One of the things they don’t tell you in entrepreneur school about being nearly broke is that you have to break your own club crackers in half if you want them the “normal” size.
As a result, the package goes bad twice as fast. And the off-brand zip bags you have to buy to store ‘em in reek of plastic which subsequently taints your food.
They don’t tell you that certain grocery stores sell food that spoils faster. And you don’t know if you’ve selected poorly until two days after you’ve purchased – when all your “special splurge” fruit has mold. And to exchange it would require time that you don’t have or else that client project won’t make it on time.
Or that buying meat in bulk is super cost effective, but that you have to be really careful to make sure you segment and store it safely.
They don’t tell you that when you have $100 in your bank account and you’re starting a business, your food budget is directly competing against spending the $72 it takes to start a MeetUp group to grow a client base.
Or that, after you’ve spent the money on your MeetUp group organizer fees, you can eat filling meals for next to nothing—if you’re willing to eat mostly carhop-style fast food and bananas.
Or that coffee — any coffee, no matter the source — is a godsend when you’ve been too broke to afford it.
Go ahead, pick my brain. I’ll try to tone down my not-so-subtle ecstasy after each sip.
They don’t tell you that selling your boldly fluids (in my case: plasma) is how you can afford real food until your first client check comes in. Or that — and I’m not proud of this — your time is worth more than sorting laundry piles, so your clothes create a colossal colorful mountain in the corner of your room.
They don’t tell you all these little indignities will feel like tiny paper cuts to your spirit.
Each time a new mark appears, you count it and hope it’s not the fatal thousandth. Familiar cracks begin to form in your ego and each new challenge somehow finds a way into those old wounds.
Every entrepreneur has their own struggles. You might never have been broke, but I bet you’ve had your moments of “Holy hell, what am I gonna do next?”
Mine just seemed to always hover near food, being able to afford it, and what it meant as a measure of success.
When I started out on my own in 2009, I landed an amazing training gig.
Colloquially, I called it Facebook for the Golden Girls (because that’s the demographic that showed up, with a few minor exceptions).
Don’t get me wrong — I no way do I mean ‘Golden Girls’ as a derogatory. Sassy, smart, savvy business women around the ages of 60+ were the great majority of the audience, ready and eager to pick up a new skill. The Golden Girls epitomize the spirit of friendship, youthful vigor, and the constant aim to improve yourself. In short: they’re near perfect clients who know how to hold themselves accountable to their own learning.
I enjoyed teaching, but it struck me midway through the first class that Facebook had become a basic literacy skill.
You might roll your eyes at this, but for me, it’s akin to reading, writing, and knowing how to type. Texting has been in this realm for some time.
And there I was charging $90 a head. To teach someone how to, essentially, read.
I felt awful.
Please, hold your lecture that goes something like: “Yeah, but, certain skills have a price…” — that’s nonsense.
Something can have value (my time and expertise) while being unethical to charge for (basic literacy).
Picture my idea of a dystopian society: Sorry, Timmy, you can’t learn how to read because the man with the books wants $5 to lend them to you, and Mommy’s gotta charge you $1 for every word you learn. It’s only “fair.”
The next day, I launched my meetup group thanks to a very generous loan from a friend.
I ate car-hop fast food and bananas for the next two weeks until my paycheck came in from the first (and only) Facebook for Golden Girls class.
I committed to teaching social media basics every other week for $1 per head, and donated the proceeds to the Larimer County Food Bank.
Over the course of the next four years, I taught enough and earned enough trust in the community to create about 4,500 meals for the Foodbank.
I also landed a cool number of teaching gigs, clients, and created a whole network of friends who loved to learn as much as I loved to teach.
We’d start having lunches together and discussing strategy and new ideas. Some of those friends went on to start their own companies and MeetUps. I had a lot of brain-picking coffee meetings.
On the surface, I looked to be doing pretty well.
Behind the scenes, my life was in turmoil with my habit of undercharging for almost everything, every late client payment, every new unexpected expense, and the stress from near-constant hustling.
I’d work on my couch because there was nowhere else to work. I’d work until I fell asleep on the couch, wake up, pour some family-sized Cheerios into my bowl and start my work anew.
Nothing really changed during that first year until I met the woman who would become my wife.
Stacy and I met online. Our first date was to a mall. I was an hour late, thanks to the aforementioned non-stop hustling, but she took it in stride and I showed up with a lot of flowers, which I’m sure kinda helped.
We nervously speed-walked around the whole mall. We went to the shoe store (I had on bright red Chuck Taylors and Stacy thought they were cool). I got down on my knees and helped her tie a pair of Chucks on.
Later we got dinner at Mimi’s Cafe where a rambunctious child was running rampant through the restaurant. We simultaneously made a joke about tripping the kid as she ran past, and that’s when I knew I’d met The One.
I owe a lot to Stacy, who helped me realize that I couldn’t afford to bachelor or hustle myself to death.
I got my act together. Learned how to price responsibly. Landed some ridiculously cool clients like Fort Collins Brewery and Poudre Libraries.
I upped my game so I could support Stacy while she sought out the long and winding path toward her two dream jobs — teaching and being a Stay-At-Home Mom. (I’ve since come to the conclusion that this is the single-most difficult, demanding job in the world. Not only must you be consistent, you must be creative, kind, fair, and entertaining while being mostly sleep deprived.)
It wasn’t just that she was there, it was that I had to become a better version of myself to help her achieve her goals.
Clients are like that, too.
I love to grow along with my clients. As their needs expand, so too do my skills to service them.
If something is way outside my wheelhouse, we pass it along to a trusted friend. But if I can learn how to it, there’s no power in the world to stop me — except for me.
That’s the real lesson in all those hard-earned cracks, cuts, and bruises.
Only you can stop you.
So what’s stopping you from working as hard as you need to? Failing and failing and failing over again until you succeed or learn a better way?
You. That’s it. You’re playing against yourself, mostly. They don’t tell you that, either.
So why not go for the high score?
Mean or thieving competitors can get bent (nice, honest competitors get referrals).
Haters will need a support group after you prove ‘em wrong.
Something in your way? Break it in half like dollar store club crackers and put it over your stew.
About the Author:
Our first Guest Blogger in 2017, Nick Armstrong is a member of the FCSW steering committee as well as a dad, author, Geek-in-Chief of WTF Marketing, and the Co-Organizer of Fort Collins Comic Con. Want to blog your thoughts on livin’ la vida startup? Contact us.