5 Years of Lessons in Entrepreneurship – Part 1 of 3

Somewhere around the time people were claiming that we’re in the great recession, I had the burning desire to start my own business:  Jeppesen Financial Services. I quit my job at a traditional insurance office and dove headlong into entrepreneurship. After many nights of falling asleep in my clothes, making thousands upon thousands of phone calls, running thousands of appointments, conference calls, webinars, and spending endless hours in front of my computer, I can confidently say that JFS is stronger than ever and that I am excited about the future. It was not easy to get here these last first five years, especially the early ones, but I learned some valuable lessons.
I’ve put together my top 15 lessons in this 3 part series. They have been gold for me and I hope they will serve you as well whether in business or life!

Lesson #1: Build on Integrity

Do what you say you will do. Show up on time. Under-promise and over-deliver. Put your client’s best interest in front of your own and do not compromise your solid morals. There have been many times these last 5 years that I have been able to grow in my integrity; apologizing for when I am running late, or if I miscalculated a premium, or if I simply bit off more than I can chew with my work load. I have made mistakes, but I credit it all toward the chance for me to grow and develop my integrity. I believe building on a character of integrity is the foundation of any great business and people will ultimately be more attracted to someone’s character even if competence is not fully developed. Over the last five years I’ve been very grateful for the clients and partners that have put their trust in me because they believed in my heart beyond anything else. I pray that I will continue to be a blessing to their financial success. My #1 Lesson for any new business entrepreneur is to start with a foundation of integrity.

Lesson #2: Have Mentors

Before I started my office I desperately wanted out of my day job. I didn’t know at that time I was going to start my own company and so I ended up going to different job interviews for other insurance offices. In one interview I met a lady there who was also interviewing for the same position. We both ended up turning down the opportunity, but she put me in touch with her family friend Bruce, a financial planner and veteran in the insurance business.  Bruce became my first mentor, meeting me periodically at 7AM at Denny’s and was prepared to be peppered with my questions. Bruce would say to me “Le, for every 10 guys who start out doing what you are doing, only 1 will make it”. I decided I would be the one to make it. Bruce offered me lots of advice and simply wanted to see me succeed. I owe him so much. Later on I found other veterans like him that simply wanted to help me succeed. Guys like Michael and Larry. Maybe what attracted these guys was pure pity of my humble start or they noticed I was hard working, or they simply wanted to give back. Whatever the reason I am very grateful for the time they took with me. On the way home from one very tough set of appointments, just as I was pulling up to my house I got a call from my friend Michael, my very successful broker who told me “Leland this job is like taking a gigantic bit of (poop) every day. The more you eat, the bigger your paycheck”. As odd as it may sound this was encouragement to me at the time, when I was really taking some hits.
While the encouragement was great, not every bit of advice proved to be helpful and looking back I would have done some things differently. I would have sent letters prior to making phone calls or cold visits to business, spent more time with direct mail, and used the Internet more. But despite getting ideas that may have been a bit dated I really don’t think I would have made it through the first five years without guys like Bruce, Michael, Larry and Dom; who flew me to Ohio for convention on his dime.  I owe part of my success to these men. So my second tip is GET MENTORS!

Lesson #3: Be and Stay Passionate

In 2007 Steve Jobs was asked about business success and he said “you have to have a lot of passion with what you do because if you don’t it is so hard that any rational person would give up”. Early on I had tons of passion for my job, but when things started to get tough I had to find a way to psych myself up again. I’d watch Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, read books, go to seminars. It was so important to stay passionate about the job even in the face of difficulties and cultivate that passion so when the going gets tough I could surmount my obstacles. Be and stay passionate.

Lesson #4: Trade in Bosses for Partners

I know that there is a great amount of noise in the business community regarding the need for sales and referrals. I also think sales and referrals are great, but somewhere around year 3 I started to realize that it was getting exhausting hunting down new accounts and leads. I was quite literally praying for a solution and had what I believe a God-given epiphany when I realized that I could pick up partners that would feed my business, but still be independent enough to not have a boss. Eureka! I could have some freedom while at the same time get lots of referrals/leads. This was a major breakthrough idea that took my business to a whole new level. This is how my first partnership came about: I found an office that had a successful lead program and I bought leads at discount and then shared commissions with the office. I also received valuable training I could use for the rest of my business life. A major win. The second partnership was through another insurance office that was not selling much life insurance. This was similar to the first partnership where I received thousands of free leads, in exchange for a split on commission. On the face of it these partnerships could seem as though we were competitors, but with the right agreement in writing, these turned out to be very successful partnerships. At the time of this writing I am working on my fourth or fifth partnership for JFS. Each one has a contract spelled out in detail, and each one has achieved some degree of success. My advice to new business entrepreneurs is to not lone wolf it, but find a way to structure a win-win partnership without losing your freedom to a boss.

Lesson #5: Become a Cash Flow Master

Before I started JFS I was making what I’d call easy money. My bills were low and the company I was working at had a generous compensation package for a mere 40-hour work week. Not only that, but I didn’t have to worry about admin duties, marketing, or IT. Wow! I didn’t know then how lucky I was because I was miserable being micro-managed in my corporate cubical. I wanted freedom. So I started my own office. All of a sudden I was doing the jobs of 10 people at 1/10 of the pay. I can remember standing in line at the grocery store while calling my bank to check the balance in my account to make sure that my purchase of Planter’s Peanuts would not bounce my account! Suddenly I realized if I was going to run a successful company I had to manage cash flow better. That all began with a budget and after using Quicken (with much frustration), I eventually created my own Excel spreadsheet that (available for download off an earlier blog) I still use today. Projecting cash flow and then reconciling those projects against actual numbers is a must! Most businesses fail due to lack of cash; it is the oxygen of the business. To this day one of my morning habits is monitoring my cash accounts. If something is wrong I know I can fix it fast.
This is part 1 of a 3 part series. (see part 2 or part 3)
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