Managing Debt as a Business Owner | Avoid Falling Into the Debt Trap

Managing Debt as a Business Owner | Avoid Falling Into the Debt Trap

managing debt as a business owner

Chris Michael Harris, Executive Producer
8/23/19

The best way to manage your debt is to avoid it like the bloody plague…

Sorry, but I just had to start with that…

Because there’s just too many people taking on debt when they begin their entreprenerial journey.

And it’s downright stupid.

Not just irresponsible.

I get you’re maybe desperate to “do your own thing”.

And I get your boss totally sucks and your job is sucking your energy dry.

But leaving one bad situation for an even worse one…plus no guaranteed form of income…is much worse.

Talking from experience here (can you tell?).

So, in this article, I’m going to break down how you should avoid debt + what you can do about it if you’re already there.

You can also listen to the podcast recording I did with Jason Bond by clicking above.

Jason pulled himself out of $250,000 worth of debt before starting his business…

And he did it on a Teacher’s Salary.

So, no excuses.

Let’s get started.

Don’t bury yourself in the hole with exorbitant product costs

Photo by rawpixel from Pexels

First and foremost, let’s assume you’re not yet in debt but considering taking a business loan.

For one, you must be an alien if you got approved for a business loan in this day and age…

And two, run for the hills as fast as you can.

Because taking on debt right now is THE WORST thing you can do.

But Chris, I need funding to start?

Bullshit…

It’s 2019 (depending on when you’re reading this).

The internet changed the game.

So…

1. Don’t take a STUPID business loan.

This isn’t your grandma’s mom-and-pop hardware store that required substantial overhead.

In nearly all cases, you can get your biz rolling with less than $50/mo, if that.

Start with an MVP (minimum viable product) iteration of your business.

It may look like you just educating people on your desired area of service.

Building a content platform like YouTube or even this article you’re reading right now.

This will grow your audience, which in turn could potentially lead to you rendering services that make you money.

I’ve seen creators go from nothing to a six-figure business in six months, not at all uncommon.

Now, they are HUSTLING, don’t get it twisted.

But telling yourself you can’t do ANYTHING until you have someone else’s money is a recipe for early and swift disaster.

Entrepreneurs, successful ones, are extremely resourceful.

So this will be a great exercise for you.

Only a fool starts a business with a loan.

And it always ends in failure.

So, I don’t care if mom and dad have the money and want to support you…

Say “no” and carve out your own path by starting small and taking affordable steps.

2. Keep the day job or add some side hustles

The list of side-hustles I leveraged early in my life is absurd.

I could legit write an entirely new article just on that.

Check out my side hustle chat with Nick Loper, the side hustle guru.

Young cubs that are full of energy and have little real-world responsibilities can utilize this.

And with the Gig Economy on platforms like Uber, Airbnb and any of the delivery services, you can get by (not get rich) with severely reduced standards of living plus roomies.

Notice, though, you’re not getting rich…

You’re going to be scraping by, make no mistake about it.

Next are my night and weekend warriors.

Keep the day job and allocate time to work on your biz.

Maybe do an hour/day and six on the weekend.

You’ll amaze yourself with how much you can move the needle in your young business with 10-15 hours/week.

Is it ideal?

Nope.

But it also gives you a guaranteed income to support your family, pay your mortgage and not destroy your marriage and/or sink you into massive debt.

I usually recommend this path for my older folks that DO have real-world responsibilities.

And I LIKE that you’re going to be unhappy in either of these situations.

Not because I’m a sick and twisted masochist…

But because you’re going to learn just how bad you want this thing.

And, if it fades in 3-6 months, you have your answer.

But burning the bridges immediately to then find out you don’t REALLY love this thing you jumped into is like building a prison wall around yourself (sound like it comes from experience – AGAIN?).

 

“outside funding is like a child wanting sweet and delicious candy…it looks amazing but it also results in cavities & poor health…”

3. Cut your damned expenses

Look, I get this is America (for many of you, anyways) and we have ‘standards’.

And I get it’s embarassing to tell your friends and family you just can’t afford to do things.

But here’s the deal…

7/10 people in the US right now are living paycheck to paycheck.

7 out of freaking 10.

But wait!

What about all the nice, fancy cars and spectacular homes?

People are leveraged to their eyeballs.

And they fell for the loan trap, like you’re not going to do now.

You always have to think…someone is trying to get an angle on me.

Mortgages and loans are not given out because you’re just such a swell person.

They’re given out because they can make money on yo assssss, foo!

Do the math on a mortgage.

By the end of it (over 30 years) you’re paying nearly DOUBLE what it was listed at before you bought it.

You better have a steep appreciation, bud.

But we have this ‘standard’ by which we must keep up with the Joneses.

Screw the Jones family…

They’re BROKE and hiding behind their ‘things’.

If you want to create generational wealth with your business concept, be willing to do what they won’t.

So, no elaborate spending.

We want bare-bones, baby.

Gym membership?

Find a 24 Hour Fitness or a Planet Fitness that’s $10/month.

Cut the stupid cable.

Close the blinds and don’t ramp up the AC.

And, most importantly, live your LIFE on something like Mint.

Mint is a personal finance tool that allows you to see where your money is REALLY going.

The average user has a credit score of 150 points higher than a non-user.

You’ll see the glaring areas where your spending is outrageous…

Make the adjustments and only keep the essentials.

4. Throw your credit cards in the trash

Literally, cut them up and throw them away.

