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(ENTREPRENEUR) It’s a long and winding road in life as an entrepreneur, from building from the ground up to sustaining success. Joy comes in the journey.
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I left the entrepreneurial life.
It started on a whim. I’d grown tired of making other people wealthy while staying in the same place and decided I needed to do this for myself. I was between jobs and had just moved back to the Austin area, so I started a kitchen-table graphic design company with the help of my daughter, who is also a designer. In two years, we were a four-person team, with clients ranging from Travel Texas to TGI Fridays.
We worked remotely, were family-friendly, had a four-day work week, and had the luxury of taking on projects that we loved. It was ideal, but fragile. There were feast or famine moments, and while we officially only worked four days a week, business development and strategy was my round-the-clock obligation.
We hung in there for nearly eight years. When my daughter received an opportunity of a lifetime to work abroad, she grabbed it. Around the same time, my biggest client decided to take their art department in-house, so we lost half of our annual revenue. It was a big loss. I tried a rebrand, a partnership, and a few podcasts, but my little agency was treading water.
Major clients turned into gigs, and money was tight. I had to find a job.
There’s a language you speak with other entrepreneurs, and a certain reverence is reserved for those who have succeeded. They have clout, grit, moxy, and chops. They are brave enough to go toe-to-toe on a job with companies who possess fat bank accounts, strategists, and actual creative departments. It’s an amazing feeling to be at the helm, and to see your work in major media, and to see your clients thrive. To leave that for the safety of a steady paycheck and healthcare is at once a great relief, and terribly heartbreaking.
When searching for a job as a former entrepreneur, you’re seen as a bit of a renegade. You have the skills and experience they’re looking for, but lack the pedigree of a big agency, and the civility of corporate life. You’re too bossy or crafty to be an associate, but too rough around the edges to be a leader. You’re in a bit of a no-man’s land, which sort of only resonates with other entrepreneurs or start-ups. And working for those guys is why you left office life in the first place.
Six months later, we all entered the Covid era, and I was and remain glad to have a good job. I still do one or two gigs a year. I say that it’s to keep my agency’s portfolio active, but I imagine it’s mostly because I still wish I had a piece of that life.

Ask these 3 questions to know how to actually finish your project
Cynthia Eck is the Founder and Creative Director of Badlands Creative, and is the Director of Development for the Children’s Advocacy Center, serving Bastrop, Lee and Fayette Counties. Away from work, you’ll find her growing tomatoes, printing posters, cooking something tasty, or slinging vintage vinyl at the family shop, Astro Record Store in Historic Bastrop.
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(ENTREPRENEUR) Whether your project is an app or an art installation, there are innumerable speed bumps you can either hit or avoid – let’s discuss.
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Creative in a candy shop.
The world is filled with awesome tools. If you’re a creative person, like I am – these tools and technologies always catch our gaze. They twinkle brightly, sweet candies for us to snatch as we’re walking down the infinite aisles of the internet. Because of this, we’re always embarking on new projects – seeking that lighter-than-air feeling when our vision takes life.
This article was originally intended to help people finish software projects, but I realized it could be extended to all sorts of things. Startup businesses, content generation, design, music, art – you name it.
Early on in my career, I was struggling with finishing any of my personal projects (professional work didn’t seem to suffer the same effects, but that’s another discussion). I have a folder on my machine with what I consider to be a graveyard of applications, the result of a partial effort with a vast array of technologies.
After a while, I came to a realization. Creative effort that is partially complete might as well not exist altogether. Our unfinished projects gather dust, never to be seen by the masses. The reason we make things is to share them with others, and the possibilities are endless when we do.
You might make someone’s day. You might impact someone’s life.
You might just change the world.
None of this can happen if they’re incomplete. It’ll just be a fragment. A morsel of a dream not yet realized.
Don’t let this happen to you.
I started becoming aware of productivity traps that would hamper my efforts and cause a project to get discarded. So here are a few things that I’ve found will help anyone stay on track and make amazing things.
Start with what makes your project special.
There are many moving pieces to every project out there. For instance, if you’re building an application by yourself, you’ll need to think about your choice of technologies, how you’ll deploy it, its design and user experience, marketing so that people can see it, and its monetization strategy. That’s a lot of stuff, isn’t it? It’s very easy to get caught up in some of these topics and spin your wheels on the ‘what ifs.’
Attempting all these things at once is a heroic effort, but one made in vain. This mindset was a tremendous damper on the projects I would try to build. I would get stuck on designing sexy user interfaces and neat interactions. I would write out copy for the landing pages and design logos. The problem is that these things take a lot of time and effort. I would exhaust my energy on the details and never get to the meat of the project. This is a huge problem – our projects and work should always be prioritized by their core function.
