I still can’t believe it’s been a decade since I started Live Your Message on October 12th, 2011.
It’s grown (and I’ve grown) so much since then, that it’s hard to recognize what began as just a dream.
So I thought I’d take this moment — on my 10 Year Business Anniversary — to reflect on the biggest lessons I’ve learned as I built my business from the ground up.
Bill Gates famously said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
And ten years ago I definitely didn’t imagine that — 10 years later — I would have a multi-million dollar business that’s helped over 10K students launch their business and products online…
All because — 10 years ago — I made the small, yet monumental choice to step out of my comfort zone… and into my genius zone.
Now I know that this is a choice that’s not easy to make, so I wanted to share my Top 10 Learnings from 10 years of launching and scaling an online business.
So whether you’re at the point of choice debating whether you should go for it…
Or you’re hanging in limbo in the uncomfortable space between your comfort zone and your genius zone wondering what your next step should be…
Or you’re already a Card-Carrying Citizen of The Genius Zone…
I’m hoping this post will give you some insight on the journey before you.
Because 80% of your success as an entrepreneur is based on mindset, my most profound, future-bending insights have been around how to think, feel and be.
So my very first lesson from 10 years as an online entrepreneur is:
Lesson #1: You can’t build a successful business alone.
No matter who you are, you need support. And lots of it.
In fact, there are 6 very specific levels of support that you need…
Starting with your inner core of family and friends, which often trips people up before they even get started. Often our friends and family can only see who we were or who they think we are — and not who we can be and who we are becoming.
That’s where the next level of support comes in, which is to surround yourself with people already in action around their mission, vision and goals.
Brendon Burchard says that, “There are only 2 ways to change your life: either something new comes out of you or someone new comes into your life.”
And often it’s someone new coming into your life that inspires something new to come out of you.
But that’s not enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. You also need to add in a third level of support: advice & accountability. Someone who helps YOU stay in focused action around your mission, vision and goals, whether that’s a coach or group coaching program (or ideally both).
THE best accountability happens when you have actual skin in the game… and that doesn’t come from those at your current level of progress. It comes from investing in professional support. Otherwise, you’re trying to get Level 3 support from Level 1 or 2 people.
Next you want learning support to help you realize your mission, vision and goals in THE most effective and aligned way possible. And the key words here are effective and aligned.
When it comes to learning, “You get what you pay for.” This is why I intentionally invest at least $100K each year in these 3 levels of support — if not a whole lot more.
Too often I see people approach learning randomly or trying to Google their way to a successful business. Information is not the same thing as experience and strategy. But the right community, accountability and learning are the growth accelerators you need to gain traction.
Which is why I created our yearlong Momentum Coaching Program to provide these 3 levels of support — without the $100K a year price tag.
Once you have these first levels of support in place, the money starts to flow and you’ll start to bump up against your own capacity.
That’s when it’s time to add in the 5th layer of support: a team that helps you build your business every day. Whether you’re making your first hire or you have a team of 50+ like I do, they’ll rapidly become your most valuable asset.
And eventually you’ll realize that you’re not just building a product or a business, but a sustainable company that people want to work for.
And that means that you’re going to need our 6th Level of Support: personal support to keep you happy and healthy, so you can be a good leader to your clients, your team and yourself.
The most successful entrepreneurs I know invest huge amounts in their health and productivity.
Always remember: In order to keep giving, you need to receive. Because you can’t build a successful business alone.
Which leads me to:
Lesson #2: You are not your business.
It’s common in the online coaching and training industry to begin to over-identify with your business, especially since so many people build businesses around their expertise, experience and interest.
The challenge with over-identifying with your business is that it’s easy to start taking things personally. It’s easy to start to think that both your successes and your failures define who you are as a person.
A few years ago I had a conversation with Suzanne Evans, who has been in the business training industry longer than almost anyone and I asked her what her secret was. I asked, “Suzanne, people come and go in this industry all the time but you’ve been doing this for 18 years now, what’s your secret?”
She said, “Marisa, my secret is that I treat this like a job. I show up every day and I do my work. Then I go home to my family. I have outside interests. I don’t expect to get all my fulfillment from my business.”
That really hit me because I’ve never been the type of person to get starstruck. I’ve always thought, OK, yes it’s true they’re a famous actor or musician, but they’re just doing their job — the job they’re designed to do.
And I feel like I’m just doing my job too — the job I’m designed to do. And that’s a beautiful thing. As Sigmund Freud famously said, “Love and work are the keys to happiness.”
But business is NOT the only thing.
I’m more than the work I do… and you’re more than the successes and failures that have brought you to this moment in time.
When you understand this, it gives you the perspective you need to build your business without losing your sense of self.
Lesson #3: Business is one of the greatest forms of personal development there is.
While you are not your business, your business IS a result of your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, beliefs and actions.
As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
And the very act of bringing an idea to market will challenge your thoughts, emotions, attitudes and beliefs as you witness how people respond to your ideas — or fail to respond.
The best entrepreneurs understand, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
And, as William Faulkner said, sometimes you “must kill all your darlings.”
So the process of acting on what most people only dream about is exciting, vulnerable and humbling all at the same time.
