What 32 Years and 5 Years in Business Taught Me

pride before the fall

As a 15 year old I read Robert. Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad and The Millionaire Mind which helped me to appreciate the significance of looking at money a really different way. I was probably supposed to be doing my homework but this stuff was much more fascinating and inspiring. I recall a family member a decade ago getting really mad at me when I said 100k a year is nothing. To this day I still hold that mind set. I appreciate every cent but I know the spending power of it is not going to get me to where I want to go even by relatively average needs. The reality is that with inflation it really isn’t much but we’re trained to be humbled into thinking it is. Financial freedom is not unrealistic but how it’s obtained is not nearly as glamorous as it’s painted to be. So I’ll try to give a little perspective without hopefully being too didactic and preachy.

The world you wanted for yourself doesn’t always work on your timeline and your sacrifices do not always pay off right away if at all. However, if anything I’ve learned sticking to things from most successful people tends to be the best way to get ahead so long as you’re willing to change paths in the right direction once in a while. You might even have to leave your baby to take a dead end job you hate for a while to feed your business the capital it needs to get through the rough times. However, that’s what it takes to get there.

I wanted to have an MBA, be married, have two kids and be writing a book by 28. Although, I question that because in some aspects there are controllable things there that I could have done to make that happen. College was slow, boring, irrelevant to my interests, uninspiring and the content was dated so despite forcing myself to try to like it I couldn’t find the patience to stick it out.  I could have been married a couple of times but I think settling when you know something isn’t right is probably the worst thing you can do. Although no relationship is without challenges a good partner sticks through thick and thin.

Now here I am a month away from turning 32 with my two children being Oil Authority Inc turning 2 and Making 8 Inc turning 5 in a few months from now. I am married to my businesses and committed to their needs. Definitely not what I had in mind at 18. Unfortunately, in one case those can be at time stressful which cost me a seriously personal relationship because they couldn’t handle the ups and downs of things. Business is not for the weak or anxious. There is not always instant gratification and things don’t always follow the planned time. The more moving parts the more friction there is. Sometimes you don’t even get what you sew but that’s the risk you take.

Instead of being surrounded by people like I imagined I hardly ever see clients and in many cases have never even met them. Even some of the people that have collaborated with me on some projects I have not met which is unfortunate but necessary with a lack of talent available locally. Most people think that would be a dream but after a while you come to really miss being around others. Sitting in a room by yourself on a totally flexible schedule can be quite nice. However, it’s kind of nice to have people around too.  There’s a real exciting synergy being surrounded by other inspired and motivated people. While that can come from being alone it especially comes from others excited with the same vision.

As a nonc0nformist and free thinking individual I do not usually take things in at face value. It’s good to learn from others mistakes but it’s every bit as important to have one’s own perspective to ask your own questions. How else can one evolve otherwise if everyone blindly accepts without questioning? Unfortunately, what seems obvious from your perspective might require some elaborate long winded explanation and lets face it nobody enjoys that. I tend to assume people know what I mean and in my ignorance they likely do not see my perspective as we’ve sort of been taught to look at things a certain way. It really pays to be inquisitive but at the expensive of being attacked for doing something different. After all, there are many ways to solve a problem of which some solutions are overlooked.

Social dances are something that most unknowingly do and do not even realize it. When someone tells you what they think you want to hear and avoids telling the truth it’s insulting to all involved whether they mean well or not. If you’ve ever been told something that you know is contrary to what they’re telling you out of what they believe to be a polite replacement then that is a social dance. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when people do that. It’s worse when both people know it and even more so with their micro expressions avoiding the truth. “Honesty is a very expensive gift, don’t expect it from cheap people,” was said by Warren Buffet the financial wizard. Unfortunately, people don’t always want to hear the truth so being as eloquent as possible is important as most don’t like the often curt truth.

Life is not so stressful when you confront problems at the time and pay people the honesty of truth. If you don’t complicate life or life will complicate you. Allowing the past to poison you despite it being tough to change is like throwing yourself down stairs. It benefits nobody and you end off worse off than you were before. Change is often abrasive, expensive and a lot of people around you probably will not understand why you’re doing it. However, if you know you’re on the right path then stick to it.

When I first started out in my industry I was learning  lot from my peers and didn’t give myself much credit. Unfortunately, I did this for a few years and as a result lost a lot of productive time. I learned I knew a lot more than I thought and in some cases made some calls that came to fruition for years ahead. Trust in yourself, you’re smarter than you think. I’ve not missed a stock market call or a search engine optimization forecast yet. At some point I’ll mess up but the point is that it’s better to make mistakes by trusting yourself then to do nothing by listening to others False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR).  There are not too many things I can honestly say I’ve not tried yet that I’ve genuinely wanted to yet. Failing forward is an often very rewarding although trying experience. At 18 there’s no way I would have ever imagined myself having built Canada’s biggest oil & gas directory. I took a chance and I built it. As they say, “No risk, no reward.”

