It seems as though everyone brands themselves as one these days but I have no idea what being an entrepreneur actually means. The word conjures up an image of a smug guy in his early twenties, slick hairstyle, with an equally shocking suit to match.
Either that or the ‘digital nomad’ type with some guy sat on a balcony in a lovely pair of shorts with the midday sun gleaming off his $1500 MacBook Pro.
Sorry, I’m being entrepreneurist. The truth is; I’m just jealous. Deep down I would love to be known as an entrepreneur because it would suggest that I am wildly successful and living the dream. Alas, right now, I am still in that transition phase between the 9-5 slave and the guy who is living life on his own terms.
However, make no mistake, I am getting there.
In June 2012 I quit my job and almost 2 years later I am here, writing an article detailing my transition from a guy who hated his life to a guy who knows where he is going.
I may not have a balcony (although the sun is shining through my window) and I may not have a MacBook Pro (Shoot me if I ever own one) but everything is pretty rosy.
This is going to be a long one, so grab yourself a beverage, put your feet up and read my lovely words.
I’m no Tim Ferris – I’m just a guy who had the balls to change.
Step one – Jumping in at the deep end
This was the hardest part of the entire process. I knew I had to change my life but truth be told, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. In my desperation I enrolled in a degree at the Open University – which, to those who may not know- is basically an online degree. They send you the materials through the mail and you get access to content through a student website – but after that, it’s all down to you. It’s essentially self-taught, and it’s as challenging as it sounds – especially if you choose to study computer programming.
Why, I have no idea.
But this was just a safety net. I didn’t want to spend my life sat in front of a computer screen so I began to brainstorm other possible ways to make money. I’ve always considered teaching guitar, but a mixture of laziness and fear kept me well away from that as a realistic career choice. However this time, it felt right.
Fuck it, I thought – So I quit my job.
This led to a problem. I was living in central Bournemouth in a pretty expensive 1 bedroom apartment. The tenancy agreement was due to end so rather than renew, I made the agonising decision to give up my independence and move back to my childhood home.
31 years of age, living with my mum and unemployed…
The girls were queuing up…
Step two – Educating Jamie
I had put myself into a position where I had no choice but to move forwards. My only options were to wallow in self-pity and regret or to grow a pair of melon sized balls and carry them with me in the wheelbarrow of life.
I chose the latter.
Jumping in at the deep end gave me an initial surge of confidence. I had no idea how to start a business but I had Google and 8 fingers on my side. I threw myself into this 100%.
Learning how to build a website
There is no exaggerating when I say that I spent upwards of 12 hours a day devouring as much information as I could lay my weary eyes upon. I needed to build a website, and fast.
After reading several amazing guides on how to set up a WordPress website I registered my domain, installed the software and began writing the content. At this stage I still wasn’t sure what I was doing, but the main point was that I was doing something. If in doubt… just keep moving forwards and you’ll figure it out eventually.
Once I had my prototype website up and running I realised that it needed jazzing up a touch.
I download a free trial copy of Photoshop and spent a whole day watching YouTube tutorials whilst trying to create a suitable logo for my business. It can be daunting when you first open up the software, especially if your only experience with graphics is cropping a photo in Paint, but you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn to create some fantastic logos.
My next step was SEO. I didn’t even know such a thing existed before this point. But who cares, I was on a roll. This just became another mini mountain I would need to conquer in my quest for a successful business. Again, I spent hours online, reading anything I could find on the subject. Within a week I felt invincible. My brain was sucking up information like a nerdy black hole.
I also learnt the basics of HTML, CSS and PHP. The best way to learn this stuff is to locate a problem and use Google to find the solution. For example; I wanted to know how to wrap words around an image in my sidebar. 20 minutes of searching later, and I had located the CSS code necessary to achieve my goal.
It really is as simple as that.
Next step – branding. Who was I appealing to? What was I offering? Did I have an image? What promotion and marketing strategy did I have in mind?
Marketing aside, if you’re looking to create a website for your own business, you must always ask questions.
- How professional does it look? Is it easy to navigate? Do the colours, logo and branding work well together?
- Does it explain who you are and what you offer? Why should someone choose you over a competitor?
- Are your services and pricing options prominent? Can the customer easily contact you?
- Do you have any videos or audio showcasing your business?
- Are you social proofed? Do you have a testimonial or review section?
- Do you have a FAQ section or are you able to handle possible objections before they arise?
If you want to learn how to create a website and learn the fundamentals of SEO then the only two websites you will ever need are ViperChill and Blog Tyrant. What Glen Allsopp and Ramsay Taplin don’t know about this subject isn’t worth bothering about. I learnt more from these guys than anyone else.
