Guest Post: The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Money BagAs Boris has pointed out in the past, one of the most popular ways to escape the corporate prison is to start your own business. It’s interesting – you will need the same skills you need to pull quality tail to succeed as your own boss: The best example is being a nice guy like Charlie told you to. People don’t give money to dickheads. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s some background.

I was a dedicated worker bee, providing a specialized service. My organization was completely and totally dependent on government money for survival. I am and always have been really, really good at what I do, but I never had to bring money through the door or pay salaries. I just focused on my work and my reputation. So when the wrong person won an election and I got shit canned (don’t ever, EVER think you can please everyone – choose your friends wisely and your enemies only on principle), I was fortunate to have some offers to go work for Some Other Dude.

I didn’t do it. I couldn’t. Despite the horrible, terrible, awful economy I could not wrap my head around having a boss any more. I hated sitting at a desk until 5:00 p.m. even though I had gotten ahead of my share of the workload (which, of course, had been handed to me from On High by someone who was paid more than I was). I knew and respected the folks for whom I could be working, but I could not fathom having to do what someone else said to do solely because they controlled the purse strings or their name was on the door. I figured I could either sink or swim, but no one – fucking no one – was going to tell me how to do it.

Plus I wanted to be able to leave the office at 10:30 a.m. if an opportunity to bang hoes presented itself. Try negotiating that in your next job interview and let me know how it goes.

I shit my pants that day (figuratively, of course). But something strange happens when you realize no one is going to direct-deposit your money any more. A strange calm will envelop you. If no one is paying you, then it’s up to you and you alone to get shit done. No one can stand in your way, but no one is giving you a push either. This is also a really good excuse to go get snookered. So party like a rock star the day you finally make the jump.

Now I’m no more than a few years into a successful self-employment venture. You know how shitty the economy has been, right? That’s right, fuckers, I killed it – even in this market. It helps that I provide services very few people can, but I took some steps even before that fateful election that helped me survive while I worked out the kinks. With proper planning I was able to transition from employee to boss and all the perks that come with that title.

Nowadays, when Charlie calls up and tells me he’s on his way through town I can drop everything and go live the fast life with him – to an extent. Seriously, that asshole has more free time than anyone I’ve ever met and I wish I could do a tenth of the traveling he does. He’s an entertainer, which allows more freedom than running a business, but I’m still head and shoulders above you drones in the free time department.

Here’s how to weather the storm after you collect your last paycheck ever and leave all those vacation request forms for the Fucking New Guy. I will be borrowing heavily from the rap world for this post, but these guys are self-made successes and the good ones have a keen understanding of what it takes to be one’s own man. You can learn a lot from Jay-Z and my mans-and-them. Each section is headed by a tune you should check out if you don’t already know it.

“A young [brother] askin’ questions while other suckas was guessin’” – 2Pac, “Hellrazor”

Learn your motherfucking trade. Read every book, magazine, website and other source you can to become the best at what you do. Seriously, put down the hash pipe and study. Ask every old timer what he would do today if he were just starting out. Talk to every business owner you meet about his successes and failures. The good ones love talking shop, especially with like-minded people. You’re not only building your skills, you’re building your network.

At the same time, build up your knowledge base. Silently begin to analyze your coworkers as your future competition. If you’re a stock broker, do not rely simply on your research department. You should be reading all the masters’ books, you should be researching individual companies and you should begin putting together suggested portfolios for that magical day when you can’t rely on a research department. Break the conventional and convenient chains that your boss puts on you, but don’t do this too visibly until you’re ready to leave.

Don’t be afraid to set off your start date or do something crazy. One of the best things you could do for your future is to take a pay decrease and work for the preeminent person in your field. The best tennis coach, for example, will make sure you have the best swing. A shitty tennis coach is going to let you develop bad habits and your game will suffer forever. Just keep in mind that you will never be the man by working for the man, no matter how many bonuses, raises or paid vacation days he gives you. He is still doing better than you are and he will still control your day. Don’t worry about taking a step down the monetary ladder right now – your sights are set on a much bigger prize: Your freedom.

