I haven’t had a boss for 5 years. Here are 5 things I’ve learned.

SXSW 2014

So for the last 5 years (2012-2017), I’ve been my own boss. In 2012 I just moved to Austin, Texas and was working at a marketing agency. This was my first official career “job” after college. I was loving life in Austin. On a Friday I was let go from my job. I don’t have any hard feelings towards the agency, they were restructuring and I was the 3rd to get let go. Honestly, I owe them for helping me to get settled in Austin and then putting me in a situation where I had to become my own boss. Over the last 5 years I started an e-commerce website and sold products in all 50 states, a marketing agency with clients all over the world, was co-founder and CEO of a digital media startup, and now I’m a co-founder of a chatbot development platform.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve had the honor of working with some great clients, freelancers, and team members. I’ve failed a lot, learned a lot, and also had some big wins. I’m not a millionaire (yet) but I’ve also never gone hungry or been homeless. So far it’s been a great entrepreneurial journey and I’m excited to keep going. Here are 5 things I’ve learned by being my own boss for 5 years.

1. Don’t be scared. Be confident

When you’re young or just starting out in a new career it’s a very scary time. People might think you really don’t have a lot of experience which might be true. But if you put in the time to learn your craft don’t be scared to speak up and share your ideas.

When it comes to starting a new business, getting sales or just taking on a new project don’t be scared to do it. There have been many times I was scared to ask for a meeting or someone’s business. But over the years I learned that if you honestly have something of value to offer to someone and you reach out in a genuine way to people they’ll be willing to talk to you. The problem is that you need to be self-aware and realize when you’re just full of ? or actually have a legitimate business reason to reach out to someone. I’ve learned that if you’re focused on the people who you can help the most and do a little research you can talk to executives at some of the biggest companies. Don’t be scared to make moves and get things done.

2. Be humble. Learn all you can.

Being humble is also part of being confident. Over the years I’ve met people who have done great things and were super smart, but honestly, they were assholes and won’t go any further because they think their ? don’t stink. Learning how to be humble will make you more personal and approachable by other people. This will play into your success because the more people you help the more you ultimately help yourself. Don’t be too busy or successful to share your knowledge.

Part of being humble is understanding that you don’t have all the answers. You could be the Mark Zuckerberg of your industry but you still don’t know everything. Spend more time listening and asking questions than giving orders. Read business books and learn new skills. Audible is a good way to listen to books. If you need to learn something there is almost no reason for you to not be able to. The internet has almost all the answers, just do a search on YouTube or Google.

When it comes to talking about your startup don’t ever argue with VCs or people trying to help you. Too many founders get locked into an idea and feel so passionate about it that they will argue with anyone who challenges their business assumptions. I’ve learned that you can consider their feedback and check yourself to see if they are right. Listen to people’s feedback and consider it.

3. Stand by your word. Do your best work.

In life, your most valuable asset is your word. If you tell someone you’re going to do something then do it. Don’t mislead people or lie just to help yourself. I’ve met people who made a lot of money but in the process lied and cheated out many people. Now those people will never do business with them again. Don’t go through life burning bridges because one day you’ll be stranded on your own island.

When it comes to doing work for your company, clients or customers do your very best. BUT get shit done, don’t let being a perfectionist limit your output. Do your very best to make sure you’re doing the right work in the right way. Don’t be lazy and work your hardest to do the job right the first time.

If you work in front of the computer all day and feel like complaining about how hard you work, think about people who actually work an 8hr day in the sun doing manual labor. Be grateful you don’t have to work like that.

4. Take care of your employees, clients, and customers.

When it comes to business, most people don’t have to work for you or give you their business. So you need to put them first. Your employees, clients, and customers are key to your business.

Always be grateful to the people who help you get work done. Pay your employees and contractors before you pay yourself. If you don’t treat them well for the work they do chances are that they’ll never work with you again. Sometimes you’ll have to be broke for a few days but if your people are paid then you’ll live to see another day. If you screw your people over then chances are you’re screwing yourself in the future as well.

When you sell something to customers or clients you need to make them your top priority. They are the people that make your business and remember that they can take their business somewhere else. Make sure you’re fully taking care of these people and meeting their needs (some customers are too needy so learn where to draw the line). I’ve seen businesses that were doing great but once customers felt mistreated or their needs weren’t being met they’ll go somewhere else. Be grateful to the people who give you their business. You need them more than they need you.

5. Find work that you love. Focus. Hustle.

We work a very large percentage of our life. So I believe it’s very important to do work that you love. It might take you some time to find the right career but be patient and it will happen. I can honestly say I don’t hate getting up in the morning to start working but before this, I’ve had many days where I didn’t want to work. You have to do work you hate before you can do work you love. But honestly, once you start to love your work you’ll never work a day in your life (you’ve all heard that cheesy quote before, but it’s true).

In the last 2-3 years being focused is a daily thing I’ve thought about. Don’t just do busy work all day and think you’re moving forward. Do the work that moves you closer to your goals. I know it’s hard to sometimes figure out what is the most important work but try your best. Think about your next goal and do the things to get you there. All the other stuff is a waste. I like to think about it like this, when you drive a long distance on the highway at night you know your destination but you can’t see how to get there. The lights on the front of your car only show you what you need to do right now to get to your destination. So you stay focused on what you need to do right now to move up the road. Use that same logic in business and accomplishing your goals. Know where you’re going but focus on the steps right in front of you.

The word “hustle” has different meanings to people. For me, I’ve always heard this from Gary Vaynerchuck. It can describe how you work or the type of work you do. Now that I’ve written this post and I’m thinking about the word “hustle” for me it encompasses all the things I just talked about. It means being your best in business (and life) and loving the journey. So find your hustle and love it.

Overall I’m so happy that I’m on this entrepreneurial journey. Some days are rough but some days are so unbelievably good. I hope that I’ve been able to share some of the things I’ve learned and I hope to learn more as the years go on. If you have questions or feedback please comment below or email me at joseph at recime.io.