So, with my website almost finished, I just needed to see who I was up against.
Finding my competitor’s weaknesses
This is something I’m naturally good at. I spent several hours typing all of the relevant keywords into Google and taking note of
which websites featured on the first page. Firstly I looked at my own area and then I checked out guitar tutors from nearby towns and cities.
One thing was immediately apparent.
Their websites sucked. To this day I’ve only seen one other guitar tutor with a decent website. I couldn’t believe my luck… why would someone start a business but advertise their services using something that appears as though it was created by a 5 year old with monkey hands?
It was obvious really – how many musicians are there with decent coding/computing skills? Not many. This was my advantage. Coupled with my intensive competitor research and SEO/branding knowledge I had gained – I set about creating the best guitar tuition website in the Bournemouth area. It’s not the ‘best looking’ website, but it’s evolved to supply all the information you could want as quickly and efficiently as possible.
My logic was simple. The best website + top of Google’s rankings = money.
I was live.
All I had to do was sit back and wait for the students to arrive…
Step three – The pain period
Well, perhaps I was being a little too naïve.
Nothing is immediate. SEO takes a while to kick in with new websites and I loitered somewhere on page 2 for my chosen keywords. I felt like Kevin Costner without a Joe Jackson. I had built my version of a Baseball field – but nobody came.
It took 6 weeks to get my first enquiry, but even then, this student disappeared after 1 lesson.
It seems this would take a little longer than I anticipated.
The next 3 months were horrendous. Due to a lack of interest and rapidly depleting funds, I made the decision to ask the government for help and sign up for jobseekers allowance. In exchange for applying for the type of work that would embarrass a hobo, I received £65 a week to cover my living expenses.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this was essentially free money. But they certainly make you feel worthless for doing it. Luckily, due to the number of applicants for each position, and the possibility that I was too ‘overqualified’ for many of the jobs I applied for, I received zero interest in return.
I dread to think what my life would be like now if I had given up hope and started a new career as a leaflet distributor or an office cleaner. Nothing against those professions – but they weren’t for me.
I’ve paid my dues and I had no intention of going back to the ‘real world’. Quitting was not an option. I couldn’t bear the thought of enduring the smugness and the ridicule on top of that which I was already receiving for quitting the 9-5.
“See, I told you it was a mistake to quit your job.”
Fuck everyone. I’m seeing this through.
Step four – The fear
The pain period was tough, but it wasn’t particularly scary. Real fear didn’t present itself until the beginning of October when a lovely woman paid 5 lessons upfront for her son. Holy shit – I had just earned £80 following a brief text conversation.
This was different. This wasn’t just a single lesson – this was the beginning.
Several days later I received another enquiry, again for a block of 5 lessons. I almost shook with excitement. People were willing to pay me money for my knowledge. A week after this, I had 2 more students – a mother and a son who wanted a double lesson.
Within the space of 2 weeks, I had a business.
Wait, does this mean I can legitimately refer to myself as a guitar teacher?
The challenge of being a leader
I suddenly had several people who were willing to part with their hard earned cash because they believed I could teach them (or their children) how to play the guitar.
Was I ready for this? I certainly didn’t feel ready. The anxiety I felt prior to each lesson was crippling. Keep this to yourself, but I even ‘called in sick’ to a couple of lessons in those early days due to an overwhelming urge to hide away from the world.
Feeling like a fraud – I wondered if I was capable of being the person my students were paying me to be.
And then something amazing happened. Due to a combination of people receiving guitars as Christmas gifts and a rise up Google’s rankings – I suddenly found myself with 10 students.
Anxiety had to take a back seat. I ploughed through each lesson with a renewed determination to succeed. This was a huge learning curve for me and it was my job to wear my game face and act the part.
You’d be surprised what people are capable of when faced with a challenge.
Step five – The present and the future
Depending on whether Google decides to use location as a ranking factor for that given week, I am usually top of the rankings for the most popular key phrases in the 9th largest urban area in the UK. That’s 400,000 people in my catchment zone. I’m regularly informed that my website is the most welcoming and that my lessons are always enjoyable.
I now have 25 students on my books and this should continue to rise once I move back into central Bournemouth.
Is it time to take a rest?
This is where the real hard work begins. It’s relatively easy to get to where I am today. The real challenge is to break through to the next level. Where can I go from here? How can I increase my income if I am fully booked?
Should I offer lessons via Skype? Should I create some kind of online course or program for people to follow? Is it time to increase my tuition fees?
Whatever happens – I know that I can tap into the experience of my journey so far and use that to overcome the many obstacles that will undoubtedly come this way.
