If you run a business or startup, chances are you chose the path of entrepreneurship because of a great idea or a desire to make the world a better place with your unique innovation.  So why is it that any media attention you manage to capture seems just as interested in you – the entrepreneur – as it is in your product? Continue reading How and Why You Should Build Your Personal Brand

It doesn’t matter how amazing your idea is or how well-received your product has been – all entrepreneurs suffer from lagging motivation at one point or another.  There will be times when productivity comes easily and times where it’s a struggle to even open your email account.  At the end of the day, what matters is how you handle both the highs and lows of business motivation.

I’ve been running Single Grain for about five years now, and I’ve definitely had my own ups and downs.  But at the same time, I’ve been able to overcome my motivation challenges and grow the company into a seven-figure business that I’m incredibly proud of.  A big part of that success has been my ability to fight off procrastination and to get out of the motivation slumps that threaten all business owners.

With all that in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I get motivated and what inspires me to keep going when things get tough.  The result is this three-part “Master Guide to Getting Motivated.”  I hope you find it helpful, whether you’re at the top of your game or the seemingly-endless bottom of a productivity pit.

Finding Your Motivation

You can’t get motivated if you don’t know what you’re working towards.  Sorry, but it’s true.  Vague ideals like “I want to make a lot of money” or “I want people to think I’m sexy” just aren’t going to get you off the couch!

To find your motivation, I want you to answer the following three questions. Be sure to come back to this exercise periodically, as you may find that your answers change over time.

What do I want out of life?

I’m big on giving back, but this isn’t a time to be self-sacrificing!  Instead, put on your greediest “little kid at Christmas” mentality and let your mind wander to all the different things you want out of life.

Think big and think small.  If your burning desire is to be able to pay off your credit card statements each month, that’s fine.  And if you want to own a private island that’s staffed by attractive workers who fan you with palm fronds while you drink strawberry margaritas?  That’s fine too.  Spend a few hours brainstorming your every desire.  When you hit on something that really gets your blood pumping, write it down for future reference.

What do I want from my business?

Next, apply this same brainstorming exercise to your business.  Think back to the reason you started your company and envision all the different ways you want it to grow in the future.

Do you want to see your product go worldwide?  Would a front-page mention on Tech Crunch make your year?  Is your ultimate dream being chosen for an incubator program like TechStars?  Whatever your visions might be, take the time to fully experience them in your mind as if they were happening in real life.  Then, make a note of each goal you envisioned and how it made you feel.

What makes me happy in my life right now?

Both of the first two questions in this series focus on future possibilities.  And while these are important, it’s also essential that you have a few “real life” motivators in order to keep your list grounded.

So the last thing that I want you to think about is what makes you happy right now (or, what in your life right now drives you to succeed).  Do you have a family that you need to succeed in order to support?  A hobby that fills you with the kind of passion that bleeds over to your business activities?  Add whatever gets you excited about your current life to the list of motivators you’ve been building.

Now, one thing you might have noticed about these exercises is that none of them involve creating step-by-step action plans that’ll give you a realistic path for turning your visions into reality.  That’s because motivation is almost entirely a mental game.  There’s a time and a place for devising detailed strategies – but it’s just as important to fan the flames of mental and emotional desire that’ll give you the strength needed to carry out your plans.

What Motivates Me

Hopefully, by the end of the first exercise, you should have a list of all the different things that get you motivated.  If you’re still struggling to come up with your own list of motivators, check out all the things that get me pumped up for inspiration:

My morning run

I hate running, but I still do it every morning because it helps me to clear my mind and gives me space to let my thoughts wander and be creative.  It also gets my endorphins pumping so that, by the time I hit the office, I’m in the right mindset to be motivated all day.

My Facebook friends

My Facebook friends can always be counted on to cheer me up if I’m feeling unmotivated, but it’s more than that.  If I’m slacking, I think about having to own up to it to all my social media contacts.  Wanting to tell them about my successes – not my failures – gets my ass in gear every time.

Meetings with other startups

Every so often, I have the chance to sit down with new entrepreneurs and go over their ideas and business strategies.  And let me tell you, it’s incredibly motivating!  Hearing their excitement and enthusiasm reminds me why I started my business in the first place, motivating me to work harder and do something that’s bigger than myself.

My mentors

My mentors – and I’m lucky enough to count Neil Patel and Hiten Shah in this group – always seem to know when I need help solving problems and when I need my butt kicked.  Whether they’re graciously helping me or giving me some tough love, I always feel great after the long talks I have with my mentors.

Helping others

I volunteer to help other entrepreneurs owners through clarity.fm, but I also go out of my way to do small random acts of kindness throughout the day.  Succeeding in business is all well and good, but if I can use my success to improve the lives of others?  That’s what really keeps me motivated to move forward.

My parents

My parents are my biggest cheerleaders, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I couldn’t go more than a week without their guidance and advice.  They support me no matter what I do, and this just motivates me to work even harder to make them proud.

