If you’re excited about a business goal but have no idea where to start, I know what you’re going through. Believe me—I’ve been there.
Starting a business is scary. There are so many things to consider, and if you don’t carefully plan each step, you could potentially waste time, energy, and money. So, how can you avoid this? How can you learn to feel confident about the steps you are taking?
Believing in yourself is the first step. Three years ago, all I had was a laptop and a great concept. I had no idea where to start, but I was determined to start an online business and grow my blog.
I knew there were many things to consider, but investing in myself scared me. The idea of spending $200 on courses or paying for a website without knowing if I’d ever recover the expense terrified me, especially when I wasn’t working for a full-time company. But now I know that investing in yourself is one of the secrets to success.
When you leave your full-time job and don’t have a steady income, every dollar spent can be nerve-wracking. With an unknown income, spending can make you feel weak and unconfident—or at least that’s how it made me feel.
I want to make things easier for you, so you never have to feel the way I felt.
The difference between expenses and investments
First, let’s go back to business basics. To reach your true creative and entrepreneurial potential, you need to grasp some simple concepts.
An expense is any concept—fixed or variable—that allows your business to operate. Rent, your computer, internet service, and employees are all examples of expenses.
An investment is any concept—fixed or variable—that allows your business to grow. Wholesale raw materials, courses, coaching calls, books, and certifications are all examples of investments.
Investments come in many forms, either tangible or intangible. The important thing is to look at them as concepts that will allow your business to flourish and grow, like investing in raw materials to increase production, learning from experienced mentors, or taking an online course.
Understanding the difference between expenses and investments will change the path of your entrepreneurial journey. Some people get lost in the cycle of looking at investments as money pits; they forget to look at the upside that investments can bring.
One day, I got an email from someone who wanted to interview me on a podcast. I’d thought it wasn’t worth my time because I wouldn’t be getting paid. However, in the end, I decided to invest my time by participating in that interview. The same goes for writing this blog post.
Never underestimate the connections that can evolve from investing your time, money, and energy in situations and experiences. Even if it makes you uncomfortable in the beginning.
The right mindset is the key to success
Mindset is everything. The results you see in your professional and personal life are outcomes of how you’ve pushed yourself in the past.
Think back to your first entry-level job. A supervisor probably trained you to understand your role. If you were lucky, you had a great boss who explained how successful companies run, who took you step-by-step through the process. Of course, not everyone is that lucky.
When I started my first full-time job in corporate Mexico, I had no idea what I’d been hired to do. Sure, I’d studied marketing and understood the theories I’d learned in school, but I didn’t know how to run advanced Excel reports or how to handle the corporate purchasing process.
Eventually I found myself in an ocean of confusion. I had so many questions, but I never let my questions go unanswered.
When in doubt, educate yourself
There are a million things you won’t know how to do when you start a new job or your own business. The best advice I can give you is that education is the best way to avoid feeling lost.
Ever since I first learned how to use a computer, Google has been my best friend. Every time I was asked to run an overwhelmingly repetitive Excel report, I thought to myself, There must be a better way to do this. Three seconds later, I’d be going through an advanced Excel tutorial to better formulate my report.
These little discoveries—from navigating new tools to developing solutions for the companies I’ve worked with—led to promotions throughout my career. As a result, I’ve learned the importance of developing problem-solving skills.
There is no all-in-one step-by-step handbook to make yourself or your business successful. (If you were reading this hoping for a quick hack, sorry to disappoint.)
If you adopt a problem-solving mindset, you’ll have the most dependable and consistent tool: yourself!
You might learn something without knowing how to apply it to your life
Did I know I would always be happy about studying marketing? Not really.
In your early twenties, were you sure how your life would turn out? Did you spend your time dreaming about future versions of yourself?
Our hopes, dreams, and goals change throughout the different stages of our lives. When I was in college studying marketing, I never thought I’d be as passionate about writing as I am now. Do I regret not studying creative writing or journalism? No, I don’t. I know there is still time for that. I’d love to nourish my writing skills as I grow older.
When I was younger, I thought studying marketing would open the most doors for me in the corporate world. I had a clear picture of myself scaling up the corporate ladder, becoming a successful woman at a well-known company.
I landed what I’d thought was my dream job at a beverage company, but I was utterly bored in the role. The thought of spending the rest of my life doing repetitive tasks made me so anxious to get out of there. I still had to pay for my car and college education, so I decided to start an online master’s degree in digital marketing. I wanted to explore areas that could potentially lead me in a different professional direction.
Studying digital marketing was something that had always been on my mind, but I didn’t really know if I’d like it or not. I found evolving technology exciting and inspiring, and I wanted to explore that world. After researching the different possibilities, I found the only option I could afford: an online program in Spain. I took a leap of faith and enrolled.
Pursue the things that make you curious
Your subconscious can work in mysterious ways, and you should always listen to it. You never know where those little triggers of curiosity will take you.
Investing in my education felt like the right thing to do while I figured out what to do with my life and then-job. I had never really worked for a large digital marketing company, except for a six-month period at a startup—but those six months were eye-opening.
I was curious about the digital marketing world, but I had no idea how to apply what I was learning to my job at the beverage company—or my life.
If something piques your curiosity—like how cars work, how music is written, or how plastic is made—listen to those inner sparks.
How developing reading skills impacts creativity
If you’re reading this blog post, you probably have a great business idea that could change the world. Don’t let the corporate world drain your creativity and life.
This may seem obvious to you, but the more you read, the more you’ll trigger your creativity.
