2020 has been the year of transformation. Flaws in our medical, economic, and democratic systems have reared their head, and there’s been quite a bit of opportunity for entrepreneurs to solve problems in these shifts.
There have also been many flaws exposed within ourselves. As an entrepreneur, your progress and paycheck are more closely tied to your level of personal development. The internal pressure created by staying inside and limiting social interaction, at least for me, has brought me face to face with personal flaws that have given way to become invaluable lessons.
That being said, here are 20 lessons I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur in 2020.
1. You can grow an invaluable network without being in a specific place
This was true before COVID, but is extra true now. You don’t have to live in Silicon Valley to meet investors and like minded entrepreneurs. You just need to be an active member of withfwd.com or maybe the slack channel for Acquired, one of the best startup podcasts around. You can also hop on LinkedIn and send a connection message to any professional. Or you can browse startup Twitter and have the rich community of entrepreneurs and investors just a tweet or DM away.
I’ve had 50 calls or so in the past month just from people I’ve met in the above communities. Some of them have turned into business opportunities, and all of them have been fulfilling.
Online communities are flourishing, and you have your pick of channels to engage in to meet awesome people. However, it’s easy to overextend yourself to way too many communities. I’d focus in on 2–5 so you can create depth in relationships.
2. Focusing on your energy levels is paramount
If you don’t have energy, you won’t execute. Since I’ve been couped up and social distractions aren’t as accessible, I’ve been made acutely aware of how my habits affect my energy levels.
I’m realizing that 2 hours at 100% energy are exponentially better than 4 hours at 50% energy.
Here are some habits that allow me to maintain consistent energy throughout the day:
- No phone or social media until 10am
- An every day morning routine of meditation (10 min), Yoga (30 min) and cold shower (2–5 min)
- Consuming minimal caffeine in the morning to avoid the crash.
- When I feel low energy, I take 15 minutes to power nap, exercise, or just go outside to breathe clear my head. I don’t put a limit on these 15 minute breaks, I just take them instead of “pushing through” low energy.
- Intense exercise in the afternoon to break afternoon haze.
- Eating less than 40 grams of sugar per day.
Habits will vary from person to person. But if you’re not giving yourself the space to become aware of how to maintain high energy, you’re making everything much harder.
3. Not everyone should matter to you
It’s common to worry about catching up with everyone. But I reached a state of peace and contentment in my relationships when I realized this:
The people that are meant to be in your life will put themselves there.
For potential clients, I might follow up a few times with them and make more of an effort to make that relationship happen because that’s how I help them grow and make myself money.
For everyone else, I only pay attention to people who are putting equal or greater effort into staying connected. It frees up a lot of brain space to focus on my business.
4. Focusing is the fastest way to grow from 0–1
At the beginning of this year, almost all my projects were custom proposals. It was a damn slog to onboard a new client, and sometimes the new deals would only be a few hundred dollars.
Recently, I changed my approach to be more focused on one type of customer. I created a framework to work with clients so I don’t have to do extra custom onboarding work, and the process for each client is very similar.
This focusing of value delivery systems has allowed me to be more confident in my ability to grow, has helped me focus my pitch, and will enable me to get much better at delivering the value over time.
Especially if you’re a service provider, I urge you to focus on creating one system or process that you can use with every customer. It makes life easier.
I focused by:
- Choosing 1 type of customer (young, purpose-driven founder in the mental health, environment, or education space)
- Choose 1 core problem to solve (lack of prioritization and focus)
- Creating 1 core offering to solve it with a repeatable structure (Impact Clarity Program)
- Doing all of my outreach on one channel (LinkedIn)
It’s going to be hard to focus. Really hard. But it’s working great for me. And you can stay flexible to take advantage of opportunities when they arise (I still do custom work, but only when it makes sense).
5. Slow. The. Fuck. Down.
We live in a society that praises insanity. We glorify overworking ourselves, accumulating boatloads of money, and beating the next guy in the race to the top.
I’ve gotten caught up in this narrative plenty of times. Self-judgement when I don’t work over 8 hours in a day. Doubt when my bank account doesn’t match my expectations. Imposter syndrome and constantly asking if I’m built to be an entrepreneur.
