I grew up on a farm in Idaho. We didn’t have much money.
I never went hungry—my parents worked their butts off to provide the essentials—but I suppose that a lot of people would have considered us poor.
I remember having to share socks with my sisters, for example, and frequently going without them because the available choices were a little too feminine for a rambunctious farm boy to get away with.
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Or that time my mom, who was raised in Seattle and loved seafood, bought prawns that had been marked down to a dollar and were essentially being sold as fish bait.
I cleaned them with bleach and boiled them. Slathered liberally in butter, they didn’t taste half bad.
Changing the narrative.
Imagine, then, how I felt while depositing my first $100,000 check at the age of 23. It didn’t seem real until I saw the actual printed receipt.
It was like a lightning strike with pleasant aftereffects. I almost passed out.
If you want to know how it happened, I can say—in all honesty—that it was sheer, dumb luck.
Well, that and a few other things. Here’s the whole story, in four simple steps that can apply to every new business owner:
1. I hustled.
My first company specialized in manufacturing and repairing electric signs. I had a whole bunch of competitors who’d been in business a whole lot longer than I had.
They had experience. They had fancy equipment. They had rolodexes full of clients and teams of smooth-talking salespeople.
I didn’t have any of that, so my only option was to hustle. I drove around at night looking for signs that needed repair and then cold-called the owner the next morning and offered to fix it for half the going rate.
2. I took a chance.
One evening, I noticed a burnt-out sign for a tire company that had around 12 locations in three states. When I finally hunted down the owner—Craig Bruneel—he told me that the sign was impossible to fix.
My competitors had tried and failed. Craig said that I was welcome to take a stab at it, but that he wouldn’t pay me a penny for my time unless I got the job done.
I had a decision to make. I couldn’t afford to waste a day tinkering with a hopeless project, but I didn’t want to lose a potential client, either.
I told Craig I’d do my best.
3. I got lucky.
I drove out to the sign and spent three or four frustrating hours trying to figure out why the damn thing wouldn’t work. I checked the ballast, the bulbs, the connections.
Then it happened. I shifted a tool called a voltage tester from one side of the mess to the other, literally just to get it out of the way.
As I passed it over a certain section of wire, the voltage tester blinked. It was a perfectly healthy looking stretch of wire, still encased in plastic, with no indication of damage.
I cut it out and spliced it. And the sign lit up like Christmas.
4. I capitalized on my luck.
When I called Craig with the good news, he insisted on driving out to take a look. He was impressed. I was tempted to tell him that I was just a genius, but told him the truth instead.
Craig then asked if I manufactured signs as well as fixed them. I said yes. Craig informed me that he was about to do a rebrand for all of his various tire store locations, and asked me to give him a bid for the signage required. It added up to $250,000, and I won the bid.
I won another $250,000 bid with Craig a few days later. I was on my way my first year in business, thanks to randomly touching a bit of inexplicably faulty wire with the correct tool.
Making the story your own.
Of course, it was opening a small business, hustling for contracts and taking a risk that led to that moment. And if I hadn’t been prepared to seize it and squeeze it for all it was worth, it would have been an opportunity wasted.
That involved a lot of luck.
But this is the basic pattern for entrepreneurial success. You go out on your own, you work harder than everybody else, and you accept all the unsexy assignments until—usually in a way you could never have foreseen—you get your chance.
It isn’t easy getting there, and when you do get there it means that your job is about to grow 10 times more challenging.
Accept that challenge. Your checking account will thank you.
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