“I read the news today, oh boy…” (Lennon, “A Day In The Life”)
One of my favorite quotes from Gary Halbert: “There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by a man who refuses to face reality.”
You laugh, but he was dead serious. One of the reasons we became fast friends was our mutual outlook on life – whenever reality was inconvenient to our goals, we just ignored the facts, lowered our head, and bulled forward.
That photo, above, is me in high school (from the yearbook). I loved basketball, and was good enough to become the captain of the “B” squad my junior year…
… however, as should be evident in this photo, I ran into a brick wall trying out for the varsity a year later.
The guy guarding me as I took that jumper is taller than me by a foot. I was the smallest guy on the squad…
… and really, at some point a caring coach probably should have taken me aside and said “John, I know you love the game… but look at your family. No one is taller than 5’10”, and basketball is a sport for tall folks. You’re not going to magically grow into the size they want on the varsity team…”
I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. I’m like a Jack Russell terrier – a big dog trapped in a small dog’s body. Eventually, in sports, my poor eyesight and lack of height stopped me…
… but I had fun for a couple of years in the meantime.
Later on, as I was gathering my courage to try copywriting, an actual professional copywriter earnestly informed me that I should not even try.
“It’s too hard,” she said. “You’ll never be a pro writer.”
That was, of course, the BEST thing she could have ever told me. I doubt I could have survived the first years without that internal motivation of needing to prove her wrong.
I call it “negative motivation”… and it’s actually one of the most powerful forces available for getting stuff done. I never saw her again, and don’t even remember her name…
… so it wasn’t a need to flaunt my success in her face. It was all internal for me – I used her as the “face” of the obstacles in front of me, and I even laughed when I later realized I was in a position to tell her “Fuck you, I made it anyway.”
Yes, my internal ego is an immature twerp sometimes. Chip on the shoulder, snarling underdog attitude, and an almost stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face reality.
I am so grateful for it, too.
(By the way… I nailed that shot in the photo, above… and ended up with 20 points while also hitting the winning basket. Easily my finest moment in a futile, doomed effort to be a “real” basketball player. A has-been at 16.)
You do not need to be a belligerent rebel to be a good entrepreneur…
… but it can help sometimes.
Certainly, given the choice of sitting down to dinner with the business types in suits, who are uber-polite and careful in their conversations…
… or the rowdy crowd of rule-breaking ne’er-do-well whack job entrepreneurs who may easily get kicked OUT of the restaurant….
… well, you know which one I’d pick.
I was Halbert’s sidekick for a very long time, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig was wandering into a new client’s offices and creating massive chaos. In a rational world, none of the buttoned-up biz owners we dealt with would have tolerated us for more than a few minutes…
… but, because we brought the “magic” of ads that worked, they HAD to not just tolerate us, but sometimes coddle us and even pay us more than they were going to earn themselves in the project.
We weren’t mean. Perhaps arrogant at times. But both Gary and I had wandered into the entrepreneurial world precisely because we didn’t “fit” in the normal corporate environments. We were outlaws by nature, outrageous by temperament, and adventurers who ate risk for breakfast by choice.
Again – you do not NEED to be a half-crazed rebel to succeed in biz…
… though, I’ve noticed that a great number of the dudes and dudettes at the top of the entrepreneurial game don’t easily fit into nice, tidy molds. They don’t behave themselves in polite company.
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what you DO need to be a successful entrepreneur. In my mastermind, there have been many members who were unclear on what it “meant” to be an entrepreneur…
… and we’ve helped every one of them get over their fears, stop obsessing on the wrong things, and become much more confident (and successful) marketers. Mostly, they are stunned by the magnitude of profit that comes from doing things right.
It’s all a matter of hanging out with veterans who can commiserate with your stumbles, help you correct the damage, and reveal the secrets of getting into a solid success-groove, and riding it all the way to wealth and happiness.
My goal is to, eventually, have a comprehensive menu of things you can do at every step of your business life. That’s gonna take a while, though…
… so, for now, I have a starter checklist here you might find helpful.
