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Dear Jay Nine Lessons,

On the eve of turning you over to the official new company name of “Jay Nine, Inc.,” I reflect back on our time together as Jay Nine’s Social Media Marketing, Jay Nine Lessons, and now—Jay Nine, Inc.

Jay Nine Lessons started as a company that was going to sell online guitar lessons.

Instead, business owners got excited in hoping I was giving social media lessons, and I went down that road. After all, it was just a means to an end to become a famous musician. I was only 20; it was 2009.

The “lessons” part came from teaching people how to use social media to grow their business.

I consulted on SEO and social media marketing. The “business address” listed was actually my home address in Rocklin, CA, which I shared with 3 other roommates.

I slowly worked my way into website design, web development (specializing in analytic-driven web development), custom software, and SEO. I hired people and learned lessons about employees, management, and how different everything is when it’s your own money (compared to working for someone else). I made some of the greatest friends I will likely ever have, and have watched several of them develop astonishing careers.

I remember the times my bank account was in the red much more vividly than when it was in the black.

The new organization is just that: an organization. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about the brand that I have developed with help from talent all over the world.

I recently finished reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I liked the idea that Aurelius wrote himself lessons to reflect on in trying or meditative times, and I hoped that the following lessons would be written in a similar tone. The things I wish I could have read 8 years ago when I first started “Jay Nine Lessons”:

  1. Time is more valuable than money

When you’re first starting out and trying to make a name for yourself in any profession, you will give away almost anything to “make it” or develop the right connections.

I would stay up all night pushing a project forward because I had to be at work first thing in the morning (and then had J9i business meetings until after 8pm).

During that time I worked my way up to management in several jobs, so early mornings, late nights and endless weekend work was required from me.

There was a time, and I’m not sure when, that I should have shifted and protected my time more than I was focused on earning more money (or, charged more, and more frequently). I didn’t value my time because I was so focused on “making it,” and I forgot how precious and important time is. I neglected to spend time with people who mattered to me most, and that is a lesson I hope to never repeat.

  1. Never write a blank check

Blank checks are another way the devil comes back to get you.

“Free support for up to 8 hours” or “I’ll be available to your call within minutes” shouldn’t be a way to finalize a contract or sale. I nervously (and foolishly) gave up a lot of time and money trying to get a deal. These “blank checks” always end up being cashed for much more than I anticipated when given to someone.

See the forest for the trees. Write a blank check and live to regret it. Never give someone an open-ended tap on your time, money, or resources. Always have an “I will give you this for a certain period, and in exchange, you will give me this” type of mindset. If the time period ends, the arrangement ends a new one needs to be made.

  1. You’re Not Responsible for Other People’s Mistakes

I stayed up late into the night pushing a project through because a manager who had ignored the project came to me on a Friday afternoon needing to show his boss something on Monday (which he had “forgotten” about until just then).

I dove for hail Mary catches because someone told their boss or investor that a task would be done in 14 days, even though best-case the task would take 30 days. Instead of being honest and politely pointing the blame where it needed to be placed, I took the burden on myself.

  1. The Ego Is the Greatest Destroyer of Businesses, Dreams, and Ambition

I have never seen anything wreck a business, a life, or a career like ego.

Ego is a huge enemy to success. It’s the creature that says, “I’m too good for…” or “I’m not good enough for…” or “they owe me something because of who I am” or “I deserve this because of what I’ve invested.”

  1. The working man isn’t a sucker, but the 16-hour working man is

I used to have a big problem with the Tim Ferrises or Guy Kawasakis of the world. I felt that their philosophies pedaling the “working man is a sucker” mentality prevalent in every real estate or investment seminar you attend (the whole, “only the fool goes to work from 9-5, come buy my lifestyle instead”), were ludicrous.

I realized, especially with Ferris, that he wasn’t calling the working man a sucker. He was calling the gentleman who worked 16 hours a weekday, 8 hours on the weekend, and crammed his “life” into the in-between a sucker – not the plumber who worked from 9 – 5 and then came home to his family.

A lot of entrepreneurs and white collar workers justify this lifestyle by saying, “that’s how business goes,” but I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to work that way. To be clear, entrepreneurship and working in the white-collar world will require long weeks, late nights, and working on the weekends — but it must be balanced with other things.

The whole “an entrepreneur will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40” is the real sucker’s game, especially if you could make more, have night panics, and get home on time with the “working 40” gambit.

  1. Remember People’s Real Needs During Contract Negotiations

When we’re talking about project process, remember that people are generally not thinking about the times they’ll want weekend support, or late night support. Remember that, at the end of the day, they really do want a working, perfect product.

It’s your job to be very clear to people on the purchasing end about what they are buying. If you leave anything “assumed,” you have one of two choices: you’ll do a lot of work for free or have to deal with some nasty billings.

If someone expects you to answer your phone at 8pm, ensure that they are paying for that service. If someone wants you to meet their deadlines (instead of your deadlines) ensure that they are paying for that service.

  1. Don’t Bitch, Bill

Note: I did receive this advice in my first year of business, I chose to ignore it at my own peril for years.

The client now wants the project two weeks ahead of schedule.

Don’t bitch, bill

The client now needs the project ready for a trade show… tomorrow.

Don’t bitch, bill

Freelancers, consultants, and contractors have entire websites dedicated to complaining about some of the pains of working with different types of clients.  If the customer doesn’t want to pay more, or timely, for an additional service, either you weren’t clear in the contract (and need to eat the cost) or they aren’t being fair to your time.

This, however, is rarely the case. Often times I’ve been complaining to myself in my head only to have the client respond with, “of course we need to pay you more because this is outside our scope.”

  1. There is no such thing as a friends and family discount

Ideally, you should never work with your friends and family, but it’s sometimes difficult to keep from blending those two worlds.

I’ve personally seen several close friendships ruined over business deals gone bad. A project had hiccups, glitches, or more extreme issues (in one case a friend of mine lost his client/friend close to $50,000 on a botched/assumed deal) and throwing friendship into the mix ends in bad blood.

I heard an old adage that said “Oftentimes, the day that you hire one of your pals will also turn out to be the day that you’re no longer friends.

Moreover, there are often times people will ask for your friends & family discount at the end of a deal. “Oh you’ll give me your best friend discount won’t you ;)”

To which, the best response I’ve ever seen was from High-Profit Selling:

“Each time I hear this line or any variation of it, I have to laugh. In every case, the person making the comment is someone I’ve never met and with whom I have no relationship. Hearing this request triggers my automatic response, ‘I don’t have a best friend price, and I don’t know you, so even if I did have a best friend price, I wouldn’t give it to you.’”

  1. Become Impervious to Workplace Drama

Can you believe the email he just sent?

Can you believe they won’t pay us until we add this one last part to the website? The part we’ve been waiting for 3 months to receive from the client?

It’s easy to get caught up in being “slighted” by people’s little inconveniences. “I’ll have it to you by Tuesday” means we always get it at the end of the day on Wednesday. It’s only negative if we view it that way. People are busy, people get frustrated and angry through the day, and sometimes working professionals show up right smack in the middle of that.

Taking a deep breath, not taking things so personally, and focusing on the results–rather than the drama–somehow magically makes the “drama” go away.