Remember the part about people not being your friend and just making money off of you?

Yep, same story.

Because, once you fall into the hole, they’ve got you.

You’re now their debt slave.

It sounds harsh but…it kinda is.

People quickly spiral into massive debt and, when you’re starting a business, you have NO CLUE when payday is coming.

So, you have no predictable means to pay these things off.

Live your life on a cash basis…

Put those cards away…

And give yourself margins to live off of.

Should be simple.

Because it is.

Living your life on a cash basis as an early-stage entrepreneur is the best policy.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

4. Don’t Freak Out!

When we fall into debt, and let’s suppose you already have or it does happen to you along the way…

And it’s likely, even after all of this, that it will.

The main thing to remember is to not totally lose your ish about it.

Because Collection Agencies can be HELLA aggressive with commercial debts…

WAY more than personal debt.

And, if this happens to you, they are going to try and scare the hell out of you.

They are going to make pretty radical threats.

And it’s going to feel like the sky is falling on you.

It’s not…

Calm down.

This is their job and they’ve been trained to do this.

Now, ideal world, we wouldn’t be here…

Right?

But, if we are, let’s just be smart about it.

For one, they aren’t going to come to your shit like they say they will…

At least not for a while.

In other words, you don’t get a call or a letter and they show up the next day.

It’s a very lengthy process and the wheels churn slowly.

That doesn’t give you permission to completely ignore it.

But also know if your business is struggling, it’s in your best interest to keep your cash on hand until things turn back to the black again.

And the minute you start letting this crap distract you from righting the ship, it’s game over for you and guess what…?

For THEM too!

So, if you do want to operate out of integrity and honor your debts, which you should if at all possible, go make it happen.

They’ll be glad to take your money if/when that time comes.

Sure, your credit is going to be pinged…

But it will bounce back fast once you handle your business.

PLEASE remember I’m not telling you to deliberately drive yourself into debt.

Remember Rule #1…avoid it like the plague.

Because this part isn’t fun.

But the problem here is that too many entrepreneurs feel powerless.

And, in reality, you have way more power than you think.

Because it’s not against the law to not pay off your debts.

You’re not going to go to jail.

The only time that applies is if you skip out on paying taxes or student loans…

And even that takes YEARS.

So, calm down, focus on the mission, and start generating.

Work out the terms later, just kindly tell them you are unable to satisfy the note right now and you’re doing your best.

If you can get by just paying SOMETHING, analyze your situation and make that decision.

But remember, cash is king…

So, be careful where money is going.

 

5. Understand Personal Guarantees

Okay, so you need to understand what type of debt you’ve fallen into.

If it’s a personal credit card, you are definitely responsible…

Pretty cut and dry.

But business debts get a little trickier.

MOST institutions are going to require a personal guarantee on a line of credit or business credit cards.

You’ll see that in the paperwork you sign off on.

And this is all assuming you’ve been in busness for a while with at least two years of tax returns.

And, even then, they’ll still likely pin a personal guarantee to it.

Startups are risky…

And they know it.

So, before you get all cavalier about being approved for a line of credit with your bank, just know the buck still stops with you.

And what’s potentially worse is business can often rack up wayyyy more debt wayyyy faster than just individual expenses.

So, unless you do massive binge spending at Neiman’s, it’s likelier you’re going to massively sink yourself into debt with your business far deeper and quicker than you could personally.

And, if the business doesn’t work, you now have to pay it off WITHOUT the luxury of a profitable business and on a fixed salary.

Now, again, you don’t HAVE to pay it off.

But, you will be responsible for the debt.

So just make sure you know what you’re signing before you do and try to keep the spending under control.

It’s not a lifeline, it should be used for growth and Capital Expenditures that are tied again to growth…

Or even short-term cash flow management.

But never just use because you have no other option for months on end.

That road leads to significant misery.

6. Your Last Ditch Effort – Debt Validation

Sometimes things spiral out of control…

Speaking from experience here again.

The business is doing GREAT and you are rocking and rolling.

And then your health goes to SHIT and things implode (experience, again).

The business dies and the Collectors are circling like vultures trying to get the scraps before anyone else can.

For real, that’s the perfect metaphor.

They are going to come at you HARD.

And you need to be prepared.

It’s a scary time and even less fun.

And using what’s called the Debt Validation card may be a play you want to make.

In fact, I would force ALL Collection Efforts to provide Debt Validation before I paid a single dollar to anyone.

Why and what is it?

It’s essentially PROOF that you are responsible for this debt.

Because, if you have an LLC, C-Corp, S-Corp or pretty much anything besides a Sole Proprietorship or just winging everything personally with zero structure, the organization provides an extra layer of protection.

Not full immunity, don’t get it twisted.

People can STILL sue you, personally, even with an LLC in place…

But it’s just less likely they’ll win and they’ll have to go through significant layers of Discovery to prove you acted negligently in some way.

It may sound like magic fairy dust but I’ve personally gotten out of 10’s of thousands of dollars worth of BUSINESS debt because of this one move.

I’m not bragging about that…

I’m really not.

I’m actually ashamed of it.

Because it sucks to be in that situation.

But, business is business.

And laws are in place for a reason.

The company my company owed couldn’t manufsacture proof that anyone was personally responsible.

And so we were going to make them sue us to prove it.

And, over that little amount of money, they opted to not pursue.

I know sounds like a lot of money but when you consider how much litigation costs and how much money these companies make, it’s an insignificant figure.