Let’s just get into it. Here (in no particular order) are the main things you’ll need in your “toolkit” as an entrepreneur:
 Survival resources. This includes books (both the ones you read for general knowledge and put on your shelf… and the ones that stay on your desk, dog-eared, because they are tools that help in your day-to-day work)…
… an ever-expanding network of experts, mentors, colleagues and go-to-guys (including tech geeks, hosting services, spies, friendly competitors, and helpmates in your quest for animal-level contentment)…
… and whatever courses, seminars, and tutorials you need to attain a mastery of the details of whatever biz you’re in.
 Goal-setting skills. You need to understand, clearly, where you’re headed and what you want from both your journey and your final destination.
It’s okay, early on, to not be clear on you ultimate goals. Sometimes, you work hard to attain something, and only then realize it wasn’t what you wanted after all. That’s how life works in the active part of the pool. You will constantly re-adjust your long-term goals as you go.
Short-term, however, you need to get good at breaking down the best path to your target, while also learning how to fix problems and deal with unexpected emergencies.
 Thick skin. You simply need to put your ego aside when entering the entrepreneurial world…
… cuz you’re gonna get stomped, bullied, abused, insulted and assaulted. Often. In new and fascinating ways that your civilian pals will never believe possible.
Your motto must be “eyes on the prize”, at all times. There will be setbacks, disasters and breathtaking failures.
You know you’ve “arrived” as a true entrepreneur when all of this becomes just part of the process, and you even enjoy the constant challenges raining down on you.
 Risk tolerance. This is what sets most entrepreneurs apart from other civilians. Against the advice of your drinking buddies (who really do not want you to succeed, because that will destroy their own belief that the little guy can’t win)… contrary to the fears of your family (who are terrified that your wild-ass biz plans will bankrupt the joint)… and in utter defiance of your own Red Flag danger alarms…
… you’re going to have to lay your reputation on the line, and climb into a fight with the forces of capitalism armed only with your wit, meager skill sets, and raw determination.
And no one else except other entrepreneurs will even vaguely understand what you’re going through. Working without a net. Daring the universe to slap you down. Going into situations, over and over again, where you’re a complete rookie, apt to make embarrassing mistakes.
In short, living with risk. And the consequences of risk, which can include failure.
Of course, a true entrepreneur regards “failure” as just another step on the rocky path to breakthrough success. It’s a process. Few get it right the first time.
So, you need to assess your capacity to accept, and deal with risk. If the very notion of taking a risk terrifies you into inaction, it’s probably a sign from God that you need to get a job somewhere safe.
 Your basic bag of tricks. You may have to learn the basics from books at first, or by observation… but no matter how you learn them, you need to understand the fundamentals of a sales funnel (qualified leads are captured and closed)…
… the details of fulfillment and customer management…
… and how to craft a sales message that can be easily communicated to prospects.
It’s not rocket science, but you’re an idiot if you think you can “fake it” as you begin marketing your biz for real.
Fortunately, there are a lot of courses out there to shortcut your efforts…
… or, you can dive into the many books out there on these subjects. In a weekend, you can begin your self-education by reading one on marketing, one on sales, and one on writing copy.
Your first choices may be the wrong ones to read, but that doesn’t matter — because you’ll have started the process, and that’s the critical part of this step. Next weekend, read three different books on the same subjects. Rinse and repeat until you feel you have a toe-hold in each subject, at least.
The longest journey begins with a single step. Just try not to fall on your face immediately, all right? Read critically and intelligently, and continually seek out authors you can trust and identify with.
 A budget, or war chest. You will need cash in your biz adventures. No getting around that.
I’m not a great role model. I started my freelance career with one tank of gas in a rattle-trap car, one month’s rent paid, and enough spare change to feed myself for a couple of weeks. I had no Plan B.
Much better to have a planned budget, and the money to meet it for at least a few months. If you’re already in business, and you want to expand or get into a new project…
… then have a “war chest” of cash you can invest in the adventure. Don’t go in broke, or clueless about what you may need to pull out of your existing biz.
