We were walking around Chattanooga’s art district, dreaming and talking about our future, when my wife pulled me into a small, picturesque courtyard and suggested we sit down for a moment.
And then she gave me the news: we were pregnant with our second child.
I started laughing hysterically.
I’m not sure this was the reaction she expected. I was incredibly happy, no doubt, but I also couldn’t deny the hilarious timing of it all.
It had only been a couple of months since I left a six-figure salary, great health benefits, and paid parental leave without a plan for what I’d do next.
And just two weeks earlier we’d moved from our downtown apartment in Nashville to my in-laws’ basement in Chattanooga to give us some breathing room while I figured things out.
But the real kicker was that the night before I’d spent $1,200 of money that we really didn’t have on an online course to teach me how to get more freelance work.
Now we were having another baby, and I was belly laughing.
Looking back, though, this turned out to be the exact recipe that accelerated my growth. Whenever anyone asks how I was able to scale Inigo from zero to over six-figures in its first year, here’s what I tell them…
Step 1: Take a leap
I don’t believe in side-hustles.
I can only put energy toward a small number of things at a time, and whenever I’ve tried to start something on the side of my full-time job either my health or my family suffered.
Plus, side-hustling is usually a very slow way to grow a business. The appeal is that it lowers your perceived risk by funding your new business growth with your full-time salary. However, most people don’t consider the opportunity cost.
For example, when your salary is subsidizing your business income you’re much more likely to charge lower rates. You tell yourself you’ll charge what you’re worth once you get enough traction. But this rarely happens because your lower rates attract terrible clients who will drain all your energy and convince you that you aren’t worth what you should be charging.
Odds are you’ll to burn out this way and give up before you reach a tipping point.
When I left my job I had a six-figure salary to replace. I couldn’t afford to waste time with low-paying clients, so I set my rates at the top end of my market. Because of this, I attracted awesome clients and skyrocketed Inigo’s growth. Now we’re years ahead of where we would have been if I’d tried to start Inigo on the side.
Am I saying everyone should quit their job today to follow their dreams? No. I don’t think most people actually want to follow their dreams.
What I’m saying is that fear of the unknown often holds us back from the life we want. But we humans are wired to survive, and sometimes the best way to realize our true potential is to remove our safety net and force us to figure out a new, better way to fly.
If you want big results, you have to push through your fears and take big risks. Leap, and build the plane on the way down.
Step 2: Invest in yourself
You’ve probably heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating:
Your business is a direct reflection of who you are. If you want to grow your business, you have to first grow yourself.
I could have easily returned that online course and put my $1,200 toward preparing for our new baby. That would have been the “responsible” thing to do.
Instead, I spent two days binge-watching the course and putting it into practice. This alone resulted in a 3X ROI within two weeks and $40k+ in the first eight months.
However, I didn’t stop there. I spent more than $14k on education, coaching, and personal development in my first year of business.
Most people are afraid to spend that kind of money when they’re just getting started, which is understandable. However, I can directly attribute eight times that amount to revenue that I wouldn’t have generated if I hadn’t made the investment.
But, how do you know you’re going to get a return when you invest in yourself? Easy: you commit to getting a return on your investment, no matter what.
The mistake most people make when investing in things like courses and coaches is that they view those things as the vessel that’s going to take them where they want to go. But that’s the fastest way to fail because you’re making them responsible for your outcomes, which gives away all your power and makes you a victim of your circumstances.
What if the course isn’t as good as you thought it would be or the coach’s personality rubs you the wrong way? If you’re not being responsible for your own outcomes, those things will quickly sink your ship.
I used to do this all the time, and I always ended up in a life raft paddling back to shore.
Now, instead of relying on someone or something to take me where I want to go, I determine to go there no matter what and start heading in that direction on my own. Then I invest in things that will help me get there faster.
And from my experience, this is even easier to do when you’re just starting out because the stakes are so high.
Which brings me to my next step…
Step 3: Raise the stakes
Even after I took a leap it wasn’t long before I found new comfort zones to start settling into. That’s how our brains are wired. We want comfortable and predictable.
But my wife significantly raised the stakes when she told me we were pregnant. As much as I love my in-laws, we were already feeling a bit cramped sharing a single bedroom with a toddler. I couldn’t imagine adding a newborn to the mix. We needed our own place.
This shortened my original timeline considerably. I didn’t have time to get comfortable and give into procrastination.
I think this is where most people’s growth plateaus. Once we hit our goals, we tend to put on our metaphorical (and sometimes literal) sweatpants and settle into our cozy comfort zone couch for a nice snooze.
Why? Because the status quo no longer holds enough risk for us. There’s not enough at stake.
And while I fully endorse the natural rhythm of rest after stress, I’ve wasted way too much of my time on that couch (metaphorical and literal).
So, when you start to feel that soft, elastic band digging into your waist, find a new way to raise the stakes. Figure out how to change your situation so the status quo becomes more painful than stepping out of your comfort zone.
That’s how you keep growing.
Step 4: Have fun
Most folks don’t view fun as being essential to a successful business, but for me it’s vital.
I didn’t leave a job I loathed just to create my own version of that same experience. If I don’t enjoy what I’m doing — if I’m not having fun — then what’s the point?
But fun doesn’t mean goofing off all day (usually). It means you have the freedom to be creative, to experiment, to learn, and to take your time when figuring out what you enjoy.
Fun changes work from “have to” to “get to”.
That’s why I was so intentional in the early days of Inigo to create plenty of space to have fun. I tried interesting sales techniques, sold high-ticket services I’d never delivered before, experimented with various marketing strategies, dedicated hours each day to learning new things, and found new ways to surprise and delight customers.
I approached my business with a benevolent “let’s see what we can get away with today” attitude.
Most importantly, I treated everything as a learning experience. I gave myself the freedom to “fail”.
And something magical happened: I actually woke up every morning looking forward to my day.
Today, fun is one of my biggest barometers for my personal health and the health of my business. Any time I’m feeling burned out, fun is the first thing I look at. If overall I’m not enjoying what I’m doing, it means somewhere I’m putting energy toward something that doesn’t align with who I am or where I want to go — it means I stopped having fun.
I’ve changed my business model more than once because it wasn’t producing fun outcomes. I’ve fired clients because they weren’t fun to work with. I’ve said no to big opportunities because I knew they weren’t going to be fun to take on.
Fun is what makes me want to keep growing.
Do you really want to grow?
If you haven’t figured it out already, growing is uncomfortable.
That’s why most of us say we want to grow, but few of us actually experience much growth at all.
But, if you really want to grow, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get started:
What do I want my life to look like?
Who do I need to be to have the life I want?
What fears are holding me back?
What do I gain by keeping those fears?
What do I lose by keeping those fears?
What’s more important to me, holding on to my fears or growing?
What’s one small step I can take to start growing right now?
Take 10 minutes and write out your answers to these questions, and if you’re feeling particularly brave you can share them here with the rest of us!
Originally published at The Startup.