The greatest learning comes when you can combine what I call inner and outer momentum, hustle and flow, yin and yang, the combination of making things happen and letting things happen — when you can simultaneously act on your mission, vision and goals while surrendering into what wants to happen (vs being limited by what you already know and expect).
And that’s not just a lesson in business, it’s a lesson in life…
Lesson #4: Fail forward as fast as possible.
The fastest way to gain momentum is by taking action. Even if it’s just one small step at a time.
Most people stay in what I call The Stuck Cycle, where they have an idea, then they proceed to overanalyze that idea, which leads to confusion and ultimately procrastination, so they stay stuck on the same idea — until they break that Cycle.
A surefire indicator that you’re in The Stuck Cycle is if you find yourself saying, “I’m stuck.” Or “I’m struggling.”
Because the truth is that you’re not stuck and you’re not struggling.
You’re simply feeling stuck in the moment. You’re having a moment of struggle.
And you can shift that in an instant by taking action.
Because action takes you out of The Stuck Cycle and into The Iterate Your Way to Awesome Cycle where instead of overanalyzing that idea, you take action on that idea. This leads to clarity, which leads to momentum, and a better and better idea that you take even more action on to gain even more clarity and momentum, and so on.
Because — most of the time — clarity doesn’t happen in your head, it happens in the world of action.
When you take fast action you’ll quickly discover what works and what doesn’t. Which means you may “fail” just as often — if not more often — than you “succeed”
But, as they say, the road to success is lined with failure.
Because every “failure” gives you valuable insight.
As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
All it took was finding one way that did work, and Edison changed the world forever with the electric lightbulb and the other 1,092 patents he filed over the course of his career.
Lesson #5: Consistency increases capacity.
Thomas Edison wasn’t just a one-trick wonder. He was one of the most prolific inventors to walk the earth.
And if you study the greats in almost every field, you’ll notice they’re almost all wildly prolific.
The Beatles created their best albums between 1963 and 1965 — when they were releasing 2-3 albums a year…
It was the very consistency of their release schedule that expanded their capacity to create at higher and higher levels.
My favorite author, Haruki Murakami, has released 26 books by the age of 72. His secret? Maintaining a daily writing practice, where he sits down at the same, in the same place every day and writes for the same number of hours.
He clocks on and clocks off like a factory worker.
And, in that time, magic happens.
He’s trained himself to create on demand and his books get written one day at a time — day after day until they’re done. Book after book.
So many people go into entrepreneurship to live a life of adventure, and entrepreneurship can definitely provide all that… but most people overlook what they need to do on a daily basis to be a successful entrepreneur. And they overlook how much adventure you can find in the work itself.
French author Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Your daily habits and routines play a huge part in your success and I believe that success can literally happen by clockwork, as you show up day after day and just do the work.
Lesson #6: Become the scientist in the experiment lab of your business.
Doing the work isn’t just about doing the same thing, in the same way, every day.
When Murakami shows up to write each day, he doesn’t always know what’s going to happen on the page. Instead, he surrenders into the process of creating something great. He experiments with different ideas and storylines to see what works.
Because a great artist is like a great scientist, experimenting to see what works.
It’s incredibly liberating when you let go of any personal attachment to your ideas and understand that everything is a test.
It gives you the freedom to experiment and try things out.
Let me see if this works…
Now let me see if that works…
Interesting, I never would have expected that.
When you look at everything as a test, nothing you do is ever a failure. It’s just feedback on your path to awesome.
The combination of unshakeable commitment to your vision with scientific detachment to your results, turns business into a fun game to find the best way to do something as quickly as possible.
And on the other side of that experimentation, you’ll find a solution that’s so much better than you could have imagined at the start.
So rather than being limited by your assumptions, you gain access to the best learning on the planet — direct, first-hand experience.
As Maya Angelou says, “When we know better, we do better.”
And I believe true knowing comes from experience.
Lesson #7: Practice curiosity.
While curiosity may kill the cat, it makes the entrepreneur.
I saw this great FB post from Casey Eberhart the other day, “I’d rather be rich because I was curious than broke because I was skeptical.”
And that pretty much says it all.
I’ve had people write in to criticize my teaching style and ask me to just “get to the point”. They don’t have time to watch a 46-minute training to, say, learn how to write copy.
(Little do they know that it took me a decade to write that 46-minute training. And investing 46 minutes of their time could save them years of trying to figure it out on their own.)
So I remember writing back to recommend they get curious about WHY I’m creating trainings the way that I am, especially considering I have well-known, multimillion-dollar a year product lines with some of the highest student success rates in the entire online education industry:
“Are you willing to allow that taking the time to set the context and do the mindset work could potentially help you in realizing your goals? I.e. if you haven’t gotten where you want in your business, try listening from the perspective of ‘what can I learn from this?'”
So often people are so consumed with what they want and how they want it, that they overlook what’s actually going to get them there.
When you lead with wonder and curiosity, not only will you make the kind of non-linear leaps that take you into a whole new level of success, you’ll enjoy the process a lot more too, as you learn and grow from everything.
