SHIT, What do I do now?
It's Christmas 2021. I've just officially hung up my oar and I'm spending some time with my family reflecting on what has been a brutally difficult, yet successful rowing career. I should be happy - I've achieved my dream! But... I am absolutely miserable and directionless.
All I'm thinking is 'What do I do now?' Soon the holiday period will be over, and my friends, family and partner will return to their work and their normal life. What will I do?
Alright I'll get a job!
I needed to find something to fill my time - my world had been dominated by an intense routine for 15 years, and I now needed to fill that void left by sport with a new challenge. I threw myself at Seek, like throwing shit at a wall - let's see what sticks. I was looking for a job that would be exciting, meaningful and net me a cool $100k a year (at least!).
Oh, how adorably stupid I was. My work experience (for all intents and purposes) was zero. My CV was stretched to three pages long, written like a university assignment, desperately trying to reach the word count. But this document can be summed up in one sentence - "I'm Shaun, a naive washed-up athlete, with an irrelevant degree, 1 part-time job worth mentioning and almost no practical experience that qualifies me for anything beyond entry-level"
I'm incredibly grateful to this little dream team for having the patience to teach me a few practical skills outside of the sporting arena. Initially, working at Kaz Design was a way to hedge my bets - In 2018, I hated rowing and wanted to quit. I was performing poorly and losing motivation by the day. Then the opportunity for part-time work at Kaz popped up, and I thought - hell, let's bank at least a little bit of work experience in case tomorrow I decide to pull the middle finger at rowing!
What I didn't anticipate was this work gave me the balance I needed and let me find enjoyment again in my sport. This work helped me realise that, YES, there was a world beyond pulling on an oar!
Now in 2022 retired from sport, I was looking for, applying for and ultimately failing to get full-time employment.
I had 2 problems - Every employer was looking for someone with more then just part-time experience, AND, I was applying for jobs I was no-where-near qualified for (something I didn't believe or even realise at the time!)
You know what? Screw SEEK... for now...
"I'll just use the skills that I learnt from Kaz and start my own business - It'll be a stop-gap until I find a real job" This was the exact phrasing I was telling my friends and family. I felt like I just needed to earn money NOW as I had a mortgage to pay and was no longer supported as an athlete.
I found myself frequently running out of patience for the lethargy in the hiring processes. And with a bit of a 'F#*k You' attitude, I thought I'd spin up SK Digital, run it for a few months until a proper job came up.
Initially, I was fueled by 4 things:
The need to find something meaningful to replace sport
The need to pay my bills
Anyone that was telling me it's 'too hard'
And a willingness to fail
This was a great cocktail of factors that turbo-charged everything I was doing.
I became obsessed with business in the same way as I was with sport.
OK, I don't think this is a 'Stop-Gap' anymore
It took me a while, but I began to realise that I am not cut out to be an employee. I want to lead, innovate and help people and businesses my way. When I had this realisation, all of a sudden SK Digital became something which felt more real.
It was also growing quickly, but I was painfully aware that most small businesses fail early, and while I'm not afraid of failing - I did believe that I had the ability to outwork others, and my own self-doubt should help this thing be a success. My priority in the early stages was to improve my skills and product, improve the experience, take ownership, be transparent and give freely.
How I learned to operate - My Rules.
I don't claim to be a guru by any means. I've learned this in the echo chamber of my own business. However, you shouldn't dismiss these to quickly - these rules have helped me win an Olympic Gold medal and build a 6-figure business. So here goes:
Assume you are shit
Work like a godamn animal
GIVE until you feel sick
Be honest, clear & transparent
Focus on your product & point of difference
Stack the odds in your favour
Not what you were expecting huh? Well let me explain.
This rule must be taken with a grain of salt and understood correctly. I'm definitely not advocating negative self-talk, rather I'd encourage anyone in business to recognise you have ALOT left to learn and there is ALWAYS someone better than you.
'Assuming you are shit' (in the right way) should be a motivator - it can push a business to upskill, hire or change opinions when required. It keeps ego out of the equation and lets your work evolve rather than stagnate. This isn't something you should lead with when meeting a client/customer. Rather, think about this idea - 'I'm not perfect, but neither are they, and I shouldn't be intimidated'.