When I was stuck in the nine-to-five routine, all I could think about was the number of reports and analyses I had to do to keep up with my workload. I even worked on the weekends. Now I look back at all the time I gave away for free, for a company that could have replaced me at any time without a thought.
When you work for a big company, they’ll probably tell you that you are essential. But any number of things can happen to change that—like a global economic crisis or a pandemic. You always have the risk of being laid off. Not because you’re not good enough, but because of the many things beyond your control.
I firmly believe that even if you work full time at a reliable company, you should always put your priorities first and the company’s second. Don’t work over the weekend unless it’s on personal projects.
One day you’ll wake up at 3:00 a.m. with an idea you can’t stop thinking about
This has happened to me several times. The more I invested in myself and spent time learning new skills, reading e-books, and listening to podcasts, the more inspired I felt. I started applying my new knowledge to tangible things.
Turn your curiosity into an investment. Invest in the idea you can’t stop thinking about. Who knows what you will accomplish next?
The power of connections
Steve Jobs said it best when he talked about connecting the dots to students from Stanford University. Never underestimate the power of connections and networking.
Your great idea can become a concept, and that concept can evolve into action—if you speak to someone about it. Start with your partner, family, or a trustworthy friend.
If you continue to talk about your idea, you’ll lose the fear of failure. The friend you confided in could have a connection that you didn’t know about. They might know someone or something that can help you in your process.
Connecting the dots to your life experiences is also important. Remember when I said I had no idea how to apply digital marketing to my job? Back then, I didn’t see how studying SEO would help in my job at the beverage company. Fast forward to today, and I know that having studied SEO has helped me get where I am now.
Everything you’ve picked up along the way is a connection to the person you are now. If I had not taken that “x” class or met that “x” person, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today.
In college, I participated in a social program that built houses for marginalized communities in Mexico. I spent time with people who had a very different reality than mine. This was one of the main things that changed my personality as a teenager. I began to notice the important things in life, things that some people may take for granted.
That’s why Steve Job’s speech was important to me. We are all part of a universe of connections and perfect timings.
Don’t let fear bring you down
The fear of failure can haunt us. It can deter us from taking leaps that would have changed our lives.
For every one of your fears, you need an action plan. If your biggest fear is losing money, ask yourself what you can do to ensure steady sales. Do you need a marketing plan, an advertising budget? A team of talented people to help you scale your business?
Write down the hard questions, and then brainstorm how to address each one. Think of tactics or people that can help you turn your fears into actionable plans—and backup plans should anything go wrong.
You’ll feel more confident about the path you are on. You’ll discover new things that need to be done and develop a solid growth plan.
Organize your knowledge and put it into action
The next step is to organize all the puzzle pieces.
For me, the master’s degree I had paid for, the expensive online courses I’d taken, e-books I’d read, and the podcasts I’d listened to all taught me a variety things—but they were all over the place.
The main point of this post is to encourage you to invest in yourself, but you still need a plan. To avoid wasting money, make a clear pros-and-cons list of the investments you want to make.
For example, there are many online “gurus” promising to teach you what to do with your life. Be careful and objective when choosing which to invest in.
Make a learning bucket list
When I was getting started, I felt I had to learn a million things at once. Later I realized that doing too many things at once can lead to losing clarity and focus. It’s better to deeply concentrate on one thing at a time to build a solid foundation for your business.
I recommend making a learning bucket list. Brainstorm all the topics that you think are important for your business and group them into categories:
- Things you can do on your own
- Things you need help from others
Dividing my learning bucket list into these two groups has helped me understand that I can’t do everything alone. When you start a business, all the weight is on your shoulders; if you try to do everything, you could burn out. You can’t be an effective SEO expert, advertising aficionado, content creator, social media manager, and e-commerce manager all at once.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and then consciously focus on what is crucial for you to understand. You’ll soon figure out what you can delegate.
In my case, I knew I wanted to improve my writing skills. I invested in copywriting courses and strategic digital marketing courses. Oppositely, I was fully aware of the complexities of online advertising and knew it was something I could delegate in the future.
You have to learn to determine between the battles you’re willing to fight to grow your business, and those you are willing to share with someone else—with your supervision, of course.
Ask for advice
Personal growth comes with empathy and humility. Once you understand your strengths and weaknesses, look for a mentor or coach to help fill in the gaps.
Take notes on everything you learn and organize your business pillars
Once you start learning, it’s crucial to categorize new information into relevant business categories, like pricing strategy, social media tips, website design, copywriting tips—the list could go on and on.
Stay as organized as possible to take full advantage of the information you are processing. Otherwise, it could get lost in the shuffle of all the new concepts.
Once everything is organized, you can define your business pillars and draft a solid business plan.
Investing in yourself is investing in your future
Education will take you far. Instead of killing time scrolling through your social media feeds, take in podcasts and books.
Make this a priority for building a brighter future. Time passes quickly; before we realize it, we’re another year older. The timing is never perfect, but that shouldn’t stop you from making these small adjustments to your habits.
The more you make these tweaks in your everyday routine, the easier it will be to develop continuous personal growth. Don’t be afraid to try new things or pitch crazy ideas to a stranger. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll realize how fun it is to see yourself evolve from who you are to who you want to be.
I hope these glimpses of my personal story can help you acknowledge that life is hard and complicated, and that there is no step-by-step handbook to success. The best tool you’ll ever have is your mind.
Your future is the outcome of your current efforts. What are you doing today to shape your tomorrow?