The 10 point action plan to quit your job and start your own business
I have no idea how everyone does these things. Sure, I’ve read books and studied autobiographies of the rich and famous but there is no right and wrong. Millions of people the world over have started a business – actually, every company on this planet, from Walmart and Microsoft right down to the hot dog kiosk outside your office began life as a shot in the dark.
I’m certainly not reinventing the wheel here. Nor am I saying that I have all the answers, I don’t. What I do have is recent experience and the following action plan is a brief summary of what I personally went through in getting to where I am today.
- Accept that you need to change
What is it that really turns you on? What gets you out of bed in the mornings? What is it that you spend all day dreaming about? I bet it’s not your 9-5 job, that’s for sure. For many people their job gets in the way of the life they want to lead, so before taking that first step you must resist the temptation to follow life’s rules and take a stand. You know what you want to do – it’s time to start doing it.
- Follow your instinct – don’t overthink it
Once you have figured out where you want to be – stop. Freeze frame that image in your mind and never allow fear to pull you away. You know what you want so it’s time to grab it with both hands. The more you think about it, the higher the probability that you’ll scare yourself into remaining where you are.
- Quit your job
This is the most important step. Success is 100% – everything else is failure. If you have to sacrifice 35 hours a week that’s 35 hours you’re not investing into you. You’re being pulled in several different directions and the safety net of a regular pay cheque will prevent you from truly letting go.
- Ask yourself a million questions – and dive right in
Now that you’re finally on the road to the life you’ve always dreamed of – the real work begins. You must become a student of your craft. There will be questions you don’t know the answers to and important skills which you have yet to learn. Many people would suggest filling in these gaps before quitting your job but then you’ll be trapped with the ‘I’ll quit when I’m ready’ mentality. Tomorrow never comes so you have to jump into the deep and learn as you go. This is how we live life by default – there is no dress rehearsal for living – so just do it.
- Believe in yourself – it will be a bumpy road
The journey you’re about to take will be filled with many small wins but equally, many mistakes and setbacks. This is normal so don’t worry about it. Just remember why you’re here in the first place and accept everything that comes your way – good or bad. It’s these little victories that are going to propel you forwards.
- Ignore the haters
When you do something that flies in the face of what the rest of society expects, you’re going to receive a lot of negative feedback with it. This is crab mentality. The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise . Some of your friends, family and colleagues will attempt to do this – not out of spite, but out of fear. Don’t allow them to succeed.
- Embrace discipline
I soon discovered that the hardest part of being my own boss was actually managing my own workload and schedule. I had no one to whip me into shape or to call me out if I had an unproductive day. This is all up to you now. Relying on motivation is a mistake – it comes and goes. You must embrace discipline and set up a working schedule that helps you towards achieving your goals.
- Learn from your mistakes and enjoy failure
Mistakes will happen. It’s a fact of life. However, no one can succeed unless they have failures along the way. Once a heat seeking missile has been fired, it will weave left and right, snaking its way towards its target – but as it gets closer, these movements will gradually decrease as the missile corrects itself. This is how success works. The little failures will knock you left and right but as long as you keep going, you’ll self-correct and home in on your target.
- Keep moving forwards
It can be easy to achieve a mini win or even some great success with your venture and then put your feet up thinking that you have this shit figured out. You haven’t. Every day is a school day. You’re always learning and no matter where you are, you can always work harder, find more clients, earn more money and find ways to make life that little bit easier. As someone famous once said – if you’re not moving forwards, you’re falling behind.
- Remember, it’s a passion – so enjoy it
Remember why you made this life changing decision in the first place. You hated your job or how your life was heading and you did something about it. That’s fantastic, but don’t slip back into old habits. Just because you’re working for yourself doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to be happy. This is your passion – so you must enjoy the process or the results won’t matter. You’ll just be back to where you started, looking for a way out. This is the chance to be the hero of your own story.
Be hungry for success, hungry to make your mark, hungry to be seen and to be heard and to have an effect. And as you move up and become successful, make sure also to be hungry for helping others. Don’t rest on your laurels. Too many former athletes spend their lives talking about how great they were 20 years ago. So many accomplished people just coast. They wish they could still be somebody and not just talk about the past. There is much more to life than being the greatest at one thing. We learn so much when we’re successful, so why not use what you’ve learned, use your connections and do more with them? If you have a talent or skill that makes you happy, use it to improve your neighborhood. And if you feel a desire to do more, then go all out. You’ll have plenty of time to rest when you’re in the grave. Live a risky and spicy life and like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “every day do something that scares you.” We should all stay hungry!
Have you started your own business and have tips or advice you would like to share?
Please let me know in the comment section below.