One afternoon, a little more than eight years ago, I woke up after yet another late-night binge and faced a jarring realization. I was a drug addict and an alcoholic.
I once had a different addiction—algorithms. In 2004 I was considered a pioneer in search engine optimization and had raised over $4 million for a venture backed digital marketing company. This was my third business, and it was going to be “the big one.” As that business imploded in 2011, and with the acknowledgment that my entire life had become unmanageable, it seemed as if everything I worked hard for was incinerating before my eyes.
So if you had told me that day I would eventually be considered a leading expert on the next evolution of mindset, or running one of the top personal development events in the world for entrepreneurs, or that I’d build an eight-figure business helping thousands of entrepreneurs create extraordinary companies and lives—all in less than three years and alongside the woman I love—I’d have asked what you were smoking.
I guess that’s why I was asked to write this article. I’m an unlikely candidate. And maybe you think you are too.
I want to help you see that creating a successful business isn’t mysterious. You want to create more impact, more income, more joy and a business and life you love? It turns out there’s an algorithm for that, too.
Let’s be real; entrepreneurship can be very tough. Everyone can speak about the dream and exhilaration of business ownership, but few people talk about the dark side. It’s often not long after the inspiration of starting a business hits that the uncertainty, anxiety and overwhelm quickly turn our dreams into the single greatest source of stress in our lives.
Not all entrepreneurs struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Many do. I view myself as one of the lucky ones. My inability to manage the challenges of business ownership and the resulting negative impact on my life was obvious. But for many entrepreneurs, the disease is far more cunning, baffling and powerful.
Procrastination, impostor syndrome, comparing ourselves to others, self-sabotage, feelings of financial insecurity and loneliness represent a common emotional spectrum for some aspiring entrepreneurs.
Uncertainty will do that. As human beings we’re not wired for it. Any time we engage ourselves in an environment with unknowns, our nervous system is designed to move us into fight or flight. As far as it’s concerned, the known equates to safety. The challenge is that everything you want that you don’t yet have—more income, more impact, a thriving business, your soul mate, sitting on Oprah’s leather couch sharing your message with the world—all exists in the unknown.
So how do we reconcile the apparent conflict between our need for certainty and the fact that an extraordinary future exists in the unknown? We create a balance between the two by understanding the fundamental principles that underlie every successful business, and we get clear on what we should be working on, in the right order, to produce the results we need. With that we can establish the certainty we need, while still operating into the beautiful unknown.
Related: An Open Letter to the Future
It is simple when you understand how it all works. The following are six fundamental guiding principles that shape success on the entrepreneurial journey. If you’re struggling in your business either emotionally or financially, you will be able to see which principle needs attention so you can get back on track with creating a business and life you love.
Opportunity vs. Spiritual Vision
When my digital marketing company imploded, I began to put a little distance between myself and my addiction. I became obsessed with the idea of personal evolution and consumed everything I could find on personal development, neuroscience, metaphysics, quantum theory, global spiritual traditions, behavioral psychology and human performance. Back then I never imagined that I’d create a multimillion-dollar business from that passion.
As entrepreneurs, we have a knack for seeing opportunities, but not every opportunity is ours to pursue. If you want to achieve extraordinary success, you have to eliminate the many “ooh shiny” options that are out there, burn the bridges, and go all-in on a single opportunity that you’d be willing to die for—your spiritual vision. All great entrepreneurs exponentially accelerated their success when they aligned with the essence of their spiritual vision.
Your spiritual vision is the change you want to see in the world. It is always directly connected to the experiences of your life, and it leverages your natural gifts and talents. For my wife Carol and I, it is a vision to end all human suffering. For other entrepreneurs that we coach, it’s to create change in healthcare or youth education, or a new form of architecture, or a better way to recycle plastics, or a deep desire to help struggling businesses generate predictable high-quality leads. There should be one thing that you are incredibly passionate about. Be willing to commit your life to the cause.
Opportunities come and go, but your spiritual vision is non-negotiable. The only way that you’re going to be willing to work the long hours, overcome the consistent challenges and get back up when you get knocked down (which will happen) is to immerse yourself in an endeavor that is bigger than just an opportunity. It’s bigger than just making money. It’s bigger than you. I’m not going to wake up one day and say to myself “this whole end-all-human-suffering thing is just too hard, I think I’m just going to go back to digital marketing.” Find something big. Find something you’re passionate about. Find something you care about so much that it scares the crap out of you, and figure out how to wrap a business around it so you can create the change that you know you’re destined to create in the world.
