To be an entrepreneur today, it takes vision, hustle, and grit. You will have to take risks. You will make mistakes. You will struggle to determine which path to follow at times. But you will also have the opportunity to see your vision become a reality and, hopefully, have fun along the way. I recently spoke with Josh Kent, founder and CEO of the Gaylord, MI-based SunFrog Shirts, about what it takes to succeed as a business owner today. Kent is a 37-year-old entrepreneur who owns a variety of companies. Currently, he is focused on SunFrog, which is one of the largest online t-shirt companies in the world today—and he is having a blast. He says that it is one of the most fun companies that he has ever worked at and he has no intention of leaving.
SunFrog is a three-year-old company with revenue of more than 100 million per year. Kent grew the business thanks in large part to social media. He used Facebook ads to target customers based not only on demographic data but also behavioral data. The company also focused its efforts on building a social media community rather than relying solely on SEO and keyword marketing strategies. SunFrog’s claim to fame is that the T-shirts are user generated. The company also partners with artists to have them design shirts that people can buy. Often those shirts relate to what is happening in the world today, such as a play on a popular song, politics or a nonprofit movement. Kent shared five pieces of advice to help both new and seasoned entrepreneurs succeed in today’s world.
- You must have focus. When you are an entrepreneur, you have this gift to see opportunities but the trick is not to drown in those opportunities, Kent says. Just because you see a new prospect doesn’t mean you should act on it. Entrepreneurs need to have focus. When you find that thing that you are really good at and it drives you, that is what you should focus on because that is when you will see results.
- You must be intentional. Kent uses the term “intentional” often in business and life. When you just dabble in certain areas or have good intentions, you may not see results, he explains, adding that everyone has good intentions. But when you approach projects and are intentional, then you are putting time into the endeavor. When Kent is launching a new product, he doesn’t just hope it all works out. He makes it happen. “Anytime I back my intentions with time, which means I will schedule a meeting every week and follow it through because I want to evolve the needle faster and farther, I see results,” he says.
- You must inspect what you expect. Businesses have a lot of moving parts and that means that you have a lot of fingers in the cookie jar, says Kent. He says that one mistake that young entrepreneurs make is that they feel they should just trust their staff and let them go. However, not monitoring what is happening in your business, especially if it is fast growing, can lead to problems. “I set the culture that I inspect what I expect,” says Kent. For instance, if you have a project with five to 10 elements, Kent will check in and ask where the project is at currently or what elements have already been completed. “In a work environment people can take offense if all of a sudden I am checking that stickers are going in the bags or the labels are straight,” says Kent. But he avoids that pitfall because he has established a culture and set the expectation that he will be inspecting all aspects of the business.
- You must have balance. Just like most other entrepreneurs, Kent has been labeled a workaholic at different points in time during his career. “I have to be intentional with my time and when I do that I am sharper,” he says. “When you are imbalanced, you are suffering and cheating these other areas, which leads to feeling dissatisfied.” It can also lead to stress-related health problems, which is why its imperative for entrepreneurs to find a balance between their work and home life. Kent uses the concept of a wheel broken into eight sections that each represent an area of life such as physical i.e. taking care of your body and sleep and downtime and playtime. Kent uses a seven-day schedule and makes sure that he has blocks of time for each of those elements. For example, he starts his day with gratitude time, then heads into his work day where he blocks out time for eating. At the end of his day, he schedules an hour for reflection time where he can examine the highs and lows of the day and solidify his thoughts. Kent says he also schedules his weekends—there is playtime on Saturday and downtime on Sunday. He admits that he is still working out how to say “no” to business requests. “I really covet those weekends. They are not for work. But my weeknights are up for grabs, I try to make it home by 6 p.m. but it’s not uncommon to be on the phone or go to a fundraiser event during the week,” he explains.
- You can’t fear failure. In American culture, people are afraid to fail, Kent says. “We have been programmed to fear failure. We live in a world where everything looks so perfect.” What people should understand is that there was probably a lot of failures on the path to that perfection, he notes. Entrepreneurs should embrace failure and simply accept it. Instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed, people should think what could I have done differently. Kent is not immune to failure. He explains that by not always thinking big enough, it put him in a position of failure because he was unprepared. For example, his building wasn’t big enough or the trucking wasn’t good enough or his servers couldn’t stay online. As managers, you can fail with people too. Kent says that when he has to fire someone, he will ask himself, did I fail that employee or did they fail me? Entrepreneurs should accept failure as part of the process and learn how to reflect on those failures and evaluate what they could have done better so that they will be a better leader in the future.