Helter Skelter. Or, How I Did Business For a Long Time

By Sean Ondes

I thought that I would share some of my own back story today. This is for those people who’ve recognized that they were at a fork in life where success and failure were the options – when you decide that either you’ll quit altogether or stop dreaming and start working the problem.

When I took my first shaky steps into self-employment and solo-preneurship (and for an almost embarrassingly long while after that), I had no idea what it meant to run a business.

Don’t get me wrong, I had my successes. I still have clients that have been with me since I first lit out on my own. I definitely don’t want to forget those things that got me here. I’ve always valued the people with whom I work. Whether it’s a colleague or client, it’s always been the person that matters. That and my ability to simply get things done are the only things that kept my lights on. But they weren’t enough to call what I was doing a business.

There was no consistency. Everything depended completely on whether or not a current client needed some more work, I got a referral, or someone happened to stumble across my site. My biggest trouble was that I was focused fundamentally on the wrong things. My outlook was flawed. I was always waiting for something to happen.

I had mediocrity built right into my business.

Luckily, I knew that I was on shaky ground.

But I thought that that’s just how this business goes. So I kept at it and stashed away a little money for when times would inevitably get tight. The word inevitably is key here. To me, I was being savvy. I thought I was prepared. I had no idea how disastrous this type of thinking would be for my business’ growth.

Now of course there’s overhead and margins to think about. There are realities that we can’t ignore and there will always be bills that need to be paid. They keep on coming whether I make any money or not. In fact I still think it’s prudent to set aside at least enough to cover expenses for a few months. But what happens after I get that cushion?

I didn’t realize the dark side to preparedness. By keeping my sights on being prepared I was expecting bad things. This is basically the beginning of paranoia. I was looking for them and shoring up my defenses in preparation. All the while I was actually pointing myself right at them. Even when I saw a rough time ahead, all I could do was brace myself. I had no idea that I could steer.

I had zero plans in place to prevent or reduce the possibility of the lean time. Without realizing it, I had become totally reactionary and focused only on hazard management. I had no optimistic processes in place. Even though I appreciated the concept and even talked about it, I never considered that I should have some!

I ran the concept of this post by my friend @DaveOfTheDots. He brought up the valid point that pursuing an optimistic goal is easier after basic needs are met. In other words, I need to be at least able to keep the heat on before I can take on the task of getting better at something. An optimistic process is the work we do to improve our situation once we have a basic degree of security. That could mean learning new skills, discovering ways to work more efficiently, or putting in the work to meet new people. So what next? I realized the problem but didn’t have a solution.

I was forced to ask myself some fundamental questions:

1. Why am I doing any of this?

Why am I running a business at all? Why don’t I just get a job and cash the checks? What a fundamental question! And I had never asked it.

2. What does success look like?

I don’t know how I got as far along as I did without knowing where I’m going.

3. What am I doing today to get me there?

Seriously. I need to name them. At the end of a day, I need to be able to look at how I spent my time. If getting more clients is my aim, then what did I do to find them? If I’m trying to get bigger jobs, or finish writing a book, or anything else, what did I do to make it happen? What if I stop looking for clients and start working on figuring out how to bring them right to me?

4. What am I doing today that gets in the way of me getting there?

One of the biggest obstacles was my basic mindset. I was thinking “how can I earn more” instead of “how can I provide more value.” What a mistake. No one cares if I want to earn more money every month. No one cares about my expenses or how much I want to travel more. But people do care about what value I can provide. I have to make or do something valuable.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. My plan is to write more posts like this from time to time. Email me at sean@seanondes.com or catch up with me on the contact form.


Photo courtesy of Mike.

Sean Ondes