Thursday, August 6, 2009

What do you really want out of life?

e·piph·a·ny (ĭ-pĭf'ə-nē)
n. pl. e·piph·a·nies


A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.

Today is part 8 of a 30 day commitment. To read about how I am blogging to change my life please read here first.

Once I made the commitment to start my own business I never looked back. I started placing more ads in local newspapers and the phone really started ringing. I was selling bikes on eBay and turning them around fast enough that I was actually making money from the first month. There is no incentive as strong as fear. Fear of losing a house and not providing for the family is a pretty good one too.

I was also fortunate to have a best friend who is a great mechanic. Its hard to put into words how much Jeremy helped me. Not only by coming over after his regular work day and working on bikes, but by the incredible support he gave us. He was watching me build this business and was as fascinated by the process as I was. I paid him by splitting profits on the bikes he worked on and with a steady supply of good quality beer like Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I worked hard all day. I took the phone calls, negotiated the price, drove to pick up the bike, brought it back home, worked on it, cleaned it, test drove it, and then took the pictures and marketed it on eBay. I was on the computer much of the night answering emails and uploading pictures.

I also played hard. I love motorcycles. All motorcycles. One of the things that I discovered was that there were a ton of cool mopeds and scooters in peoples basements. Jeremy and I would go out late night until well after midnight and rip it up like a couple of idiots. We would set up tracks in parking lots and race each other. It was funny how I was working harder than I ever had in my life, but I was also really enjoying the freedom that owning my own business gave me. It was and still is a ton of pressure, but it is MY pressure. Its good pressure.

It was also profitable from the beginning. I started to get a much different view of money. I could literally make as much as I wanted. All I had to do was figure out how to scale up the operation. I had been fortunate enough to read Michael Gerbers "The E-Myth Revisited". If you are thinking of starting a business (or if you already have one) I consider it mandatory reading. There are a couple important lessons in the book that really helped me shape the direction of the business. The first was that it made me think about my individual jobs in the business. In order to scale the business I would have to figure out how to break all the roles I had down into individual job descriptions. I actually had about 7 different job descriptions written up before I hired my first employee.

The other was the concept of working ON your business as well as working IN your business. During the day I was working in my business by doing all the jobs I had to do. At night I was working on my business by writing job descriptions, doing research on websites and technologies to help, etc.. These are two completely different mindsets and your business will grow much faster if you actually schedule time to work on your business. This goes hand in hand with my earlier goal from the Rich Dad Poor Dad book of owning a business, not being self employed. At this point I was self employed, but I was planting all the groundwork to grow a business.

I was getting enough calls that I had to figure out where to get more money. I didn't have nearly enough money to buy all that I could and I didn't have a formal business plan to bring to a bank for a loan. During this time the housing market was going through the roof and I realized that what I owed on my home was way less than it was worth. I opened a home equity line of credit. Most people think of their home as an asset, but it really is a liability. If something costs you money every month and doesn't yield a higher return, it is a liability. It costs you. I was using my home as an asset. There are a lot of people who wouldn't be comfortable with this kind of risk but I never thought about it. It felt right and I was learning to trust my instincts, regardless of what the many negative people around you will say. I was starting to get a clearer idea of what kind of potential this business had and I was really excited.

I might have been excited and optimistic about the future, but we were still eating ramen prides and had cut back on all the extras in our life. We almost never went out to eat, one of our favorite things to do with the family. I had been looking at Michael Gerbers "e-Myth Mastery" program. It was a comprehensive multi-week program with a booklet, coach and weekly conference call meetings. This book made such an impression on how I was doing things and it was paying off. I wanted to take the next step and continue down the same path. But it was $500!! Five hundred dollars was a huge amount of money to me at this point, especially when I had cut back drastically. This was money that wouldn't directly generate more money. If I spent $500 on a bike I could be sure to make a couple hundred in profit. This was pure expense. Or so I thought. It might be the best $500 I've ever spent in my life. Obviously I did it. I received a huge binder with individual sections for each week of the program. It looked like a lot of work.

The first week was called "finding your primary objective" or something like that. I went through the worksheets and was struggling. I was so wrapped up in making the best business in the world I couldn't separate what I wanted for the business vs. what I wanted out of life. I kept coming up with things like, "To provide the best service, blah blah blah". I wrote it a bunch of times and came up with something that I thought would work. It felt right. I read it at the conference call feeling all brilliant and was trashed by the coach who said that I didn't get the exercise. What did I want? Not what did I want to do. He told me to separate my roles in life from what I wanted at my core. I could not figure out how to separate them. For me life consisted of my roles. What I wanted for my roles WAS what I wanted for my life.

I remember that the worksheet had two sides. One for what you want and one for what you didn't want. I had a really easy time filling out the section for what I didn't want. I had things like "don't want to be around bullshit artists". It was obvious that what had happened to me at Dads was still fresh on my mind. Then it hit me. I realized that all the things on the list of things I don't want related to being truth full and having integrity. What I call "being able to sleep at night".

It was so simple and pure. It felt like I had distilled everything I was about down to a tiny kernel. I wrote, "What I want out of my life is to always have the courage to tell the truth". It was for me a true epiphany. I can't explain it to anybody because it was how it felt that was so overwhelming.

I actually never went any further with the Mastery program. I had been lit on fire. For the first time in my life I could apply an ethic to every thing that I do. It is what turned National Powersports into what it is today. Let me explain.
Although it was my personal primary goal, I had the power to create a business in that image. This means that all the procedures and processes that we do had to follow it. It is the reason that my inspections on the motorcycles became so comprehensive. It is the reason that I have surrounded myself with like-minded employees. It is the reason that we don't lie to our customers. My employees know that if they don't tell the truth they won't work here anymore.

It is the reason that I love what I do. I have formed a business based on what I want out of life. I have formed a life based on a principle that makes me happy. If I had built National Powersports on a mission to "make as much money as possible" I wouldn' have made it. I really believed then as I do now that if you do the right thing money will follow. It has no choice, it has to.

The first line in our service statement that we give to every new employee is "Tell the truth". We talk about it in our morning meetings. It guides our procedures and makes our employees feel like they are part of something much bigger than just selling motorcycles.

I've largely kept it out of our marketing because it sounds self-serving. There are tons of places who advertise that they are truthful and don't back it up. I figure that I don't have to talk about it in my advertising. Our actions are what fulfills that promise.

It still gives me chills to remember that moment that I figured it out. The reason that I'm doing this is on the hope that I might help somebody else have that same moment. When I think about having a life with purpose, that is what I think about.


Meredith said...

I have been self employed for over 6 years. You make a lot of good points and recommendations. I am going to have to look up some of those reading materials. Interesting to see you discuss, especially in the previous post, self employed vs business owner. Never realized the difference. Hmmmmm. Food for thought!


Adam Wilcox said...

I've been looking forward to reading your updates every day, Nate. Thank you. Lots of stuff to think about...

Kelly Walter said...

Bless you. Integrity and accountability are HUGE values and drivers for me too. MEH mission states "to demonstrate integrity & honesty in sales and installation - only selling products that truly meet the customer's needs"... not a profit motive, a values-driven motive. I likey! Keep them coming and thank you for sharing your experience.