I started my first business at age nine with $50 and a home computer, and ran it from my room at home as a one-kid operation. By the time I was 19 I had started nearly a dozen profitable businesses, and for my latest venture I had received a very attractive offer of $10 million in venture capital. I turned that offer down and walked away because I didn’t feel good about the conditions that would have been imposed on me if I’d taken the money. The venture capital firm would have called the shots, told me how to run my company, and paid me a salary that would’ve been less than I’d made on my own since I was 12.
It was a lucrative offer, and who knows? Maybe with their backing and expertise I would have come out way ahead. But I didn’t think it was the right deal for me. I made that decision without regret, and I’ve never looked back.
I knew this was not a now-or-never choice. There would be plenty of other opportunities to create even more successful businesses–because I’d learned the skills it takes to do so. Once you learn these skills, you never have to be tied to any one particular enterprise. I realized that while I could have taken someone else’s $10 million investment, I’d rather invest in myself.
I’ve been fortunate enough to make my first million before graduating from high school and buy my own house at 20. At 21, I’ve now put away enough in savings and other investments that I could practically retire today… if I wanted to. But of course, that’s the last thing on earth I’d want to do. I just enjoy it all too much. Not to say the money isn’t important, but frankly, it’s not why I do what I do. I do it because I love it.
I’ve always loved starting new businesses. I take pleasure in every aspect of it, from coming up with a new concept, or a unique twist on an existing concept, to finding a name that perfectly captures the nature of the business, to building the team, launching the enterprise, and watching it take off and grow. Of the more than dozen successful businesses I’ve launched over the past 12 years, every one of them has been a unique experience, and I’ve loved the process every time.
Starting out so young gave me a certain courage that comes with blissful ignorance. I had the confidence that comes with not knowing any better. As I’ve grown older and seen more of the business world, there have been times when I’ve had to overcome doubts and work to maintain my confidence, just like anybody else. But the thrill of trying out new ideas and seeing them take root and grow has always made it worth the effort.
I was fortunate to learn very early on the key principle that all successful entrepreneurs need to know: First, you have to believe in yourself.
It’s actually not that difficult to succeed. It’s much more common sense than rocket science. But it starts with finding the courage to put yourself out there.
Believing in yourself is what gives you the confidence and resilience to deal with the rejections and doubts. It drives you to do the best job you can, no matter what you’re doing.
Over time, I’ve learned to trust my instincts–and that’s crucial. You can learn all kinds of things from other people, but ultimately it’s your own instincts that you’ll need to rely on. The bottom line of your business is you.
Whether you are selling door-to-door, on the phone, through an infomercial, or on a website, ultimately the venue doesn’t matter. All of these methods work. First and foremost, you must be able to sell yourself. People don’t buy your product or service only because they like it or want it; they also buy it because they like you. If they don’t like you, then in many cases it doesn’t matter how much they like the product you’re selling, they won’t buy it.
If you put yourself out there with confidence, you’ll find that most people respect you and respond well to you, whether or not they want what you’re selling.
Believing in yourself leads naturally to a second principle: You have to believe in what you’re selling.
People sometimes think of selling as the art of being pushy, crafty or even manipulative. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The best salespeople focus on asking questions and listening, not pushing.
I don’t believe in high-pressure selling. High pressure is what people use when they’re selling something nobody wants, or charging far more than their product is worth. There’s a difference between being persuasive and applying pressure. I’m persuasive when I’m selling, but that’s because I truly believe in what I’m selling and the value it will create for my customer. My feeling is, I’d be doing my customers a disservice if I let them not buy my product.
The best salespeople are so dedicated to giving customers what they want that they are willing to be as rigorous, patient, and dedicated as it takes to make the sale. They don’t give up easily because they believe in what they’re doing.
I’m always genuinely fascinated to know why people wouldn’t want what I’m selling. If you’re not passionate about the product or service you’re offering, how could you possibly approach people with genuine confidence? Make sure you’re proud of what you sell and the value it creates in people’s lives, and you’ll instantly become a better entrepreneur.
Believing in yourself also leads to a third success principle: When you respect yourself, treating other people with respect comes naturally. Treating other people with great respect is one of the most powerful secrets of business success. Keep doing that over time with everyone you encounter, and you’ll find that people are consistently receptive to you and to your products, services, and ideas. Any fears and doubts you have will start to melt away.
And then you won’t hesitate to go ahead and ask for the sale.
Excerpted from You Call the Shots by Cameron Johnson. Copyright © 2007 by Cameron Johnson. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
There is much more inside this book that you should not miss, including stories relating to Cameron’s quick achievement. I have several copies of You Call the Shots to give away, and you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Stay tuned for information about how you can get Cameron’s book for free.
Updated February 13, 2007 and originally published February 12, 2007.