My Advice To My 20-Year Old Wannabe Entrepreneur Self

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20-year old self! What were you thinking?!

Tonight I’m going to an event at my Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.

It’s my first time attending the event as an alumni. Actually I guess I never attended as a student either. I’m not sure they had it back then.

But I’m not entirely sure what to expect. It sounds like a fun event with a chance to meet some students and some other alumni. The purpose is for the students to get to meet with alumni and discuss their futures. So I hope they have questions to ask because I’m really going in pretty unprepared.

I’ll share my little story of what happened after I graduated if they ask. Maybe knowing my mistakes can help them to avoid some of those pains, but I guess all that is part of life.

My 20-year Old Self

Going into the event today I was thinking about what I was like 10 years ago. I just turned 30 this year so 10 years ago I would have been in my second year at the university. I had big dreams back then and big plans.

Those plans helped me make decisions, but things never really work out the way you plan. You choose the paths in life with the knowledge you have and also put yourself in positions for luck.

But if I had to give my 20-year old wannabe entrepreneur self some advice here is what I would say.

Avoid Ventures That Require Advertising

Back in school I was in the Entrepreneur Program. For our final project we had to write a business plan and present it.

That was a good exercise, but i didn’t do a very good job. And then I invested my savings in actually following through with the idea.

The idea was a social network for hunters. Here in Wisconsin many of us like deer hunting. My space was actually bigger at this time than Facebook so I wanted to create a niche MySpace for hunters.

The only problem was that I wasn’t a developer. I had no idea how online advertising worked. And I really didn’t have any idea how to get membership.

What I’ve learned since then is that online advertising business models are very challenging. Obviously online content is a big part of my life now, but it’s tied to services and products. And that’s what our clients at GBW also use content to sell.

The advertising game is just too difficult.

Start A Blog

Starting a blog can be free or less than $100/year if you want your own domain and hosting.

I actually started my first blog a couple years after college, but there was no reason I couldn’t have started a blog while in college. I would have started a blog about hunting and built a community around that. Who knows what it could have turned into.

Shadow Business Owners And Managers

I really had no idea how businesses worked back in school. Maybe I still don’t, but one lesson I’ve learned is that systems and procedures are important. They seem important for most businesses. It’s the only way to grow a company behind freelance status.

I wish I could have pushed for a job where I was an assistant to a business owner. I bet in six months I could have learned more about business than any schooling would have been able to teach. I would have just observed what the business owner did each day and what everybody else in the company was doing.

Paying attention to all the moving parts in a business would have been huge knowledge. You start noticing all the systems and procedures. Those things are boring, but they’re probably the most important aspect of how a business operates.

Get A Sales Job

I was afraid of sales. I’m still afraid of sales.

Cold calling?

Terrifying to me.

That’s probably why I got into blogging. Now we maintain the blog here on GBW and that brings in traffic and inquiries. I have no problem jumping on a call with an inquiry, but cold calling would be tough for me.

I might have gotten over that fear if I had pushed myself to get a sales job while in school or right after school. A little training and someone pushing me to figure it out.

Heck, I should be doing this right now as my 30-year old self.

The First Step In Business Is Getting A Customer

As I said my first business was a flop and I had zero customers. I spent all kinds of cash on creating the business, but never focused on customers.

With GBW I did learn that lesson and got customers before spending any money on anything related to the business.

No business cards, no office, no website, no clothes, no nothing.

There are tons of businesses you can start without spending any money on that kind of stuff.

Get a few customers first. See if you have something people want and then look to build the business.

Have More In-Depth Conversations

I was pretty good with one-liners and short conversations in college. Or at least I thought. I could be totally wrong on that one.

But in-depth conversations were tough for me probably because I didn’t do it enough even with close friends.

I wish I would have had more with all types of people in college. It’s a great time for meeting new people and learning how people think. Plus you can make lifetime friendships.

It probably would have been a better strategy from a dating perspective too. It wasn’t until I met my wife that I learned that in-depth conversations were the most meaningful way to get to know the opposite sex.

Learn To Code

This is my final bit of advice for my 20-year old self: Learn To Code.

I need to make this my hobby right now as a matter of fact. I started doing Code Academy last year, but fell off after a few weeks.

I was talking about this with my wife the other day. When we were in elementary school, 20 years ago or so, we learned typing on the computer because the educators knew we would need to know how to do that to make a living.

I look at older generations and many people don’t know how to type on a computer and that can make certain things challenging and can limit career growth.

I’m afraid the same thing will happen with coding. I don’t want to be without a key skill in the future.

Final Thought

I’m not really sure what to expect tonight at the event. I think I’ll meet some great students as well as other alumni and professors. I’m sure I’ll learn just as much or more from conversations with the students than they’ll learn from me. But I’ll do my best to answer the questions they do have.

Either way it’s something I don’t normally do, but I’m excited about it and will try to do more in the future.

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