Month: December 2015

Do You Have What it Takes to Be an Entrepreneur

Do You Have What it Takes to Be an EntrepreneurQ: I am interested in starting my own business. I have a business degree and lots of experience in my chosen field, but I don’t know if I have the necessary skills to really make it on my own. Any advice?
Marie C.

A: You’ve hit the nail on the head, Marie, because when you’re an entrepreneur it’s truly up to you to make it on your own. Sure, you may have investors and advisors and employees and friends and family helping you climb the ladder, but in the end you’re the one who walks the high wire alone.

There are a variety of skills you’ll need to succeed as an entrepreneur and chances are do not possess them all. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that if you lack certain skills you can always hire people with those skills to help round out your company skill set.

Here are a few of the skills you’ll need starting out and others you can build upon later. Different stages of business require different skills.

People Skills

Every budding entrepreneur should have good people skills. The ability to walk into a room and befriend everyone there is often more important to your business than an investor with deep pockets. The more you can make people like you, the more they will want to do business with you.

Networking Skills

Networking is one of the best ways to build partnerships and find new clients. Networking simply means that you go to functions that attract the people you need to know. A successful entrepreneur is also a successful schmoozer. It’s the entrepreneurial equivalent of “kissing babies and shaking hands.” Whether it’s the weekly Rotary luncheon or a Chamber function, show up with a pocketful of business cards and meet as many people as you can.

Leadership Skills

To be an entrepreneur is to be a leader. Even if you are a company of one, you must have the skills to take charge and to lead. It’s much easier to learn leadership skills when you only have yourself to manage. These skills will come in very handy as you add employees and your business grows.

Management Skills

Management skills encompass a wide variety of tasks, including managing the daily operation, growth, employees, customer relations, investor relations, and so on. Poor managers make for poor entrepreneurs.

Employee Relation Skills

Your employees are one of the most important assets your business has and it is important that as the boss, you develop a professional relationship with your employees. It is important that your employees feel appreciated and you show it financially and professionally.

Team Building Skills

As your organization grows you must have the ability to build a team that can take your business to the next level. Your team not only includes employees, but also partners, your accountant, your attorney, and investors. Anyone who has the ability to impact your bottom line and growth should be part of your team.

Marketing and Sales Skills

Until you grow your business to the point that you can justify adding a marketing person, it will be up to you to think up ways to market your business. As I’ve said before, marketing is one of the most critical areas of business as getting the word out to customers is the first step in generating revenue.

Like marketing, selling is vital to the success of your business. Starting out you will probably be the one making sales calls and closing deals for your business. You must have the ability to sit in front of a prospective client and sell them on your service or product. Many entrepreneurs find this difficult to do as sales is more art than skill. This is also why one of your first hires when able should be a good sales person.

Time Management Skills

Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day and for entrepreneurs that means we must manage our time well or inevitably some things won’t get done. I find that it helps to plan your day the night before. I know before I ever get to the office what I have to do that day. I know the order I will do things in. Of course, something always comes up to throw a monkey wrench in my plan. When the unexpected happens I try to add it to the next day’s schedule. If that’s not possible, I deal with it and then try to get back on track. That’s not always possible, but having a plan certainly helps.

Do you currently have all these skills? Probably not. Very few people possess them all even after years in business. Does a lack of these skills mean that you shouldn’t start your own business? Of course not. Entrepreneurial skills can be learned and improved over time.

Here’s to your success!

 

Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make Before They Even Start

Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make Before They Even StartSo you want to start a business. You have an idea. Lets say you want to be a carpenter. You print some brochures, some business cards, and take out an ad in the Yellow Pages. You pay $600 for a website and a domain name that tells everyone about your amazing credentials and experience. You distribute your fliers at a local grocery store. And then you wait. And wait. And wait…

Nothing happens. But, that’s what everyone does, isn’t it? Print out some brochures, tell everyone how great you are, and wait for the money to roll in.

Stop right there. You have just made the top 10 mistakes entrepreneurs make.

