At 12 years old, I started a paper route. It wasn't in folding and throwing papers that I found my "riches." It was selling subscriptions. The Press-Enterprise, out of Riverside, California, would have someone come and pick up a bunch of 12-14 year olds and we'd go to all the new neighborhoods to sell subscriptions.
I was good.
I was really good.
One of the contests, I made out like a bandit. Along with a bunch of money (particularly for a 12 year-old kid) I won not 3… not 4… but 2 whole bikes. I won a mountain bike and a 10-speed racing bike.
Yeah. I was hot stuff (in my own mind).
I loved the idea that I could work hard to make more money. If I applied myself, I could be better.
Oh, that picture is not me. I didn't look that cool.
From Self-Employed to Working for the Man
By the age of 15, I was working at a fast food restaurant (El Pollo Loco).
At 16, I worked for Target.
Working for Target gave me new opportunities for advancement. I learned, very early in my two years there, that if I cross-trained in other departments, not only could I get a $.25 bump in my hourly rate, I could pick up pretty much any shift I wanted. At 16 and 17 years old, I pretty much worked as many hours as I wanted.
Enter My Side Hustles
Throughout the years, I always had a side hustle. Sometimes, the side hustle was my main hustle. I would sell printing services to companies and have a local printer fulfill. I would sell design services and hire my Dad to do the work until I learned how to do it. I dabbled in marketing and consulting.
I knew that even if I didn't know how to do something, I could figure it out. That paid off more often than it bit me.
Time To Get Serious
In 2007, I was let go from a very good job as a VP of a local company. I know that the number one reason I was let go was that I had ambitions that were beyond what were possible at that company. Because of that, I was a total P.I.A. I was always pushing for my next opportunity and they wanted me to focus on the present. If you can't wrangle an employee, you have to let that employee go. I was not hard to wrangle–I was impossible to wrangle.
Fortunately, by the time I left, I had an undergraduate degree in IT management and was a Master of Business Administration.
My First Real Self-Employment Foray
At the end of 2007, I started Tribute Media. I started a digital marketing agency out of nothing.
Yet again, in my life, I was self-employed. I was working for myself.
It was a good gig. I was able to work all the long hours I dreamed of working, none of the free-time I knew I deserved, and eked out a decent living.
I had never been a part of an agency before so I didn't have a clue what that meant. I just kept going back to my attitude that if I didn't know how to do it, I'd just figure it out.
Over the years, I brought on partners and sometime in about 2014, I realized that I needed to change my outlook. I realized that to take my business to the next level, I had to stop thinking of myself as being self-employed. I had to stop only working for myself. I had to stop thinking about the company being my company but instead, I had to start thinking about the company as being the company I work for. My company had to be my primary focus instead of making its focus about me.
From Self-Employed to Business Owner
As a business owner, it's really, really hard to take off the owner's hat and put on the President's hat (or whatever role you might take in the company). You have a vision of what you want your life to be like so you end up making business decisions based on how you want your personal life to look. You pull money out of the company because you can. You use the company as a muse... as a way to accomplish your personal hobbies.
One such example for me was that I always wanted to write a book. I used Tribute Media funds and Tribute Media resources to write a book. I wrote, “Do It Right: A CEO’s Guide to Web Strategy.” I like the book. I think it's a good book. But, at best, it was a break even proposition. I have a lot of copies left that have never sold. There is a whole story behind that ... but we won't digress here.
Great Business Leaders Are Humble
The biggest challenge I faced as an owner running my own company was a willingness to admit that many of the challenges we faced as an agency (as a company) were because of me. Bringing on partners that could help keep me accountable was the first step. I had to be willing to stop making decisions because it was personally beneficial and start thinking about what was best for the company's health and the benefit of my employees.
I had to humble myself. I had to eat crow. I had to admit that I was the reason we were being held back from the greatness I knew was possible.
What happened as a result?
- Employee happiness increased (we won the #1 Best Place to Work).
- Employees got better at what they did (and are still improving).
- Client happiness increased.
- Client retention increased.
- Profits increased.
- My stress was reduced.
Everything got better... not most things. Everything.
Ultimately, I was able to step away from the operations of the business. Why? Because I knew that, even though I had overcome making many business decisions based on my ownership stake, I truly wasn't able to overcome them all. Allowing someone else to take that responsibility was really what was required to allow Tribute Media to grow to the next level.
Since I have left Tribute Media in the capable hands of its new President, Lindsey Bowshier, Tribute Media has grown to new heights.
Make Yourself Secondary and Your Company Primary
If you are a small business owner, running your own thing, you may have solved this challenge differently. More often than not, you’re driving a car that is more than you need. More often than not, you are paying yourself a bigger salary than you deserve. More often than not, you are making decisions about your business that help you personally but are actually causing you long-term business challenges.
More often than not, you are working for yourself.
Take the time to self-reflect. Take the time to make the hard decisions that you would expect of those you hire. Hire yourself as if you were hiring someone to do your job. Evaluate yourself as if you are reporting to the hardest boss in the world. Work for something greater than yourself.
It’s the only way you’ll truly find your success.