“Chains is cool to cop, but more important are lawyer fees.” – Jay-Z, “Never Change”

Starting a business takes money. Stop your discretionary spending so your nest egg builds up as fast as possible while you plan your escape. You do NOT need the X-Box Kinect right now, you fat fuck. Save that cash so you can buy a hundred of them later. Your particular skills will determine how much you need – for instance, starting an online T-shirt company (if that is your thing) requires less start-up cash than, say, opening a restaurant. You will be hemorrhaging money for a while – it could be a year or more, but six months is a reasonably aggressive target date for actually making bank. If you cut your booze/weed/whoring/whatever budget now, your advantage is two-fold: You have more money sooner with which to jump ship AND you will be used to living on less money every day. When I took that last institutional job back in the day I knew it was the type of thing that could vaporize at any point after an election, so I started years before with an emergency fund. I’d be one more employee somewhere else if I hadn’t planned ahead. You’ve got the luxury of picking your last day, unless you fuck it up somehow. Use this time to get a bankroll.

“I’m Not a Businessman, I’m a BUSINESS, man.” – Jay-Z, in Kanye West’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)”

Jay-Z gets this better than most. He IS the brand. Everything he says, does and exposes either helps his sales or hurts them. You will be your own brand. Let’s take a quick look at another independent contractor, Michael Vick: His personal choices cost him not only his freedom, but almost (if not every) lucrative endorsement deal he had. He failed to realize that character is important for everyone who wants to take cash from the general public. As a result he is significantly less wealthy than he used to be and he has lost almost all ability to live his life as he sees fit. Granted, he probably should have made some changes anyway, but you’re no different. Remember what I said: People don’t give money to dickheads.

Every choice you make, even those that seem to have no connection whatsoever to your business, affects your bottom line. The guy you cut off in traffic might be your biggest potential client. That may sound extreme, but look at it this way: If you spend your downtime focusing on being the nicest guy you can, your customer service skills will blossom on their own.

Spend time in places that can build your client base. This is industry-specific. If you want to start a business as a personal trainer you should be in places where people go who are concerned, but uneducated about their health. Not the gym, meatball – all those folks either already have a personal trainer or they’ll work with one of the eight billion trainers the gym already employs. Think instead about taking some healthy cooking classes, or maybe join a pick-up soccer team. Think about the other things your potential clients will be doing. It takes thinking about your day in a new way, but you’ll get used to it and come to enjoy it. Meet people and treat them well everywhere you go.

The most important way to build your business is to do what you say you will do. Former clients are the best advertisement. If you said you would call back today make sure you call back today, even if you haven’t resolved whatever it is you’re supposed to address: “Jim, it’s Jacques. We’re still road blocked by [horribly mundane issue] but I wanted to make sure you know what’s up. I will call you again tomorrow and I’m pretty sure all this will be a bad memory by then. In the meantime, this is my cell phone number. Save it – and call me any time if you want to.” I can’t tell you how many times I have said those words.

This takes me to my next point:

“I be on the block all night long: Call me and I’ll give it to you. Hit me on the hip – shit, I’ll even deliver to you.” – Tru-Life, “All Night Long”

Y’Know, this is one of Tru’s worst songs. But the lyrics fit. If you want to hear his best joints, start with “Like a Cycle” or “the New New York.” But I digress.

Your trade-off for leaving that cushy 40-hour-a-week jail cell is that the world is now your office. You have no idea how many dollars I have made standing outside a bar or restaurant on my cell phone. My clients pay not only for my brain, but for access. I am available when all those dudes who hate their jobs are sending folks to voice mail or trying to make the most out of the remainder of their day because they wasted three hours at their desk trying not to get fired. Maybe 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. is uneventful. If so I go do something productive, fun or both instead of warming an office chair simply because I’m supposed to be there. If the money comes in at 7:30 p.m. am I supposed to trust that no one else will take it before 8:00 a.m. because I’ve had a long day? That’s loser talk.

You absolutely need a phone that will forward your emails instantaneously. If you’re web-based, for instance, you never meet your clients and the only way they can judge you is by how fast you address their concerns. Fill the order immediately and get paid. Answer the question immediately and get paid. Wait until you’re done with that game of Halo and you won’t stand out from the crowd of lazy corporate competitors. Whether you’re a traditional business or a web-based shop, the rule is the same: Get your hustle up and be willing to talk business anytime, anywhere. No one else is going to put food on your table or condoms on your dick any more. Your job will interrupt your life and the goal is to embrace this.