Mistake # 1: First, being a “carpenter” is too general. There are a million carpenters in the world, but the only successful ones have something to concentrate on. Wood carving, house renovation, specialized pieces. Like the old saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Mistake # 2: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. An idea is not a business plan, or a marketing plan, or even just a goal. It is simply an idea. Although the planning process may seem long and tedious now, it will benefit you more than you could imagine in the future. For example, when you are seeking funding, when you are joining an association of professionals, when your goals change, when your business changes, or if you take on a partner or investor. Your plan should guide you, but not constrain you. If something in your plan doesn’t fit just right, change it. Your business plan will never have a final draft.

Mistake # 3: Brochures and business cards are GARBAGE to start-up businesses! You will spend far more producing them than they will produce for you. Ignoring the high cost of printing these materials, and the costs associated in designing them if you aren’t proficient yourself, most start-up businesses change too quickly for these materials to be effective for more than a short period, sometimes as little as days. If it costs $1000 to print these the first time, and $1000 to design them the first time, imagine how much you will pay if your brochures beat statistics and last 2 months. If alterations to design cost $500, it costs $1500 every time your business changes. If your business changes every 2 months, you can expect to spend at least $9000 that year on brochures and business cards. Yes, that is NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS in lost revenue, over something that is less effective than graffiti. Don’t waste your time, or your money, on brochures and business cards until you can keep your typical sales presentation the same for at least 6 months. Otherwise, these things aren’t worth the trouble.

Mistake # 4: Okay, the Yellow Pages. Lets take a look in the Yellow Pages and see how many other trillions of carpenters there are. Which ones stand out? Definitely not the tiny ad in the corner. Probably not the one-liner. And as a start-up, that is all you would be able to afford. For the one or two clients per year this would bring you, it is better to wait until your marketing budget can afford to buy large, extravagant and eye-catching ads.

Mistake # 5: $600 for a website and domain name? A website and domain name before a marketing plan? This scenario is already causing headaches for those of you “in the know”. Best idea, design your own website for free if you can. Second best, get a friend or relative to design it for free. Third best, pay a minimal fee for the complicated stuff and the rest can be done by yourself and a relative. Only if no one in the world can help you, do you want to hire a professional to do the whole thing for you. And when you do, try and get it on 30 or 60 days post. That way, their new website will be generating money for you before you pay. If you do pay upfront, and can’t get around it, ask if they do free updates. You are guaranteed to change a thing or two, probably at least once a week as you test out your new site. If you pay $600, it had better be a good website – because your entire marketing budget just paid for it.

Mistake # 6: Wow! A carpenter who went to John B. Doe Carpentry Academy! Is that what your customers say? Most likely, they won’t even think that. Most customers think “Wow! Look at his work. It is just what I need.” And that is what you want your customers to think. Don’t promote yourself, promote your solutions. Everyone who comes to your website has a problem they need solved. If you figure out that problem, and can tell them how to solve it using your website, you have just hit a marketing gold-mine.

Mistake # 7: What is a carpenter doing at a grocery store? And why is he handing out fliers anyway? If you do hand out fliers, do it where it counts. A carpenter should hand out fliers at a lumber yard or furniture store. Even a department store that sells nails would be a better location for a carpenter when handing out fliers. Think about it.

Mistake # 8: This is probably the biggest mistake. You stopped marketing. Even if you do exactly the opposite of everything you have read so far, if you keep doing it you are bound to get at least minimal results. If you stop when you run out of new ideas, you probably won’t get much. The key to marketing is repetition. Make sure people think of your name when they have a problem. If they have only seen your name once, but your competitor just sent them a third flier, your competitor will get their business. We’ve all heard that it takes more than once for a customer to buy, and it has never been more true. With the information available to your customers today, you want your name to be in front of them as much as possible.

Mistake # 9: When nothing happened, you didn’t try again. Nothing says failure like someone who quits. Motivate yourself! Get up in the morning and say “I’m going to get hits to my website.” Or “I’m going to get a client this week!” If you build it, but nobody knows its there, nobody is going to come. You have to try, make mistakes, learn, and try again. If you try, make a mistake, and give up, you will never be the success you know you can be.

