May 31, 2012

6 Lessons Learned From Owning a Business

Why I Love Business

I was not born a business person, in fact I have spent most of my life trying to avoid business. Why do you think I became an artist? It wasn’t until I was almost a year into running my own business that I realized something that changed my life forever.

Being good at business is being good at life.

This is true for me, and it will probably be true for you too. That is why so much of what I talk about doesn’t apply to just business. A lot of it is going to seem common sense as well, because you have heard these lessons your entire life. I am 28 years old, and have been running my own business for over 3 years. I don’t know everything, in fact I know almost nothing.

I am willing to share all that I do know for two reasons. 

  1. It will not hurt me at all if you start your own very successful business, it will probably help me.
  2. By teaching, we learn ourselves.

1) Capital Is More Important Than You Think

A lot of the time in business you have to spend money to make money. In fact, there are really only two things you can put into a business – Time and Money.

Somewhere along the line you are going to run out of time; you probably don’t have a huge excess of time as it is.

Capital is money that you can put into your business that does not need to be spent on anything else, we are not talking about your grocery money.

There are two very important parts to running a business: Time and Money. Use either poorly and your business will fail.

If you were starting a Nail Salon, for this example we will call it “Lay Me Back and Nail Me”. First you need to find a location, lease the space, fill it with equipment like those fancy chairs and everything else needed for people to “get their nails did”. You are going to have to hire people to did people’s nails. You will have to put up signage so people won’t confuse your business with a Hair salon.

All of these things cost money. All of this money has to be spent before you can bring a single customer in and start making money. That is why capital is important.

You can get capital in many different ways. Here are a few you can try.

  • KickStarter – Amazing resource for creative people who want to start a company, though you had better make a swanky ass video.
  • Ask Someone Rich – One thing rich people love is getting more rich. If you can convince them that you have a good use for some of their excess money they are likely to give it to you.
  • Angel Investors – Same as above, but they have a fancy title.
  • Venture Capitalists – Try to stay away from these guys, they will probably want a part of your business.
  • Kidney Sales – You have two, you only need one, they are worth a lot of money. You do the math.
  • Leverage Assets – Sell the things you own, or take a second mortgage on your home.

If all of those things sound like something you wouldn’t consider doing to start your company (except maybe the kidney thing), you probably shouldn’t start a company.

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2) If You Don’t Care, No One Else Will

This is true for everything, not just business. I am sure there are some cases of people who have companies they don’t really care about and still do well, but they are not the majority, and I wouldn’t Count on it working that way for you.

This is just a restatement of the Golden Rule, it is a balanced equation.

What you put in = What you get receive 

It is pretty easy to see what people care about. The most precious things people own are time and money. Take anyone you know and analyze how they spend their time and money. You will find out very quickly what is important to them. This is actually a fun game, I do it with everyone I meet, it helps me determine their motives in life. It helps me to spend time with the people I admire rather than people who bring me down.

I am going to put myself on the chopping block for your entertainment. How do I spend my time and money? I have made over 300 free videos on Phlearn helping people Learn Photoshop and photography, each video takes more than 2 hours to record and produce. Anyone who meets me will know immediately that I spend all of my time on Phelarn. I sold a nice sports car to raise capital for Phlearn, and I spend very little money on myself. I care about Phlearn, and that is very easy to see.

I am by no means trying to say that I am a saint. A few years ago I spent most of my time figuring out ways to spend every dollar I earned on stupid crap for myself and I knew what was happening on every show on TV. There is nothing wrong with either, and people’s priorities change, but it is always very easy to see what is important to people.

If your customers see that they are important to you, they will stick around. 

3) Get Help

You can’t do everything, and you certainly can’t do everything well. That is not to say that if you spent the rest of your life learning to build Web pages that you wouldn’t be good at it. You would be great, but you would have been spending your time doing the wrong thing.

You are not supposed to do everything, and you are not supposed to be good at everything. Here is a secret to business: Do exactly what you are good at, and get someone else to do the rest.

Getting help is a good thing, but it will also come with added responsibilities that you may not be used to such as delegating. Delegation is a skill that takes working on constantly, and very few people are naturally good at it, but it can be learned. Don’t micro-manage, but don’t leave people completely on their own. Let people take ownership of their own projects. Let them know when they did a great job, and expect a lot out of everyone.

This is something I struggle with constantly. In the past year I have gone from working alone to having 5 people working with me, and it has definitely been an Adjustment.

Getting help does not mean give everyone else the work you are supposed to be doing, you are still going to have to bust ass.

4) Running Your Own Company Means Working Much Harder

There is a myth out there perpetuated by people who don’t run a business that “Someday I am going to have my own company, and  I will be my own boss, then I won’t have to work.” They are right, they won’t have to work, but their company will MONSTER FAIL.

