This guy asked me for advice at our Forefront conference:
“I’m working on a side business in my spare time, and my goal is to grow it enough to replace my salary in the next 6 months. I’m frustrated that it’s not happening as fast as I want.
What would you recommend?”
“Let’s take it step by step.
I don’t care about doing it fast. I care about doing it right.”
There are a million other people out there who will teach you how to make an overnight business. I’m not one of them.
But if you want to know how to build something beautiful — something with craftsmanship, something you’re proud of, something that lasts, and yes, something that’s highly profitable — the reality is that takes time.
And it’s time worth spending.
But that doesn’t mean you have to put off having fun until “some day” so you can focus on your business. You don’t have to buy into the messages you hear about “hustling” and “going all in.”
You can work hard and build a profitable business — and still have a life.
Here’s how I did it.
If you’re not having fun, your business is dead
I don’t care what anyone says. Starting a business takes a ton of time.
You start carving out little bits of time you didn’t even realize you had. An extra 30 minutes here. Staying in on a weekend night there.
I remember a friend who I hadn’t seen in a month texting me in NYC to hang out on a Friday night. I texted him back: “Yo, can’t do it tonight. Got a meeting.” That night, I was supposed to have a call at 9pm…which got delayed until 9:30…and then the guy canceled on me. Here I am sitting around at 10pm on a Friday night — and I got dropped.
It’s moments like that that can be really discouraging. Is all this work worth it?
What I learned was that it’s not enough to work hard, write the best blog posts, or create awesome products. I learned to love craftsmanship later — but in the early days, the thing that got me through the hard times was JUST PLAIN HAVING FUN.
Go back and look at some of my early posts (like this and this). Man, I was cracking jokes, making fun of terrible advice, calling people out, and just having a good time. I didn’t take this IWT thing seriously. For god’s sake, it was called “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.”
I used funny comments as my barometer of success, not money. (Revenue is the outcome, not the driver. It’s the marker that you’re doing something right.) That’s when I was in my sweet spot.
This is a total reframe to the “HUSTLE ALL THE TIME” advice you see out there. If I was having a good time, my readers were having a good time.
You see, if I’m honest with myself, I’m the type of person who can spend all my time working. One of my dreams is to be on a tropical island, stay in a luxury hotel with high-speed internet…and stay inside all day and play online. I know, I know.
But when I started this site, I realized I could easily end up working all the time and miss out on actually getting out of my apartment, exploring the city, seeing friends. The last thing I wanted was to become glued to my computer. So I pushed myself to have fun outside of work, too.
- I made the 1-hour commute to San Francisco from my apartment in Mountain View 3-4 times a week to hang out with friends. (Eventually I moved to SF.)
- When I later moved to New York, I made a list of cocktail bars and hit them with friends. Even if I felt tired, I knew I’d end up having a good time.
- I made a point of seeing my family as much as possible.
I knew that I had to take risks to build my business. But the biggest risk was letting my life take a backseat to my work. And that’s a risk I refused to take.
“I built my business, but I never built my life”
One of the most interesting phrases I’ve read recently was this one:
It came from a guy who got obsessed with saving money instead of actually living life. Look what he said:
“I look back at the past few years of my life and at my bank account and I would gladly give away a hefty chunk of it and work longer if it meant I could have experienced more of the world and found more passions I could have for the rest of my life, especially with someone I had loved so much. I built my savings, but I never built my life.”
This happens in business too.
We get obsessed with making our business successful ASAP, like the guy who asked me for advice. The big numbers, the big revenues.
So what do we do?
We “buckle down.” We start “hustling” (puke). A lot of us stop going out with friends. We stop having new experiences, the very experiences that we can write about, that energize us, that make us realize why we’re doing this in the first place! We stay in and work — taking pride in the idea that we’re just “weirdos” that most people can’t understand.
You often hear that entrepreneurs are the people who are willing to work 80 hours a week for themselves in order to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else.
This sounds admirable, doesn’t it? It’s heroic to make sacrifices that other people aren’t willing to make, so that you can achieve what others can’t.
But if you have to convince yourself it’s fun, maybe it’s not really fun.
I don’t mind working 80 hours a week during sprints. I’ve done it before, and when I have to, I’ll do it again. But that’s a sprint. Do that all the time and you’ll break.