Mistake # 10: You assumed that what everyone else does will work for you. WRONG! What everyone else does took them a long time to figure out, and they have been tweaking it all that time to make it work right for them. If you copy part, but not all, of what they do, you will never get the same results. People strive for individuality, and business should too. If you copy your competitor in every aspect, your prospects might as well flip a coin. Do you want 50% of the business you could be getting? No, you want it all!

Before the Business Plan

Before the Business PlanPurveyors of conventional wisdom would have you believe that the very first thing you ought to do when setting up a new business is to create a business plan.

It doesn’t matter whether you are selling odds and ends on eBay from your living room or something larger and more complex,

Business plans are excellent and necessary. Far too few of us self-employed and freelance people use them.

They force us to spell out our objectives. We have to assign numbers to our expectations and assign a time-line to our goals. They become our roadmap keeping us on track.

But I suggest that you can’t make a business plan that is worth anything until you’ve done your homework.

And that means knowing what you want to do and how you want to do it. And determining that there is sufficient demand for your product to generate enough income to cover your costs and allow a profit.

In other words, before the business plan comes research.

If a body of knowledge already exists, it makes sense to tap into it and save yourself some work. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics and other such sources, for example, publish a great deal of demographic information. Some of it is very useful.

But it is also likely that as a creative sole-proprietor, meaningful statistics don’t exist about your specialty.

Many micro-businesses target a very specialized niche. And many owned by creative types exist to sell a product or service that don’t follow well-worn prototypes.

It is particularly difficult for such people to find meaningful published data.

If you fall into these categories, you’ll have to generate your own information.

There is more to your research than just the purely business information. You are building a life as well as a business.

Are the demands and conditions of your proposed business compatible with the life you want to create?

For example, illustrators often work on short deadlines – meaning that sometimes they have to work far into the night to complete a project on deadline. Plus, some clients are demanding and not all pay on a timely basis. After all of that, can you still “love it” enough?

Or, maybe your business is such that sales fluctuate during the year. How will you make it through the lean months? Can you handle the uncertainty?

So, how do you find information?

First, if other people provide services similar to yours, talk to them. You can gain a lot of information quickly. Their answers to your questions will save you a lot of legwork and open your eyes to factors you may not have considered.

You can find them through trade associations, schools, word-of-mouth. If the locals are reluctant to share information – perhaps because they see you as direct competition, consider finding similar people in a different locale.

Second, create the information you need.

Mimic and simplify what the ‘big boys’ do. Reduce their methods down to a level that is practical and affordable.

For example, perhaps you want to survey potential clients and customers to get feedback.

It will probably be neither affordable nor practical to commission a focus group. But you may be able to speak to potential targets informally or use direct mail to send a simple survey.

Eventually you’ll have to ‘put your toe in the water.’ Try it out in a small way – so you won’t lose much if it doesn’t work – and observe the results. Then experiment and modify as needed. Once it works to your liking you can plunge right in.

This approach, known by the technical term “trial and error” can be applied to any facet of your business.

After all, even the largest producers test market new products before rolling them out.

Put some parameters around your efforts. Decide, in advance, how much time you want to allow and how much you want to budget.

Then test, test, test.

Use trial and error for every aspect of your business. Experiment with different ways of packaging your services, different rates and prices, different types of marketing, etc.

You’ll soon find that certain approaches work better than others. Eventually your data will suggest your strategies.

And then you’ll be ready to create your business plan.

How To Start a New Business

How To Start a New BusinessWhile it is tempting to just leap into a new business because of it’s exciting possibilities, a few key planning points will vastly increase your chances of success. These steps aren’t difficult, but they’re easy to skip. Many businesses ultimately depend on a slim profit margin, so planning can really help the process. Too many restaurant patrons, for instance, assume that running a restaurant seems fun because of the many restaurants they have visited, but restaurants have an especially high failure rate.