I’ve had mentors of mine experience this and that’s where I received the advice.

It’s a last-ditch play, not an immediate go-to.

It’s a “Get Out of Jail” card and you should first do everything you can to honor your debts.

But, in some circumstances, that’s just not possible.

I was legit close to my death bed.

My health was a train wreck and there was zero possible way of me doing anything to honor those debts.

My business was insolvent and we were personally barely surviving.

I don’t want to lead you too far down this path but this can also work for some personal debts, not just business.

In many cases, divorce leads to the discovery that there was significant credit card debt.

Again, you may be inclined to play the debt validation card.

To learn more about that option, here’s an article for you to explore.

Hope this has been helpful…

If you’re already in debt, just know I feel for you and I’ve been in your shoes.

Sometimes, that makes all the difference with how alone you feel as you wallow in your ‘failures’.

It happens to the best of us and you are not alone.

Do your best to get yourself out of it and, at the end of this, you’ll be much better off for this experience…

Even though I know it doesn’t feel that way now.

Much love, my friend.

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How to Start (and Grow) an eCommerce Business | Taking Affordable Steps

How to Start (and Grow) an eCommerce Business | Taking Affordable Steps

How to Start (and Grow) an eCommerce Business

Chris Michael Harris, Executive Producer
8/23/19

Growing an eCommerce Business requires much more attention to controlling your costs…

I’m so glad someone like Adi Arrezini joined me on this episode of Entrepreneur Hour.

Because so many people get themselves in BIG trouble with eCommerce.

Especially newbies to the startup game.

I’ve got a buddy, who shall remain nameless, that sunk $75,000 into a product and has yet to sniff an ROI.

Better yet, I don’t think he’s even made $1,000 of it back.

#TrueStory

Because, here’s the thing…

It costs a LOT to manufacture a product.

And what makes matters worse is most won’t even take you seriously until you’ve got a large enough order quantity.

Meanwhile, you’ve sunk your life’s savings into this thing and have plans for being in every Walmart around the country.

So, in this excerpt, we’re going to talk about how to get your business off the ground + how to grow it by taking affordable steps.

Don’t bury yourself in the hole with exorbitant product costs

Photo by rawpixel from Pexels

Now, let me start by telling you this is NOT  a business I’ve started before.

I’ve played in a lot of sandboxes but the eCommerce one has yet to have been checked off my list.

That said, many of the same rules and principles apply, regardless of industry.

And I’ve been involved with bootstrapping two (working on three) 7-Figure startups by the age of 33…

That’s not a humblebrag, I’m just letting you know there are replicable processes to follow. 

Let’s get started…

1. Start building up your brand clout in the industry

Look, the people I see crushing ecommerce businesses, or any business for that matter, first spend time understanding the industry.

They may work for someone else selling their products or maybe they sell info products that lead to a physical product down the road. 

This happens OFTEN in the SaaS space.

Someone sees a tool REALLY needs to be made and decides to just go make it themselves.

Scratching their own itch is what it’commonly referred to as.

But unless you’re REALLY into this thing you plan on making, you just don’t fully understand the market and the real opportunity.

You don’t know your customers and you don’t know what they want.

Maybe you think it’s cool but it hasn’t been validated.

By investing time learning the industry and products you intend to sell, it really pays off in the long run.

2. Don’t open a store with 10,000 items

Oh, man…

This is a common one.

People think if they just open a store to sell anything and everything on it, people will have more options and more likelihood to buy.

And so they then just have “blanket marketing” tactics that reach and speak to literally no one.

Focus on selling ONE product.

Niche down and master that ONE thing first because, through that process, you’ll learn how to craft a message and sell…

You’ll also keep your costs under control.

Once you’ve figured that out, you can replicate and scale the process over again.

But that leads me to my next tip…

 

“The Dream Dies When the bank dries…”

3. Take pre-sale orders or early birds

Look, many Authors pitch a book that hasn’t even been written yet.

I NEVER develop an info product that I first haven’t validated with my audience.

And so, as you’re building your audience and educating people on this thing you’re going to eventually sell, run surveys and start considering pre-sale events or early bird specials.

Here’s the awesome part, if you can pull it off and deliver in a timely manner, it may give you more leverage with a manufacturer plus proof of concept AND some funding capital to actually pay for inventory.

But, if it were me, depending on the item, I’d do this instead…

4. Figure out a way to make the product YOURSELF

Look, I know it’s not ideal…

But, if you want this thing bad enough, you’ll do what it takes.

And there’s much to be gained from you crafting your own product, even a prototype (depending on what you’re selling).

Daymond John, an awesome dude and friend of the podcast, was printing and making his own FUBU clothes and hustling them out of a trunk at Yankee games…

So, if the King of Retail himself is willing to roll up his sleeves, you have no excuse.

Daymond even convinced his mom to refinance their home so he could invest in what he needed to grow the business.

Now, I’m not entirely suggesting the latter but just know he was willing to do what it took and KNEW his market because he was knee-deep in it. 

5. Scrap the overhead

Look, So many people want the creative studio, the storage warehouse or even the physical store…

But that’s hella risky.

And, as I always say, the dream dies when the bank dries.

You need to keep your fixed cost under control so you can allow yourself room to grow and make mistakes.

Plus, I’d love to see you sink your teeth into some marketing strategies and having a small budget for that is going to be tremendously helpful.

