of the time, the greatest enemy stopping us is our fear of failure. Author Tim Ferriss suggests that you ask yourself: "What is the worst that could happen?" By looking at your anxieties from this vantage point, you'll be able to eliminate many artificial worries and take bold steps toward greater success.
3. You just need to put yourself out there.
Becoming recognized in any particular industry is not going to happen while you keep waiting for the world to discover you. You'll have to make the world see you. In my experience, the people you look up to will start contacting you on their own. But, only if you first raise yourself to their level and beyond.
Cutting through the clutter in today's noisy world is one of the greatest challenges you'll have to embrace. The good part is that making a name for yourself is easier now than it was 20 years ago. Many entrepreneurs, myself included, choose a website as the primary promotional channel. Alternatively, you can build up a strong social media presence or advance your career as a keynote speaker or book author. The key to building your online presence is focus -- don't strive to be active on all platforms.
As you're able to secure your first gig, make it your core priority to excel at the job. Remember that promoting yourself should go hand in hand with doing great work and proving that you can deliver on promises.
Another way to grow your career faster is to hunt down a job that is way out of your league. That's precisely what I felt while hitting the "Send" button on guest blogging requests, fighting off my impostor syndrome. Psychological research shows that as other people place high expectations on you, you'll feel more compelled to rise up to those expectations.
4. It's all about storytelling.
If you think about successful entrepreneurs, they're mainly known for one specific characteristic, company or trait. On a personal level, those people have a variety of interests, characteristics and skills. However, it's the one key story they're known for.
Storytelling is an excellent way to develop your personal brand and raise awareness of your product or service. The younger your target audience, the higher impact your brand will have. A strong brand is also what differentiates you from the competition and allows you to monetize for a premium service.
Consider some of the most successful products of modern times: the iPhone, Airbnb rentals and the GoPro camera. Every single one of these products tells a story -- iPhone's owners are well-off and tech-savvy, Airbnb travellers are daring explorers and GoPro users are hunters of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
It is a lot more challenging to be different than go along with the crowd. Yet, following the crowd does not make you successful -- you're likely to be as successful as the average member of the pack. If you want to succeed, standing out and keeping true to your brand should become indispensable parts of your strategy.
5. Don't forget to live.
Once you've achieved a fair share of success as an entrepreneur, new opportunities start to find their way to your doorstep. For many people, that's also when impostor syndrome kicks in -- the fear of not being as good as people think you are. This can lead to a vicious cycle of overworking and trying to grow your business further and further. Believe me, I've been there.
According to Psychology Today, our close relationships keep us grounded and make us happy. As you spend your entire life working toward an imaginary better future, it's easy to overlook the presence and grow old without ever feeling content.
The nice thing about modern entrepreneurship is that you can be the master of your own time. Sometimes, it's normal to work 12- or 16-hour days. However, don't take too much pride in exploiting your energy levels -- compensate for stressful work with proper rest and spend quality time with people that make you happy. Also, make time to read and grow your capacity to empathize as it will have a positive, long-term impact on your career.
The sooner in your life you realize what entrepreneurship means to you, the higher quality of life you'll reach. You don't have to wait another five years to get where you want to be. You can start right now by taking small but consistent steps toward the future you've dreamed of.
Related Video: 7 Lessons for Young Entrepreneurs from a NASCAR Solopreneur
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