Am I the only one who, the older I get, the more I look for things to do? I don’t mean go to the mall or neighborhood pub, etc. That’s not my thing. I mean in my business. The funny thing is, every day I wake up there is plenty of things (mostly routine) to do, but the child in me is always looking for something new to create, expand make, produce, sell etc.
About an hour into my morning coffee (I’m a slow drinker), the obsession starts. “If I don’t create something so new and so different, the world, even my close friends and loving wife, will forget who I am or ever was.”
Then I come to my senses. I’m not a pimply-faced 12 year old who wonders why he’s no longer a boy but not yet a man, but it is amazing how fast that feeling can return if I’m not doing something productive. I give myself permission to play on Twitter and facebook, and of course go mountain hiking with Lee but to me, that’s part of what I call un-work; regenerating or winding down, whatever one likes to call it. I become a kid again in the forest. I love the flora the smells, the wildlife and yes, even the wildflowers. If I didn’t get out in nature far from the maddening crowd at least twice a week I’d explode. In fact I think Lee has seen me explode once or twice and its so messy. Fortunately Lee loves it too and it’s not only play for her but a major part of her work.
The great irony of it all is that I’m into my 15th year of Londons Times Cartoons & Gifts and the large core of the work (not quite 5000 cartoons and about ¼ million gift items) are completed. It didn’t seem like hard work but I know it was. Actually more discipline than hard work, but staying focused and with a purpose. I know that just about anyone could do what I have done (if they really wanted to). Then I start thinking, “But who would want to”. Then I remember, “Well there’s other nuts out there”. In that 15 years at one time or another I was certain I was the “most brilliant entrepreneur in the world”. Then I went back to school at age 47 and actually met some of the real most brilliant entrepreneurs in the world. I learned humility. I would never come close to being so, but playing pretend can be fun. I did learn some things from my amazing classmates and wonderful professors.
What Lee does is hard work too and she started Lee Hiller Designs very similarly to how I did, virtually with nothing but a computer, a brain and talent. She got better as the years passed. She is in her 5th year and is still expanding and I love watching her work grow. At first it was almost all nature photography. Then she started experimented with her art which she’d given up in high school, only to find out it is a public favorite and sells on all types of items worldwide. Her posters are very popular and several of them dawn our living room walls (next to my silly cartoons), but hey, I do my best. Lee has about 30,000 products on the market and I remember when she started in late October of 2009. I couldn’t believe her discipline and work ethic. It continues and it’s contagious.
In the strange economies in which we’ve lived the past three or four decades (on and off), I admire anyone who looks at obstacles as something to overcome, work hard, and keep a project or entrepreneurial venture alive. It’s not magic and it’s not brain surgery.
For us, this is what it took. This is not the only way, but if a couple can agree upon it, and live it, they can go far (so can a non-couple)
Tear up your credit cards. Plastic surgery They look appealing when starting up a business, but they are not your friend (unless you own the credit card company)
1 Pay with cash or debit cards (we rarely even use checks anymore). We pay as we go.
2 Advertise for free or cheap. Why pay for major media or even overpriced newspapers, radio, or tv, when you can often reach as many if not more people consistently using social media. We use it nonstop (even when we are not at the computer we use pre-scheduling software) which keeps our tweets going. Many old-school twitterers pooh pooh that idea; but those are the types who often turn into life coaches and other type shadowy types, living on other’s blood and their credit cards, posting their various addresses (of which nobody cares or believes anyway), and don’t tend to do very well financially (or spiritually), which has been our observation.
3 Never give up. That’s become so common its cliché’. I will add, “It’s okay to give up for a little while, an hour, a day or even a week”. Everyone needs to regenerate and rest. But know you are going back into the ring with a new plan.
4 It’s your business. Use an attorney with agreements/contracts. If you can’t afford an attorney, use one of the legal sites and get affordable agreements, but understand you are not as well protected, generally, as you are with a good attorney who understands your business needs (or even your business). But they are better than nothing (usually).
5 Hype yourself. No, nobody wants to know how ethical you are, brilliant you are, creative you are, moral you are, religious you are, etc etc., at least not from your lips. If someone else says it about you, it has a lot more credence. If you say it, intelligent people will tend to find people who really has at least one of those qualities and do business with them.
6 Don’t be afraid of looking silly. Why? Because no matter what, at some time or another in any startup, you are going to look fairly silly. So prepare and realize it’s part of falling down and getting back up (which has happened to me more times than I’d like to count).
7 Use barter, talent and sweat-equity wherever and whenever you can. Your service or product is worth something to someone. Make a list of what you need, but perhaps cannot afford, and contact at least 20 people in that business offering your service or product for their service or product. Out of 20, I usually have always gotten one positive bite. Different people have different thresholds, but the whole idea of a startup is every bit as much “a numbers game” as it is “a talent game”.
8. Scale down. Have a car note or mortgage that is giving you nightmares? This is where the tough decisions have to be made. Sometimes we can’t have it all. The good news is that a lot more people are scaling down than moving up; we are not in the “yuppie years” anymore. We are all surviving the best we can. So getting a smaller house, apartment or whatever might be the right move. Lee and I have older cars that have been paid for for years. We keep them serviced and they run like new. We got a much smaller place, in a better location. In NYC, our same place would be about $10,000 per month. We pay a fraction. We have no car note. At first it was not easy. We’d both lived “in the burbs” and had picket fence homes in the past. This is so much more manageable and anyone “turned off” by it doesn’t have to be a part of it (though most think its a very good idea and area doing similar things) and finding their bills are paid on time and worry of debt is not a big part of our lives. If we can do that, anybody can.
Yes you can find venture capitalists but it’s not always as fun as it looks. A venture capitalist is involved in many businesses and unless a close friend, generally only looks at the bottom line, not your potential (only you know that), and there are sites in which you can attempt to raise money online. If using one of those sites, offer back credits, not ownership. Own your own business. That is why you got in it, isn’t it? Aside from expressing yourself in our economy using commerce, it was for freedom, and nothing offers more freedom than being a successful creative entrepreneur.
So with all this pent-up knowledge am I great, ethical, moral brilliant, etc? Nahhhhh, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Rick London is a writer, songwriter, designer and cartoonist. He founded Londons Times Offbeat Cartoons & Funny Gifts in 1997 which has been Google & Bing #1 ranked since 2005. London has shops with funny t shirts and gifts such as Rick London Gifts and also designs Famous Quote Gifts at his RickLondonDesigns.com. He is married to nature/wildlife photographer and blogger Lee Hiller-London who also owns designer affordable gifts at her Lee Hiller Designs shop. Together they hike the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas where they live.