Make a few exceptions and stick to them. I will not answer if I am nuts-deep. That one should be obvious, but you’ll need to set just a few boundaries so you don’t become a workaholic. I don’t answer after I’ve had even a SIP of the fire water, no matter how sober I think I am. If it’s a once-in-a-while occurrence, your clients and potential clients will understand. It’s a calculated risk, but I don’t want to be available twenty-four hours a day any more than I wanted to be available for eight specific hours each day. I like spending my hard earned cash at the bar from time to time and if that’s the night I can’t answer right away my clients are going to have to understand. I WILL interrupt almost anything else because, like Tru-Life, I want to make the sale every time.

And don’t think this advice is counter to the Single Dude lifestyle – if you’ll be gone for ten days, it’s cool: Tell EVERYONE who needs to know (clients, colleagues, whomever) that you will be out of the country for that time. After all, one more perk of all this travel you’ll be doing is telling the world about it and sounding like a non-violent James Bond. Here’s how to keep your business from collapsing while you’re out spreading new legs:

“I’m your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper” – Young Jeezy, “Standing Ovation”

For whatever you do, you need to be in the Cool Kids Club. You will need a network of trusted colleagues. The reasons for this are many. You need your closest and most trusted colleague to mind the farm while you are off on one of your boondoggles. Let’s face it: Life would be no fun if there weren’t the occasional time when someone else has to handle your shit for you. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business like I am you need someone to be there to handle the emergencies when you’re otherwise indisposed. If you’re web-based you still need someone to turn to when you simply can’t handle your business like you need to. This will happen when you catch the flu, the drips or cabin fever. Without friends who can step in, you’re toast.

Furthermore, folks like to hire the best of the best. I am more expensive to hire than most of my competitors, because I can explain to the clients what I give that Some Other Dude can’t. I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t know my competition. Meet everyone you can who also does what you do and cultivate a good reputation. What matters here is that each one of those guys will need someone to watch the store – if you’re the one asked to do it you’ll be the one who gets client referrals when the other guy absolutely has to give up a lead. You’ll also be that much less a target for shit-talking.

I am a member of every trade organization that applies to my niche and I am active. I attend meetings and talk to everyone I can. I have attained a few positions of leadership that I can tout if need be. What is more important is that I have an ear to the concerns of all of my competitors. If you’re paying attention it’s like getting a look at each poker player’s hand.

Of utmost importance: I have three competent guys, any of whom will faithfully run my business for me whenever I ask (which, admittedly, is not as often as Charlie would have to). I do the same for them, because that’s how all this works.

“I don’t just rhyme – I own liquor stores and such.” – Cam’Ron, “Sports, Drugs, Entertainment”

Diversify. I know a lawyer who is pretty well known for handling real estate closings. He was picking up dry cleaning one day when another customer was complaining, as Americans are fond of doing. That chance encounter turned into a lucrative side business representing the dry cleaner in all customer disputes. I know a bartender who kept pouring for a kind soul who would come in regularly and down a few beers. The two of them talked and wouldn’t you know it, that lonely drinker had come into a great source for football jerseys. He had no good ideas for unloading them. One quick call to the bar’s owner and that bartender got transferred to a sports bar, which is full of potential customers. The bartender and his favorite drinker are now partners. Now my town has even more of the awful American version of the DAFF, the OPFAD (Obnoxiously Pro Football Attired Dipshit), and my bartender friend has a new car.

You never know when your main business might dry up. Look at all those real estate agents who thought prices would never go down – a bunch are starving and even more are back working as bank tellers or whatever the hell they were doing before starting their business. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t be afraid to diversify.

“Don’t let a win get to your head or a loss to heart.” – Public Enemy, “He Got Game”

You’re going to fuck shit up. Learn from it, fix the mess as best you can and then move on. Likewise, never rest on your laurels. Stay hungry, not fat and cocky. There is really nothing else to say on this point.

“Here comes Rover, sniffing at your ass. But pardon me, bitch, as I shit on your grass.” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard, in the Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal hip-hop masterpiece, “Dog Shit”

I included this line so all you motherfuckers would go download this track. Listen to it often and remember that this crack-addled lunatic achieved fame and fortune beyond your wildest dreams. He lived his life on his terms, which is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Now go out and shit on someone’s grass.

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