I had failed again. I had produced absolutely nothing. I had sharp business cards, a business license, a bond and insurance, a website, a post office box, phone number and all the tools. I just had no customers. Once I began the real work of trying to get customers, I realized that I didn’t even want to be a contractor.
My ideas on paper often take the form of a chiseled god, especially while I’m enjoying a mocha in a coffee shop. When it comes time to execute though, I start to realize what it’s going to take to succeed. Hard work, sales, years of honing a skill or craft, human interaction and money. I’ve wasted so much time on so many ideas that would have gotten dumped had I tested them first. This would have allowed real demand to pull the business into existence, instead of some untested hair-brained idea concocted over a caffeine induced high.
I live in Portland Oregon. Portland is often described as the city where young people go to retire. It’s true. We have around 200 locally owned coffee shops dusted everywhere. Each day, they serve up countless cups of outstanding coffee, as well as the illusion of productivity. I’m going to go work at the coffee shop, I’ve often said to my wife. After I’ve consumed my pile of coffee, I’m almost worthless. I’ll check my email and come up with a few other menial tasks to soothe my lack of productiveness. At least I’m not spraying out a torrent of Facebook posts describing last night’s feline yoga class like everyone else in here, I say to myself.
We need to stop pretending that we’re being productive and start being honest with ourselves. We are flushing our time down the toilet. Business meeting at the coffee shop? Group flush. Committee meeting? Triple flusher.
Everyone wants a virtual job that can neatly live online and produce buckets of cash. The problem is that everyone else in the world wants the same thing, so competition is so high that it’s extremely hard to make any money. Ask any web designer, graphic artist or data entry person. If the work someone is doing online isn’t heavily connected to a real, tangible product or service, then it’s probably not much more than an illusion. There needs to be real value that can be explained to someone in one sentence. I fix cars. I repair appliances. I groom cats. I own a taxi service.
Movement is always more productive than careful planning, Chris said. Jason agreed. It was the morning of my first day buying and selling things on Craigslist. I was meeting with them to help figure out what I should do with my life. I was getting all hung up on the details, like usual. They shut me up and told me two things needed to happen. One was that I needed to go home and put in 8 hours trying to make money buying and selling on Craigslist. The second was that I had to make $100 cash that day and every day after it, no matter what. Nothing will evaporate planning sessions from a schedule like a quota set in stone! They had lit a fire under me to produce movement, and it was the best thing they could have done.
I went home a Craigslist ball of fire. I hit my quota every day that first week. It was amazing. I learned everything as I went along. The learning was not the hard part of the equation. When you waste time on a transaction, you quickly learn how to prevent that from happening again, because you value your time. When you lose money on something, you learn quickly because you don’t want to lose money. Learning as you go, as you work, is an incredibly effective form of education. The lessons have an extra weight of importance.
I don’t know where you’re at today, but I want to encourage you to get moving. Take a step today and don’t worry about where you might land. You might step in a pile of crap. That’s fine, you can wipe your shoe off. You might fall down, but you’ll get back up, and soon you will be running. Stop allowing the details and plans to paralyze you. You have an amazing ability to learn, adjust, adapt, cope and thrive in all sorts of crazy environments.
Movement is almost always more productive than careful planning. Once a tree has been planted, you can always bend and adjust its trajectory. Most people will spend the rest of their life talking about their seeds, without ever producing any trees. Remember, once you’re moving, you can always change directions.