I’m starting to finally beat this narrative internally. Not by working harder or giving in to my doubt, but by giving myself space.
Taking a 15 minute nap in the middle of a workday.
Taking my time to enjoy my lunch.
Always doing my morning routine and not going directly into work, even if I wake up late.
Always taking time for presence and awareness of the state of my body and mind.
I come up with a mantra/exercise to do whenever I feel a rush of doubt, fear, or other negative emotions.
Two deep breaths, and saying out loud “I am valuable”.
That’s it. You can find a mantra that resonates with you, and use it multiple times throughout the day whenever you get frazzled.
A good way to come up with a mantra is to ask your self “What are the deepest, most common limiting beliefs that create the doubts in my mind?”
Create a mantra that “flips” those limiting beliefs. One of my deepest limiting beliefs was that I didn’t create value in the world, despite feedback telling me otherwise from people who were paying me.
So I flipped it, and my mantra became, “I am valuable”.
6. Meditation is an amazing tool to slow down
If you’re an entrepreneur and not meditating, you’re missing out. Download a meditation app or find a guided meditation on youtube and practice once a day or just whenever you feel cluttered mentally.
Another couple easy and no-pressure meditation methods are described by Naval in his interview with Tim Ferriss around the 50 minute mark.
A single 15 minute meditation has transformed my day from “bleh” to “Amazing” more times than I can count.
Make a habit of committing a time period, say 15 minutes, to meditating and being in stillness. It will help you maintain clarity and emotional stability especially when done overtime.
Note: When I say “meditating”, I don’t mean sitting and watching your breath. I mean creating stillness so you can observe your thoughts. Most of us go through our day without observing the crazy voices that are in our brain. Meditation is the practice of observing those voices and thoughts, of monitoring your internal dialogue. Likely, stillness and observation will scare you at first and cause anxiety. This just means you need it. The more you observe and sit in stillness, the more you will uncover and act on things that have been unresolved sources of anxiety that are drawing on your energy.
7. Purpose-Driven Businesses Win Long-Term
Most businesses assume they have one purpose — to make money. The thing is, this purpose isn’t very compelling to people. It also doesn’t provide a long-term strategic direction on which you can reflect when making important product and culture decisions.
Here’s a simple shift from product driven to purpose driven that I talked to someone about recently.
From “We do email marketing for eCommerce brands” (what they’re currently doing)
To “We strengthen consumer relationships and increase lifetime value for eCommerce brands” (What they’re actually trying to do for their customers).
Now, since this company is clear about their reason for existence beyond making money, they can speak directly to a need that their customers have.
Most of their potential customers currently have the goal of “strengthen consumer relationships and increase lifetime value”. So they’re now aligned with their customers and only have to teach them that the “how” makes sense.
To discover your purpose, answer the question “Other than making money, why does our business exist?”
Once you’re clear on your purpose (why), the how becomes flexible, allowing you to adapt easily to changing external contexts. It also attracts people to your business, and positions your brand as a movement instead of just another product or service.
8. Community-based marketing is here to stay
People crave connection. Communities connect people. If your brand has a compelling purpose (see above), it’s much easier to connect people around your shared purpose.
Communities allow you to learn about your customers, provide them value outside of selling them, and give them a reason to share your business with their friends. Well-run communities will do great things for brand loyalty and customer LTV. They can also amplify your impact and create connections that change lives.
Quite a few platforms to start and manage communities have seen their popularity rise over the last year, because more companies than ever are realizing that a well-designed community can be a fantastic marketing asset.
Here are some guidelines for creating a community:
- Look around the internet for communities created around your purpose or movement to make sure a similar group of people doesn’t exist.
- Create the community around a purpose or a movement. “Community to Increase eCommerce Customer Relationship Depth and LTV” is more compelling than “My eCommerce Email Marketing Company Community”. Once your brand gains strength and recognition, then you could start a branded community.
- Get 5–10 people who you can train to contribute meaningfully. If you’re the only one contributing early on, you might get burnt out.