Milton Glaser, one of the most famous graphic designers of all time, writes, “If you can sustain your interest in what you’re doing you’re an extremely fortunate person. What you see very frequently in people’s professional lives, and perhaps in their emotional lives as well, is that they lose interest in the third act. You sort of get tired, and indifferent, and, sometimes, defensive. And you kind of lose your capacity for astonishment — and that’s a great loss, because the world is a very astonishing place.
What I feel fortunate about is that I’m still astonished, that things still amaze me. And I think that that’s the great benefit of being in the arts, where the possibility for learning never disappears.”
And I believe the same is true for entrepreneurship.
Because, the truth is…
Lesson #8: Business is a marathon not a sprint.
And it just takes time to get where you want to go.
By trying to save “46 minutes” you end up losing months, if not years.
We live in a “fast food” culture where people sometimes think they can order results like fries at McDonald’s.
They buy into the dream of instant overnight success. And promises that things can be “push button easy” — so easy, even a monkey can do it.
So they speed ahead from one shiny object tactic to the next, leaving their path littered with dozens of failed attempts.
Rather than focusing on digging one hole and digging it deep, they dig shallow hole after shallow hole and wonder why they’re not finding anything.
Marathon runners train, they prepare, they start the race in the same way they hope to finish it. They’re not paying attention to the people in front of them or behind them, they’re just trying to finish the race.
They know that slow and steady wins the race. The tortoise beats the hare.
And the same is true in business. It’s the person who stays in the game that wins.
While there are proven strategies, there are no shortcuts or silver bullets.
And, as soon as you stop chasing “the next thing,” you’ll see the road is laid out before you and all you have to do is start running.
Which leads me to:
Lesson #9: You can’t build a house without a solid foundation.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make as they build an online business — or a business that uses online marketing to attract and serve new customers — is that they treat that business as somehow different from a regular business.
They get so swept up in ALL the internet marketing tools, tactics and technologies that they start to think the tools, tactics and trends are their business and their ticket to success.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone come up to me and ask, “Marisa, I need a membership site. What’s the best membership site software to use?”
At that point, I usually ask them to take a step back and tell me about the product they want to deliver on that membership site. And 9 times out of 10, they don’t have an answer. They don’t have a clear idea of what their product is, or the unique value they have to provide, or how they’re going to market that membership site and get new customers.
They’ve just heard that they need a membership site to build an online business and start making passive income while they sleep.
So they put the cart before the horse thinking it’s all about the membership site. When in actuality, it’s about identifying and languaging the unique value you have to offer that other people can recognize and want to invest in — and that may or may not be delivered through a membership site.
The challenge with putting the cart before the horse and leading with the tools, tactics and technologies is that everything can feel overwhelming when you’re not crystal clear on what’s really driving your whole business: how you serve your students, clients and customers in a way that no one else can.
The best tools, tactics and technologies can’t help you until you focus on the foundation of a great, great product people want to buy.
Most of our students start their journey with us in my signature program, the Experience Product Masterclass, so they can design, launch and profit from their very own Experience Product. Because — until you have that — no other tool, tactic or technology will help you.
But once you have a profitable product, everything else becomes possible.
Lesson #10: Success is giving yourself permission to experience more.
I often say that internet marketing years are like dog years, since so much happens in a single year.
So, 10 years into my online business journey, it feels like I have 70 years of experience. Because the internet moves way faster than the “real world”.
And, I’ve got to say, I love the wisdom that comes from experience.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people and platforms come and go… People and platforms who didn’t evolve and change fast enough.
People and platforms who didn’t realize your business is always changing because:
- you’re always changing
- the market is always changing
- customer expectations and preferences are always changing
- marketing and technology are always changing
- and the world is always changing — especially now
But, as humans, we’re hard-wired to want to stay safe and keep our reality the same today as it was yesterday. Because that’s working out just fine so far, right?
We’re alive and we’re breathing and for most of human history that wasn’t something we could take for granted, so we have 200,000 years of evolutionary biology designed to keep us safe and that’s often at odds with what it takes to succeed.
It’s well known that we feel most excited and alive when we’re taking risks at the edge of our comfort zone and we feel most secure when we’re not.
We feel most secure when we know exactly what we’re doing and exactly what’s going to happen.
In my post on Why Overwhelm is Actually a Good Thing (for your Business, and for You, too), I wrote, “As humans, we naturally want more. Whether it’s more love, clients, success, money. We crave it. But the moment we get more than we’re used to receiving, we feel overwhelmed. We can’t take any more in. We say that we want more, then we shut down if we actually get it.”
So the practice is allowing yourself to experience more.
More emotions. More discomfort. More challenges. And ultimately more rewards. More abundance. And more growth.
Or, as I like to say, “Success is about giving yourself permission to have bigger challenges and bigger rewards.”
This is what my friend Roger Hamilton calls allowing yourself to have “range.”
And when you do, you expand your capacity for more — more of both the good and the “bad,” which leads to a rich life and a rich business.
I hope these 10 Lessons help you make it all the way to Year 10 in your own business, because as Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Let me know in the comments below what your lessons have been, as you launch and scale your own business…
Now go out there and Live Your Message!
Ready to take build a business that grows with you and stands the test of time?
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