One of the key factors in planning a business model is simply researching the demand for your product. If you are great at making kitty blankets, for instance, it’s worth checking out to see if there is a market for it. The entrepreneur may find that there are three times as many potential customers for dog blankets, and by simply adding dogs to your marketing strategy, you will increase your sales four times over. This fact would be an important one to know before all the labels, website promotion, and branding was done with the words “Kitty” instead of “Pet”!

Supply is worth researching, too. Keeping with the pet blanket approach, you may find that there are tons of different blankets available, but none that have catnip in them. Marketing two types of blankets, one for dogs and one for cats, and placing catnip in the cat blankets may dramatically increase sales. Again, this type of research is much more helpful to have before any product has been made. It would be a shame to have a room full of single-ply cat blankets that will not hold any catnip, when that is the product that is a unique niche. The brand name needs a lot of thought because once the name is out in the market, it can be very difficult to change. Picking a name, and then finding out six months later that the name is confusingly similar to a competitors would be disastrous. Finding out that the name is easily mis-spelled, hard to pronounce, or difficult to remember are all pitfalls that could have been avoided with proper planning. Apologie Clothing is now finding that web surfers are having difficulty remembering the odd spelling of their name when searching for their website, and the marketing campaign of Chevrolet Nova in Mexico failed dramatically (“no va” means “does not go” in Spanish).

Most entrepreneurs are surprised to find that once their business is successful, much more time is taken up running the business than in actually providing the service or making the product. The architect who starts his own architecture firm finds that he’s only drawing 1 hour a day – the rest is spent meeting with clients, interviewing, marketing, planning, etc. Skills such as salesmanship can be learned through courses, techniques such as accounting can be found in books, and software and outsourcing can help with payroll. But proper planning will help considerably. If a bookkeeping system is set up ahead of time, linked to the accounting software and interfacing with a business account at your local bank, this set up will save huge headaches in the future.

Documenting Partnerships in Your Business Plan

Documenting Partnerships in Your Business PlanForging partnerships to improve market penetration has become commonplace, particularly for “new economy” businesses. And, most companies proudly mention their many partnerships in their business plans.

The fact is that, regardless of whom the partnership is with, partnerships by themselves are meaningless. What are meaningful are the terms of the partnership. For instance, while it sounds great to have a partnership with a Fortune 500 company, the details of the partnership are what investors find important. For instance, investors will look poorly upon a partnership in which the Fortune 500 company earns 90% commissions on customers it refers. On the other hand, investors would look favorably upon a more equitable partnership.

As such, be sure to detail the specifics of the partnerships. This includes factors such as how the partnership will work, payment terms, contract length, minimum and/or maximum guarantees, the type of customer leads expected from each partner, timing of payments, etc. In addition, if partnerships are a key part of the business plan, expect prudent investors to interview the partners and scrutinize partnership contracts.

Partnerships can be a major factor in the success of growing companies, providing leads, sales, capital and/or other critical benefits. However, ventures should be careful not to place too much emphasis on any one partner in their business plan. Partnership agreements, like other legal agreements, can be breached, and if the venture positions any one partner as critical to its success, this will become a risk factor to investors.

Overall, partners can provide a great boost to growing ventures. Business plans should not only discuss who the partners are, but detail the terms of the partnerships and how they will benefit the company. Finally, the business plan must not place too much emphasis on any one partner in order to convince investors that the business is capable of success even without it.

Double Down on Marketing

Double Down on MarketingIf you want to compete in the world of high growth startups, you better know how to play the marketing game. Marketing has become a big stakes game where companies are betting fortunes on the success of their products. Nowadays if you can’t play the big marketing game you may not even get the attention of the customers you need to grow your business.

So how do you compete if you don’t have the cash to run with the big dogs? The answer lies in growing your marketing budget by doubling up on your marketing investments quickly. Chances are the capital you need to compete in this game is right under your nose, you just need to know where to look for it.

Make marketing an investment

The first step to growing your marketing budget is thinking about it differently. People used to think of their marketing budget as a line item expense that they wrote checks for throughout the year. It was almost like rent – a normal cost of doing business. The mistake these startups made was that they treated marketing like an expense. It’s time to start thinking of your marketing as an investment that you expect to yield a return.