A better way to describe this is 'Always assume you have more to learn' but I thought 'Assume you are shit' would be more memorable haha.
Surprise, surprise you have to work hard.
Now let's think about working like an animal for a second. When an animal works it's for a distinct purpose with absolute focus. I'm not talking about you pet dog digging holes in the back yard - I'm talking about a wolf hunting its prey. Both your pet dog and wolf are working hard - but the wild wolf is doing it with total purpose related to it's survival.
The wild animal is trained by evolution to survive. Every time it gets into it's work, it's to further it's chance of survival. This is also the way a business thrives - Focus on the high leverage work activities first, the actions that help book more jobs, increase positive word of mouth, and have more longtail benefits to your clients, customers, employees etc. Leave the lower leverage work to when you actually have free time.
Don't get stuck in the weeds!
Give away your secrets!
This is an interesting one, but bear with. Giving away your secrets, time and insights for free (so much so that you feel sick) is a surefire way to:
Show your expertise on a topic
Gain positive word of mouth
Book more jobs from warmer leads
This is totally contradictory but particularly important when you are just building a business - positive word of mouth is ten times more valuable than money. Positive word of mouth is exponential. The more you give freely, the more positive word of mouth you receive. I'm not going to lie. It's super uncomfortable - but it always comes around.
I'm not saying you should reduce your fees to zero - instead, when someone asks a question, you take the time to work through their problem and be honest if they don't actually need your product!
Also, top tip - If you spend 30 mins on the phone with someone and you KNOW they won't become a client or customer - you can still ask for a Google review with how they found your customer service (news-flash, they'll be stoked because they got a bunch of info for free!)
New Zealanders can spot a phony
If your goal is to build a business with longevity - don't try to be too clever, deceptive or oversell. New Zealanders can smell BS a mile away!
Sometimes you will get enquiries from clients /customers who are keen to spend money and work with you - this is great! But for some of them, you may know right from the start that you may not be able to help them with their specific problem. YOU SHOULD TELL THEM. Be honest, if you don't think it will work, they would appreciate knowing - it's then their responsibility, knowing all the facts, to make a decision.
This helps manage client expectations and puts a little more responsibility on their side - they also need to buy into the process if they want it to be a success!
And in general, I've found we NZers appreciate someone who's down to earth and not a pushy car salesman!
You need an elevator pitch
No-one likes a jack of all trades - we want an expert in one! Narrow your products/services and focus on your point of difference. This will help drastically improve the overall value you can deliver within your niche in comparison to your competitors, who may be spreading themselves thin.
Once you are 'The Guy', or 'The Gal', or 'The Business' within a niche, you can charge more! (because you deliver more value!)
I heard this quote somewhere: "You need heart surgery. Your options are a surgeon freshly graduated who will charge $5000 or a 20-year heart surgery veteran who will charge $50,000. They may do the same thing, but the more experienced surgeon is who you'd choose."
Here's SK Digital elevator pitch:
SK Digital Delivers Profitable & Professional Websites Quicker Than Anyone Else.
Here's NOTICED's elevator pitch (the other business I run):
NOTICED - No Bull Shit Marketing for the Civil Contracting Industry. No Leads = Full Refund.
Increase your luck
I kept on finding myself saying these words, 'Man, I got lucky with that job/client/opportunity'. Or I found myself looking at a competitor thinking the same! But I remembered a distinct learning from sport that made me realise that you really can make your own luck. I call it stacking the odds in your favour.
This lesson actually came from Hamish Bond - a famous NZ Olympic rower who won 3 Gold medals, the last of which was in the same boat as me. Watching Hamish operate, it was clear he was highly gifted physically and mentally, but also he was a magician at stacking the odds in his favour. Every action before a big event/race was angled towards performance, right down to the smallest detail in his preparation - this approach significantly increased is chance of performing well.
You can do this in business too! Combining all of the rules I have laid out in this blog and following them (or your version of them) consistently will increase the surface area of your luck!
So, What Are Your Rules?
If you've made it this far, thank you for reading! Hopefully there was some wisdom in my ramblings or if nothing else, it was entertaining! I'd love to hear your business rules, as (taking my own advice) I assume I'm shit and still have plenty to learn from you!