“I wasn’t prepared for success.”
The last time we spoke to Matt he had quit his job to make dining room tables full-time. I wanted to check in to see how he was doing. Turn outs that running a successful business can be a blessing and a curse.
Let’s see how Matt discovered the dark side of starting a business, what he did when he had trouble paying rent last October, and what has happened to his business over the last year and a half.
Do you remember Matt?
He went from dropping out of college to giving up on blogging to making dining room tables for a living.
Matt had one of the best success stories of 2015. Here’s the recap:
“I officially opened for business on April 10th of 2014 and I made my first real sale on May 31st, so about 7 weeks after putting myself out there.
Sales were random for the first few months, but it was a good amount. When I first launched Back Burner Designs, my boss heard about it and asked if I was looking to turn it into a career. I laughed at him and said I was just doing it on the side and that I could never do it full-time.
I was telling him the truth, I didn’t think I could ever live off it, but about 10 months later I gave him my notice.”
The article was really inspiring. It was the most traditional case of the person who chased their dreams. Matt rode off into the sunset as the article concluded. The publicity started coming in. Matt was featured in a few outlets. The success story took.
The problem was that Matt wasn’t ready for his business to take off the way it did. There’s usually a dark side to success that none of us ever hear about because nobody wants to be the one to complain about this sort of topic.
What’s the dark side of running a successful business?
“That must be nice. I wish I could do that. Must be nice to work your own hours. That has to be the life.”
People always say these things to Matt. Everyone thinks that when you quit your job to start a business that your life suddenly gets easier. Instagram weirdos will have you believe that starting a business means that you can relax on the beach all day while the passive income rolls in. That’s 100% not the case.
What’s the dark side of starting a successful business?
Your schedule is all over the place.
“Make your own hours is kind of a joke. You still have to work. A business won’t solve your problems. It’s not the easy way out. 9-5 turns to 9-9.”
Matt then went on to tell me that he easily works 60-70 hours a week.
What’s the schedule like?
- Wake up.
- Drink coffee in bed.
- Email everyone.
- Go to the shop and work on the tables.
- Keep on going.
There’s no turning your phone off for the day or goofing off on a Friday because the boss isn’t around. Your schedule is all over the place. Getting into a decent routine is next to impossible.
When you have a job, you know exactly what time you have to be there, when you can go for lunch, and when it’s okay to leave. With a successful business you have zero downtime. The client that paid for that table (or freelance article or new logo) doesn’t care that you want to take Fridays off or that your favorite team is in the playoffs.
You have nobody to tell you what to do.
“Do you work for someone?”
Matt explained how friends and customers are always surprised when they find out that he runs the business on his own.
“The thing with running a business on your own is that you actually have to run the business without letting it run you.”
This means that you’re in charge of everything from marketing to delivery. You have nobody telling you what time to start work, when to go on break, and when to shut down for the day.
You can become totally disorganized.
“I spent most of 2016 scrambling around trying to catch up. Things are busy. Phone calls and emails coming from all angles. You want to start a business that makes money. Then it happens and you don’t know what to do.”
Matt told me how it was tough to get the whole process organized and how it can get out of hand quickly
You have to do the following:
- Promote yourself.
- Talk with potential customers that find you.
- Write up quotes for them.
- Get payment.
- Buy the materials you need,
- Build the order.
- Take pictures for your marketing.
- Deliver the product.
It’s not complicated when you’re doing them one table at a time, but once you get 10, 20, 30 of these going all at the same time it can become overwhelming if you are not organized.
When you have a job, you get money directly deposited into your account. You don’t have to stress about collecting this money or chasing down clients. You also don’t have to think about who’s going to take the order and who’s going to get the supplies for the order.
Matt quickly saw how easy it was to get disorganized once the orders started coming in.
You don’t know what to do next.
Matt was overwhelmed by everything. He was spending money on the business that he didn’t have to (buying new tools, getting the wrong supplies, too many supplies, etc.). He wasn’t keeping track of profits (very important for a business).
“What am I doing wrong?”
Matt asked himself this near the end of 2016. He knew there were people lining up to pay him and he was booked out for months, so why wasn’t it getting easier? He had to really plan out his next move. Especially when he realized that finances were really tight.
“In October of 2016. I almost didn’t have enough money to pay rent.”
You’re excited because your business is booming. You don’t take the time to get organized. Then one day, if you’re not paying attention to where you’re spending, you don’t have enough money for rent.
