Episode 4 – Is “mindset” BS? Three mental breakthroughs I’ve had and three I’m still struggling with


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The last couple episodes have been more practical, and today I’d like to get a bit more philosophical by talking about mindset.

I used to look down on “mindset” stuff. In my voracious consumption of entrepreneurial blogs and podcasts, I’d always want TACTICS, really concrete tactics and strategies, and whenever I saw a post about mindset, I’d dismiss it. I’d assume it was a superficial “positivity” message, or something generic like “think like an entrepreneur, not an employee” – and I’d just skip it.

But the truth is that wrestling with your own psychology and emotions is a major part of being an entrepreneur, and the way you think absolutely does affect your business on a practical level.

A couple of difficult things when discussing mindset are:

  • often you’re blind to the “thinking traps” you’re caught in, until someone calls you out on it or you break through naturally with a light bulb moment.
  • developments in your mindset can’t be taught or systemized; they just have to click for you. Also, it’s possible to intellecturally assent to something without internalizing it and really letting it change you or your business.

It’s interesting to reflect on the mental breakthroughs, the time when a switch has flipped and you began to act differently as a result. I’ll share three that have been instrumental to my business, and how they affect it on a practical level. And then two things I’m struggling with, still have some hangups and haven’t broken through yet.

Breakthrough #1 – I could sell courses before they existed

I got this idea from a podcast where they actually sold a physical product that didn’t exist yet – and suddenly it hit me. When people sign up for a course at an offline language school, university, etc. they pay for the whole semester before the semester starts. So why not use the same principle online?

This became the foundation for every single one of my course launches. I’d publish a course outline and sales page, making it very clear that the customers would pay now and begin to receive the course on a specific future date. People would sign up and pay, and then I’d have to produce and deliver the course on the timeline I’d committed to.

It was like productivity jet fuel. When I knew that there were students who had already paid expecting the next lesson to be published on a certain date, I HAD to come through. It also validated the demand for the product, because people were voting with their wallets (not just saying they theoretically would buy the course if I produced it).

Breakthrough #2 – Selling is simply inviting people into a deeper relationship of value exchange

From the beginning of my business, I struggled with the line between free and paid content, and how to sell without being pushy or slimy. That changed when I started to see selling as an invitation. Not a demand, not a manipulative trick, just an honest invitation.

I am inviting the person to enjoy a product that will benefit them even more than my free tips, and in exchange they are contributing monetarily. There’s nothing slimy about inviting someone to a party, nor would I use deceptive tactics to do so – it should be a pleasant experience for all involved.

Ever since then, my sales philosophy has been “Always present, never pushy”:

  • Always present because there’s not a single page on my website without a prominent link to my products, and every email I send out contains both content (a free lesson) and a suggested related paid product.
  • Never pushy because I do not use hype, exaggeration, manipulative or annoying tactics. I aim to describe persuasively yet honestly the benefits of the product, without trying to trick or strong-arm someone into buying it.

Breakthrough #3 – My business is doing fine

For the first three years of my business, I suffered from persistent insecurity:

  • “What if I’m in the process of screwing this whole thing up?”
  • “Can I really get the same number of sales next month?”
  • “Is this actually going anywhere, or am I just spinning my wheels?”
  • “How come my stuff is NEVER as successful as these case studies I’m reading?”
  • and the worst one: “What if I give this online entrepreneur thing my absolute BEST effort and I still fail? Plenty of people do. What’s left for me then?”

In fact, I had a big chicken-out moment due to this insecurity. I was planning to quit my other job in April of 2014, because my business was stable and making more than triple my income from this other job. But then the first week of March was TERRIBLE in terms of sales – they were way down for no apparent reason – and I lost my nerve. I panicked and I didn’t give notice to quit my other job; I was just clutching onto it like a lifeline since my business was clearly falling apart.

The ironic thing is that March eventually recovered and went on to be a perfectly average sales month. After that, I finally became solidly confident about my business’ stability and future. I did quit my other job to focus on my business full-time, and nowadays I don’t get emotionally rocked by the normal week-to-week and month-to-month sales fluctuations. Instead I analyze the progress quarterly and yearly to make sure things are still heading up and to the right.