The process of figuring out which things make our project special is relatively simple, there are only three questions you must ask yourself.
1. What parts of the project must be done in order for this project to be special?
You might know these as the components of the key value proposition. It can be easy to lose sight of that when we work alone. I’ve found that when focusing on these first, I’m able to breathe life into the project.
For instance, when developing a mobile application for a fortune teller based off human movements, I knew that it needed to have a movement detection algorithm based on accelerometer data.
When creating a day planner web app, I knew I wanted it to have an easy & intuitive interaction design allowing the user to drag items and resize them.
This concept is the same for non-tech ideas. Research and validation should be performed first on the components which make the idea unique.
If you’re starting a food stand in a busy part of the city, start with making delicious food – not with the marketing, the monetization, or the supply chain. Invest in making the end result valuable to the world, and then validate that it actually is.
If you’re starting a blog, don’t spin your wheels on how you’re going to distribute your content or create your logo – start with what makes your blog special from the millions of others and plan your content!
2. Can it be done?
The question you’re trying to answer when you tackle these key value propositions head-on is: Can it be done?
This is so incredibly important. Why force an idea if it’s impossible?
Maybe the technology isn’t there yet to produce your amazing food consistently. Maybe the pallet of the local farmer’s market isn’t refined enough. Either way, you must figure this out early, and the sooner the better. You want to minimize the opportunity cost of not working on other things (or simply living your life).
There is no worse feeling than investing tremendous time & effort, only to find out that the original premise for your idea was flawed.
There’s a second psychological element of starting with what’s special. If you end up completing the special components of your project, you receive a huge boost in morale in motivation. You’ve shown that the most crucial part of your project can be executed and that you did it alone. I’ve found that this carries you forward into the later stages of the project, building off of successive successes (try saying that 3 times fast).
3. Is it worth trying?
Lastly, now that you have the most important pieces out of the way, you can begin sharing with others. You can’t necessarily do that if you started with something less important to the idea, for instance, having a website for your food stand doesn’t really mean it’ll be successful, BUT – if people try some of the food you made and they love it, you know you’re on the path to success!
Early validation is a great thing in personal projects – not only can you form an opinion on the work so far, but others can help further shape your idea to become more attractive.
And if you find that the idea didn’t work, then you’re free to move on to another. That’s the beauty of it. You take the most important parts of an idea and give it your best effort. You will find out SOONER, not later, what the idea is worth!
That’s the beauty of it, you spent a relatively short amount of time on the important things, learned from them, and can now move on to new ideas.
Do it every day.
Building something by yourself is hard. I can’t help but bring software development into this, but taking an idea from start to finish requires a tremendous amount of legwork. When you’re developing an application you have to plan, design, and build the front and back end architecture, as well as deploy it, market it, and monetize it. Each of these has their own intricacies.
Both software development and personal projects have these aspects, and there is a ton you will need to do to get your project to a finished stage. This requires building a routine where you put aside time each day and make progress towards a goal.
When I was developing an idea I had for a new mobile app, I spent several hours a day writing code. The time I spent writing the application per day actually wasn’t all that important, it was the fact that I did something every day – keeping my mind focused on finishing the project.
For smaller projects, I recommend spending more time per day (3 – 5 hours), that way you have an uninterrupted block of time in which you’re learning & building, and at the end of 30 days you’re more or less done. For larger projects, I recommend a marathon approach, ensure you’re doing something every day, even if only for an hour or two.
How can you build a habit?
Set a time for yourself, and ensure you’re free every day to execute that habit. Set a reminder on your phone, and reject invitations to things. Make sure your mind is clear to work on the task at hand. It will get much easier over time.
Once you’ve built a habit, you have the choice to put more time and effort into it, as well as employing some flexibility. If you begin to become infatuated with the project, you realize that at an idle moment, you have the choice to work on it, and more often than not, you want to!
Design before execution.
Every idea is born from a vision. The natural mechanism of the brain is to imagine what the final outcome looks like before we can put our idea into words. This visual thinking is a real and present thing and is studied by Harvard Medical School. They found that we can have trouble controlling our overactive imaginations as they bleed into linear thought. I believe that the real power comes from channeling our imagination into design.
Just like artists, architects, and engineers plan their creations with a design document. We should be planning our creative projects in this way. Since we start with special, we first design & plan the defining characteristics of our idea.
Naturally, you might include the following:
You don’t necessarily need a formal document or 10-page report – getting your thoughts down on paper on how the idea might work and a sketch is sufficient most of the time. In terms of the human creative process, sketching is the best point of origination. When you have that idea come into your head, make sure to capture it on paper, even if you have a hard time drawing.
You can and should sketch anything. Not just art, or user interfaces – you can draw marketing automation & sales pipelines, the hierarchy of our team, the product/customer interaction.
