Notes to Self, One Year In
Today is the Kool-Aid Factory’s first birthday!
I conceived of this project as a way to explore an interest and channel my COVID-induced ennui into something productive. When I got started, I knew how much I loved the subject-matter, but I had no idea how satisfying I would find it to be steeped in this stuff all day every day. Twelve months in, I’m increasingly sure that this can and will be my life’s work.
If I’m lucky enough to be going another one, two, five, or 50 years, here’s what I’ll want to remember about this first one.
Notes to self
- The gut knows things metrics don’t
- It’s okay to do thing that make your heart go boom, even if it doesn’t make the charts go up and to the right. In fact, as a team of one, it’s business-critical to do them. Just because a post didn’t get a bunch of views and likes and retweets, doesn’t mean nobody found it useful.
- Make deposits into the ecosystem
- take the call, chime in on threads, join a team meeting, mentor people, give ideas and resources away. It’s what makes you happy and it comes back around anyway. There will always be places to charge.
- Keep expenses down
- especially recurring ones. It can be easy to get carried away buying things one might “need” to run and grow a business–office space, hiring people, travel, networking events, etc. This is especially true when you start doing the fake math of tax savings. Keeping expenses down keeps you nimble, though. You never want to have to take work to cover expenses. This is a shortcut.
- Don’t be overly rigid about timelines
- This work is always important, but it might not always be urgent. If the project is supposed to wrap on Tuesday but someone can’t have the meeting until Friday, it doesn’t actually matter. If it doesn’t wrap for another two or three more Fridays, it still doesn’t really matter. Founders have a billion things knocking on their door every day. Flexibility is an asset. Be the thing that adds capacity to the system. Not drains it.
- It’s okay to fire yourself
- You never really know if a company can benefit from the work, and your particular hands on it, until you’re really in there. If you learn you’re not going to deliver, say so and get out of there as soon as possible.
- Fun fact: the people who hired you to the two projects you fired yourself from as your top referrers.
- Not enjoying something is not a good reason to fire yourself, though. That’s quitting. Sticking with it, even when it isn’t fun, has always taught you something new.
- Keep slack in the schedule
- being ready to say yes to work right now is an enormous advantage when working with busy people with rapidly-shifting priorities.
- Keep a doc of the ripples
- you’ll wake up many days many and think “what the heck am you even doing again?!” and “does this even matter?!” Having a place to read about all the good stuff that’s happened as a result of your work, no matter how small, helps you get back to your computer and keep going.
- Mid-to-long-term plans are pretty useless this early
- They may help you feel more in-control, but the truth is that you’re still learning and your predictions about the future are probably not going to be correct enough to make plans out of.
- Get away from the computer and move your body
- It’s a guaranteed significant mood/productivity boost, and is a shortcut to a better night’s sleep. There’s always time for that.
- Outsource the business-critical stuff that drains you
- Be willing to pay (a lot of) money to have great days most days. It’s the key to staying motivated when you’re on your own. For me, this year, it’s been accounting, expenses, filing paperwork, contracts, etc. There will probably be more.
- When the same thing works 3 times, you’re onto something
- Follow that thread!
- Let the slow days be slow
- Balance, for you, is walking across the see-saw. Not keeping it steady all the time. Some days look like 16 hour of straight enthusiasm and output. Some days look like 30-minutes of answering emails before I want to close the laptop for the day. Don’t freak out. You’ll always want to dive back in soon. When it’s just you, if you’re not going to do top ten percentile work, it’s usually better not to do it.
Things you want to get better at
- Light touch hellos
- If you’re thinking of someone, just say hey. Not every interaction has to have a next step or value-add attached. Send more of these.
- Explaining what you do
- Ugh, you still turn into a pretzel when I talk about my work. I want to get more crisp about the Kool-Aid offering and how to talk about it.
- Selling more proactively
- You’ve let all your work come to you so far. That’s cool! But you should be prepared for a world when word-of-mouth won’t be enough. And, wouldn’t it be night to find other great people you could work with, maybe even outside of your capital N Network, by asking?
- Adjusting the bar to ship
- You hold a lot of work back out of fear of shipping something not great. In reality, though, you don’t yet know what other people find great. You have permission to experiment with adjusting your bar for shipping, especially if you’ll learn something from it.
- Bringing other people in
- Working solo can be really lonely. You miss jamming on things with smart people with a stake in the work. Even without a formal team, more people would probably be happy to make themselves available to help you think through your work.
Permission to continue ignoring the following advice you keep getting
- Don’t get on the phone with someone for under $X
- Set clear boundaries and don’t waver
- Up the price until someone says no
- Get paid for any work you do
- Keep “normal” working hours
A quick note on pricing that no one pushes back on
An ~unwillingness to negotiate on price without a doubt means you leave money on the table. But it also makes me happier and greases the wheels of getting to work. To the extent you can happily live off your income, and weather the ups and downs of this thing, be okay with this. Reevaluate periodically, though. And don’t shoo away that birdie on your shoulder that chirps “charge more.” Be sure this choice isn’t coming from a place of fear or imposter syndrome.