Like any investment you would make in the stock market, your marketing investment should generate a specific monetary return in an expected period of time. For our purposes, we’re looking for short term investments that will produce enough working capital to re-invest quickly to grow our marketing.

Grow marketing, grow customers

We all know that marketing attracts the customers we need to generate more sales. For this reason, if we want to grow our position in the market we’re going to need to grow our marketing budget as fast as possible to grow our customer base. The key to growing the budget lies in generating cash flow from the returns on our marketing investment.

Short Term Returns

People used to take the long view of their marketing budgets – planning them a year out. This “set it and forget it” approach may work well for Ron Popeil, but smart marketers throw that line of thinking out the window. Instead, we budget our marketing based on months, or quarters at the longest. By looking for marketing opportunities that provide short term returns we create opportunities to increase our marketing budget rapidly with the additional capital we’ve generated.

The faster we can provide a return on our marketing the faster we can put that money to work in the next cycle. The faster we put that money to work, the more money we generate from additional customers. The math is straightforward, but getting there can be a little tricky.

Finding the winning hand

It would be easy if we already knew what marketing strategies returned quickly and could just double up our bets on those efforts. Unfortunately we don’t know what works until we try it, which costs money and time. Finding this winning hand to double down on can become a job unto itself.

A popular way to test different messages and reach your target population quickly is Internet advertising. Unlike TV, radio or print, Internet-based campaigns are relatively cheap and highly trackable. Use the Internet to test out different messages, advertise on different Web sites, and gather feedback quickly from customers about what works. You can then apply your findings toward riskier (and more expensive) media.

Your goal here is to find the campaigns that will give you the opportunity to invest significantly more dollars with a nice short term return. If it’s the right campaign, you will be able to spend incrementally more every month, constantly rolling last month’s proceeds into next month’s increased marketing budget.

Don’t shotgun

The last thing you want to do is try a “shotgun” approach toward marketing where you try everything at once and wait to see what happens. This can get very confusing because you often don’t know what’s working and what isn’t. Instead, focus on a few strategies at once, measure them completely, and then try a few more.

Double down

Once you’ve found some strategies that work now it’s time to put your money down. Invest heavily in those campaigns and keep plowing the returns back into the same winning hand. This is how you scale your marketing to create the types of campaigns that move markets and win customers.

Fast growth companies are always looking for ways to exponentially increase their marketing spend, but only on campaigns that have a demonstrated track record for success. Next time when you come to the table with the big boys, look for that winning hand, double down on your bet and clear out the competition!

How Good is Your Big Idea

How Good is Your Big IdeaQ: I want to start my own business. I have tons of business ideas that all sound great to me, but my husband is not so sure. He says that we need to figure out a way to test my ideas to pick the one that has the best chance of succeeding. I’m ready to just pick one and go for it. What is the best way to determine if a business idea really is as good as it sounds?
— Hannah C.

A: Heather, I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but your husband is right (first time for everything, huh): before you just pick a business idea and go for it you should test the feasibility of your ideas to make sure they really are as good as you think they are.

Every business idea, no matter how good it sounds while bouncing around inside your head, should be put to the test before you invest time and money into its execution. Success lies not in what you think of your idea, but what the buying public will think. Many entrepreneurs find out too late that the public’s opinion of their idea differs greatly from their own. Wasted time and money aside, the last thing you want to do is hear “I told you so!” from your husband, so take a deep breath, slow down, and let’s look at the ways you can test the feasibility of your idea.

There are many ways to test an idea’s feasibility, though some ways are not nearly as effective or accurate than others. Most people start out by asking everyone they know what they think of their big idea. This is a good way to start the wheels turning because you may get feedback that you have not considered before, but be warned: this is NOT the best way to test the true feasibility of an idea. Never start a business simply based on what your friends and family think.

There are two things that will happen here. First, your mother will tell you what you want to hear and your best friends will be equally kind. No one who really cares for you will want to rain on your parade no matter how insane your parade might be, so take the wisdom you gain here with a hug and a grain of salt.

