Sometimes, the obvious is hard to see.
When I was growing up, I lived in a subdivision of homes built surrounded by Wisconsin farm fields. Half of the homes were lived in year around. The other half were vacation homes owned by Chicagoians who drove up on the weekends.
My first job mowing lawns was for a family friend who lived down the street. Their home sat on a small lot with lots of trees. The job wasn’t too hard except they also owned the empty plot next door which was set on a hill. For thirty minutes of work every other week I earned me ten dollars.
With some encouragement from our parents, my brother and I started leaving flyers in screen doors and mailboxes. We quickly found that the owners of the vacation homes loved showing up on Friday evening to a great looking yard.
At our height, we were mowing twenty lawns each week. We bought push mowers, gas powered trimmers, a rider mower, a trailer to haul everything. Just driving around the neighborhood with that whole rig was some of the best marketing we did.
After I got my engineering degree, I went to work for General Electric for almost seven years. I learned more in those years than any point in my life. I learned about leadership and process, politics and status, metrics and change. I kept learnings things about myself even after I left. I noticed that I always found a way to work in the smallest groups, the ones close to the problem.
My dad is an entrepreneur. He ran his own sheet metal fabrication shop for twenty years. He started the business when I was nine. I worked there during summers while I was in college. After I left GE, I spent three years at the shop with him, working to grow the business. I learned about sales and marketing. Some things we did worked, but not at the scale they needed to for me to continue to work there.
800-CEO-READ had a little more scale and we had a little more luck. It was fun because we tried lots of things. I first got hired to write a blog about business books. We started another website to give away books each day. We took over a site from Seth Godin that published essays each month. We created a conference to help authors have more success with their books. Jack Covert and I wrote and launched a book about business books! All of that was in the service of the core business: helping people gets the books they needed for the work they were trying to do.
When I moved to Portland, there was no job waiting for me when I got here, but by then I had some skills in turning opportunities into business. I turned a tweet into a international literary scouting business. It only lasted about three years, but it was an important bridge. I taught in the publishing program at Portland State University. I agented a few books (that I still get checks for). I edited books. In short, I hustled. And all of that lead to see an opportunity to help authors publish books.
One of those clients took off. We started very modestly with The Phoenix Project and each month, the book kept selling. That lead to speaking opportunities for Gene and we turned that into a business. Publishing went from one book to two books to eight books from several outside authors. And all of that interest lead to a conference business with events on two continents. It was amazing what happened in five years at IT Revolution.
When I was hustling, I was worried about whether taking a job with any one client was a good idea. I asked a friend and they said, “How long do you think it will take to get another client if this one falls through?” I said about eighteen months. “Sounds about right,” they said, “and remember you have all the skills to get that next client.”
And now, I am building the next thing and I just signed my first client.
I am an entrepreneur. This is what I am wired for, and it is nice this time around to see it so clearly and be comfortable with that being a part of who I am.