My team

Watching my business grow has been great, but helping my team members to grow and to be better in their careers has been even more rewarding.  Being able to help others develop their skillsets gives me this warm, fuzzy feeling that I find incredibly motivating.  After all, if I want to continue providing them with new projects and interesting clients, I’ve got to be good at my job as well!

My wife

There are some days when I can’t believe that my wife chose to marry me.  She is – without a doubt – the kindest, hardest working person I know and her example makes me want to get more done and be a better person.  I’m incredibly grateful to her for being such a motivating figure in my life and I try to make her just as proud to be my husband every day.

Partying on the weekends

I’m not an alcoholic, but unwinding on the weekends with great friends and a few drinks helps to refresh my brain and start clean when Monday rolls around.  And when I’m more relaxed, it’s easier to shoot the shit and come up with the kinds of random business ideas I might not be creative enough to dream up while sober.

You’ve heard it from me – having a few drinks makes me a better businessman.  Go tell your boss that Sujan said it was alright to work the afternoon from your favorite bar…

Motivational quotes

LOL – I’m seriously a motivational quote junkie.  I have tons of them stored on my computer so that I can read through them whenever I feel like giving up.  And if you’re wondering which quotes mean the most to me, stay tuned – I’m putting together a list of my favorite sayings for you and I’ll be sharing it here in the next few weeks.

Business books

When I was in school, I read a total of two books.  Total.  Now, I read or listen to 1-2 a week – I guess you could say I’m making up for lost time.  Whether they’re books on marketing strategy, business planning or personal development, I’ve read so many great books that enlighten me and help me to stay motivated with whatever projects I’m facing.

Making money

I wouldn’t say that I’m a greedy person, but seeing the dollar signs roll in sure helps my motivation levels!  When I make money, my friends and family members make money as well.  And when I see Single Grain’s clients making more money as the result of our actions, that puts a big smile on my face.  Everybody wins!

How to Stay Motivated

Unfortunately, if having a list of the things that motivated you was enough to propel you to business success was enough, we’d all be fabulously wealthy by now!  While reading through your list can be a great way to cope whenever procrastination strikes, here are a few other strategies you can use to maintain your motivation…

Identify motivation killers 

In addition to compiling all your different motivators, create a second list of things you notice that dampen your productivity.  For example, skipping my morning workout is an easy way for me to lose my motivation. Because I’ve identified this motivation killer, I can avoid it – and you can do the same by identifying and actively avoiding these challenges.

Take one tiny step

Feeling unmotivated can be compounding.  If you struggle to stay on task one day, it’ll be even harder for you to gain traction the next day.  To prevent this effect from killing your motivation, take one tiny step each day towards your primary goal – no matter how tiny it may be.  Even that small sense of accomplishment will help you get back on track in the future.

Give yourself a break 

You know what makes it hard to stay motivated?  Burnout.  When you’re physically, mentally and emotionally depleted, it’s nearly impossible to stay motivated.  To avoid this state, make it a priority to take care of your health and to give yourself “work free” breaks away from the office.

And my final piece of advice to you in this motivation guide is to not beat yourself up.  We all lose motivation from time to time, and we all fall off track – even when we know there are big things to accomplish.  By taking the time to uncover the things that get you motivated and by keeping these motivators present at the front of your mind, you’ll sail past the motivation challenges that threaten to sink your business goals.

What keeps you motivated?  Share your own tips and tricks for staying motivated in the comments section below!

Today marks my 29th birthday and instead of celebrating, I’m choosing to reflect and double down on work. After all, it’s really just another Tuesday. Most people see me having fun racing every weekend or posting lavish things on Facebook, but what most people don’t see is the hard work behind the scenes that allows me to do the things I do – or the number of times I’ve allowed failure to move me closer to this lifestyle.

So last night, as the clock struck midnight, I wasn’t focusing on the things that have gone well in my life.  The only thing I could think about is how I’ve failed in life and about the lessons I’ve learned (or should have learned) as a result.

So far, I’ve launched four companies in my life. Three of those companies have failed, making Single Grain the only one that didn’t fail (or, as I like to think of it, is a “success in progress“). That gives me an average 25% success rate… which is pretty shitty, depending on how you look at it. But instead of beating myself up over that average or getting overly sentimental about it, I’ll jump right in to the lessons I’ve learned from failing: Continue reading Lessons Learned from 3 Failed Companies

Update 1: I wrote this post a few years ago and since then I’ve made even more money (total is up to $980k) using t-shirt marketing and sold the company.

Update 2: I sold my marketing agency and moved across the country from SF to Minnesota (wtf, right?) to work at When I Work.  We’re using t-shirts for marketing purposes: Grab yours here: http://wheniwork.com/free-shirt

Update 3: A few hours after I posted update 2, one of my awesome readers submitted us to Reddit. Long story short, we gave away 30,000 tshirts. We honored every order but had to stop offering free t-shirts as being on the Reddit homepage cost us $280,000 🙁

I’m going to let you in on a little secret…  When it comes to business, I’m passionate, motivated and driven.  But when it comes to a lot of other things in my life, I can be pretty lazy.

