I have a question for you.
"What would you ask if you could get the chance to sit down with a few entrepreneurs who have built their 7-figure businesses with no outside funding?"
This was the motivation behind my recent live panel discussion event, “How I Built My 7-Figure Business with No Funding.” I wanted to provide the opportunity for my members to hear directly from 7-figure business owners what they have experienced throughout their journey building one.
Here's the thing, many dream of running a multi-million dollar business. You might be one of them. But what people may not realize is that we are talking about gross revenue. It's not like you get to sit on the entire revenue. If you are visualizing having a bank account with 6 zeros as the available balance, that is not really the case.
Not only that, there are a set of challenges to scale a business beyond the first million, such as building a team, weighing what to risk for greater rewards, what to say no to (that you used to say yes to), etc.
My thought process was, "What do I want aspiring entrepreneurs to know about scaling up?" Because making a million in business gets way too glorified--especially online--I felt the need to get the right message out there.
So, the game was on. I started to reach out and see if anyone would be interested in sharing their stories. Soon, I was introduced to a few ridiculously successful entrepreneurs - Lucky Gobindram from Cemtrex, Karen Morales from Marketing Magnet, Mel Pharr from MelissaPharr.com & Luisa Zhou from LuisaZhou.com.
I can't tell you how many golden nuggets they openly shared. I mean, there was a lot that made us all think on a deeper level.
In this post, I'm going to feature the most memorable concepts they revealed that you are going to absolutely want to take on so that you can tackle building a multi-7-figure business by being level-headed.
Oh wait, one more thing... At the end of the post, I'll also share my behind-the-scenes thoughts you would be glad to know (because these are the things not often shared as key to becoming a successful & happy multi-7-figure business owner!)
On "Following Your Passion" – For It or Against It?
When I asked what their take was on the commonly shared advice, "Follow your passion," Luisa gasped & took the mic.
"I'm against it. My first startup attempt after leaving my corporate life failed because I was so passionate about it but not knowing how to make that happen."
She is talking about her mobile payments startup she co-founded before Apple pay & Google pay were available.
"This is going to change the world, I thought," said Luisa.
"But the problem was, none of us knew how to make it a sound business model. There was no money there."
Luisa continued, "On the other hand, my next online business was purely based on following the money."
Now, make no mistake, she is NOT talking about making money at all costs for the sake of making money.
On the contrary, she had built her online education business based on market demand. Each time someone paid for her service, she considered it as the "ultimate validation" to developing her business.
"I was particularly passionate about what I was doing at that time," said Luisa.
"Eventually, though, I have developed joy through my service knowing I am making a difference and helping many people."
Mel, on the other hand, was more mission-driven & passionate about helping women entrepreneurs make more sales.
"I'm a little more passion & mission based from the start. But not without keeping in mind that my ultimate goal was to create a business I can rely on. So, naturally I focused on money-making activities.”
Mel continued, “There are too many creative entrepreneurs (whom I cater to) that get overwhelmed by doing everything in their businesses & not focusing on a small set of KPI’s (key performance indicators)."
To summarize, their focus was to develop their skills and experiences that were in demand first & not to focus on their passions only.
There are good discussions about Product-led vs. Market-led. In both cases for Luisa & Mel, they opted for the "Market-led strategy" by letting the market dictate their path while they considered what they naturally do much better than anyone in the space.
You can learn more about how following your passion is overrated by Cal Newport's book, "So Good They Can't Ignore You."
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On Taking It Off the Ground – the Humble Beginning
This was a question from the audience. I know many struggle with making the kind of sales they need in their business, especially when they are starting out. So, the question was, “How did you successfully market your business and find people who would pay for your service?”
Lucky took the mic. “Oh, when I was starting my agency with my brother, I was everywhere. I mean I showed up at anyone’s BBQ, calling up people, inviting people at my own house parties… you name it. The more I did it, the more I understood about how to communicate with people about what my business offered.”
Luisa also shared, “The old school way of doing it & something I still do today is to build up relationships and get referrals.”
“When I was starting out, I looked to the network I already had. I was active with both in-person networking and online networking like Facebook groups. At that time, I really had nothing to sell, but I was just looking for ways to help people who were in my community. Soon enough, they started to spread the word about how I was able to help them, and they started to ask me if they could pay for it,” said Luisa.
