There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Jason Katzenback, the cofounder of Amazing.com, a leading online education organization for entrepreneurs with thousands of students across the world. Jason studied engineering in school, but quickly realized that “wasn’t the career path” he was looking for. He says he “could not fight the urge of needing to break free and start [a] business.”
In 2005 he started his first million-dollar company, where he realized how “fulfilling it was to inspire and teach others to take control of their own financial destinies.” That’s what led him to partner with Matt Clark and launch Amazing.com, where they’ve helped thousands of students create hundreds of millions in revenues.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Jason Katzenback: The earliest memory I have of what I wanted to be was when I was very young and went on an airplane for the first time with my family. I remember boarding the plane and seeing the differences between first class and regular class.
I told my parents, “When I grow up, I want to be one of the people with a briefcase sitting in first class.” I didn’t understand what it meant, but I did understand that my truck-driving dad and hairdresser mom, who provided a loving home with full meals and comfortable living situation, did not have the luxury of first class. I understood that, although we had everything we ever needed, the long hours, hard work, sore feet, dirty clothes, and all those things that were prevalent in my parents’ life didn’t afford us the luxury of the separate cabin with larger chairs and fewer people. Even though my parents worked very hard, it was something they couldn’t afford.
So at that early age I had a basic understanding that I was in control of what I could do with my life, and if I wanted a different lifestyle, I would need something more than a job that would merely provide the bare essentials. I wanted to be that person on that plane with the briefcase who could afford the finer experiences in life.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Katzenback: After an attempt to work my way to success through the corporate ladder, my eyes were opened to the stark difference between working hard for someone else versus working hard for myself. Around 2003-2004 I was working for a corporation and the company CEO abolished all employee bonuses. But just a few months later, that CEO received about $7 million in stock options. He addressed his good fortune in a company newsletter, saying it was beyond his control and it was a decision made by the board of directors.
At the end of the day, all I saw was that the CEO eliminated bonuses for all the extra hard work we were doing, and was lining his own pockets with $7 million. At that moment, I knew without a doubt that I had to make a choice. Did I want to keep working for a company where all my extra hours went into building a business for someone else who was lining their own pockets? Or did I want to take control by starting my own business and lining my own pockets? The choice was easy!
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Katzenback: I’ve had many pivotal moments, but the most recent was about four years ago when I realized it was fear that was holding me back. It was fear of failure, the fear of not being good enough, and the feeling that maybe I didn’t deserve success. I knew I wanted to offer more, to be bigger than I was allowing my business to be, but I was putting up my own roadblocks thinking I wasn’t good enough. I realized I was grabbing onto that fear and allowing it to control my decisions.
When I came to this realization, I started looking at everybody who was successful in this world. I saw that they had pushed through–that when they had set their minds on something, they worked to get it accomplished, and they looked at roadblocks as nothing more than stepping stones to something higher.
But when I would set my mind to something, I would water it down to make myself feel comfortable and in control. I thought I was making it easier to accomplish, but what I was actually doing was shortchanging myself. Once I truly understood that fear was nothing more than a mindset, it set me free to push for the things I sincerely wanted to achieve. I’m not saying I don’t feel fear anymore, but now I understand what it is, and I can keep it in perspective.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Katzenback: The best advice I have for a small business is something that dramatically changed my effectiveness, and that is daily journaling. Daily journaling isn’t just writing stuff down for the sake of journaling; it’s having a real purpose to it. That purpose is to identify areas where you can gain more time in your day and do things more effectively. For example, every day I write down every couple hours what I’ve worked on in bullet points. Then at the end of the day, I review all those bullets and highlight the things I shouldn’t be doing. I’m looking for where I should be hiring people, delegating the work to others. I’m also looking for things that are just unnecessary time wasters and can be cut [out] altogether. With this exercise you can start to pinpoint areas where you’re spinning your wheels and wasting time doing things that don’t grow your business.
If I’m trying to grow a business to $100 million a year and I’m wasting my time doing tasks that I could hire someone to do for $20 an hour, there’s no way I’ll be able to achieve my goal because I’ll always be doing work that produces the $20/hour result. As a small-business owner, you have to be capable of stepping out of that. Obviously in the beginning, you have to do most of the work yourself until you can afford to hire people. But as you’re journaling, you’ll start to identify the things you need to delegate as soon as possible. These are the tasks you’re spending time on, every day, that don’t produce the amount of money you should be earning per hour for the work you’re doing.
As a company owner, your time is the most valuable because you’re focusing on growing the company. So your time needs to be set for goal planning, leadership development, networking, connecting with others, vision creation, and all those good things that can get your company to the next level. If you find that you’re constantly stuck in the day-to-day grind of doing activities that maintain and don’t do anything to grow your business, then that’s going to be the cycle you’re stuck in. However, when you journal, identify and then delegate, it will help you break free of that cycle.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Katzenback: Goal setting. This is something that’s severely misunderstood, in my opinion, and when properly implemented, it makes a world of difference.
The biggest issue I see with goal setting is people create goals and then they’ll stick them in a drawer somewhere and won’t do anything with them. I think this is why many books and strategies out there are trying to change the phrase from “goal setting” to a different concept. For example, in the book Traction, which I highly recommend, they refer to goals as “rocks.”
Whatever you want to call them, the point is you need to understand very clearly and with a real-world perspective where your business is right now and where you want it to be when it grows up. Then you want to break that down into 90-day blocks.
As a simple example, if you want your company to grow from 10 clients to 100 clients in a year, the first step you need to take is to figure out the top three to five things you can accomplish in the next 90 days. Make sure your goals are specific and measurable so that it’s very clear when you’ve achieved them and moved closer to the result you’re after. Next, you need to break down that 90-day block into two-week increments and identify the specific things you have to get done over the following two weeks that will bring you closer to your goal. Then every two weeks, once the previous tasks are completed, create the next two-week tasks until your goal is achieved.
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction about small business?
Katzenback: There’s a big need for small businesses to provide a better mobile experience for customers this holiday season. If they don’t do that, they’ll see far fewer sales.
Last year, Amazon announced another record-breaking holiday season, and about 60 percent of its customers shopped using a mobile device. Total holiday sales from the Amazon app for smartphones doubled in 2014 in the U.S.
I predict these numbers will all increase even more as mobile technology continues to improve (easier payment options, faster speed, and more). If your business takes advantage of the holiday shopping season, and the platform you’re using doesn’t provide an easy-to-use mobile experience, your potential customers will gravitate toward your competitors who do. The ability to provide low-cost (even free), fast shipping would be a good thing to consider as well.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Katzenback: Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock. This book has truly opened my eyes to not only the importance of hiring the right people, but also to how to structure a high-performance team. It goes against many of the “must do’s” that traditional management has been teaching.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Katzenback: “Today do the things you are afraid of, so tomorrow you can accomplish what others dream of.”
I sincerely gravitated toward this quote as soon as I heard it, which was around the same time I realized that fear was what was really holding me back. Since about 2005 I had been constantly running seven-figure yearly revenue businesses. But I was never able to break through and get to the next level.
I finally understood it was because I was doing things that were safe instead of doing things others were afraid to do. And for some reason—as the definition of insanity goes—I was doing the same things repeatedly and expecting different results. When I realized it was fear that was holding me back—fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of all those things—and I confronted those fears, I started seeing dramatic results in my business.
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