As soon as I started making money with Single Grain, one of the first things I did was to go out and get some t-shirts made.  Not because I thought it’d be some genius marketing move, but because I knew I’d be able to wear them every day and never have to go clothes shopping again.  I started out with an order of 25-30 shirts, and since this was more than enough to fill up my closet, I decided to give the rest away to friends.

I posted to Facebook to see who wanted a few shirts and was surprised when I ran out just a few hours after I put up the message.  Clearly there was a demand for my shirts!
Continue reading How Giving Away T-Shirts Made Me Over $500K in Revenue

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that – while there are plenty of things in this world that I’m good at – written communications isn’t one of them.

(And for those of you who are new here, you can see the entire process I use to create posts here in my “Getting Shit Done” article.)

I’m great on the phone, so – up until recently – I’ve been able to cover for my lack of email skills by doing most of my communicating person-to-person.  If I needed to talk to clients, I’d schedule a phone call.  If I had assignments to pass out to my team members, I’d do so in person in our San Francisco office.

But that all changed when my wife and I recently relocated to Santa Monica, where I’ll be opening up Single Grain’s new Los Angeles office and she’ll be going back to school for her MBA.
Continue reading How Working Remotely Forced Me to Improve My Communication Skills

By now, I shouldn’t have to convince you about how powerful content marketing is, as well as how significant of a difference it can make in terms of your website’s performance.

But just in case you aren’t fully on board with this new promotional paradigm yet, consider this…  Of the brands surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute in 2013, 86% of business-to-consumer (B2C) companies are planning to maintain or increase their current content marketing spend, while 54% of business-to-business (B2B) companies report the same commitment to this marketing strategy.

Pretty compelling stuff, right?
Continue reading Developing a Strategic Content Marketing Framework for Your Site

Update: While working late on a Saturday night I was inspired to record a quick Periscope video on hard work and success. If you’re not already following me on Periscope, you can by searching for @sujanpatel on your Periscope app.

We love our “get rich quick” stories. We eat up news reports of entrepreneurs who have struck it big “overnight” – wondering how we ourselves would handle the sudden influx of wealth acquired through a startup buyout or IPO.  And we’re incredibly susceptible to products that promise quick riches (no matter how illogical their roadmaps to achieving wealth might seem).

We love these stories because we’re all inherently lazy – we all want to do the least amount of work possible, while earning as much money as possible.

But unfortunately, this type of laziness – when left unchecked – can seriously derail your entrepreneurial dreams.  The bottom line, hard truth of the matter is that running a business (whether successful or not) is damn hard.  It’s hard work – day-in and day-out.

If you can’t handle that heat, get out of the industry.  But if you’re willing to work hard to turn your entrepreneurial dreams into success, here’s what you need to know… Continue reading The Truth about Hard Work and Entrepreneurial Success

Last week, I shared with you six great skills that you can learn from six of the greatest entrepreneurs throughout history.  But if you think that six skills alone are going to take you from wannabe business owner to entrepreneurial success, you’ve got another thing coming!

Today, I want to wrap up this series with another six important lessons that you need to learn if you want to make it with your own company.  Start working on these skills within your own life and I guarantee you’ll see faster progress – no matter what your business goals might be! Continue reading More Great Skills from Great Entrepreneurs

I’m not sure if there are any other occupations out there that require as many skills and abilities as it takes to be an entrepreneur.  If you’re a pilot, you need to be familiar with the operation of your aircraft – but you don’t have to source its parts, build it and then sell it to an airline in order to be successful.  If you’re an engineer, you might draft plans – but then you pass your designs off to others to see them brought to reality.

That’s not to say that these fields aren’t important or challenging – just that they’re not as all-encompassing as entrepreneurship.  When you’re a solo business owner, every aspect of your company’s operation falls on your shoulders.  You’re a visionary, yes, but you’re also a project manager, team leader, administrative assistant, sales person and more, depending on what the day calls for.

Given how complex the work of an entrepreneur can be, I want to take the next two weeks to break down some of the skills that you must have to be successful in this type of business.  And since I’m a sucker for case studies, I’ve paired each skill with an example from a great entrepreneur throughout history.

Hope you find them helpful when it comes to cultivating your own skill as a business owner!
Continue reading Great Skills from Great Entrepreneurs

If you want to run a startup, you have to be an effective leader – no ifs, ands or buts about it.

As a entrepreneur you’ll be called upon to lead in a variety of different situations.  If you have employees, it’ll be up to you to motivate your workers to give 110% to their tasks and to finish priorities in a timely manner.  But even if you’re flying solo, you need the charisma of leadership to convince mentors, partners and investors to believe in your vision and provide the support that’s needed to meet your startup goals.
Continue reading 5 Essential Leadership Skills for Entrepreneurs