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When you start a business, it’s like being thrown overboard.

Every person I have known that has been on a cruise knows one undeniable thing: that cruise can go one way or another. It can be amazing or terrible. There really is no in-between.

Businesses Are Cruise Ships

When you start a business, the ship that you’re being thrown off of is like a discount cruise line. When you work for someone else, there is usually a moment when you realize you’re on a mediocre cruise line. By that I mean the food is kind of like the food at your college cafeteria. The entertainment is the rejects from American Idol. And you’re constantly seasick.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a miserable time to me.

There are a few benefits to this discount ship. You are safe, secure, fed, and you have a place to sleep. It may not be the Ritz Carlton of the high seas, but it is comfortable. Now imagine that before you start a business, you’re standing on the deck and looking over the railings thinking “I wonder if life could be different. I wonder if there is another way to sail these seas.”

Before you know it, somebody has come along and thrown you overboard while you stand on the rail and dream. Why? The reasons may be vast and varied. Someone else might need your room: meaning the company has found a way to get what you do done more cheaply. Or they may be eliminating rooms altogether: in other words, the company is downsizing.

The other situation may be that you have jumped overboard as well, because you can’t stand the way of life any longer and you know there is a new reality out there for you. For whatever reason, you are now completely immersed in an ice cold ocean called “Reality.” If you don’t do something quickly you are going to drown.

This is just like starting your own business. It’s important for you to know this because you may think you know what the waters will feel like but you don’t. Until you actually immerse yourself in it, there is no possible way to be prepared.

Year One: Craft a Raft

The first year of business is basically just like when you first jump into the waters.  Your instincts kick in and you start kicking and clawing and paddling your way up to the surface!

You realize that life can be different than the one that you had on board, but you have to be the one to build the raft. No one will give you a raft, no one is going to rescue you. You have to be the one to prepare the new form of transportation. You are responsible for your own rescue.

So you fight and claw and paddle your way to the surface. You poke your face just above the surface and start gasping for air. Little by little, shreds and pieces of debris and driftwood come your way. You start collecting them, binding them together, and forming your own ship.

That breaking through and cobbling together of a raft is symbolic of the first year of running your own business. Many people do not make it past this first year. Many people cannot keep their heads above water long enough to build their own life raft let alone build the luxury liner they were envisioning when they were either thrown overboard or made the jump by choice.

Year Two: A Bigger Boat

If you make it past the first year, then you spend the next year gathering more pieces of sea debris and continuing to fortify and grow your ship. This is where Think Digital is at right now! We’re nearing the end of our second year. We’ve grown our ship to the point where other people can fit on it and are being supported by it.

Year Three: Enter the Enemies

But the danger isn’t over yet – because the third year is when the sharks come. That’s when you really see what you’re made of. That’s where your ship begins to support you and others, but it also helps you fend off any predators that want to take you out.

These sharks can be anything from competitors to the bank to poor cash flow planning to HR issues to bad team members. There is an endless line of sharks waiting to munch on you and take you out.

After the third year something happens. The storms stop. You get the sharks under control and you even find ways to utilize them to power your business. After the third year, you really start to pick up steam. That is when your ship starts to really take shape and you start sailing towards the life that you imagined as you were toppling over the rail on that old mediocre cruise ship.

The key is this: upwards of 50% of startup businesses do not make it out of the first 3 years. There’s a reason for that! Because fighting your way to the surface, building your own life raft, and then growing it into the luxury liner you imagined is really hard.

The Price of Admission

While it is hard, it is the price of admission. Every single preconceived idea I had about entrepreneurship has been almost categorically wrong. It is an exhausting ride, but it is a thrilling ride, and I would not have it any other way.

Many of you reading this post need to understand this metaphor of building a business before you start. It is a fight and it is a struggle. It may look easy from the outside. Go ahead and think about a business that you idolize. I guarantee you that every single person attached to that business has fought through this struggle. It may not have lasted as long, but they have been through it.

The price of entry is fighting this battle, and it is a glorious price. Once you pay it you can begin to see and taste the new reality that you know exists. Listen to and nurture that voice inside that is aiming for the luxury liner, but don’t be surprised when you find yourself under water fighting for your life.

 

Have you ever been stuck in a maze?

Here in Iowa, every fall we have these weird, quirky things called corn mazes.

(I’m sure they have them elsewhere in the world, but, you know….IOWA.)

my kids in a cornfield

My kids LOVE the corn mazes. It’s actually kind of weird. I call them “Children of the Corn” but they just stare at me. Blankly. Whatever.

We have to go through a maze at least once each year or the Daddy Stock drops about a million percentage points.

They usually whiz through them with no trouble. They haven’t met a maze they couldn’t match.

But last year, my little Evie got stuck.

See, Finn (my son) and I went into the maze and, thinking Evie was safely close by, zoomed ahead.

Left. Right. Sprint. Rest. Think. Move.

It wasn’t until about 5 minutes in where I looked back behind me and….NO EVIE.

Two thoughts popped into my mind:

ONE: Oh my goodness, Kerry (my wife) is going to kill me!

TWO: Oh my goodness, Kerry is going to KILL me!

THREE (I lied): WHERE IS EVIE??

