From Nothing

No job. No money. No experience. No confidence. In late August of 2011, I started a business from nothing.

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the topic of entrepreneurship and my journey from nothing to profitability.

I know. I usually write about Facebook ads. I’ll continue to publish blog posts about Facebook ads on Fridays. But I want to at least temporarily explore the life of an entrepreneur — an accidental entrepreneur at that.

Not everyone reading this is an entrepreneur. But I hope that my story can help you — whether you are going on your own, considering going on your own, or simply battling the business ladder.

How far has this business come? I’ve received more than 18 Million page views from more than 8 Million unique users since this website was born. I have an email list that just eclipsed 160,000 people.

I don’t find it appropriate to discuss dollars — though I know some entrepreneurs do, and I open myself to skepticism as a result. But my business has exceeded my wildest dreams, and it continues to grow. There is no possible way I ever would have found this level of success while working for “the man.”

I’m not one who enjoys bragging, but I certainly am proud of this business. I’m amazed that this happened or was even possible. Coming from where I started? I’d never imagine being here today.

But “coming from where I started” — or, from nothing — is precisely why I’m writing this blog post.

I don’t believe my path to “here” was ordinary. Or at least, it’s not the prototypical path of an entrepreneur. I was not trained or educated to start a business. I was always something of an underachiever. When you envision the personality type that it takes to start a successful business, my traits are unlikely to match up.

And maybe you don’t look like the prototypical entrepreneur either. Maybe that’s at least partially held you back from finding entrepreneurial success — or even getting started.

This post is for you…

The Myths

I worked “in the system” for nearly 15 years. I always dreamed of having my own business, but I never seriously pursued it or thought I could do it successfully.

Back then, myths kept me in the system. I assumed there was something special about entrepreneurs. I assumed they had special training. I assumed they had a clear purpose, direction, and plan. I assumed they were the smartest of the smart, accomplishing something unattainable for most of us.

That’s only scratching the surface regarding the myths I believed about successful entrepreneurs. But these things kept me from even making an attempt.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully acknowledge some advantages. I have college educated parents who were teachers. I was educated with a liberal arts college degree. My wife and I had $10k in the bank — not a lot, but at least something. We also had very little debt.

But when I thought of the typical entrepreneur, I didn’t picture someone like me. I envisioned confidence, cockiness, fearlessness, and a clear vision.

I Was Laid Off (Twice)

This entire journey began on August 18, 2011, because I was laid off. But that’s only part of the story.

About two years prior, I was laid off for the first time. So this was the second time I was laid off covering a very short period.

Granted, you’ll recall that the economy wasn’t great in 2009 and 2011. And working for a start-up (in 2009) and a non-profit (in 2011) was probably fighting with fire during that time.

Getting laid off was partially a reflection of the time. But I also would never claim to be the world’s greatest employee.

Having this business is the first time I ever stayed with one company for at least five years. And typically, I’d get bored within a year or two.

Maybe being a “bad” (or restless?) employee is a good characteristic for an entrepreneur. I don’t like having a boss. I don’t like answering to someone else. I don’t like working on someone else’s clock.

Maybe. But certainly, not all “bad employees” make good entrepreneurs.

More than anything, getting laid off was a blessing for me. Bad employee or not, I never would have started a business while having a job.

I’m married and the father of three boys. My wife is extremely active in the boys’ schools, and she doesn’t bring an income. I needed to produce.

While having this responsibility may have kept me from taking a risk while having a job, it was also significant motivation when I was unemployed. I had to make it work. I had no choice. Four people I loved counted on it.

I Wasn’t Trained

I wasn’t a business major (I chose English, then changed my senior year to philosophy). I didn’t grow up in a family of entrepreneurs. I peaked at mid-management level jobs while working in the system.

So it would be false to say I was 100% unprepared. While I never managed more than two people at a time, having management responsibilities did give me some insight into business.

But that’s reaching. While I had some technical knowledge, I had virtually no idea how to start, build and manage a business.

I Had Basic Skills

I may be a little self-deprecating about my abilities, but I’m also not a “rah-rah-anyone-can-do-it” type. I’m also a realist.

I started blogging because I actually enjoyed writing. No, I wasn’t an A-student in any of my English or writing classes. Nothing I wrote was ever recognized. But it was a strength. If you can’t write, you shouldn’t start a blog.

I knew enough about WordPress sites to at least get started. I’ve had a computer in my home since I was in elementary school (which is no longer a big deal these days, but it is for my generation). I just typed “my generation” like an old dude.

So just to be clear here… While I certainly wasn’t trained to start a business, I had enough basic skills to at least get started.

I Wasn’t About “The Hustle”

If you listen to the typical entrepreneur, they make entrepreneurship look pretty undesirable.

You’ve likely seen and heard it. They never sleep. They work weekends. They don’t take holidays off. And they’re proud of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had to work hard. There were times when I had to work late hours, weekends and on days I didn’t want to work.

But that was nothing I was proud of. My end goal wasn’t to work myself to death. My end goal was to create more time for myself so that I could spend it with my family.

I wanted to sleep eight hours a night. I wanted my evenings free. I wanted weekends free. And I wanted holidays free.

Hell, let’s be honest. I wanted work to be my side gig. My focus was on watching my kids grow up and coaching their baseball teams. The reality is that I’m now a full-time coach (without pay) and a part-time entrepreneur.

But I was embarrassed to feel this way. If you are wanting an entrepreneur’s life without the sleepless hustle, know that you aren’t alone. And know that it’s not an impossible goal.

I Had a “Big Why”

I wouldn’t be here today without someone or something inspiring me. That “big why” that provides my motivation is my family.

Our oldest son is a cancer survivor. That experience was long ago now, and he’s in the clear. But it provided important perspective.

I respect time. I appreciate the time I have to spend with the people I care about. My family is my “big why.”

Everyone needs something to motivate them. For me, it isn’t fame or fortune. I leave money on the table because those things aren’t a priority to me.

Maybe money is your motivation. However, I’m skeptical that this is enough to carry you though.

I Had Support

My wife may be the key to all of this. She had every right to insist I take a low-risk path. She easily could have lost patience with me during that first year. She’s a special kind of crazy for sticking with me during that time.

Understand that this isn’t all roses either, though. Let’s be real. My wife was worried about me. She wanted me to bring in an income — quickly — to help pay the bills. She didn’t enjoy going into debt.

But she gave me the rope I needed. She would email me a list of job openings, but I never had the sense that I was disappointing her by not applying, getting an interview or getting a job.

It was important that she did have expectations of me. It kept the necessary pressure on.

But my support did not stop with my wife. There are far too many people to count and name here, particularly during that first year. People who assisted me, supported me, and cheered me on. They kept me sane and focused.

I remember the paralyzing days like they were yesterday. You may assume that every day, I was working my butt off and making stuff happen. Some days, I had no idea what to do or where to start. I did nothing. I felt guilty. I was frustrated and confused. I got in my own head.

Without these people, there’s no way I get through that first year. It would have been too much.

Sharing What I’ve Learned

During the past five years, I’ve focused on sharing what I know about using Facebook ads to promote a business. Meanwhile, I’ve stockpiled an awful lot of information about how to start a business, even in an atypical way.

Following are some topics I could explore:

  • Delegating
  • Software that runs my business
  • Blogging strategies
  • Podcasting
  • Webinars
  • List building
  • Expenses
  • Selecting a CRM
  • Scaling
  • Launching a product

Do any of these topics interest you? If so, I’ll look to continue writing on this topic.

Free Webinar for Entrepreneurs

I host a free webinar for entrepreneurs that focuses on lessons I learned while starting my business.