On the flip side, your coworkers and casual acquaintances will probably tell you the opposite of what they really think. If they think your idea stinks they’ll tell you it’s great and if they think your idea is great they’ll tell you it stinks. Please don’t preach to me about human kindness. Human kindness is often bested by human nature and we humans, by nature, are an envious lot. We hate to see anyone doing better than we are doing and we hate to see anyone who has the potential to leave us behind. Go watch the movie “Envy” and consider this: why would someone who is broke or stuck in dead-end job with no other prospects want to see you succeed? They wouldn’t. End of story.

Instead of conferring with friends and family you should run your idea past a number of neutral third parties who are knowledgeable about business and will give you an honest opinion. Contact the local Small Business Administration (SBA) or The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) offices and ask to speak with someone knowledgeable who has time to listen to your idea (don’t run it past the receptionist). Or speak with the small business liaison at the Chamber of Commerce. Or seek out a successful entrepreneur who is willing to listen and give you an honest opinion about your idea. Just remember, opinions are like belly buttons: everybody has one and they are all different.

A more accurate way to judge the feasibility of an idea is to create a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis will not only help you gauge the feasibility of your idea, but also help you build on your idea’s strengths, identify and correct the weaknesses, and spot ways to take advantage of potential opportunities while avoiding potential threats.

Here’s how to perform a simple SWOT Analysis. On a piece of paper draw a vertical line down the center of the page. Then draw a horizontal line through the center of the vertical line. The paper is now divided into four quadrants. Label the upper left quadrant “Strengths.” Label the upper right quadrant “Weaknesses.” Label the lower left quadrant “Opportunities” and the lower right quadrant “Threats.”

Now fill in each quadrant based on what you see as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your business idea. You should repeat this process for every idea you have and each quadrant should have something written in. If you can think of no strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for a particular idea, that means that you do not have enough information to complete the SWOT analysis, which means you also do not have enough information to effectively execute that idea.

Strengths are those things that make your idea a strong one. Strengths can be personal or product-oriented and may include: prior business experience and success; sufficient funding to start the business; having a customer in hand; having a unique product or service to offer; having an established market; etc.

Next list all of the weaknesses of your idea. It is important that you are honest with yourself and list as many weaknesses as you can. Don’t pretend that your idea doesn’t have any weaknesses because every idea does. You will hurt no one but yourself if you pretend that your idea is bulletproof. Weaknesses might include: lack of capital to start the business; lack of business or management experience; a crowded market place; large competitors; etc.

Opportunities are those things that you can tap into that might fast track your business idea. We’ve talked about opportunities before and how smart entrepreneurs seek out new opportunities rather than waiting for opportunities to come to them. Opportunities might include: a potential partnership with someone who sells products in the same market; a prime storefront location that is coming available; a competitor going out of business, leaving a hole in the market that may be right for you; etc.

Threats are those things that threaten the success of your business idea. Threats might include: uncertain marketplace conditions; strong competitors in the market with lower prices; possible laws or taxes that may impact your idea; etc. Like weaknesses, it is vital that you are honest when it comes to identifying threats.

Once you have filled in all four quadrants, you should have enough information to begin testing the feasibility of your idea. Do the strengths of your idea outweigh the weaknesses or do the weaknesses outweigh the strengths? Are the opportunities available to you ample or nonexistent? Are the threats many or few?

With this information in hand, you can move on to the most accurate method of testing your idea and that is the creation of a detailed feasibility plan, which we will discuss next time.

Here’s to your success!

An Entrepreneur and a Life to Be Remembered

An Entrepreneur and a Life to Be RememberedI was reminded of my own mortality today. I guess you can say I had a near death experience, though the death I experienced was not my own.

No, I was never in any danger, nor was my life ever threatened. In fact, I was sitting in the air conditioned comfort of my home office sipping a nice cup of coffee and watching the dogs run around the yard when the moment came.

The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. Life was going along just fine.

Death was the furthest thing from my mind.