- Survey those 5–10 people and other people in your target audience to find the right platform. Young people probably won’t be as likely to participate in a Facebook group. Make sure your platform works for most people who are going to engage the most. But don’t overthink it too much. The people matter more than the platform.
9. The news and social media will cloud your mind if you let it
There’s a lot of shit going on in the world. Most of it you can’t control. The news and social media is full of people sharing their opinions about the terrible current state of the world. When my parents share a news article with me, it usually makes me anxious.
So, I stopped reading the news. I still go on Instagram and Twitter but I did a follower cleanse so people retweeting inflammatory political threads weren’t in my twitterverse.
And from that I’ve gotten amazing peace of mind. There’s always crazy shit going on in the world. I’m learning to ignore it and appreciate the internal progress and clarity that comes from that.
Create “information filters” in your life that prevent trash information from entering your awareness. Or you’ll be swallowed whole by the whirlwind of fake and real news on all the platforms.
10. Don’t be scared of remote work
Most of you probably knew about this one already. But remote work can and will work if you adopt the following best practices:
- Shared calendars + time zone clarity.
- Over-communicate when explaining something.
- Loom to communicate with digital videos.
- Use async communication (communication that doesn’t happen in real-time) unless absolutely necessary
- Build in some non-async time (face-to-face chat time) with the sole purpose of connecting as humans.
You can work with people from around the world. Harness that.
11. Don’t be scared of napping
I used to feel guilty about napping. Like it made me “soft” or something. Then I tried not napping, and I was way less productive. I realized the thought of “napping is for wimps” comes from media/hustle porn/fake entrepreneur crowd that doesn’t translate to reality for most people.
Naps are found to be a healthy thing. Through research . So if you feel sleepy and unfocused, don’t be afraid to nap.
12. Intense exercise is like a hard reset for focus
When I start to lose my attention span, doubt myself, and get distracted by social media (usually in the late afternoon), I’ve tried to build the habit of immediately going and doing an intense workout. Usually with heavier weights and I try not to stop.
Usually after only 15–30 minutes, this completely resets my focus. I’m able to grab a bite, take a nap if needed, and focus for the last 3–4 hours of the day. I estimate these intense workouts boost my productivity by 2–3x. Something that would take me 2 hours pre-workout takes me only 30–60min post workout.
A great resource I’ve been using for guided workouts is Alo Moves. It’s a great mix of yoga, fitness, and meditation classes that will guide you to mental, spiritual, and physical fitness.
13. Cryptocurrencies are here to stay
As Naval said on his recent podcast episode with Tim Ferris:
“Cryptocurrency is the native currency of the internet”
Institutional players in finance such as Paul Tudor Jones are investing significant amounts into crypto. Tech companies like Square and Paypal have also grown their adoption of the currencies. This has all led to the price of Bitcoin raising from 7k-23k in 2020.
Revisiting this article a week later, the price is up to 28k.
However, Bitcoin is only one of many valuable crypto assets. I’m not suggesting you put money into cryptocurrencies right now, but crypto is a space with many opportunities for entrepreneurs in the next 2–5 years. Check out Tim Ferris’s episode with Nick Szabo, an actual cryptocurrency expert to learn more.
14. LinkedIn is the best B2B marketing channel
On LinkedIn, you can find almost any professional in a search, DM them, and have a much better chance of having your message reach them than a cold email.
I’ve gotten at least 50 discovery calls from around 500 reach outs on LinkedIn.
With cold emails, I’ve gotten 1 discovery call and maybe 10 responses from 300 reach outs.
Maybe I suck at cold emails. But more likely, LinkedIn is a better way to reach out to people in a B2B context.
It also gives you a high level of organic reach. If someone engages with your post, people in their network see it in their feed. Only 1% of users on LinkedIn create content, so there’s a huge space for content creators on LinkedIn.
Show up, post valuable and applicable knowledge, and send non-intrusive DM’s to start conversations with the right people and LinkedIn could become the core of your B2B marketing strategy.
15. Twitter can be an amazing asset… when used carefully.
Twitter’s got a great mix of active entrepreneurs, investors, and other fun people to follow. IF you carefully curate your feed, you can get a stream of valuable startup/mindset knowledge. If you don’t, you’ll get lost in political shitshow wormholes.