This is where “blending” your work and life pays off. It’s actually easy to put blinders on and work 80 hours a week. It’s much harder to think about how to blend work and relationships and travel and new experiences. No wonder so many people take a myopic view.
Real life is a marathon. You can have a great life AND grow a sizeable business. But it takes being thoughtful and refusing to defer what you really want until some day.
In other words: Build the life you want, then work for it. Don’t just hustle blindly or you’ll forget why you’re doing it.
I’ve never done an all-nighter
Here’s what I told the guy who asked for advice: If you’re waking up every day and it’s just a slog, something’s wrong. Look for ways to make building your business fun because the money will take a while. Did you know it took me 6 years to start making real money from my business?
Most people in the audience found this hard to believe. People get misled with stories about “overnight success” — but they also mislead themselves. For example, someone said, “Yeah, but I look at people like Nagina and Selena and Sarah Jones (successful GrowthLab students we’ve featured) and it just seems like their businesses were so effortless.” I know each of those students and their businesses took them years to grow. They faced every challenge you’re facing. The difference is they were patient. And they built in fun along the way.
Like a good relationship, it shouldn’t be that hard. Take a break if you have to. Focus on your job for a while and come back to your business later on. Get help from a coach or mentor or course. When the time is right, you’ll know.
Everybody wants to become successful overnight. But even the successes you admire didn’t happen that fast.
Similarly, when people start to realize how long it’s going to take, it’s common to latch onto the opposite idea — “OK, this is going to take years…I better get ready for the grind.” Yes, there are sacrifices you’ll have to make. But there’s no glory in working 12-18 hour days, missing out on your friends and family, and sleeping only 4 hours a night.
I’ve never done an all-nighter. In 5 years, I’ve missed fewer than 5 workouts because of work. And I can’t remember the last time I had to say no to hanging out with friends because of work. It would be easy to become a 1-dimensional entrepreneur. But I believe the only way to sustain yourself is to make sure you’re 3-dimensional — meaning you’re constantly enriching yourself with experiences inside and outside of work. Being a Top Performer doesn’t mean you have to be a workaholic.
It’s not about patiently gritting your teeth for years while you wait for success.
Top Performers demand more from their lives. Not just more money and success, but more fun, more relationships, and more experiences.
Let me give you one last quick example.
Recently, I was reading an interview with my favorite comedian, Aziz Ansari (star of “Parks and Recreation” and “Master of None”). The interviewer was asking him about his success and what he’s planning next.
Here’s his answer:
“I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. We both have more money than we ever imagined. And I was like, can you imagine if someone called us a few years ago and said, ‘All right, you’re going to have this much money when you’re this age. What are you gonna do with it?’ You would say all sorts of fantastical things, right? No one would say, ‘Oh, I would figure out how to make more money and keep working all the time.’”
I LOVE it. Because he’s right. People don’t get into business so they can sit at their laptops and work all the time. I certainly didn’t!
This was a great reminder for me. I hope it’s valuable for you, too.
Sometimes I think we get so focused on our goals we forget about the big picture. We see other successful people and think, “I want that!” but don’t really know what’s happening behind the scenes.
Demand more of yourself.
- Be realistic. Yes, you’re going to have to work hard and sacrifice a few things. Yes, it’s going to take time. Before you assume one of your heroes hit overnight success, find out the truth and set realistic expectations.
- But be thoughtful: Do you really have to sacrifice your workouts? Or your time with friends?Are you just taking the easy way out by saying, “I can’t go tonight because I have to work?” Are you even getting work done at 10pm on a Friday?
- Be proactive. What kind of life do you want? Design it today. Plan out your vacations for the year on January 1st. Decide how many times a week you want to go out. If you don’t, it won’t magically happen tomorrow. Tim Ferriss famously talked about mini-retirements today instead of a big retirement 40 years from now. Be proactive.
Now I’m curious: What are some of the messages you’ve heard from the entrepreneurship world that you’re realizing might not be true?
For example: “I have to HUSTLE ALL THE TIME.” Or, “I’ll get healthier later…for right now, I’m all in on business.”
I want to hear from you. Share the messages you think might not be true in the comments below.