“The biggest thing hurting me was myself. Not prioritizing. Not paying attention. No order to the day. Everything all over the place.”
How did Matt deal with his issues?
“The biggest thing that stands in your way is you.”
As always, it’s easy to get stuck on the small stuff. You don’t want to deal with that email so you just ignore it. You hope that your problems will go away. You ignore the obvious solutions. I’ve been guilty of holding myself back in many different areas. These small things pile up and if you get to the end of the day and ask yourself about what you even did all day then you need to make some changes to how you go about your day.
Focus on the next most important thing.
“Focus on what’s right in front of you. Pick one thing every day.”
Matt explained to me how it’s important to deal with the stuff that you don’t want to think about. You can’t ignore what’s in front of you.
Usually the hardest thing on your to-do list is the most important one, but it’s more satisfying to check all of the easy boxes first. Next thing you know, it’s the end of the day and you didn’t get that big thing done.
When you don’t deal with your important problems, they just pile up. When you run a busy business, you have to deal with orders, accounting, buying supplies, creating, delivery, and customer service.
In Matt’s case he learned to focus on the next most important thing. Most of us have a huge to-do list all the time and we try to check as many boxes as we can.
“Pretend that you can only check one box on your to-do list for the day, which one is the most impactful?”
That’s the one you do first. Once you get that box checked, everything else will be easier and you’ll get to the end of the day feeling accomplished and ready for the next.
Pick one thing and do it.
“I finally organized the shop. It was life changing. I know where everything is.”
Matt’s shop is about three miles from he lives. When the orders started coming in, the shop became disorganized. It seemed more important to focus on working than on keeping the workspace clean, but then things get lost and the chaos spills into other areas of your life.
You’d be surprised by how much your productivity gets killed when you’re disorganized.
- How many times have you missed a workout because you couldn’t find your favorite shorts?
- Remember that article you never wrote because you lost your notes?
Organization is everything for a small business. From your workspace to your finances to your living space. Organization translates into less stress and more productivity.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget to write your mileage down if you have your own business.
It’s okay to ask for help for your business. Matt didn’t want to pay a bookkeeper because he didn’t want anyone to see how disorganized he was. He also didn’t want to hire someone before his shop was organized enough to bring someone in. It turns out, he needed people to help him to get organized.
Matt has two employees working at the shop with him now and he hired someone to help him organize and balance his books.
Matt put it best when I asked him about getting his books organized:
“I’ve gone through this hell. Everything balances.”
Don’t be afraid to find the right help. It’s not you against the world.
“There will be times when you don’t have the answer, or the drive, and you’re forced to look beyond yourself. You can admit that you can’t do it alone. I certainly can’t. No one can.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
How are you supposed to balance between promoting and actually doing?
[Matt has started using his success planner so that he can run the day instead of having the day run him]
How do you find time for life?
“There’s no such thing as balance as a hustler.”
I agree with Matt totally on this one. I have no balance. There’s no such thing a shutting off. There’s no putting your phone down. There’s no extended vacation from your hustle.
“I try to take one day off at least to do something fun and not work-related. I have a girlfriend who lives an hour away so I physically get away from work when I go visit her and I try to keep myself from thinking about it too much and checking email.“
A very wise move by Matt. It’s critical that you find that one day for yourself. Some wise folks have shared with me the idea of a day off. This means that you take one day per week just for yourself. You can turn everything off and recharge. It’s okay. The world won’t crumble around you.
How do people find you these days?
How did Matt become so popular? How do people find him?
“Out of everywhere.”
Matt told me how he ended up doing one trade show since the article. He then mentioned how business has been steady enough that he doesn’t have to worry about active outreach.
An Etsy shop started it all. Now it’s mostly social media, the website, or word of mouth.
“That’s an interesting table.”
That’s all it takes sometimes. Someone will say something to someone and Matt has a new customer. You don’t want your cousin to have a better coffee table than you. Matt even had a furniture store order a few items.
What about social media?
Matt uses Facebook and Instagram regularly and has good luck reaching people. He brought up how the Back Burner Designs Instagram is an awesome display tool for organizing all of his pictures and is a quick way to show people what he does when he meets them.
He says that the biggest increase in business and engagement happened when he bought a camera and started posting better photos. People started to notice right away and his whole brand image changed over the following year.
[Quick note: Check out this article if you want to start a blog right now.]
Are you making money now?
“I have made well over $100k since starting business.”