I have had sketchbooks filled with ideas for the things I wanted to build (unfortunately, I may have only pursued about 25 percent), but it assisted me greatly throughout the process. There was no need to go back and rethink what the original vision for the project was. I have found that when you embark on something without a plan, it’s easy to get mired in the details of the moment.
When you’re planning, focus on planning; when you’re executing, focus on execution.
Avoid the engineering & design rabbit hole.
This is the most common trap I suffered in my inexperienced days. I would develop a single page of an application and continuously make it look better until I forced myself to move on to the next thing. Looking at the workflow for professional engineers, I see that it’s always better to start with the core functionality before dressing it up.
Even a skeleton of your project is fine, just do a simple layout of all the components in your project. Build your key features, and if the idea is worth pursuing, you can decide what to improve incrementally.
The second part of this is focusing on functionality but never being satisfied with the implementation. You would call this a perfectionist mindset, obsessing with the best ways to do things. It’s a gray area, but if you’re dealing with the issue of not finishing your projects, or you’re simply a beginner, getting your project to a point where it works is completely fine. Build off of it, and if it prevents any of the other special components in your exploration process, then go back and re-architect it.
Don’t get distracted by new stuff.
If you tried to utilize every latest technology, I’m sure you would go insane (I speak from experience). The number of releases and updates aren’t just hard to keep up with. They’re also new and shiny, and distract you from what you’re working on.
Creatives and engineers are very likely to fall into this trap. They see their peers using new tools and immediately feel like they’re missing out on something.
However, once you work with enough tools or mediums, you begin to realize that the end result is all that matters – each tool has its benefits or quirks, and it’s up to you to know how to use it correctly.
Don’t get caught up in your tools, unless they are needed for what makes your project special. For everything else, take the easiest and quickest path to completion.
Drive it to completion – you’re not done till you’re done.
So you’ve built out 80% of your project? Congratulations!
You still have a ways to go to share it with others.
There are two challenges you need to solve
In future articles, I will show you the process in which we find and contact these people on a massive scale, similar to how I curated a list of 2,000 recruiters in my article on SXSW.
In the software world, this means working with cloud platforms to deploy your projects in a scalable manner and then setting up content management systems to have continuous contact. In the art world, it might mean making connections with a gallery and then promoting the hell out of your art. But once you’ve created something, you need to make it work for you. It needs to be on your portfolio. Share it with everyone you meet.
It’s a piece of you, and you finished it.
Sharing your project is sharing yourself. Show the world who you are.
Conclusion
Pursuing your own projects takes reserved courage. You don’t have the backing of a team, a boss, or a company that’s got “everything figured out.” Instead, you figure it out for yourself. It’s a journey full of unknowns. From one stranger to another, despite not knowing you personally, know that I believe in you – and the only person who really needs to believe in you is yourself.

(ENTREPRENEUR) We don’t all have time for yoga and long baths, but self-care can keep us sane and able to keep doing what we love for work – here’s how.
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It’s no secret that Americans are stressed. Throw entrepreneurship into the mix, and you’re primed for a breakdown, or burnout at the very least. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. This is why self-care is important.
The term “self-care” is nowadays often associated with skincare routines and Netflix, but in reality, it’s much more than that: It’s valuing yourself and your health enough to graciously set boundaries and say no. That way, you bring the best version of yourself to your job and relationships day after day.
At one point, I took a sabbatical for several months at the urging of several mentors, family members, and my career coach. Burnout is real, but I’ve learned ways to cultivate self-care in my professional life that allows me to have a somewhat balanced life.
(Side note: I understand there are situations out of one’s control that can contribute to burnout, including ailing family members, parenting, disabilities, etc. This article is not focused necessarily on these, rather preventing your professional life becoming your entire life. That way, you can focus on the truly important things.)
Here’s what I’ve learned about self-care thus far (mostly the hard way):
1. Set strict boundaries & turn off notifications.
The best advice I ever received was a one-off realization from my brother: gate it, don’t date it.
Meaning that if you have emails, Slack, or Trello on your phone, don’t make it available to where you check it at all times of day and night. Force a gate between you and the app. Put the app in another folder where you don’t check it 24/7. Don’t let the notifications own you, or straight up disable them.
If you’re the boss, you get to set the standards. Check Slack and emails during certain times, and be as specific as possible when setting those times. If there’s a true emergency, have employees then call or text. Set those boundaries and stick to them. Encourage your employees to stick to them with one another, too.
2. Have friends and a life outside of your industry.
I can’t emphasize this enough, and this is also why I’ve only lived in cities that emphasize one industry. (DC and LA people, I don’t know how you do it! Props to you.)
This allows you to create a life beyond just your professional life.