Selling a physical product with Facebook Ads is borderline like printing money compared to what I do in selling info products.

That’s all assuming you have a solid product, strong messaging and a visually appealing landing page.

Use the garage, the storage room or even a spare bedroom or a corner in your family area if you have to but wait as long as you can before you invest in a space.

 

There’s no need for a large facility until you’re a fairly large company with high profitability. 

Photo by Alexander Isreb from Pexels

6. Focus on building an audience

Look, the best lemonade stand in the world won’t do anything if it’s set up in a closet.

If nobody knows you exist, it’s game over.

And I see this often with “technicians”.

In other words, people that take great pride in their trade and creation.

Through the process of crafting your thing, there arises an emotional attachment.

And so everything that doesn’t work, a technician always goes back to tweak the product.

It sounds illogical (and it is) but it happens.

Michael E Gerber talks about this in his E-Myth Series of books.

And many people that CREATE something out of passion find themselves stuck in Technician Mode often. 

Go build an audience on Social, create YouTube Videos educating people on your industry BEFORE you even have a product.

If you can build a loyal following of people and an email list of people that trust your advice, they are going to literally JUMP when they realize you’re selling something.

It’s a lot of work, I know, but it really pays off.

I would be on at least one platform for Search…

Blog, YouTube or Pinterest.

Based on where your target demo is, I trust you’ll figure out where to be…

It’s usually best to really double down on one first rather than try to spread yourself across all channels.

7. Influencer marketing

Okay, so you don’t have an audience (per the last tip)?

Well, one of the fastest “growth hacks” to build one is to leverage someone else’s audience.

Brands pay BIG money to influencers to promote their products.

Now, you don’t need to pay Kim K $10MM to talk about your eye cream.

So, start with someone IN YOUR SPACE that’s big but within reach.

Build a relationship with that person, respond to their posts and EVENTUALLY ask if they’d be willing to try your product.

If it’s great, maybe they do give you a shout and a review to their audience.

I’m of the belief that they’ll do that on their own and I don’t have to ask…

But it will depend on the nature of the relationship.

Put it this way, they get propositioned enough to know what you’re asking for without ACTUALLY asking.

But if you want to give them a friendly nudge after a few weeks JUST TO ASK if and how they liked the product, maybe then you ask if they’d be happy to give you a plug.

Just make sure it makes sense for them.

So, maybe if you can’t pay them, you guys work out some sort of affiliate commission.

That has to be your judgment call and it’s largely based on your product.

8. Build a baller site on Shopify

Look, don’t dilly dally around with no website or a crap looking site.

You also want to make sure the bloody thing works like it’s supposed to.

Shopify is one of my sponsors and for good reason.

It’s THE BEST out-of-the-box eCommerce Site Builder…period.

There are just too many technical specifics with an eCommerce Site for you to try to build it on anything else or to hire a developer to custom code it.

You don’t need to spend that kind of money PLUS what do you do if your developer is the only one that can update your site?

Cha-CHINNNG…

And not the kind that puts money in your pocket.

Make sure you have GREAT photos of your product because that really does make or break both a site and the product itself.

Hope this list has been helpful.

Happy eComming and don’t forget to subscribe for future articles, videos and podcast episodes. 

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How to Generate More Revenue Even if You Feel Stuck | Growing Your Business

How to Generate More Revenue Even if You Feel Stuck | Growing Your Business

How to Generate More Revenue, Even if You Feel Stuck

Chris Michael Harris, Executive Producer

8/13/19

There’s nothing worse than KNOWING you have something but you just can’t get over the “hump.”

I remember the early days of my first startup…

We had achieved a certain degree of success.

Definitely enough to indicate we should push forward.

But not enough to sustain myself AND the business.

Right?

And so the Side Hustles were still a MUST…

The long nights of racking my brain over what we could do began to become old.

And, more importantly, I started to lose the same fire for this “thing” I once had.

Entrepreneurs that stay in this phase too long end up flaming out and moving on.

Fortunately for us, I figured out the magic formula and we EXPLODED.

Over revenues went from $50k ARR to $500,000 in about 8 months.

No joke, it was a wild ride…

Especially for a kid at 25.

So, let’s break down how that happened and what you can do to get yourself out between this rock and a hard place.

Me in 2012 at a job fair hiring my first employees

Photo by Kim Jimenez

The first thing I had to do was take a step back and analyze.

And this is why it’s sooo utterly important to either keep your day job or have side hustles.

Because, as I always say, The Dream Dies When The Bank Dries.

You need to tap into Urgency but never into Desperation.

Once you’re desperate, it’s the beginning of the end.

You have NO means to continue forward and experiment with close to ZERO margin for error.

If this is currently you, it’s time to pick up some side hustles…

You can check out an entire episode we did on that when you’re done here.

Live your entire life with margins…

Best advice I could ever give to anyone, not just entrepreneurs.

So, take a step back and analyze a few things…

What’s worked in the Past?

What do your customers love about you?

Have you surveyed them to analyze what it is that made them choose you when there were other options?

And don’t just say we were cheaper…

If that’s the game you’re currently playing, you won’t be playing it long.

It’s NEVER, ever sustainable.

And if that’s your main value prop, you haven’t dug deep enough.

Once you understand your market, you’ll have a much better idea as to the marketing message you need to convey.

 

“Live your life with urgency, not desperation…”

And while you’re at it, where do these people hang out?

It’s 2019 so your answer should include somewhere on the internet.

