Writer and entrepreneur James Altucher recently posted his 100 rules for being an entrepreneur (not one of which is “think big,” a trope he says is BS). It’s all good advice, but the real talk can be found in the Q&A section at the end of his blog post. Altucher answers questions from readers about some of the more common issues plaguing entrepreneurs—among them, sleepless nights, HR headaches and raising capital.
Sometimes, the answer is that there is no answer. To the reader who asked, “You say no free time but you also say keep emotionally fit, physically fit, etc. How do I do this if I’m constantly thinking of ideas for old and potential customers?” Altucher responded, “It’s not easy or everyone would be rich.”
PROFIT’s Deborah Aarts offered some more concrete advice on how to make time for fitness in a recent column. You can also follow Canadian Business’ instructions on how to climb office stairs like a pro.
Altucher’s answers can also cut straight to the practical, even if it’s not what entrepreneurs want to hear. One reader asked, “If I get really stressed about clients paying, how do I get sleep at night?” Altucher’s answer? “Medication.”
In her story 5 Supplements to Pack in Your Carry-on Bag, PROFIT columnist Theresa Albert suggests melatonin and magnesium for sleep.
To the reader who wanted to know how to cold-call clients, Atucher suggested cold emailing instead. “Email 40 of them. It’s OK if only one answers. Email 40 a day, but make sure you have something of value to offer.”
Let’s say you do have something of value to offer. And let’s also say that it’s the best idea in the world but, to get it off the ground, you need a healthy number of users from the start (think: Twitter). Atucher says that unless you’re well connected in a hub like the Silicon Valley ecosystem, the first thing you need to do is find distribution. “Offer equity if you have to,” he advises. “Zuckerberg had Harvard. MySpace had the fans of all the local bands they set up with MySpace pages. I (in my own small way) had Thestreet.com when I set up Stockpickr.com. I also had 10 paying clients when I did my first successful business full time.”
Another way to build a user base before launching a new product or service is to crowdfund your idea. More than just a way of raising funding, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo allow you to test the demand for your product or service and launch with a crowd of eager customers and existing users. Read about how other entrepreneurs have successfully taken this approach.
If your business is more established, but you’ve just lost your biggest customer, you may have to let some employees go. One reader wrote in: “I have to fire people. I’ve never done this before. How do I do it?”
Again, Atucher has no ideal solution to this problem. Firing someone is always going to be tough. He does offer this important reminder: “Your reputation and the reputation of your company are on the line here. You want to be a good guy. But you want them out of your office within 15 minutes. It’s a termination, not a negotiation.” This is one reason why it’s smart to start with freelancers before hiring permanent staff, he adds.
Before you get to the firing stage, you had to have gone through the hiring stage. PROFIT columnist Rick Spence offers this piece of advice: don’t forget to hire slow and fire fast. Too many owners, he says, have fallen into the “hire fast, fire fast” trap. (Read his full column.)
Atucher’s last piece of advice is not new, but it’s a worthwhile reminder. To the reader who asked, “I have a great idea. How do I raise venture capital?” he says, you take your business to the point where they’re coming to you. It’s really the culmination of a lot of his other advice: “Build the product. Get a customer. Get money from the customer. Get more customers. Build more services in the product.” At this point, says Atucher, the VCs are probably calling you, not vice versa.
If you’re looking at approaching Canadian VCs, you may find this data visualization of the existing network of 382 VCs helpful.
Finally, Atucher says, everything changes (it’s his copout for having written a post called “100 Rules” but only listing about 70 of them). “Things change midway through,” he says unapologetically. “Be ready for it every day. In fact, every day figure out what you can change just slightly to shake things up and improve your product and company.”