She continued, “I must have done 50 or more calls just to find out what help they were needing & willing to pay for. Even when I was on a podcast, I said to just book a call with me. Someone finally said I helped her so much for free & ‘how she could pay for it?’ I was like, ‘Hold on, let me get back to you.’ That’s how it all started.”
Lucky added, “Today alone, I had 6 meetings. They all came from referrals. Just getting to know as many people as possible and being helpful to them is key.”
I know this from my own experience hosting events & going to some networking events, too many business owners get way too strategic about how to do networking. Or, I should say they are too “outcome focused.” The vibe (that they are unaware of giving off) is, “What can you do for me?” or “Is this person going to buy my stuff?”
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, this is the wrong way to go about it. I discuss more about this in my recent post, “Want to Be an Opportunity Magnet? 9 Secrets I Found by Observing Successful Entrepreneurs.”
On Handling Setbacks
If you’re thinking that these business owners have it easy, you’ll want to know more about what they went through. They did not get any special treatment or backings from VC firms. They built their business from the ground up.
Lucky reminded all of us that challenges & setbacks are there for us to learn and grow as a business owner.
“I know all too well about challenges, from managing people the right way to ensure that the investments that we put in would actually yield the kind of results we expect to clients not paying. I’ve gone through all of that.”
“When I was in my early 20s (starting multiple franchise business locations), I thought I was just going to sue everyone,” said Lucky.
“But what I came to realize, and the biggest lesson I learned for me was the importance of empathy. Why are they behaving the way they do and where are they coming from? How can I be more observant and read their mind through their body language, subtle gestures they make and things they say when their guard is not up.”
Once he recognized he can use this to his advantage, everything shifted.
Lucky added, “Having a few co-founders definitely helped me to focus more on growing the business so that my time is solely focused on sustaining risks, assessing profitability, bringing in more business and so on.”
He continued, “Failure is inevitable to grow as a person and grow as a business. Even last year, we invested $5 mil into something that didn’t work out. We just need to be objective about data we collect, and we learn as much as possible from the experience. Also, surrounding yourself with good, talented people helps from the idea stage to the validation point.”
Luisa also openly shared her biggest challenge.
“My biggest challenge came when I made the first million. Frankly, I got cocky & thought, ‘I was a badass!’ I thought I was really good at this thing. I can’t fail. I must be so good. Then I started to put all of my profit back into all sorts of investments,” said Luisa.
“I expanded my team too quickly. I worked on multiple campaigns simultaneously. I was like, ‘I can’t fail.’ Then pretty much 9 out of 10 projects failed.”
Talk about a big setback…
“My biggest lesson was this. I was so focused on crossing that first million mark, and I had absolutely no plan for what happens after. After looking back, I could have taken some time, a few months or a year to really think about how my business model would look like after the first million and how I envisioned my team to function. It’s a long game and giving enough thought on to how to sustain the existing business is really important.”
Although I knew the answer to this question, I asked Luisa how she felt once she crossed the first million just so that the participants could hear this from someone who actually gone through all of this.
“I didn’t even get a chance to feel anything. It is absolutely true about the ‘new level, new devil’ thing. I didn’t feel like I had finally arrived or anything, mainly because I was already putting money back into investing in all the wrong things I shouldn’t be investing & I was too busy putting out fires! We were in the red!”
So, how did she bounce back?
“Well, I had to do something different.”
Luisa continued, “My family is depending on me, and now it’s go time. So, what can I do? The answer was getting back to basics. Follow the money again. What worked? Why? What makes the most profit & how can we leverage? That’s the first thing I did.”
“It took us 8 to 12 months to bounce back to where it needed to be,” said Luisa.
I was so glad to have these guys on the panel to share their stories of setbacks. Unlike most things you read online or stories you hear on podcasts, it is never about going from point A to B without hiccups. It is not so linear as some make it sound to be.
Although it must have been an emotional rollercoaster for them, one thing for sure is that they kept their cool despite all of the setbacks they needed to handle.
The message was clear. They all had an incredible amount of determination to make things happen in their business, but not without the ability to objectively assess what needed to happen by using the data and feedback they had collected.