As a startup, I’d ditch all traditional marketing immediately.

Radio and TV spots are not where you need to be when you can get Leads for less than 5 bucks on Social.

Let the Big Boys spend the money on Traditional “stuff…”

I want you to maximize your dollar, assuming you have a budget at all at this point.

But let’s talk about free & organic opportunities.

Once you know where your tribe is hanging out, start having meaningful convos with them.

I see people in Professional Services doing this all the time.

Joining Facebook Groups that are relevant to their space and having real convos with people that have questions.

They don’t go straight for the sale, they just deliver value.

This gives you the ability to understand them at a deeper level and start to develop a name for yourself.

Be respectful, it’s not your community so you need to play by their rules.

Often times, enough people are going to see the value you’re delivering and it’s going to start delivering new opportunities to you.

Now, I get that’s a lot of hustle work so let’s talk about so of my favorite ways to generate revenue…

INBOUND OPPORTUNITIES.

As a startup entrepreneur, you don’t have the budget for radio and TV ads + there are far more cost-effective ways to market yourself in 2019.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I’m currently 33 and I’ve already been involved with bootstrapping two multiple 7-Figure Businesses.

Only 2% of startups ever achieve the 7-Figure mark so I do consider myself very blessed.

But I have to tell you, it happened primarily for one reason…

Creating SEARCHABLE, value-driven content.

See, what your reading here is my way of developing traffic to my site.

That’s the equivalence of having someone walk into your physical store.

You may not know if right now but eventually I am going to try to sell you something.

You see my email opt-ins and “free” stuff I’m giving away in exchange for an email?

I can utilize that data to target you and people like you on social media.

And, further, once you join my email list you’re going to start receiving weekly updates from me…

Most of which are going to allude to stuff I’m selling.

Now, for many of you it’s even easier than that.

Because if you have a service-based business or a physical product, you can literally skip the email step and jump straight to consultation or sale of the item.

Sometimes it works that easily and other times you have to work for their business a little harder.

Either way, “foot traffic” gives you an opportunity whereas before you might have had the best service but nobody knows who in the hell you are.

I always say this (too) but having the best lemonade stand doesn’t matter if you set it up in your closet.

Creating Value-Driven Content on Searchable platform like a blog, a YouTube Channel or Pinterest means you’ve got a roaming sales message crawling the world, all the time.

I put out crazy amounts of rich content with my blog, YouTube and my podcast…

All of which you may currently follow.

And even at a small percentage, it creates more chances for me to sell.

Do that more than your competition IN ANY SPACE and you’ll see the needle move.

Just make sure you optimize it for search with Google Trends so you’re not creating content that only you can find.

That goes back to knowing who your audience is and what the heck they’re looking for/is important to them.

Next, I would say don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and start with rolling up your sleeves.

I’ve seen many people explode just by creating a local reputation first.

The power of the internet is fierce but sometimes you just need some experience and a portfolio under your belt.

Even with your content creation efforts, you can target locally to start just to get some early traction.

Networking events like BNI are wonderful places to start and build your book of business.

But let’s talk about mindset, my favorite subject in many ways… 

Here’s the deal…

I’ve never seen anyone WIN at entrepreneurship that wasn’t obsessed.

I’ve never seen someone with one foot in scale a company.

You’ve got to want this more than you’ve ever wanted anything.

And if you’re stuck it might be because you’re just not in love with what you’re doing or how you’re doing it.

When I’m ONTO something and it aligns with the impact I want to make in the world, I legit can’t put it down.

I tap into my inner crack head (kidding) and literally lose sleep over it.

When I discovered the power of content, I obsessed over learning SEO and pouring out my entire brain into blogs, three times per week.

I’ve created over 200 (and counting) podcast episodes.

And now my new obsession is Facebook Ads direct to purchase…

And YouTube.

But you can have the X’s and O’s but still fail.

Without an insatiable desire to win and win big, you’re just fooling yourself.

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Think and Grow Rich

A Literal Entrepreneur School as Alternative Education | Formal Education is Evolving Through Innovation

A Literal Entrepreneur School as Alternative Education | Formal Education is Evolving Through Innovation

A Literal entrepreneur school as an alternative education

Chris Michael Harris, Executive Producer

7/17/19

I remember sitting in Home Economics class in Middle School literally doing the math to figure out how many hours I had left until I was done with schooling forever…

That’s a true story…

And for some reason, it’s one of those moments that distinctly stands out in my mind.

Like a “Where were you when…” type of deal.

But you’d think this one wouldn’t qualify as those usually involve something fairly significant.

Things like 9/11, Michael Jackson’s Funeral or his sister’s Super Bowl wardrobe incident.

But the reality is this…

For many young folks, you just kind of know school isnt for you.

Like many, I’m an entrepreneur, I don’t DO entrepreneurship.

See what I mean?

Some people treat this thing like it’s a career.

But it’s not.

It’s 100% a lifestyle. 

And I often tell people it’s not for them if I observe they’re treating it otherwise.

So, for a youngster like me to appreciate who he was in the world, it indeed was a significant moment when you take it a level deeper.

And that’s why I was so excited to see Laura Sandefer pop up as a potential guest for my show.

Because I’ve LONG wondered what we can do for students like I was.

Do we just have to grin and bear it?

Truth be told, most of the work I do is actually rewiring some of the conditioning people received from school.

Because, while it’s not a BAD thing in terms of what we learned, it most certainly doesn’t always readily apply to starting and growing a business venture.