Matt has spent money on tools, materials and so on. He noted that it’s tempting to reinvest into the business.
“It’s easy to overspend, but you can do just as much damage to your growth by underspending. I overspent for a long time, but I have gotten better at finding the right balance.”
What about saving money?
“When I started paying attention to where I was spending, I was able to cut out about $1000 a month in expenses between business and personal. We’re not talking about saving $5 on lattes, this was big stuff. I had no idea I was spending so much because it had become such a habit.”
Matt also hired a financial planner to start contributing to a retirement savings account and he uses most of his income to pay off his debts from student loans and from growing the business. He also built an emergency fund just in case he runs into problems in the future.
What’s next for Matt?
I asked Matt what he was planning on doing next. Here’s the list:
- Finish pending orders.
- Get the staff to know the process.
- Hire more people eventually.
- Refine the process.
- Have jobs and roles within the process.
“My goal is to stop making tables. I can’t make tables all of the time. I do marketing, customer service, delivery, pick up the supplies, create the tables, etc.”
What exactly does Matt want to do at Back Burner Designs?
“My goal is to build a team to create the tables I design which would give me more time to focus on the customer experience and selling more. There are too many things that need to get done and I can do everything all of the time otherwise one area is not getting enough attention and is going to suffer. I enjoy designing the products, talking to customers, and marketing, so I want to make those my focus.”
That’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur. If you don’t like the way something is, you have the power to change it.
Matt is making more than just tables, and he is continuing to expand the offerings to include a variety of furniture and home items and has some pieces in a more modern style that he is planning to launch soon. He even does local finish carpentry jobs on the side and builds custom built-in furniture and countertops. As he works towards growing the company and freeing up his own hours he is hoping to get more time to design more pieces to add to his product offerings.
Would you ever go back?
“Never. It has been challenging but rewarding. Starting a business is the best way to learn a lot about yourself really fast. It’s not necessarily stuff you want to learn, but it’s the stuff you need to learn. Most of the problems I have encountered came from my own habits but I had nobody above me to point it out so I had to discover them myself. I have always resisted organization and structure, but I’m finding out that those are something my business is craving and that I need in my life in order to be productive.”
Matt’s advice to all aspiring entrepreneurs.
“One of the most common things that people say is ‘I don’t know what my passion is.’ Well if you think I knew what mine was when I started my company then you’re wrong. Most people think that making tables or woodworking is my passion, and they’re wrong. I am passionate about running a company that I am proud of, I like designing and refining processes and making improvements, I like making people happy and I like offering something unique that I know is better than what other companies are offering. I just happen to be doing that with furniture.
I started this company because I needed a side-income and I took it full-time because I didn’t like the job I had and I hoped I could make it on my own. Over the next couple of years up to this exact moment, I’ve been learning what I like and don’t, what I am good at and not, and what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t learn much of anything in two years of college and I spent thousands of dollars. In two years of running my own business full-time, I could fill a book with the things I’ve learned and I’ve made a profit in the process.
I think there will be a day where I am really ‘setting my own hours’ and ‘being my own boss’ like everybody thinks when they find out I run my own business, but there is a lot of hard work and hard lessons that come before that. There’s a dark side to business that a lot of people don’t talk about, but it’s always an opportunity to grow. Sometimes when things aren’t running well you just need to make a few small changes, other times, you might need to start fresh with a new business. I had a failed blog before this and I cut my losses and took it down. With Back Burner Designs, I could see that it was bringing in revenue, but I had to make changes to turn that revenue into profit and that profit into growth.
My advice to anyone starting or running their own business is to get your thoughts organized and on paper and remind yourself everyday of your short and long-term strategies for getting to your goals.
I regularly lean on the Hustler’s Success Planner (no, Martin didn’t ask me to say this!) to get myself oriented in the morning. That way, I keep my long-term goals in focus while prioritizing my most important things for the day, in order. I always carry around a sketchbook/notebook for drawing and writing, and a planner for appointments and my mileage log with me but I like the having an actual book dedicated to organizing my business thoughts and strategies. That way when I am doing that, I cut out all the ‘noise’ of everything else.
Being an entrepreneur is awesome, but it’s not easy and if you set out looking for ‘passive income’ right off the bat, you’re going to be in for a harsh reality-check.
Think about it as an education, not as a get-rich-quick scheme and you’ll move towards where you want to go. It takes time and effort, but once you learn the principals of running a business and being an entrepreneur, the sky is the limit for what you can start and what you can accomplish.“