So tread carefully.
Here’s a quick list of some awesome entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter if you want to get started on the right foot.
15. Engaging with new channels can pay off in surprising ways
You’ve probably heard of TikTok by now. Maybe you’ve seen stories about people who’ve gotten famous on the platform. This shit’s real. As a musician or consumer brand, experimenting with TikTok gives you a real chance to go viral.
Most people think of TikTok as “the wierd Gen Z dancing and bad music platform”, but I’ve seen people talk about mindfulness, metaphysics, and business marketing on there and grow their followings because of the massive organic reach on the platform.
Have you heard of Clubhouse? It’s an awesome room-based conversation app. It’s invite only, but you can join the waiting list and get let in if a friend has access.
Once you’re on there, you can join “rooms” and instantly become a part of conversations about music, business strategy, relationships, the future of leadership, and other dope stuff. I found the a good room and was able to have a fun convo, make some great genuine connections, and I even got a few leads!
These are just two examples of new platforms that have very high potential for those who engage at the beginning. Who knows what the next one will be?
If you have time and space, try it out. Dip your toes in by posting once a week for a year. Have fun. Who knows what will happen?
16. Systems are how you scale
This isn’t really a business secret, but most struggle to implement systems in a meaningful way and that’s why they stay small.
After you’ve validated a concept for creating value, building a replicable process to create that value is how you get to the next level.
One way to build a certain process is the XDS time tracker sheet, where you see which activity takes up the most time and energy so it’s clear what you need to delegate, systematize, and cut entirely.
Check out an example here.
18. Online niche communities are a great marketing channel
When people think of marketing channels for their business, they usually think of the Facebook/Instagram/Email/Website stack that’s seemingly become the default.
But what will likely drive more interest from the right people is targeting slack communities, reddit threads, and facebook groups full of people who might want your solution and adding value then sending DM’s to the people who engage to offer them a deeper level of value.
Find the online spaces where people congregate, help them solve their problems, and offer them a way to engage further. It’s a long-term play but hopefully by now you’ve realized that social media marketing is long-term anyways.
19. Don’t be afraid of DM’s.
I’ve sent probably 1,000 DM’s in this past year. I don’t think I’ve annoyed many people, and I think I delighted a few. If you find someone you want to connect with, DM them. It doesn’t matter if they’re a potential customer or partner.
Be specific about why you’re reaching out. One DM I send to people who have started a company in the mental health space is this:
I see we’re both passionate about bringing people closer to inner peace. Would you be interested or not in scheduling 15 minutes for a call to discuss how we could mutually benefit from working together?
It’s genuine. I want to see how I can help them! If I can help them by selling them my service, awesome. If it’s through a simple connection to someone in my network, awesome.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you think you’d like to work with. Fear used to prevent me from sending messages like these, and I’m glad it’s not in my way anymore.
Obviously, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not spamming people’s inboxes with sales pitches. But when used genuinely, DM’s are great.
20. Creating real solutions in the world is the only long-term success strategy as an entrepreneur
My biggest lesson of 2020 was that hacks don’t work. If you want to start and grow a successful business, you have to do this:
Find a real problem, learn why it’s caused, and design a solution that creates real value for the people that struggle with that problem.
If you don’t have that as your foundation, what you’re doing probably won’t work. It will feel like you’re moving uphill at every step. If you feel like this right now, I urge you to examine the problem you’re solving. Is it the right problem? Are you even thinking about the problem? If not, make sure you move forward grounded in the specific problem you’re solving.
Congratulations! You’ve absorbed all the major lessons I’ve learned during the most turbulent and self-reflective year of my life as an entrepreneur. If one of these resonates with you, I urge you to put it into practice. If you’re trying to figure out how to do that, feel free to leave a highlight with a question or email me at email@example.com. Happy to chat :)
What was the lesson that resonated most with you? Let me know in the comments.
I wish you the greatest of success in 2021. Have faith in yourself, stay connected to solving real problems for people, and don’t let fear stop you from taking major action and you’ll get where you’re trying to go!