In my view, that’s 17-22 years then of opportunity cost spent in an environment you might know isn’t for you.

Wow…

That’s a bloody lifetime.

Imagine how long you’ve been in business.

For me, I’ve been a Full-Time Entrepreneur for 7 years.

I kicked my job to the curb after only one year in the “real world” and haven’t looked back…

Not even for a second.

But for all intents and purposes, imagine if I had 27 years of experience doing this?

Right?

Imagine how much MORE I would know, how much MORE focused experience I would have and how much MORE I would have had time to actually feel like I belonged somewhere in the world.

Because, it’s not just the time spent, it’s also feeling like an alien.

I always THOUGHT differently than my peers.

Saw things through a little bit different lens.

And that sense of belonging has sincerely put me at peace.

Many struggles and near identity crises took place for me to arrive at that destination, though.

So, this whole “Entrepreneur School” thing is something I don’t think is just a cool idea, I think it’s desperately needed. 

Why are we using the same mechanisms for teaching, regardless of the audience?

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Acton Academy is filling that void and doing it QUICKLY.

In today’s podcast discussion, Laura (who Co-Founded this alternative school concept with her husband), told me they’re in that awesome phase where you can just barely keep up with growth.

And it’s not to say they’re FORCING entrepreneurship down kids throats.

I can just imagine my own desires for my future, yet to be birthed, children.

One of those baseball-type dads that decides immediately their son is going be a Cy Young Award Winner the minute he’s born.

Or a mother that vicariously lives through her daughter’s beauty pageants with the goals of landing her a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Ridiculous, I know, but we all know it happens.

But Acton Academy is not for you or your child to get a jump start on the next Apple or Google straight from the cradle…

But more so for Creative Minds that maybe just aren’t fully fitting in with their peers.

“This idea is not about CRAMMING entrepreneurship down kid’s throats…”

 This maybe opens up an entirely new can of worms…

But just think about how many children are prescribed to ADHD meds now.

Having lived through that myself I can tell you it doesn’t end pretty.

Because, as I learned the hard way, it’s a band-aid for the problem.

And while it alleviated some focus and concentration issues, it wreaked havoc on my body.

I talk about that quite often throughout my content but here’s the best resource to go check that out when you’re done here.

We try to “fix” kids and never take into consideration the environment.

For real, think about it.

If you’re unhappy with your job and it’s not the right fit for you…

What do you do?

You go get another bloody job that is better for who you are.

So why do we just expect children to be one-size fits all with school and immediately just cram drugs down their throats to pay attention?

We treat humans like robots or little soldiers.

When maybe they weren’t intelligently designed (if you believe in that sort of thing…I do) to do what they’re being asked to do.

I personally always saw school as a prison.

Enjoying very little of it and ALWAYS pondering how I would EVER apply this “stuff” we were learning to the real world.

But, for many students, it’s not about the content of the message, per se.

It’s about basic life skills like being able to take information and instruction to then memorize and repeat when asked upon.

Sounds a lot like a job, right?

Learn this thing, don’t ask why you need it, and perform function “X” or “Y” when called upon to do so.

It’s what keeps the machine of many organizations turning.

But maybe you or your child was born to create the damn machine, not work in it.

Or maybe they were born to give birth to a new way of thinking that doesn’t even require a machine at all.

How is that not valued the same, if not vastly MORE, than the prior?

We need to be treating students critical thinking and tap into their creative thought process, not just training them like factory workers.

I say stuff like this quite often.

And, to non-entrepreneurs, I think they get a bit offended by it.

But I’m not here to de-value someone being a “cog in the wheel”.

In fact, were it not for people like that, people like me would be stuck in crazy land.

The only reason I position it the way I do is so we can at least appreciate or give thought to the other side of this picture.

So that students don’t have to go through the trials and tribulations of just trying to “fit in” and “be like everyone else”.

I’ve told this story many times but that’s semi how my story started to unfold.

In the midst of my first year getting into the University of Georgia, I had bounced around quite a lot to figure out who the hell I wanted to be in the world.

This time it HAD to work because my “flakiness” was starting to greatly irritate my parents…

Plus, I felt like I needed to prove that this wasn’t yet another poor decision I had made…to myself and to everyone else.

Within about a month, I found myself (yet again) miserable.

And despite the fact I had pursued all these various paths, I was seemingly right back where I started.

But this was different.

Because it wasn’t Middle School anymore where you’re not expected to KNOW what you’re going to do in the world.

I was 21…

The pressure was on…

My friends were graduating and getting good jobs.

And I had just transferred for like the 4th time.

Losing credit hours and still not really defining a Major.

En route to a Spanish 2001 Class (again, another one of those moments), I remember calling my mom and just crying…

I told her I was tired of being me and I just wanted to be like everyone else.

It’s actually still difficult for me to think about that moment.

I want to invent my own time-travelling DeLorean to go back and scoop that dude up to show him the way.

But the reason I tell this story is that there are kids and young adults suffering right now in the same manner.

Desperately trying to fit into a world that they just weren’t intended to be in…

At least not at the highest levels of their contribution to the world.

I talk about how entrepreneurship is way more simplistic than we make it.

It’s about identifying a BIG problem that you care about and developing a viable solution for it.

We try to make it sexy with our buzzwords and acronyms to sound like smart and savvy entrepreneurs…

But really, the ones that get it understand to just observe the world, identify problem areas and derive an augmented solution that people are willing to pay for.