Then the news came that Corey Rudl had been killed in a high speed crash at a race track in California. At the moment of his death at the young age of 34, Corey was a passenger in a Porsche that hit a retaining wall at over 100 miles per hour, killing him instantly and the driver shortly thereafter. The track had been rented by a local car club so that Corey and his buddies could take their expensive, powerful cars to the track to see how fast they could go.

Corey died doing what he loved. Those closest to him say he would not have had it any other way.

Corey Rudl was not a professional race car driver. He was an entrepreneur, and one of the best of his breed.

Most of you who read this column probably have no idea who Corey Rudl was or what he accomplished during his short life, and that’s OK. You also have no idea of the imprint he made on me and millions of others who make our living (at least in part) as online marketers. Again, that’s OK. For all his accomplishments, those who knew him well have said that Corey was more concerned about building his businesses than being a public figure. By those accounts, Corey never really cared about being in the public limelight, even though he was probably the most visible and successful entrepreneur in his field.

Perhaps that’s why Corey Rudl was so successful. He knew what was really important when it came to building a business. The limelight came easy to him, but his focus always seemed to be on making his business stronger, serving his customers better. He also knew that there was life beyond business, and he pursued that life with a passion and energy that most of us can only imagine.

Corey Rudl’s story is the classic entrepreneur’s tale. He started his business from his kitchen table just a few short years ago selling a homemade booklet he had written on how to get the best deal on a new car. From that modest start Corey built an internet marketing empire that has generated $40 million dollars in revenue in just a few years.

Corey was the definitive internet marketing guru. He was young, energetic, and highly passionate about his business and his industry. He wrote and spoke frequently on the topics of internet marketing and business success and that’s where he and I briefly crossed paths. We were both expert columnists for Entrepreneur.com and exchanged several polite emails, nothing really personal, mind you, mostly swapping compliments of each others work.

Much of Corey’s time in recent years was spent teaching others how to do what he had done: build a successful online business from scratch. For a man of just 34 years, he packed in decades of expertise and knowledge and he shared it with anyone who would listen, including yours truly.

I never personally spoke or shook hands with Corey Rudl, but I was his customer, his student, and ultimately an admirer. I can attribute much of the success of my own online business to Corey’s teachings and principles. He was one of those rare birds that you didn’t have to meet to feel like you were on a first-name basis with him. Everyone in my little circle of internet marketing friends simply referred to him as “Corey” and we spoke of him warmly, as a friend and mentor. He set the bar for all of us. We wanted to achieve his level of success. We wanted to hit his heights. We wanted to be the entrepreneur that he was.

Corey had just recently married the girl of his dreams. He was a millionaire many times over. He had a big house and fancy cars and a future so bright he had to wear shades. His business was thriving. Life was perfect. Corey Rudl truly had the world by the tail and there was no chance he’d ever let go. I imagine he was holding on tight until the very end.

The lessons we learn from the death of Corey Rudl are the same lessons we always learn when someone so young and vibrant is suddenly taken from us. As entrepreneurs we should take those lessons and apply them not only to our own lives, but to our businesses, as well.

Lesson One: live everyday as if it is your last, because it just might be. As entrepreneurs we often think that our businesses have to come first on our list of priorities. It’s not until a tragedy reminds us that life is too short that we think about making time for the things in life that are really important. Get out from behind your desk. Go play with your kids. Hug your wife. Call your mother.

Lesson Two: be passionate about business, but never let it eclipse your passion for life. Corey was a true entrepreneur whose passion for business was unparalleled, but by all accounts he also knew that a life devoted strictly to business was a life not lived to its fullest. Corey died doing what he loved. Some will argue that his passion killed him and in a way that’s true, but I have to believe that before he knew he was in danger Corey had a smile on his face a mile wide. He would not have lived his life any other way.

As I finish this column my oldest daughter has come in to ask if I’d like the honor of taking her out to Sunday brunch. She’s seventeen now. She has a job, a car, and a life that is very much her own. Chances to be graced with her presence grow rarer with each passing week. Still, any other day I might have weighed her invitation against the eight million business-related things that need my attention.

Today, however, the decision is easy.