There are many mindsets that serve us well as employees which can be incredibly detrimental to work as an entrepreneur. For instance, as an employee you work today to get paid on Friday. Few would commit the time and energy to work “in case” they get a salary (those people are typically interns).
For entrepreneurs, it can be a difficult shift to investing time in activities today that may not pay off for a year. Mark Suster argues for coffee meetings to begin relationships that may not pay off for a year. Let me tell you my own story that goes back 2 years to a single email.
2 Years, Dozens of Emails and Amazing Opportunities
In fact, grab a refill on your coffee because this is a fun story.
It all started because I hated my day job with a burning hot passion. So when Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich opened the Earn 1K program to teach you to find the skills that sell and begin freelancing two years ago I was all over it. I signed up for the second tier which gave me access to “Master Classes.” And since I was an am a nerd I read a tiny bit ahead.
The first week our master expert was Noah Kagan. I knew nothing of Noah except he appeared to love burritos so off I went to his site OK Dork. After a quick perusal of the site I decided to email him – a decision that would not feasibly earn me any money or benefit and was likely would not be read for weeks. Because I was excited to be learning a way out of my terrible job, I emailed Noah anyway.
Here’s the email (link 1 in the chain of events):
Thanks so much for doing the live webcast for Earn 1K tonight, I’m really looking forward to it. Your personal blog is hilarious so I have high expectations tonight!
By the by, his email was posted on the site so I wasn’t a stalker. Really. Imagine my surprise when Noah responded less than 10 minutes later. And by the end of his Master Class we had exchanged over 20 emails, Noah being incredibly generous with his time and advice which is a kindness I’ve never forgotten. This was, mind you, far before his current venture AppSumo and there was no motive of “be nice to this stranger so she’ll buy my stuff.”
We kept in touch loosely, mostly jokes about burritos, congrats on his new undertaking and the occasional update email.
Fast forward to October of 2011. Noah’s looking for a bookkeeper in Texas so I introduce him via email to a colleague of mine and give a quick update on my business and this site. A few emails later and Noah is connecting me to Andrew Warner to do an interview on Mixergy teaching entrepreneurs how to systematize the chaos out of their business. This would be link 2.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the Mixergy team and my interview went live in November. In December, Andrew invited me to the Young Entrepreneur’s Council where I’ve been a member for a few months now (link 3). And through the YEC I’ve been connected to some of the top inspiring entrepreneurs, worked with media partners, joined a mentoring group and been invited to speak on entrepreneurship.
Today I have a wealth of opportunities that I can trace back to that first action: the decision to send a simple email to say ‘thank you’ and, while I could never have imagined this path, if I had only been focused on the immediate gratification of my actions then I would not be here today.
Understanding and Embracing the Paradox
I think many entrepreneurs unconsciously understand this concept, we may see tasks as “establishing trust” or “building an audience” and even in the corporate world there’s a sense that we all must “pay our dues.”
Yes, you must balance the necessity of getting paid today for your work and investing in future relationships. As a culture we tend to see our homes, retirement accounts and occasionally cars or boats as investments, continuing the put in time, effort and money because we believe the returns will make it worthwhile.
As entrepreneurs, our networks, relationships and connections are powerful investments in your future. Here are 3 principles I learned from this experience:
1. Begin with gratitude, not a hand out – if your primary focus is what you’re going to get instead of give then you’ve already lost. Begin by giving, your thanks, your attention and your support.
2. Paths only connect backwards – it’s impossible to tell where a relationship may lead you and it’s only with the perspective and looking back that we may connect the links on the chain.
3. Keep connecting and keep giving – there were times, months even, when I had no direct contact with Noah personally or even on social media. But when he had a request (for the bookkeeper) I made a connection to help him out. Don’t cut people from your network due to space or time, always be open to reconnecting and giving.
It can be frustrating, especially when you’re celebrating a big opportunity in the media or a speaking gig and the first question someone asks is “how much does it pay?” It’s okay, from the employee perspective it’s a honest and expected question. Let your response acknowledge that this opportunity is a blank check and the sky is the limit.
You may also be thinking you don’t have a Noah Kagan in your life. The point is not that Noah is awesome (although he is) but that you do have unlimited potential to reach out and connect with people who can support, encourage and connect you in ways you’ve never imagined.
I’m willing to bet that you haven’t looked or haven’t asked. So, what relationship will you invest in today?