I think it’s beyond safe to say that we have PLENTY of problems that require fixing.

Look at how antiquated our current solutions are, even in 2019.

 

The firearms police use is ANCIENT “technology”.

The planes we fly in aren’t all that different in terms of mechanisms from some of the initial commercial airliners.

People still live under bridges like stray dogs and we’ve yet to develop an affordable solution.

Isn’t it wise to think that maybe the problem isn’t the problem?

But rather the problem is that we’re not raising children to learn how to address and FIX these problems.

Because, in my eyes, that’s the power of entrepreneurship.

That’s beyond just having your child come home with good grades on their report card.

So, just maybe, that’s THE problem we want to start fixing.

TODAY’S SPONSOR
TODAY’S GUEST

Laura Sandefer

TODAY’S RESOURCE

Courage To Grow

Building Social Impact Startups | How a Police Altercation Led to Innovation

Building Social Impact Startups | How a Police Altercation Led to Innovation

Building Social Impact Startups

Chris Michael Harris, Executive Producer

7/10/19

Sometimes we make entrepreneurship too complicated…It’s about finding a problem and presenting a solution for it. Often times, it starts with scratching your own itch.

When I met my guest today, Michael Odiari, he was full of energy and passion…

But his idea just felt pretty…meh.

Serving as an Entrepreneur in Residence for Silicon Valley-Based Accelerator Program, Founder Institute, my role was to help people craft or augment an idea to take to market.

In many cases, this usually sends them down the path to funding before go-to-market…

But it’s all contingent upon the nature of the build.

And for those that don’t know, Accelerator Programs are usually designed for ideas with massive upside potential.

There’s nothing wrong with Lifestyle Businesses, Service Based Businesses or just general Small Businesses.

But the reason you likely need an intensive Accelerator Program is because your idea requires all hands on deck.

And likely a TON of capital behind it.

We’re talking Unicorn potential businesses ($1B Valuation or more).

And while many of them likely never even get off the ground, FI (Founder Institute) has an amazing track record of success.

In fact, we have an 80% success rate of all graduates.

20% will go off to raise big investment dollars and/or Exit.

And for an Idea Stage Program, that’s quite an achievement.

There’s a ridiculous process to get in.

And I could go into an entire article’s worth of explanation on how that works.

But if you’re here to build the next Uber or Airbnb…

It’s definitely something I’d look into when you’re done here.

Back to my story…

Michael came in as a student for the Fall of 2018.

His intensity and passion were legit off the charts.

And I could see there was something much deeper than what he was presenting to us.

Eventually, after a few weeks, I pull him aside.

“Why are you doing this to begin with?” I said.

He tried to not let me press him…

Defaulting back to his pitch about how motorists needed a more convenient way to pay parking tickets.

But there’s no way he was this revved up about a modernized payment portal.

About an hour later, after just spending time getting to know him, the truth came out.

Michael was involved in an incident that set him on a new life path…

And one that he was afraid to share for reasons as to not “rock the boat” too much.

Trying not to rock the boat, Michael downgraded his REAL idea.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

 You see, in the state of Texas you have to display your license plate on both the front and rear of the vehicle.

Evidently, one day, having just been given a warning about improper display, Michael found himself pulled over again within 30 minutes of the last stop.

Only this Officer made a different decision than the warning Michael had just previously received.

And, within a matter of just seconds, Michael found himself staring down the barrel of a firearm.

Both alarmed and confused, Michael later decided to do something to figure out how this could have been prevented.

Spending over 50 hours doing ride-along sessions with Officers over the coming months thereafter…

Michael realized there was a solution to provide that would create a safer environment for both parties involved.

Because the statistics are quite alarming.

Most Officers are injured or killed during traffic stops than any other duty.

Couple that with the number of Drivers that have experienced a similar fate and you’ve got yourself a mess.

But rather than address a highly divisive issue, Michael initially deferred to his parking ticket app.

Both shocked and at a loss for words as to the story he just told me…

All I could think to say was “DUDE, that’s your why right there!”

We proceeded to re-shape Michael’s vision around his true cause.

And I’m happy to say I’m now a member of his Advisory Board at Check where you can learn more about the solution we’re creating.

But here’s what we have to get over…

And I assume that might be you, too, if you’re here reading this article about starting a Social Impact Startup.

We can’t be afraid to address the real problem.

I get why Michael was afraid.

And later that night, I challenged him to just go up and pitch his REAL story.

Where the audience was crickets before, he lit up the room…

Having never even practiced or rehearsed an actual pitch for this REAL thing he wanted.

And here’s why that matters more than anything else.

Maybe your struggles are Intelligently Designed for you to derive a solution.

Where we often look at them as hindrances or exclusionary blockades on our path.

I hear way too many “cute” ideas and pitches.

Things people don’t really care about but think they can get rich off of it.

You know what?

I push out new content every single day…

And I’d do it for free.

Literally…

Sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder that I get paid money to help people become better entrepreneurs.

But this whole thing spawned from me diving into entrepreneurship in my early twenties and quickly realizing NOBODY taught me how to do it in school.

And if I can use my voice to help other people, I can then help others (like Michael) succeed in changing the world.

A trickle-down effect, if you will.

“Cute ideas are great but I want to see real solutions to BIG problems in the world…”

But so often we either tell ourselves we’re not qualified, don’t have the resources or just blame someone (largely bureaucrats) for not fixing the world’s problems.

