On Getting Started

You’ve probably heard it said that you should just get started. There’s a Chinese proverb that I really like, and it applies here.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.

If you had planted a tree 20 years ago, it would be a big, sturdy tree right now. That makes sense, sure, but I also have the proof right outside my window. My parents planted an oak tree in our backyard a little over 20 years ago and let me tell you, that sucker is massive. (Or, as massive as it can get when every few years, someone from the power company comes by to inject it with something to slow it’s growth lest it fight for space with the power lines.)

Now, this proverb doesn’t apply perfectly in the literal sense to the idea of starting a business. I was four 20 years ago, and “advanced for my age” or not, not really in the position to start a business. The internet wasn’t as big of a deal as it is now, we didn’t have iPhones, and the word blog wasn’t even used until December of 1997 – still  just shy of 20 years ago – and even then, it was “weblog”, which you really don’t see much anymore.

Okay, so if we stop taking it in the literal sense, I started a website on Piczo in middle school; the site no longer exists, but I loved it. If I had taken my site when Pizco shut down (or when I “outgrew” the idea of a personal website without realizing that it was a very good idea) and moved it to a different hosting site or even a standalone website, I’d have something now. It would likely not be a bunch of pictures of my friends, but I’d have those skills.

More recently, I’ve tried to start things multiple times, from a YouTube channel to fifty million blogs. None of them ever stuck, either because they were hard and I didn’t make the time to learn the skills required, or because they didn’t gain traction and I got bored. That’s like planting tree and then not watering it because it isn’t growing fast enough.

Here’s the deal. If you plant a tree (either from a seed or from a seedling), you can’t climb it for a few years. It doesn’t look like a tree for a while, it looks like some gangly, overgrown weed. It doesn’t provide shade or fruit (if it’s a fruit tree) and it’s certainly not what people think of when they think of a tree.

Give it a minute. It’ll get there.

Your business is the same way. When it’s new, it’ll look tiny and uncoordinated and altogether pretty unimpressive. But here’s the thing: no one will read it, watch it, hear it, or buy it for a while. Unless you already have a large following to which you can pull from, your new business is going to be quiet for a while, especially if it’s on the internet. Instead of letting that be your downfall, embrace your newbie period. Use the time when your thing exists but isn’t being flooded with people as a time to perfect it and figure out the hiccups.

Launch the site and tweak it as needed. Very few people will see it on the day it launches. Publish the podcast and figure out how it works after that. People won’t rush to download it the second you make it available. Write the blog post; it won’t have hundreds or thousands of hits right away and if you hate it, you can always change it.

There’s a difference between this and launching something that, well, just sucks. If you’re planning on taking it down right away after seeing how it looks when it’s live, that’s fine… but don’t put out something subpar just because it’ll reach a few people and therefore isn’t worth your time. You’ll never gain a following that way.

So what’s the takeaway here? Do the thing you want to do. Start now and do it well. Do it while no one is watching and while no one is caring, because when they show up, you’ll have a ton of content, experience, and be the thing they’re looking for. You just have to stick around for it.

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