In a recent Startups For The Rest of Us podcast episode, there was a great question and discussion that really got me thinking:
What do you do when you feel uninspired or demotivated — despite achieving some early success?
This question really hit home for me. We all know how demotivating it can be when your efforts result in a clear failure, or things don’t pan out as you had planned. In a way, this situation is easier to resolve because the solution is simple: Extract a lesson from the experience and move on.
But what about when things are actually going fairly well? Your startup has gained traction… You have paying customers… You’re getting lots of positive feedback… BUT, you’ve lost the fire, the energy, the motivation that got you to this point. This hurdle is much more difficult overcome.
I think these waves of uncertainty and doubt enter the picture much more often than entrepreneurs care to talk about. Maybe it’s especially true for bootstrappers, who must slog it out over a long (seemingly never-ending) stretch of time before realizing the fruits of their labor.
Not every step in building a business is exciting, or fun, or easy. In fact, most of the steps along the way are downright boring, tedious, frustrating, and seemingly impossible. It’s these moments that slow us down and stand in our way. If only every day felt like day one, when you were dreaming up the idea and started laying out the vision.
So how do we push through?
First, the basics: Get a good night’s sleep, take time to exercise, eat healthy, stay balanceed between work and leisure. These are the foundations of staying focused and keeping a positive mindset.
But the thing that really keeps me going is focusing on the wins. As many pits and valleys as there are along the way, there are just as many positive and exciting things that keep me inspired and motivated. The key is to identify them. Savor them when you’re in the moment. And find ways to attract more of them, more often.
Here are some of those activities that keep me going. These are the things that remind why I do what I do:
My business partner, Clint, and I meet every Friday at 4:30pm to talk about the big picture. We map out our goals for the next week and for the month. We make to-do lists and form a vision for exactly how we will move forward in the next month. We also take inventory of our progress. When we identify a major achievement, and it aligns with the timeline we had laid out earlier in the year, it’s a reminder that the day-in-day-out grind actually brought meaningful results. These meetings keep me going.
I’m a member of two mastermind groups, which meet weekly and bi-weekly. These are basically small (4-5 people) private groups of fellow business owners, giving each other advice, support, and feedback on things that generally can’t be discussed in public, or with family and friends who simply can’t relate.
I love these meetings. There are the obvious reasons: Having a trusted group of likeminded, smart, entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off of is always helpful. There have been many challenging times when the group helped give me the clarity and insights I needed to push through.
But I also enjoy these meetings because they’re a refreshing break in my week. Listening to what the other guys are working through gives me a chance to think critically and give feedback on their issues. This is a refreshing change of pace from thinking about the challenges in my own business day in, day out.
Any time I receive some type of feedback, or a comment, I get energized. Whether it’s an email from a reader of this blog, a blog comment, tweets, a conversation at a meetup or conference, anything. Feedback from the outside world reminds me that what I’m doing has an impact.
Even negative feedback is motivating. Someone actually cares enough about what I’m doing to tell me what’s wrong with it. That means they’re investing their time in helping me improve it. That motivates me to get to work.
In a recent Bootstrapped With Kids podcast episode, Brecht Palombo talked about how he seeks public speaking engagements when he’s feeling de-motivated. I can’t say I sought out speaking spots as a result of a slow down in motivation. But I can second the notion that it works.
Public speaking is a great motivator for me. I enjoy it because it’s a chance to teach, and actually interact with the audience in-person (which you can’t get through writing blog articles and podcasting). It’s immensely satisfying when I hear someone come up to me after a talk to ask followup questions or tell me they found the talk helpful.
Getting your product out in the world and in the hands of real users is a tremendous motivator. In a sense, you’ve reached the end of a long stretch of hard work. But really, it’s just the beginning. Now the real bugs come to light. Now the most meaningful feedback comes in (from paying customers). Shipping sooner rather than later is always a big motivator to keep going.
This applies to service-based businesses too. When I think about “shipping a service”, I think about the hard work it takes to fine-tune what the service entails, the process for delivering it with consistent quality each and every time, and the price you charge for such a service. Building service-based business operations to this sweet spot is just as motivating as doing it with a software-based product.
There’s no better feeling than that very first sale. That feeling of validation, that what you’ve built has value to someone else, is amazing. It’s important not to lose touch with this feeling after the first batch of sales or signups roll in. Keep leveraging the positive energy of a new sale. Use each sale as an opportunity to learn something new about your customer. Use it as an opportunity to find more of them.
Tell me what keeps you going during the long, hard slog of building your business. How do you keep from letting up, even when things are going well?