On Starting Your Own Business, And Being A Productivity Unicorn

How To Be A Productivity Unicorn

When it comes to getting shit done, you can’t go much further than Jen Dziura. As the creator of Get Bullish, the best place online for “aggressive lady-advice”, Jen is a woman who has her fingers in many pies… And yet manages to execute with aplomb.

Jen has long been regarded as the go-to gal for women who want truly frank counsel when it comes to business, productivity and running your life like a boss, so it makes sense that she’s pulling it all together under the umbrella of the Bullish Conference. Kicking off after Thanksgiving in Miami, it’s a “bikinis and blazers” kind of event. Intriguing, no?

I quizzed Jen on how to be a business genius, and she had plenty of insight to share…

I get so many emails from women who want their own businesses but have no idea where to start. As a no-nonsense bad bitch who wears many hats, what would your first piece of advice be?

Good question! It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but the most important thing to remember is:

The only thing you need in order to have a business is at least one customer who pays you money for something.

That’s it. So if you knew some people who were looking for a service, and you emailed them with a jaunty little email about how you have just launched exactly that service, and one of them hires you, you have just started a business!

You could certainly spend $5,000+ and a couple of months incorporating, setting up a bookkeeping system, having a brand identity created, trademarking your name, and making sure you have a legal and accounting team in place, but even if you did all those things, I don’t think you would actually have a business. Legally you would (in the US, corporations legally count as people, so I guess you’d have a person?) But without customers, nothing else matters.

That should take a lot of the pressure off! Just find someone who will pay you for a product or service. Make that person really happy. Good Yelp reviews are probably more valuable than a fancy logo and website anyway, and they’re free.

Once you have a few more customers and some money coming in, you can worry about all that other stuff. All that other stuff is made pretty painless when you can afford to pay professionals.

(And quick, someone get nononsensebadbitch.com!)

Do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur?

Yes! I think anyone who’s willing to learn to be an entrepreneur — and to practice, like anything else — can be an entrepreneur. But if you love baking pies, that’s not going to make you into a good pie-shop owner. Being a good yoga teacher doesn’t make you a good yoga studio owner.

But anyone can be an entrepreneur if you’re willing to accept that you might suck at certain things, but those things are learnable!

A lot of touring musicians function in cycles — be creative and write songs, perfect and record those songs, negotiate with the record company over how the album will be presented, market the album, tour … and then take some time off, bum around, be creative and write songs, etc. A few artists write songs all the time and anywhere (Prince!), but some go years without writing any songs and do very well, because they accept that part of their job is making the tour the best it can be, or even overseeing the merch and making sure fans are getting high-quality t-shirts.

Similarly, when you turn something you love into a business, you’ve got to give at least as much time and energy to the business itself as to the thing you love. I like the idea of thinking in cycles, rather than envisioning a constant battle for your time and attention. Sometimes you make stuff. Sometimes you stop making stuff so you can direct people’s attention to the stuff you’ve already made.

Is “work/life balance” a myth? How can we deal with this when our friends and family complain that they never see us?

Ha! The article I wrote about this is maybe the one that people quote the most: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE.

Sometimes friends and family are genuinely concerned for your happiness. So it helps to tell them that being in the zone and moving towards your goals is really what makes you happiest. You can train people to start understanding this. Last winter, checked myself into a hotel alone for a week, did a crazy amount of work, and tweeted photos of the cocktails I drank at the hotel bar. I think that finally convinced my loved ones that I am just a different species. A solitary, bourbon-swigging species that loves to be ensconced in my work, preferably while someplace fabulous.

What are your top five secrets for being insanely productive?

Okay, let’s try this:

1. Don’t spend your best working hours making a to-do list! I try to catch myself when I procrastinate by planning work instead of actually doing any. Even if your to-do list is a total mess and way too long and confusing, I’ll bet you already know what the most important item on it is. Do that one! Then you can clean up the list.

2. No TV. If I really want to watch something, I get it on Hulu or Netflix or the iTunes store and watch it on a laptop. I haven’t had cable in my entire adult life. When I visit family, I’m constantly turning off their TVs if no one’s in the room or if people are trying to talk. (Yes, I’m THAT person. Sorry!)

3. I find that people value their time much more highly when it’s daylight. A two-hour lunch on a weekday seems ridiculously extravagant, but people will go out at 7pm and come home at 1am and not even have a good time, and think nothing of it. If someone invites you to an event you’re not that enthusiastic about, tell them you can’t make it, but suggest coffee or lunch during the week.