On Taking Risks – It’s Not About on What, It’s All About on Whom
I could make up a long list of WHAT risks these entrepreneurs took. But I am not going to.
It’s simply because people focus too much on WHAT and don’t pay enough attention to WHO.
Here’s what I mean.
Mel took out a bunch of credit cards with no interest for 12 or 18 months. She paid it all back before the no-interest deal ended.
OK, that is WHAT she did. And I know many others do the same yet not being able to pay back the debts they accumulated. So, what’s the difference between Mel and the rest?
She did not take a bet on her credit cards. She took a bet on her future self.
Boom! That’s the difference.
Let me elaborate a little more. She envisioned herself building a multi-7-figure business, and she made herself accountable for paying it all back as a multi-7-figure business owner before she had even become one.
There are too many people out there who blame external factors as the main reason their businesses don’t take off.
“Oh, my wife is never gonna go for this.”
“This means I need to keep my day job while I start my own business during off-hours with zero breaks. Ugh.”
“I have 3 kids.”
“I was recently diagnosed with an illness.”
“I have no money to start a business.”
Guess what? The panelists at this event all went through similar obstacles, but they overcame them by taking a bet on their future selves.
The same goes for Karen who was experiencing massive burnout from her corporate job, going through divorce and diagnosed with an illness--all almost at the same time. Yet, she took a big risk to start her own marketing agency.
I was curious about what made her keep going through with her journey of building a business that grew so quickly.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I tend not to dwell on things. The same thing can be said about quitting an addiction or changing one’s life. But for me, one day I was just done. Done with feeling miserable and being unhappy. There was no turning back,” said Karen.
Her ‘why’ was to create a better life for herself and her kids, and she was willing to bet on the new life she was about to create.
Mel’s experience of being poor and having to put food back on the shelf because she couldn’t afford it was the innate & original drive for her success.
“I was at one event & heard this woman speak. She said she generated 6 figures per month. You know what, I thought to myself, ‘I can do the same. I am intelligent enough & I am totally capable of doing what she is doing’ and off I went,” said Mel.
Her newly created identity for herself – someone who makes 6 figures per month – dictated what kind of risks she is willing to take.
What I took away from this are:
1. Don’t blame the external hurdles that stand in your way. You hold your future self accountable for the actions you take today and not actions you feel comfortable taking as your present self.
2. Being too risk-averse can actually hurt your business by keeping you where you are for a longer period of time.
3. Taking risks helps to mold your new identity as a business owner. It is counter-intuitive, so not many understand how it works.
On Success Factors
The biggest misconception among aspiring entrepreneurs about running a 7-figure business is that they get to breathe easy once they get there. They often romanticize that all the struggle, grind & hustle will go away and that they will finally be happy.
Hate to be the buzz kill, but this is far, far from the truth. My business caters to 7-figure business owners, and I see their challenges & struggles every single day. The adage of “a new level, a new devil” is real.
So, I asked the panelists what their turning point was & what contributed to their success, handling new challenges at each milestone they went through.
Karen shared 3 key factors that made her business grow into a 7-figure business in just under 9 months.
“Foreseeing what I will be needing down the road and getting it now as a calculated risk paid off for me.”
She is talking about hiring help.
Karen continued, “I had no idea how I was going to pay for the help I would need, but we were at this tipping point where if I didn’t make a decision to hire now and if I waited too long to hire help until the moment I absolutely needed, it would have delayed the growth of my business.”
Another piece that she made her new discipline was to say no to offers that did not serve her mission and vision.
This is something I hear a lot from entrepreneurs who excel in their businesses, but it is easier said than done.
“At times, I could totally use the extra funds I could get by saying yes to potential clients with red flags. But really, some clients are not worth it. At all.”
The 3rd piece was her ability to fight the urge to have “shiny object syndrome.” Instead of focusing on 3 different business activities that require an equal amount of attention, she suggests her clients focus on a singular mission that generates revenue first and foremost. That’s exactly what she did, especially in the beginning of her business.
Mel gives credit to her ability to form an A-team.
“I realized I was pretty good at this. They are professional and intelligent. They tend to stick around for years. We are never late on anything. Because I value my time, I only focus on the revenue-generating activities that create content and help female entrepreneurs with what they need to move their business forward.”
