We’ve all heard the famous tales of young entrepreneurs dropping out of school to make their “dent in the universe.”
We love the success stories where the hero – the Bill Gateses, Steve Jobses, and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world – goes all in and emerges victorious on the other side. But that brand of entrepreneurship takes a special kind of idea, a special kind of person and a generous helping of luck.
My story is markedly different, and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing yours might be too. I didn’t have aspirations to build a billion dollar company and deal with all the stress and responsibility that entails. I just wanted to be my own boss and be financially free. However, I had to deal with my own risk-averse self to get there.
It was a four-year journey.
Have you ever heard this quote?
“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
I love it. My story is about investing the time and energy upfront, before taking the leap and striking out on my own.
I built a business that has sold well over $10 million worth of products for my advertising partners. It allowed me to quit my job and begin living my entrepreneurial dream – but it wasn’t an overnight success.
The business started my senior year of college. I set up an advertising campaign to help online footwear retailers sell more of their shoes.
I funded the business account with $500. A high-flying, venture-backed start-up this was not.
I slowly built out the campaign and it was profitable from the first month. I believe the account dipped down to about $350 before the cash flow from operation was self-sustaining.
After almost a year of running this campaign, slowly growing, testing and expanding, it was becoming difficult to scale. Scale would mean building a full-blown website; something I had no idea how to do.
Yet I had proven the concept on the cheap, so I felt confident making the investment in hiring a freelance web developer.
The initial website cost $10,000 to build. It was a risky move at the time, and represented a decent percentage of my net worth. Still, because I had proof the business could work, I felt comfortable with the investment.
It ended up being the best investment I ever made.
At this point I was still working full-time, so even if I failed I wouldn’t be destitute on the streets. It was a side hustle.
For the next 3 years of nights and weekends, I spent my time slowly growing and expanding the business one day at a time. There was no glamorous press coverage or big curve-jumping leaps of progress. It was a slow, incremental slog.
Finally, after years of steady growth and having matched the income from my day job, I got up the nerve to give my notice at work. Cutting ties with the safety net of a guaranteed paycheck was scary, but I only did it after developing a track record of success.
I didn’t jump off the cliff and dive into entrepreneurship; I crept up on it slowly and steadily. [click to tweet]
My entrepreneurial journey has been a marathon, not a sprint.
You don’t need to be a brazen business mogul to set out on your own, but you do need to get started today; even with something very small. Keep the risks low and build it up over time. It may not seem like much progress day to day and for those used to the instant feedback loops of the 21st century, this will make you want to quit.
Don’t. Keep moving. If you do, if you have the perseverance to keep going every day, years from now you’ll look back from on top of your current empire and realize you built it all with baby steps.
And I promise: this makes the reward so much sweeter.
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Nick Loper is an author, entrepreneur, podcaster, and life-long student in the game of business. His latest role is as Chief Side Hustler at Side Hustle Nation, a growing community of part-time entrepreneurs.