Courtesy of Debbie Lefever
Cash Is King: Generate Now Revenue
Most entrepreneurs suffer from what I call a “finish-line mentality.” Instead of focusing on activities that create cash flow, they’re chasing long-term strategies that have never created short-term revenue. The latest get-rich-quick strategies tout podcasts, writing books, product launches, growing a social media following, funnels, joint ventures and Facebook ads as magic pills that will make you money while you sleep. For the vast majority of entrepreneurs, they don’t and they won’t.
I attended a very popular business coaching event where the celebrity host’s mantra was “don’t trade your time for money” and he sold the idea of multiple streams of recurring revenue. I absolutely agree that, long-term, your goal should be to create a business that produces ongoing, consistent and predictable revenue that isn’t dependent on your time. But do you know how you get there? You start by trading your time for money.
Cash flow is the circulatory system of your business, and if you’re not generating revenue, you’ve got a major problem. For most businesses, generating Now Revenue isn’t that complicated. You just have to be laser focused on it. If you’re a coach or consultant, you should be finding opportunities to teach and train and share your expertise. You’ll start out working one-on-one, and then you’ll scale. If you’re selling a product, you need to get on Amazon and start optimizing for search results. Find your starting line and work from there.
I don’t have a bunch of social media followers, podcast downloads or YouTube views. What I do have are more than 400 coaching clients paying me anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000 per year. You have to put aside the ego-based desire to be a well-known thought leader or the idea of making money while you sleep and instead focus on creating a consistent, predictable flow of clients. If you focus on cash flow instead of accolades, and just stay in the game long enough, you’ll have both.
Become a Category of One
No matter what it is that you do, you can probably throw a rock and hit somebody who’s doing the same thing. So how do you differentiate yourself in a saturated market?
Differentiation is essential. It allows you to stand out from the competition. It enables you to charge a premium rather than compete on price. Your ability to differentiate is what will allow you to build a raving fan tribe that will give you all kinds of additional competitive advantages (and dramatically increase your customer lifetime value). So how do you do it?
Share what you believe.
Most entrepreneurs are excited to explain the technical nuances of how they are better than their competition. But nobody cares. Your prospects are making decisions based on emotion, not logic. And more than that, your prospects want to know that you believe something different than everyone else who’s shouting the same messages.
In our programs, we teach cutting-edge mindset methodologies and highly effective business strategies. But it wasn’t until I started sharing what I believed that the floodgates of new customers opened.
We believe the current personal development industry is based on a failed model. We believe that mindset is about brain change. We believe that no matter what strategies you try, if you don’t have the right mindset, you’ll still fail. We believe you must win the offline game before you can win the online game. And we believe that you should be spending 90 percent of your time in your business doing what you enjoy and what you’re good at. I can’t tell you how many times we have an enrollment conversation with a prospect that says “I heard what David believed on the webinar and I thought ‘finally someone is saying something I agree with.’ ”
So what do you believe? Sharing that is the foundation of creating a unique market positioning or what is also known as a blue ocean strategy (named after the book of the same title). Too many entrepreneurs focus on their products. If you focus your communications around your product, you’re going to get lost in the red ocean of noise and competition. Focus on what you believe, and spend the majority of your marketing efforts communicating that into the marketplace, and you’ll pull your tribe from the masses.
I’m often asked how we got over 800 attendees to just our third event (which is pretty much unheard of). My answer… I shared what I believed. And those who believed the same thing were the ones who showed up.
Predictability Is Power
If you don’t have predictability, you don’t have a business. Most entrepreneurs don’t have a predictable way to generate leads, customers and revenue. This leads to financial insecurity and with it, tremendous stress, anxiety and overwhelm. That’s why your first objective after generating Now Revenue is to establish predictability in your business. That means testing a few strategies, finding one that kind of, sort of works, and then repeating that strategy while making improvements to it and testing even more strategies.