In business you can never turn your foot off the gas and not expect anything to always work. My first two years were expensive but every year I doubled my business earnings. My biggest mistake was when I took my foot off the gas expanding my business and decided to diversify my talents into a second venture which cost me a lot more time and money than I would have liked by a lot. It was also the first year I did not double my business but instead made only about 20% more than the previous. You can never have enough savings, clients or improvements to your business. A mentor in LA told me that a year before as a serial entrepreneur himself. Unless you know you have someone to replace you that’s as passionate about your business to manage it as you are then don’t diversify into a second as it’s probably going to take a lot more of your time than you think. I spent a majority of my time auditing work on my new venture and doing project management on it. For me 2013 was more of a liability than an asset with more money going out then going in due to focusing exclusively on finishing a very large project while ignoring the cash flow from the other business. That was by far the most expensive business lesson I’ve ever learned.

When it comes to business you can probably depend on yourself but it’s up to you to make others accountable. Business is a piranha pool so while you might be good at your job before you jump in doing it on your own you probably should build some savings and client base until it’s earning a lot more than you are now consistently for quite some time to the point where quitting is a must. Over the past 5 years I’ve been stolen from countless times with businesses skipping out on paying bills, been promised investments on ventures only to have them skip out when it came to pay and had consultants collect pay while making it appear like they were actually working when they were not. Needless to say, get it in writing, get cash if you can and always get a deposit where ever possible to show their commitment to doing business with you. Business is incredibly cut throat and you sort of have to have a killer instinct. I’m guilty of bank rolling clients and having them skip out on paying. You simply can’t bend on your rules as that’s when people take advantage. As an entrepreneur you’re accountable to your business, employees and especially to pay yourself first.

Don’t get me wrong business has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. It’s helped me to put into perspective what was most important. Pulling in nearly 6 figures in a month at 29 helped me to understand what I really wanted more so than what I thought I wanted. Family, friends and health remain top of the list. Ya, travelling and buying stuff is great. However, being away from friends and family at the cost of business whenever I actually came into some time I always wanted to go see them. Unfortunately part of my family lives in what seems like a permanently declining area that while it has a wonderful lifestyle is not suitable for ambitious professionals like myself looking to get ahead in life. Time is something you don’t get back so I’ve gambled big on some big risks and I can tell you that more so than anything being consistent rather than jumping around is  by far the best plan. Even an employee at McDonalds starting out at $10 an hour can make like the average per capita earnings by moving up to manager.

It’s not what you make but how you spend it. If there’s anything business and the oil patch has taught me it’s how to stretch a buck. You have to learn how to negotiate, find cost savings and communicate more effectively to get results that might seem impossible to some.  When you start a new business you’re probably initially going to be spending more money than what you’re making and in slow months you better know how to deal with bills. Some large companies take as long as 90 days to pay despite what contracts might say. What I’ve found is that so long as you’re honest about what you can realistically make payments on and ask the right questions you’ll almost never run into trouble. It takes time to learn exactly what those questions are. Fortunately for me, I’ve never spent more money on a business than I had on me with exception to Oil Authority which was an expensive start up venture that was supposed to have a 50% partner on but they never came through when it came time. I ended up building something awesome but it cost me a lot of cash flow time I can’t get back and a personal relationship as well. I don’t regret it but I do wish I had more resources as it’s stressful building things on a tight budget.

I think the hardest thing for a strong person to do is to ask for help and humble one self enough to ask questions. When I look at all the really successful start ups for the most part they found seed money. I’ve come up with a social network in 2007 with a design more sophisticated than G+ that they more or less replicated  that even had a business model they have not utilized and an oil & gas network starting two years ago all without any considerable investment that would have taken those businesses through the stratosphere. Out of my own pride I never sought out investors and tried to do it all on my own. I guess I like the challenge but sometimes it’s a lot better to get help which you can return six fold over when your business takes off. I’m undecided about getting investors or not. A big part of me still wants to see if I can do it on my own but I realise that I have contenders that emulate what I do with public funding. Fortunately, I’m full of ideas and well ahead of them. The question is do I take the potential glory by accomplishing it alone or take the easy ride with investors? Sometimes the smart thing to do is collaborate or die.

Don’t get me wrong, business is super financially rewarding when things are on track but you have to be prepared to do a lot. There is no 9-5 for most of us and financially you have to be prepared to invest in your business to see returns down the road if you want to grow. With little to no moral or financial support you need to be a really strong person that can handle the big fish trying to eat you at every chance. More than anything you have to believe in yourself and what you do because if you don’t then how can you expect anyone else to.

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