Most entrepreneurs hate budgets and planning.
Do it anyway. There are plenty of misadventures awaiting you in biz — don’t stumble on stuff like budgets, which you have control over and can figure out easily.
 Ability to judge what’s worth doing, and what’s going to hold you back.
This is a biggie. You may suck at it right now, but one of your goals must be to get pro-level good at judging client requests, job offers, new projects, partner assessment (in both biz and love), and all the little and big decisions that will cascade upon your head every single day.
One tactic: Use the 1-10 “pain scale” measurement many doctors use in assessing patients. Use it on yourself – what level is the value… the risk… the reward… and the danger of any decision you encounter?
Is it a big deal, or a little deal of no lasting consequence?
Get good at this, as fast as possible. One of the main failure points of unsuccessful biz owners is a lack of prompt, good decisions.
 Stress management. You’re going to encounter stress as an entrepreneur. That’s a given.
Ignoring this stress is a very, very, very bad idea. It will never leave, it will build up, and in due time it will fry your brain like an egg in a skillet.
You are not a superman. Your body and mind are vulnerable to the ravages of poor diet, lack of exercise, and constant hormone dumps of adrenaline and other bad chemicals.
Massage, meditation, lots of vacations, reading good books (not biz books) to relax, having “safety zones” in your week where you are free from the tentacles of your biz (no phone, no email, no nothing)…
… the tactics for battling stress are easy to find and experiment with. Find what works for you, and give it PRIORITY status in your life.
For example, I began weekly massages early in my career… long before I started buying better clothes, a newer car, or eating out more often. Massage “re-set” my physical stress levels, and I’m convinced it has saved me from ulcers and worse. And kept me mega-productive for decades.
I started out with a “business before pleasure” mindset… but included in “business” was de-stressing and being a good animal (loose, strong, well-fed, lots of restorative sleep, etc).
And finally (for this short “starter list”)…
 Have an exit plan. Go after your goals like a terrier after a squirrel, with total focus and commitment.
However, realize that sometimes your goals need to adjusted, or even abandoned.
When the facts and circumstances change, your goals change. (This includes sudden changes in technology, like Google slaps… booming new opportunities that didn’t exist earlier… even realizing you no longer crave what motivated you so desperately before.)
I’m not suggesting you have an easy “bail out” plan, that you can take whenever things get dicey. Like Cortez burning his ships upon his conquest of Mexico, a lot of entrepreneurs do better when there is no turning back.
Rather, I’m talking about visualizing your life after success. Many entrepreneurs, right after “making it”, immediately begin to sabotage the biz. Because the fun is in the building up of the thing, the adventures of tackling challenges and working without a net.
Once you’ve been successful, you either need to pivot to management of the biz (yawn)…
… or consider the consequences of cashing out, selling your biz, moving into something else, or just becoming an “intrapreneur” like Steve Jobs did at Apple.
At least consider what your life will be like when you succeed. And consider options for yourself.
Okay. That’s the starter list. Not a bad checklist to have on the wall above your desk as you move forward, either.
One last thought on reality: Yes, I ignored the reality of who I was, and what I brought to the game, as I plowed through life going after unrealistic goals.
However, there is ONE reality I never ignore.
That would be the reality of results. I love seeing how ads and tactics work, or don’t work, through actual sales numbers (and click-through and open rates, and so on).
However, I look at these results CRITICALLY. I don’t accept them blindly. They are tools for moving forward. Where did, or where could the ad have failed? Can we fix it? What other things can be done to navigate a sales problem? Where IS the main problem, anyway?
My stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face certain realities has served me well over the years. If I’d listened to the nay-sayers, or even my own fears, my life would have been much less exciting and happy. And rich, in every respect.
Still, all vices in moderation. That’s my motto.
Find out what works for you.
I hope this list is a good starting point.
P.S. Did I leave anything off the list that should have been on there?
Love to hear your take on the matter, in the comments section below…
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