My business might not be the fastest-growing one on the block, but I have happy customers and I’m finally at peace with my progress. I also have enough savings to carry me through any major rough patches. This allows me to, well, worry less, for one thing – but also to make wiser decisions on what to work on, since I don’t have that underlying desperation / fear.

So those were three major breakthroughs. Let’s look at a few things I’m currently struggling with:

Struggle #1 – The tension between creating new things and improving existing things

One good thing I did was to get my products out onto the market fast, without wasting months and months tweaking and perfecting them. And after one product was out, I’d spend a few weeks doing lighter work and then dive right into creating the next one.

That means I’ve never gone back and worked on improving my previous products. My Business English Course has been untouched since I made it in 2012. I know the products are good – my customers enjoy them – but I think they could still be better. I feel this urge to re-do and improve my previous products… but I’m not sure how much of that urge comes from a good desire to serve my customers better, and how much of that urge comes from excessive perfectionism. Plus, it’s more exciting to dive into a new idea or a new project.

Ideally I’d like to do both – create new things and improve my old stuff – but feel like I don’t have the time.

That brings us to my second challenge…

Struggle #2 – Hiring and giving up control

I’ve been a solopreneur to this day – no partners, no employees – so that means I do everything in my business. Now that’s actually not so bad nowadays, because I’ve systematized and streamlined things so that it’s not a huge burden to keep the business running. So I don’t NEED to hire; the issue is not that there’s too much work for me to do. The issue is that my business’ progress is currently limited to my personal capacity.

If I had employees, I could have concurrent projects – like the employees work on improving the old courses while I create new initiatives – but I’ve been dragging my feet on bringing people on.

Part of this has to do with trust issues – can I really train someone to do things up to the high standard I hold for my own work? Part of it also has to do with the question of how much I actually want to grow my business – do I want to keep this a lifestyle business, or do I want to build a team and increase the impact, but also possibly spend more of my time managing their work instead of doing the work I enjoy? I’m not sure. That’s a question for another episode.

From talking to more experienced entrepreneurs, I know that hiring can provide an enormous boost to the business – the right person in the right role makes a huge positive impact. But hiring can also go badly, if people don’t perform as we hoped for. I want to be certain that I want to take that step before pulling the trigger.

Struggle #3 – The ever-elusive work/life balance

The best part about running your own business is being able to set your own schedule!

… this is also the worst part.

One issue is that I have a flexible schedule, but I have to decide how much or how little to “flex” for both stuff I want to do and stuff other people invite me to. It’s not a clear-cut decision and I have to evaluate every opportunity based on my workload, other available hours, how much or how little I really want to do the other activity, whether I’m under deadline for a course or just doing general non-urgent work, etc. It’s not where I want to spend my decision-making energy.

The other problem is that I can make a set schedule or routine for myself – basically give myself working hours – but my energy and inspiration don’t always match up with it. Sometimes when I have the whole morning reserved for work, I don’t sleep well the night before. Or the creativity’s just not flowing. I can spend three hours trying to grind out a single short blog post, and it’s counterproductive and frustrating.

On the other hand, if you don’t establish solid boundaries between work time and non-work time, the lines get blurred and you always feel guilty for not doing the other thing – so when I’m out enjoying life, I feel like I “should” be working, because things have been left undone. When I’m plugging away at the work, I feel like I “should” be out and about more, because what’s the point of having an online business if you can’t enjoy the perks of more free time?

These are a few of the things I’m still dealing with, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to figure them out and find something that works for me – just like I used to agonize over salesy vs. non-salesy content until I found the right balance, and now I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

This topic of mental breakthroughs is a big, meaty one and I’d love to hear your stories and examples. Head over to entrepreneursinmotion.com/mindset and share some of your mental breakthroughs and struggles.

I know I always appreciate it, when people are talking about mindset, when they give concrete examples of how the mindset change actually affected things in their life and business. Something about describing the real-life results helps drive the point home, so it doesn’t sound like just another shallow catch-phrase about attitude.