Three months ago, I made the jump to entrepreneurship. Since that time, I’ve been asked a few questions about what that process has been like, so I thought I would write a little update post to give a little context to the experience, with some specificity to SEO and the agency environment in general.
There are several posts that have been written about doing your own thing, and all of them are of course accurate, as it pertains to the given person’s experience. However, I believe that we are all a bit conditioned to create illusions about what entrepreneurship really is or isn’t – what the process can be or won’t be, and what will happen we make the jump ourselves.
The reality is that the context of the jump has extreme variance from person to person – for the college dropout hoping to trudge forth on the paycheck from their retail-store job while creating a beta software app, the concept of “entrepreneurship” is a billion times more scary than the guy coming off an exit at IPO-ville with immediate VC backing at their next endeavor. “Entrepreneurship” is an idea, with absolute definition, but the concept as imagined has true polarity – simply quitting a steady paycheck does not endeavor you towards a gold star of achievement. It is somewhat respectable, yes, but by no means should we think of every jump in a similar context.
I say this because I’m not sure what I experience or have experienced or will experience is comparable to that college dropout, or the three guys in their basement eating ramen hoping to ship beta before rent comes due. I started my own thing, yes, but there was never a fear of starting back at zero or having my life feel like a failure because of coming up short. There are varying levels of risk, and comparable feelings we might share, but the ideas are different. Their jump requires great risk. I am not certain any SEO agency jump does, especially if it is done appropriately, because of the services context.
When I made the jump, made my announcement, I was lucky enough to get lots of kind e-mails, words of respect, and most importantly, client inquiries from my efforts. It was, of course, deliberate – make an announcement, and pray that people would come to me and need work to be done.
Sure enough, there was.
Entrepreneurship as a State of Mind
Intrapreneurship is a concept that is gaining traction and in general, the internet allows us a sense of self-developed entrepenership that comes from allowance to get a variety of side work and develop side projects without much risk. Because of this, we are allowed little entrepreneurial “actions” through our tenure of working for the man – creating our own ideas, shipping them, and seeing them fail or succeed. Most importantly, the internet has allowed us to create a business in and of itself, one that gains continual equity and has recurring returns – the concept of “personal brand”.
And never is it more powerful than in a entrepreneurial services context, where the perceived equity in our abilities allows us to create client inquiries that pay the bills. Every e-mail sent asking “do you have client bandwidth?” is a respectable admonishment of your perceived ability to deliver ROI – this is a great thing and it comes from the ability to scale our physical identities through blogging, Twitter and etc that helps prove worth.
Because of this concept, I believe not that I started my jump to “entrepreneurship” three months ago, no – I started by jump to entrepeneurship more than two years ago when I started this blog. I continued building my “company” when I kept writing when I got home from work and when I delivered good returns for the side clients whose websites I helped build. I created “equity” every time I decided to tweet something that might be worthwhile online.
Every tweet I sent and effort I spent that created equity in this digital, “identity” corporation created an eventual state where not quitting my job was simply stupid – I had made and worked tirelessly to create a potential engine of referrals and inquiries in that “identity”, and to not use it specifically to that aim was basically wasting the equity I had build up to that time. I have fortunately gotten offers to work at a startup and in several different contexts similar to my previous position – and these are things I would potentially enjoy, yes, but to waste the potential equity that “personal brand”, dirty as it may sound, creates for me (or anyone else) to leverage into client work that pays well and speaking gigs that open up other opportunities – would be a true “lighting on fire” of that which I had done to build that before quitting.
It is very possible and likely to port new connections, respect and etc to other areas – but it is not a 1:1 value transfer – the worth recedes. It has to – you spent two years building equity online with one specific community, then you switch, you will inevitably create a packet loss in that transfer.
The “Jump” – Or Step Forward
When I initially quit, I was scared, but I wasn’t paralyzed. I felt confident in the aforementioned equity I had built, and because of that, I equate what I did to not be a ledge jump at all, but rather, a step forward. It simply had to be done, and it wasn’t “fear” in the truest sense of the word. I had already built a potential business online, and it had essentially been proven out. For some reason, people decided I was worth following, and worth reading. I had the metrics to prove it. I had run rate and the bank account to survive the winter. There was almost no risk. Of course, fear existed, but the reality is that what we imagine and what actually occurs is far, far different. As it turned out, I worked on this business from 6PM-2AM for the last two years – I just happened to decide to incorporate three months ago.
And yes, the reality matched what I described above – the aforementioned “it’s going to work out, I determined that through two years of work” – and quickly. In the first month, I felt a quenching of fear in my stomach from the inevitable dip in my bank account, but this was, and is, a guarantee for almost anyone - I had to sign up clients, and the sales cycle is by no means immediate. Nonetheless, it is a bad feeling, and you will almost certainly hate it dearly after seeing the opposite for many years in your posh corporate gig. But once that lull subsided and I started getting my first client checks, things started feeling better. I sunk into a groove. This new scary “entrepreneurship” thing felt the same as what I had been doing the last two years. Oh, shit – it was.
Lessons, Differences, Change
This is not to say that I’m recommending that you make the jump to doing SEO consulting full time. In fact, I probably recommend that you don’t. But what I do recommend to you – if you do enjoy and hope to build a company or do your own thing some day, is a push forward to build equity in something without an obvious endgame. In the infancy of this blog, I wrote about my regrets about competing in athletics, because that avenue had a ceiling for me – I would never play in the NFL. Similarly, I suggest you do not continue working on avenues with low ceilings – find your highest one, and work to move towards it.
So many are simply not doing that – and I believe that much of what “entrepreneurship” is, sometimes, simply demanding we continue to build something without an apparent ceiling. If we continue to do that, we will always be engaging in the potential for something entrepreneurial, whether or not we have someone is sending us a steady paycheck or not.
Nobody who has built brand equity for four years in a potential service industry deserves respect for quitting their job to start their own consulting business. It’s pitifully easy if you’ve done that work. Of course, doing that work is incredibly hard, but the difference is the occurrence of risk – in traditional startups, it occurs at the jump point – for service based folks, the “risk” is simply having the belief that the work you’ll put in to create the equity while employed will pay off.
It’s very possible to jump headlong early and just hope your business development will reward itself without the equity pre-built, but if you wait around, you’re basically just an idiot for not jumping, because you’re wasting maximizing the asset you’ve created in your off time. People like me don’t deserve any respect for “taking the entrepreneurship risk”, definitely – I waited too long if anything.
Turns out, “jumping” in this context is damn easy – writing on Microsoft Word at 2AM when your friends are out partying in your early 20s is the hard part.