Seriously!

You want to create an abundance of wealth for yourself?

Go make a list of the biggest problems in the world and devise a solution.

For real…

It’s sometimes that easy.

But we overcomplicate it with these fancy buzzwords like ML, AI and Blockchain.

Those are all GREAT things…

I’m not diminishing that.

But every new business idea doesn’t have to be trendy.

We still bury our trash in the ground.

Legit…

Like a dog with his bone.

We pollute the skies that hold the same air we breathe.

Pretty crazy for a society that’s as advanced and intelligent as we are.

Look at Elon Musk.

One of the most recognizable and popular entrepreneurs on the planet.

What’s he doing?

Cars that use renewable energy…

Solar units that can power an entire home.

Train systems through tunnels run completely on clean energy.

Oh, and sending missiles to Mars (no biggie).

But you get my drift.

He’s not only making a fortune but making a massive impact just fixing problems.

 

It’s 2019 and yet we still bury the majority of our waste in the ground…

Photo by Emmet from Pexels

Okay, so, find a problem in the world you want to solve…

Check.

Now, let’s talk about practical steps forward.

The biggest advice I could give you before you make one move forward on this idea is to go research.

And when I say research, I mean total immersion.

Like I said, Michael did over 50 hours of ride-along sessions with Police Officers.

In so doing, he gained key insights as to how Police Officer’s worlds work.

If you listen to him talk, he can legit speak their lingo.

He knows the procedures, he knows the challenges, he knows the real opportunity.

My suggestion to Michael, which I would advise to you…

Is to try and find a job in the field you want to affect change. 

Why?

Because it’s legitimately like a paid internship!

50 hours of ride-alongs is great…

But what if you got PAID to do your research.

This idea, to really nail it, is going to take significant Domain Expertise.

Plus, if you have BIG ideas and are going to seek out investment capital…

They’re betting on you just as much as they are the idea.

In fact, it’s likely they are betting on you way more than anything.

So, equipping yourself with both the knowledge and understanding of the industry is an absolute MUST.

Next, I would say analyze your market.

Who’s out there doing what you aim to do?

And don’t FREAK out, as most do, when you see someone already exists.

Competition is a good thing.

I repeat, Competition is a GOOD thing.

If you walk into an investor pitch meeting and say something like “There’s NOBODY doing what we’re doing!” you’re going to lose them.

For real…

Like 9 times out of 10 they are done with you.

Because no competition means many have tried and failed already OR there’s not a market for what you’re doing…

And probably both.

So, we WANT competition.

Study what they do, how they do it and where you can fit in the space.

Something else to consider is how you can collaborate with the competition.

No joke…

I’ve heard of MANY stories where people reach out to a competitor, tell them what they’re doing, and they end up becoming huge strategic partners.

But that requires knowing where you fit in the market, the solution you provide in relation to theirs, and a focus on the same, value-driven, solution.

Next, I would start getting people on an email list to provide updates.

This list should also include Investors, if you’ve made those contacts.

The reason for this is you’re probably looking at a slow build.

Many people (nearly all) underestimate just how long it takes to get something off the ground.

And if you’re a newbie entrepreneur, you need to give yourself adequate time to learn and grow.

Having an email list and sending out updates is a great way to nurture prospective customers, partners, advisors and investors in one, full-swoop.

One of the biggest mistakes I hear from nearly all entrepreneurs is they say they wish they had focused on an email list sooner.

You can’t sell anything yet…

That’s OKAY!

Let people experience this journey with you.

It’s a way to turn people into superfans and likely customers when you launch.

It also impresses people, like potential funding sources, with how committed you are and the steps you’ve made forward.

Building rapport…

That’s the name of your game right now.

Last advice for today, albeit there’s so much more we can discuss…

Surround yourself with Mentors.

Seriously, you need people that have walked this path before.

The bigger your idea, the more hard-hitters you require.

Stretch yourself on this and don’t just settle for the next-door neighbor.

This is where getting plugged in with a program like an Accelerator is HUGE!

Literally, HUGE…

Because no way Michael snags my attention to be on his board were it not for that program.

People that are worthwhile to be in your corner say “NO” way more than “YES”.

So, blasting a cold outreach email to their inbox or a DM on LinkedIn isn’t likely to bear much fruit.

You’re going to have to get outside of your comfort zone on this one…

And make sure you WAIT until you KNOW it’s the right fit.

As with all business arrangements, they’re like mini-marriages…

You need to understand it’s a legal commitment.

In fact, marriages are actually easier to get out of than equity positions in your company (true story).

For a social impact play, it’s vital you have people that can open the doors you need opened.

In Michael’s case, Politicians, Sheriffs, Security Experts, etc.

I’m the lone marketer on his team (HA!).

And surrounded by a ton of techy nerds.

Which is awesome.

You want to have a well-rounded team.

And that team should fill in where you have weaknesses so you can focus on where you thrive.

Don’t be afraid to give up equity seats for partners and/or advisors.

If you have a BIG play with massive upside, you’re going to need all hands on deck but you don’t currently have the capital to afford the expertise and manpower you need.

Get a Lawyer, have them take you through the process of setting up a legal entity (Likely a Delaware C-Corp)…

And get to work.

But don’t be afraid to go after your true why.

Because people just like you change the world every single day

TODAY’S SPONSOR
TODAY’S GUEST

Michael Odiari, Founder of Check

TODAY’S RESOURCE

Check App

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