4. I’m definitely not suggesting that you skip all recreation! Just the kind that takes a long time and isn’t that great anyway. Instead of watching 12 hours of boring TV a week and spending 6 hours on Friday “hanging out,” how about spending an hour watching your favorite show while eating your favorite pie and drinking champagne? Make sure your favorite pajamas are ready. Plan intense fun! Basically, only do things that are either productive or awesome. It’s the in-between that life is just too short for.

5. Make friends with other freakishly productive people. Sure, you might not see those people too often, but when you do, you’ll feel invigorated.

Also, you might enjoy How to Be a Productivity Unicorn.

Congratulations on organising Bullish Conference: that is so exciting! Can you tell us a little bit about the event and why you felt motivated to create it?

Thanks so much!

In my own life, the weekend right after Thanksgiving has been a great time to get ahead! So many people are asleep from all the tryptophan in their leftover turkey sandwiches, but there’s no reason you can’t use that Friday (and Saturday, and Sunday) to caffeinate, eat healthy, and take over the world. Also, fabulous hotels tend to be marvelously uncrowded.

The Bullish Conference takes place at the Surfcomber Hotel in South Beach, Miami. Super easy to get to from the airport — fly down Friday and you can be lounging by the pool within a few hours of leaving your house. Kimpton Hotels are also actively LGBT- and woman-friendly. (And fabulous, with amazing food! And this one has a sculpture garden of cow sculptures. I mean, just FYI.)

Check-in on Friday, meet some bullish ladies in a low-key atmosphere (no nametags!), and chill by the pool or at the beach. Saturday, we’ve got a full slate of powerful workshops, plus some built-in sun time.

Throw on a blazer over that bikini and you’re in the spirit of things.

Do you have to be an official Business Lady to attend, or is this for anyone who wants to live a more awesome life?

The Bullish Conference is for students and interns, entrepreneurs and freelancers, employees and managers! We use the term “bullicorns” (it’s a bull with unicorn horn, our official spirit animal).

I’ve worked hard to make sure the programming applies to all women. Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee will be running a training on negotiating more powerfully, which is important whether you’re angling for a raise, starting your own business, fundraising for a cause, or trying to make that move from unpaid intern to paid employee.

Laura Vanderkam’s workshop on time management applies everyone who’s alive for 24 hours a day.

And Jennifer Wright will be teaching us how to pitch, which I think is probably the most important skill in life, full stop. Pitching is how you get opportunities that aren’t advertised anyway. Pitching is how you create the opportunity you wish existed — and then, magically, you’re the only applicant!

At Bullish Conference, you’re teaching a workshop on how to design your life. What does that mean, exactly?

Designing your whole life probably isn’t something you want to do in one day. But designing your 2014 — that’s do-able. And fun!

You know how when you load the dishwasher, you need to start by putting the big stuff in and then fitting the small stuff around it? That’s kind of a good metaphor for planning the next phase of your life.

When you really ask, “What do you want next year to look like?”, most people come up with some pretty awesome — but realistic — ideas. For instance, “I’d like to work out regularly, finally do that trip to Europe even if I can’t get anyone to come with me, and spend less time staring at a computer screen. I’d like to get promoted at work and get more clients for my freelance business, but also spend some time offline, in nature.”

That sort of thing is both completely do-able, and also WILL NEVER HAPPEN ON ITS OWN.

If you just “take each day as it comes,” there will never be a perfect time to go to Europe, and it’ll already be mid-day Saturday by the time you realize you could have been hiking. Designing your year could mean that you set business hours for your side business, and you make a standing date with a hiking trail. It could mean that you make an effort to figure out when in the year you’re most likely to get that promotion, and then you make a list of something deliberate you’re going to do every month in order to bolster your case for when you ask (yes, ask!) for that promotion.

A lot of things are easier when you plan them way in advance! It doesn’t have to be stressful. You’re designing!

At the Bullish Conference, some of that will take place around a pool. In South Beach. With like-minded ladies. And possibly a cocktail.

How truly excellent! If you want further details about Bullish Conference, or to register, simply click here. You get $50 off the ticket price with the code GALAUNICORN!

Love and bullicorns,

Image by Miles Aldridge for MAC Cosmetics’ Office Hours collection.