…And then I heard it in the distance… A tiny, shrill, frantic little scream:

Daddy!

Daddy!

DADDY!

I knew instantly it was Evie.

I could hear the fear in her voice. It was time to move fast and take action.

I shouted back between the rows and rows of corn paths obstructing my view….

Evie! Daddy’s here! Don’t be scared! Just follow my voice!

…and then…

Evie! Daddy’s almost got you! I can hear you! It’s okay!

…and then…

GOTCHA!

I caught up to her just as some fellow maze-goers were about to call the police and report a lost little girl and, quite possibly, haul me off to jail.

I scooped her up and navigated the rest of the maze with her in my arms.

I wasn’t letting go–plus, I don’t think she would have given me an option!

We exited the maze and sat down as a family to the customary post-maze picnic of apple cider donuts and cider.

GLORIOUS!

Now…

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon.

I was talking with a small businesses owner, let’s call him “Jed”.

Jed is a 35-year-old man with a bricks-and-mortar business he loves dearly.

He’s a far cry from even remotely resembling my 3-year-old daughter, except for one thing…

Panic. Dread. Fear. Anxiety.

See, Jed knows digital marketing (a.k.a. website, blog, email, and social media) is a must. He just has no idea where to start.

I heard the panic as he described the frustration of building his email list.

The dread as he described converting his social media followers into customers.

The frustration of no one reading his blog posts.

The futility of sending out one enewsletter after the next with no traction.

In short, he feels stuck. Maybe you do too.

Thankfully there’s a way out of the maze (and it doesn’t even involve me scooping you up in my arms!).

Jed doesn’t have to stay stuck. Neither do you. If you feel like you’re stuck in the social media maze, click the button below to find your way out.

Click Here to Escape

I hear you. I know what you’re feeling. Let’s get you out.

One of the most formidable foes an entrepreneur will face is fatigue. It can sneak up on you, and when it does, it can pull you down for long, long periods of time.

Earlier this week we discussed the importance of building in breaks to our daily, weekly, and monthly routines to keep our rhythm fresh and fatigue-free.

Now we’re going to tackle the practical side: the impact that our lifestyle choices can have on our energy and motivation levels!

Regular Exercise

The importance of getting regular exercise may seem like a no-brainer, but how many of us actually work out regularly? Working out has been one of the lifesavers in my battle against fatigue. It’s become a key non-negotiable. It must happen!

Working out clears mental clutter, gets out aggression, and oxygenates your brain. It also spikes endorphins which, generally speaking, makes you feel better throughout the day.

As goes the body, so goes the mind. Exercise will keep you on point mentally which will lead to overall rejuvenation.

Nutrition

I’m still learning how huge this component is. Up until 2 years ago, I didn’t give much thought at all to what I put in my body.

I’ve always had a pretty mean sweet tooth and would just cram as much junk as I could into my daily diet. And until I turned 30 there were no physical ramifications; my metabolism let me eat what I wanted to.

But as I get older, I know it’s important to eat better not only for metabolic reasons, but it also contributes to my overall energy levels. What you put in is what you get out. The food that you eat will contribute to your energy levels, which has a direct relationship with fatigue.

Cutting down significantly on carbs and sweets and upping my intake of protein, fruits, and veggies has become my regimen. In essence, clean eating! The importance of nutrition cannot be overstated.

Fighting the fatigue with diet can be as simple as having protein (nuts, sunflower seeds) in the afternoon instead of a sugary snack or coffee in the afternoon. Protein will keep those energy levels going instead of something sugary that will make you crash!

Talk It Out

Some of you may scoff at this, but talking about what you are feeling is one of the quickest ways to fight mental fatigue. Truthfully, not talking it through will add the weight of nobody knowing what you are going through. That is a heavy burden to bear.

By having mentors that I can talk to and say “Man, this is what I’m feeling – burnt out, frustrated, like I can’t push – you have been doing this longer, what did you do when you felt like this?” Even if the answer is something like “keep pushing,” it helps me greatly to know that somebody else knows what I am going through and has made it to the other side.

My mentors have been invaluable to me in helping me shape my thinking around fatigue. That there’s this thought that as entrepreneurs we’re supposed to be invincible; we never get sick or tired or frustrated or lonely. The reality is that isn’t true. Having people you can talk to who have experienced it and know the steps you need to take to push through is key to fighting fatigue.

Final Push

The fatigue is almost always mental. Very few of us work in jobs where there is a physical fatigue. Most people in 2015 have a job surrounding a desk and computers – that leads to mental fatigue. It’s pointless to try and push through fatigue; it’s like beating a dead horse.

Your mind is already fatigued – the horse is already dead – there’s no sense in pushing forward. You might actually do further damage if you don’t take time to recharge!

There’s a dangerous notion of “the hustle” and there are certain times and places for you to push. But if you pull a muscle when you’re working out, sometimes you can push through, but sometimes you need to rest and recuperate.

The difference in terms of longevity is to know the difference between discomfort and injury. You can push through discomfort. If you try to push through injury you will only make the situation worse. That is true of our muscles and of our mental capacity.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely battle. I want you in this for the long haul. I need you guys to take care of yourselves so that we can change the world together!