Our Small Business StoryDec 01, 2019
Originally posted on www.definemyday.com for Small Business Saturday.
Have you heard this one before?
…on the verge of divorce.
…never home to see my kids.
…overworked, stressed, and unhealthy.
How Define My Day Started
On the surface, things looked good. I owned a successful IT business, drove a nice car, and had two beautiful kids.
We were miserable.
On the precipice of a potentially life altering moment… looking for an apartment… I decided I needed to change.
I began looking for people in my life that were living the life I wanted to live. What I noticed was this…
They were using their time intentionally.
They aligned their daily actions with their ultimate goals.
They lived according to their values.
So, I went all in. I read, listened to podcasts, tried new habits, and did one very important thing… I wrote down the one thing I wanted to accomplish each day that was aligned with my goals and values.
It was often work related but sometimes as simple as “enjoy the evening with Lynn” or “spend focused time with my boys.” A small reminder to be present and enjoy time with my loved ones.
I failed some days. On other days, I realized that what I had written had no connection with my goals or values and I’d have to think about why I wrote it in the first place.
Over time, I got really good at the process. I began to add more elements as I needed them to improve my mindset and efficiency.
I began to print out a daily worksheet that I called Define My Day. I had two stacks, one of freshly printed ones, and another of used ones. It became a little messy but it worked, very well.
What I found was that the more I focused on my priorities that connected with my goals and values, the less work I was actually doing. I wasn’t wasting energy on nonsense and I was happier for it!
Look at your to-do list. Does any of it really matter? I had 20, 30, and even 50 items on a list. I threw it away. You know what happened? Nothing. The world didn’t end. Imagine that.
The first time I realized how far I’d come was on a drive home from work. (at a reasonable time!) I was driving down a hill to a stop light and suddenly had this incredible feeling that I didn’t accomplish enough that day.
As I thought about it, I realized how wrong that feeling was. I accomplished all of my priorities. I didn’t do everything on my to-do list but did do the most important tasks I set out to do. The feeling I was having was residual guilt for not being “busy” enough.
Being busy and actually accomplishing important work are two totally different things. I had to learn to be OK with doing less busy work. That random feeling of guilt was years of bad habits and disjointed priorities bubbling up for a moment. Once I realized that, I felt very good about where I was headed.
After that, the light turned green and I made a right-turn toward home to have dinner with my family.
Starting the Business
One night at a conference, I decided to skip the social hour. I grabbed a spiral notebook and went up to my room and laid out a rough sketch of what Define My Day is today.
When I got home a few days later, I signed up for Adobe InDesign and (very poorly) designed the pages of Define My Day.
Once I had the first draft finished, I printed it out on a laser printer, cut it down into the proper size by hand, and then took it to Staples to have it bound. The binding cost was $75! It would have been more if I didn’t print and cut it myself which, in the end, probably cost just as much in toner.
I still have that first book and a dozen other revisions sitting right next to me on my bookshelf.
Our First Delivery
We found a company out of Minnesota to print our first run of books. They were the least expensive we could find stateside. We ordered 100 at a cost of over $18 each! There was no way we could make money at that price but I ordered anyway.
I still remember when that first 100 books arrived. We had not yet transitioned our IT business into a work-from-home arrangement. We were in the process of packing the office and it seemed like the end of something.
You can see the video of our press proof delivery here.
Here I was, pulling out this ridiculously expensive little book in the office we were in the process of leaving forever. I had no idea it would change our lives and the lives of literally thousands of people over the next few months.
We never made a dime that first year. In fact, we went into some serious debt but I knew we had something. The first time I got an email from a user about how Define My Day changed their lives, I cried at my computer. We changed that person’s life. We had to keep going.
The turning point was the holiday season of 2018. We were totally unprepared. By this point, we had transitioned to a local printer. Things were going smoothly until December.
At the same time orders began rushing in faster than ever before, our printer decided to change critical vendors and it was a disaster. Mismatched covers, wrong colors, erasable ink inside, blobs of ink… Mistake after mistake had us behind on orders.
By Christmas, we couldn’t slow down. We were finally turning a profit but couldn’t keep books in stock. Because of the way Christmas and New Year’s fell in the week, people were giving their employees long weekends and we couldn’t get books. When we finally did, we would have a backlog larger than we could tackle in days.
Our boys never saw us during the time between Christmas and New Years except to eat meals. Lynn and I were working in the garage and basement (oh yeah, we do all of this in our home) 16 hours each day. We felt so guilty but knew we had to do it. Our livelihood depended on this short window.
By mid-January, things began to settle down and we could take a breath. It was hard work but it was worth it. We had a successful holiday season. Even better, the feedback we were receiving was incredible.
“You do all of this in your basement!?”
That was our UPS rep and just about everyone else that sees what’s going on here. Lynn prints shipping labels and packs every shipment in our basement. We keep inventory off-site and in our garage. I work in a bedroom turned office upstairs. My brother Jon works customer support from his home a few miles away.
About a month ago, we brought on a wonderful woman to help us out. Luanne has helped coordinate vendors, find new products to make Define My Day even more useful, and manage some of the day-to-day tasks that get a bit overwhelming for us.
We’re also looking to hire person to help Lynn with fulfillment. (I’d like for her to take a day off once in awhile)
She individually packs just about every book that leaves our location. She’s amazing.
You know who else is amazing? Our users are amazing. If you’ve been in the private user group on Facebook, you know what I mean. There are amazing people in there changing their lives with Define My Day and helping others do the same. It’s truly humbling. That we get to be a small, positive part in the journey of so many people is… well, it’s why we do this.
So there you have it! Our small business story. We’re looking forward to bringing a lot more people into the Defined Life way of living this holiday season.
Keep moving forward,
Creator, Define My Day
Owner, Defined Life
Husband, father, small business owner, and always here for my people.