When we first started our business, my wife was certified in marketing automation and gave a talk at the local university. She enrolled two clients into her $2,500 consulting package. The next week she was invited back to speak to a different group of business owners, increased her pricing to $3,500, and sold three packages. The next week she gave a talk at the local chamber of commerce and sold another $5,000 in consulting packages. While Carol and I wouldn’t have been particularly thrilled about doing a statewide university and chamber of commerce tour, the fact of the matter is that we could have, if we had to. We found a strategy that worked, and that peace of mind put all of our financial fears to rest. And that’s when things really started to shift.
We created predictability in our business. For every 12 to 15 business owners she got in front of, we could generate between $4,000 and $6,000. Was it sexy? Absolutely not. But it was predictable, and predictability is power. As soon as the fear of financial insecurity is gone, you can begin to operate within your business with a much higher level of confidence, creativity, vitality and energy, and everything begins to change.
The primary objective in your business must be to create predictability. Forget about your social media following, or your book, or your podcast—at least for now. Find a way to create predictable, consistent cash flow, and eventually you can have it all.
You Don’t Have a Leads Problem—You Have a Business Problem
On a recent panel I was asked what we were doing about rising lead costs. I said, “I don’t have a problem with rising lead costs.” Early stage businesses can (and must) get to the next level by generating Now Revenue and creating predictability. But at some point, if you want to create a scalable business that isn’t dependent on you, you have to be able spend a dollar in the marketplace, and make more than a dollar back.
That’s called advertising, and believe it or not, most businesses aren’t able to actually do this. They think that the reason is the high cost of leads.
But the real problem isn’t lead cost, it’s that their customer lifetime value is too low. Two years ago it cost me around $500 in advertising to sell a $500 digital program. Over the next 12 months we’d generate an additional $1,000 on program upsells. Fast forward to today and as the business has evolved, we’ve designed half a dozen additional programs ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $150,000, which produce over $6,000 on upsells for every $500 digital program. What that means is that, even if lead costs double in the next year (which they won’t) we’re still making great margin on every sale.
Once you have predictability in your business, you’ll want to launch additional products and programs that solve our customer’s next problem, and in doing so you’ll increase your customer lifetime value (CLTV). He who has the greatest customer lifetime wins the game of business. As you increase your CLTV, you’ll be able to outspend your competition for leads, and that’s how you begin to dominate your market.
The Brain Is a Goal-Achieving Machine
I’ll keep this last principle, which is by far the most important, short and sweet. Mindset is 90 percent of success. The thoughts and ideas you have, the way you perceive the world, and the subconscious coincidences that you create in your life are all fundamentally aligned with what you believe.
Think about every belief you have as a hypothesis that your brain is trying to prove. If you believe you’re not good enough you’ll only notice evidence supporting that theory and ignore anything opposed to it. If you lack clarity and believe that you have no ideas, your brain will limit your access to additional clarity and ideas. If you believe that it never works out for you, you’ll make subconscious decisions in your business so that, in fact, it doesn’t.
It’s for this reason that the emerging science of personal evolution, and methodologies that allow you to utilize your mind to rewire and reorganize your brain and thought processes, are perhaps the most valuable and under-emphasized aspects of entrepreneurship. Personal development is undergoing a massive revolution and the most successful entrepreneurs are learning how to access new mental methodologies to produce radical, seemingly super-human results. But the majority of entrepreneurs are addicted to finding the “magic pill” strategy, even though the strategies are only as good as the operating system of thought that underpins them.
A telltale sign that your thought process isn’t aligned with the outcomes you produce is the amount of stress, anxiety and overwhelm you’re experiencing in your business. Those emotions are what we call suffering. You can give someone all the tools and strategies necessary to achieve business success, but if your thoughts (represented by the neural networks of your brain) are not in alignment with producing those results, you will subconsciously make decisions and execute in ways that can only produce failure. This is self -sabotage.
Not good enough? If you say so. Not enough time? All right then. Never going to work out for you? You got it buddy. Nobody cares about what you have to say? Sure thing. Your brain is a goal-achieving machine and until you learn how to remove the pattern of negative bias from your mind, it’s difficult if not impossible to produce success.
Six core principles to help you create structure in the inherently uncertain arena of entrepreneurship. Pursue your spiritual vision, generate Now Revenue, differentiate yourself from your competition, establish predictability, increase your customer lifetime value and align your thinking with the outcomes that you actually want to produce. Do that, and you will succeed, not suffer, on your entrepreneurial journey.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
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