When it seems like the sky is falling – i.e. you don’t get that round of funding, or that one client flips out, it’s important to have people around you who are a) grounded b) can give you perspective. Compatriots in your respective industry are helpful for support and sounding boards, but it’s easy to b
When an acquisition deal for a past company fell through, I felt like my world was over. I was devastated. My darling friends, one in healthcare and another in real estate, took me to Chuy’s happy hour and gave me perspective. Relationships like these are game-changers.
3. Schedule time for yourself.
Set time aside for yourself, but get real: What does this mean practically in your day-to-day, week-to-week life? For me, I purposefully make sure to keep one night a week, ideally two, to rest at home with my husband.
Also, plan that damn vacation! It doesn’t have to be a lavish European vacation but set aside time where you are intentionally not checking your phone or emails.
When I took my first actual vacation (and not working remotely) in years, It was life-changing. Be intentional to take more than two days to think, journal, and set aside goals not just professionally, but what you want your life to look like that following quarter. You, your company, and the people will be a lot better for it, I promise.
4. Cultivate healthy habits that are enjoyable.
Don’t let the hustle culture get to you. Hard work is important, but so is exercise, eating healthy, and maintaining mental health. In other words, some legit self-care.
Some good thoughts from VC Harry Stebbings.
Set routines of things you love to do that also maintain your well-being. I love going to the gym and putting my phone on Do Not Disturb for 30 minutes, but that’s not for everyone. Take your dog on a walk, put on a playlist to cook a good meal, and go to that yoga class. Or just go on a walk with a friend. You do you, boo.
This could be you.

 
5. Train other people to do your job.
You may think you’re the only person that can do a number of things at your job. If you want your company to ever scale, you need, I repeat, need to take those tedious tasks off your list, and even some larger projects off your hands.
I know it’s so hard to relinquish control, but *gasp* there might be people that can do parts of your job better than you. So let them!
Does this mean you need to hire a virtual assistant, a COO, find another co-founder, or just hire that dang accountant? Do it.
Your business is only going to succeed if you’re performing as the best version of yourself, not a stressed-out shell of yourself. If you need to micromanage everything, your business won’t succeed or be sustainable long-term. Don’t let your stress about doing everything stunt your company or personal growth. If you needed a sign, this is it.

6. Practice self-awareness.
There is nothing more valuable than the gift of self-awareness.
Listen to your body and what it’s telling you. Does it need water? Does it need sleep? Start a habit of journaling and seeing what areas where you’re running on empty. More than that – do what your body tells you. Drink that water, my friend!
The takeaway:
All in all, life is more than work and who we are is more important than what we do. Take time for self-care, and you’ll have a healthier mind and body.

(ENTREPRENEUR) A study at Cisco reveals how digitizing small businesses is no longer optional, but critical to success, thanks to the pandemic.
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As digital transformation efforts ramp up due to the pandemic, a study released by Cisco has highlighted some key insights into how small businesses will need to adapt in order to survive in the “new normal.”
The study, conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC), analyzed more than 2,000 small businesses across eight different markets, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile, and France. Using a four-section index to assess a small business’s digitalization efforts, the research found that 16% of companies said they were “thriving and feel their businesses are agile and resilient.” While 36% stated they were in “survival mode.” Regardless of where they were ranked in the index, the study concluded that 70% of firms were in the process of ramping up digital transformation within their company due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide that was already present in the small business market, and it is forcing companies to accelerate their digitalization,” said Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, AVP, head digital transformation & SMB research at IDC.
“Small businesses are realizing that digitalization is no longer an option, but a matter of survival.”
The study also highlighted several challenges associated with digital transformation. The three biggest obstacles that businesses seem to face during the process were digital skills and talent, budgetary issues (lack of funds or previous commitment of funds), and cultural resistance to change. And 32% responded that they are planning on developing a digital strategy. This included investing in talent with the right set of digital skills moving forward.
Those decisions fall in line with Cisco and IDC’s recommendations. These include creating a three-year technology road map and building a workforce with the right skills to succeed in a digital world. Other suggestions include finding the right technology partner, and keeping up with industry trends. Leveraging financing and remanufactured equipment can aid with cash flow and budget requirements.
As small businesses continue to adapt to consumer behavior and the whirlwind of ever-changing rules that have come with the coronavirus, digital transformation will continue to play a major role in the post-COVID world. According to the report, if half of the small businesses surveyed can reach the second-highest tier of the index by 2024, those companies could end up adding an additional $2.3 trillion to the eight markets’ gross domestic product (GDP), contributing to the global economic recovery.
As we approach the six-month mark of the pandemic, just when and how the “new normal” will emerge is still uncertain. But there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for small businesses — even if it’s faint green and contains zeroes and ones.

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Stay sane with these simple self-care tips for any entrepreneur or freelancer
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