Later on, she added, “The biggest mistake I made was to believe that I can do everything by myself.”
This is so important. For the sake of saving money, many tend to hold out on getting the help they need that prevents depleting the energy required to focus on the most important part of their businesses.
On What's Next
Mel shares her view. “After hitting the 7-figure mark in my business, I care so much more about what currency I care for the most. In my case, that is time & energy. I consider them to be the most important currency I want to preserve.”
She continued, “I care far less about how much revenue I’m bringing in nowadays. I care much more about what the bottom line is, and that is time and energy in my case. Also, how much I get to keep (net). So, I am super keen on simplifying everything and focusing on the highest revenue generating streams.”
Mel also added, “Making an impact on people I serve and putting all of my creative energy into it is the ultimate goal of my business. So, all of my business decisions are based on this goal to ask myself ‘what can be taken off my plate.’”
Lucky boldly stated, “Bigger is always better for me in my case (laughs). But that doesn’t mean I would attempt to scale the business with no strategic plan in place. I want to explore how the technology that we offer can be best used to help other businesses in the most effective way while I continue to drive this business forward.”
“Continue improving the quality of my life and my family’s life,” said Karen.
She continued, “I had to ask a friend of mine, ‘OK, so now what?’ (laughs). But then I knew my goal was to continue creating the best version of myself while I work on my business to be sustainable.”
What’s fascinating to me is that both Luisa and Karen mentioned “not planning for life after generating millions” is something they wished they knew. So, take it from these entrepreneurs. Life still goes on after hitting a 7-figure mark. Consider giving this a thought to see what truly matters to you and the people you are accountable for – your family, friends, employees and customers.
Bonus Bits – What Was NOT Said that Needs to be Said
I am hoping I’ve been doing a good job so far at making you feel a bit of FOMO for not being able to join us at the event!
See, the mission for my live events is to jam-pack them full with values and to energize all of the attendees. As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, there is no way to include the entire conversations that went on during the event. But I made sure to select the most important parts for you to take away even if you weren’t able to attend.
Now, this is only available for you as I did not share this during the event. That is my experience putting this event together speaks volumes about who these entrepreneurs are and what they are about.
Since they weren’t ones to brag about themselves, I felt like I should take on this responsibility to be the one to ensure you are aware of this. Not only is this important to know in order to continuously develop yourself as a better human being, this is also important for you to know to become an exceptional business owner.
So, here it goes:
By far, they were the easiest, most egoless and drama-less people I have ever worked with.
If you have not put any events on before, just trust me when I tell you there are multiple logistics that are involved at the planning stage, however small the event may be. I have a dedicated Trello board not to miss a step when I am organizing any event.
Here is the proof. The number of emails exchanged were far less than the average. This tells you there were no questions, they delivered the items I requested on time, and they all came through with their commitment with no double-confirmation needed.
None of them asked me whether I was charging for tickets. They simply agreed to donate their previous time just to be there. Not only that, they had every right to say no to the event stats I provided beforehand i.e. how many people normally show up, what my email list looks like, where it is held, etc.
For the record, I had a few in the past who said no specifically because my audience size was not big enough for them, and the kicker is, their businesses were far smaller compared to that of these entrepreneurs.
Make no mistake, I am not resentful of it. On the contrary, I am just prepared to hear no’s without attaching any emotion to it. This is why I am always upfront about the stats to potential guests. Because I am always prepared, I’m sure you can imagine, it actually blew my mind when they all said, ‘yes.’
These are the entrepreneurs who deeply understand and value their time. I cannot figure out how to even express my gratitude for their openness and willingness to participate in my event.
To me, this needed to be said for the record. They commit and they come through, and that gets emulated in the way they operate their business. If you are determined to become a 7-figure business owner and if you are to take only one thing from this post, take this one with you: Be the best version of yourself that wows someone.
Finally, I can’t finish this post without mentioning Tara Rae Bradford of Rae Media Group for connecting me with Mel, Karen and Luisa for the event. Her selflessness when it comes to helping fellow entrepreneurs also must be noted here! Thank you, Tara!
If you found this post helpful to growing your business, share your comments below and be sure to join my Meetup group to get the latest on upcoming events!