There is another myth out there: “When you are working for yourself, you will never work again because you are doing what you love”. This is only partially true. The full truth is that a lot of what you are doing will be what you love, but there will be a ton of things you are going to hate doing as well. The discipline to do the things you don’t necessarily want to do is a very important part of succeeding.

I would rather be riding a Merry-Go-Round shoving my Face full of cotton candy than writing this article, but we all know where that would leave me: A Bloated Hypocrite.

5) Be Prepared to Be “That Guy”

You are probably going to get a lot less cool to all your friends, you have to be ok with that. You are going to be the guy who has to stay in to get work done. Even a photographer like Terry Richardson who shows up to every party in Hollywood still has to come home and edit and post everything he does to his blog.

6)Have a plan, stick to it

Giving up all of this free time, not keeping your money, and busting ass is all worth it as long as it pays off in the end.   To make sure it pays off in the end, you have to first know what the end is. That is called a goal. Your plan is just a series of steps you take to get to your goal. Your goal doesn’t even have to be this amazing thing that places awe in the minds of all you reveal it to. Your goal can be make $200,000 a year.  I don’t care what your goal is, as long as you have one.

Once you know where you are going, you can figure out how to get there. Everyone is going to go about this in a different way. Personally I like to start at the end and work backwards. Here is an example in practice:

Goal: Put ice cream on my head.

  1. In order to put the ice cream on my head, I am going to need to first get some ice cream.
  2. I will have to drive my car there, but i don’t know where I am going.
  3. To get the ice cream I need to figure out where sells ice cream.
  4. To figure out where sells ice cream I will type into google “where sells ice cream”.
  5. Make sure I have $3.


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    `Wow loved the last Episode and . Now tips how to start a business. Phlearn is Awesome

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    7. If you aren’t making any money, just raise your prices by $5 an episode!

    I kid, I kid 🙂

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    Great inspiration,  thanks for sharing your opinions, advice and motivating those of us who can be motivated to start a business.  The transition from knowing what you want to do to getting your first few paying clients as an unknown in the business is where there is very little information or examples.  The only one I know is the “Famous Amos” model.  Give your stuff away until someone comes back hungry.  Not profitable but it worked at least  once.  Any stories, ideas or insights you would care to share. And by the way the fact that you work very hard and care a great deal is very evident and makes all your stuff uniquely awesome.

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    Ben Leavitt

    “I would rather be riding a Merry-Go-Round shoving my face full of cotton candy than writing this article”
    LOL! You should totally do that portrait as a photo shoot!

    Just curious Aaron, what, in your opinion, are the aspects of business that should NOT be delegated to anyone else, regardless of how good you are at them?

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    Mojo Jojo

    Only 3 episodes this past week? Out spending the extra money from the last pro I guess 🙂

    COME ON – this is supposed to be the daily show for photoshop. Grrrrr.

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    Sebastian Ortiz

    I just want to make enough to get my “Hair Did” every two weeks… Hee! great article Aaron, short and to the point.

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    Aaron Brown

    #3 – Get Help – is such an important one, but also a very hard one as I’ve found. It’s hard as I’m often not willing to let others do things when I feel I can do it myself – often with better results. So finding talented and responsible help is the key, and learning to let go and trust in others is… the lock? I don’t know. I’m not always good with analogies. See, I should have outsourced that! 🙂

    Cheers, A!


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    Cody Ray Miller

    I struggle with #6. Sticking to a business plan can be brutal. Any suggestions on how to work on this? I think I just get bored easily and have a hard time forcing myself to do the same things over and over… and over again.

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    Jon R

    Having owned, operated several businesses, some very successful, some not and going back into the workforce the biggest thing I miss is the excitement and something new everyday. I find myself now bored to death doing the regular day in and out “job” and luckily have put enough aside, and planed back up to go back to school for something new and exciting. Nothing compares to self employment in my book, but the only thing that EVER stand in your way is YOU.
    You are your best friend and sometimes your worst enemy, but all the above is true.

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    Brian Pex

    I just want to do what I love and do it for others – exceeding their expectations. I work on photography and post processing night and day. It has become an illness. I’ve gone out and taken lessons, tutorials, $12,000 in equipment (iMac 5k – love it) ENDLESS reading and now finally starting to get customers and they have all said I am great to work with. It’s a start… and I have never been more thrilled to be alive…

    Photoshop Tutorials: 6 Lessons Learned From Owning a Business

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    I really love this post. I’m also thinking of starting a business even though I’m not a business type of person. Helping others to improve and wishing them the best of luck is a trait of successful people. Good luck, Aaron 🙂