You know those random stories you read about some whiz kid entrepreneur who amazingly struck it rich while churning out 20-hour work days in an office in the back of his parents’ garage? I’ve read more than my fair share of them, which made chatting with somebody who lived the experience firsthand an absolute delight—I’m talking about Sam Ovens.
At the time when all of this money-making madness first began, Sam was 21 years of age, dirt poor and, as previously made mention, both living and working from his parents’ garage. He’d recently dropped out of college in New Zealand, and was bound and determined to make it big on his own as a digital marketing consultant. You already know where this is headed—yup, that’s exactly what he did.
Four quick years later, Sam’s stressful days of penny-pinching were long gone. He’d grown his consulting business, moved into a lavish apartment in Manhattan and managed to make just over 10 million dollars in the process. Not bad for an up-and-coming twenty-something, right?
Though Sam spent less time on his personal story, and more on advice for novice digital entrepreneurs during our conversation, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by where he’d come from, where he’s currently at and what the future looks like for those who follow in his footsteps. Below, you can find my conversation with Sam. Perhaps you’ll have a similar experience.
1) First thing’s first—how did you get started with all of this stuff?
“Nothing too shocking, to be honest. I did what pretty much everybody does nowadays. I mean, I went to school, college and did the whole internship thing, you know? Soon, I had a full-time job. It was a great job, but after only a couple of months, I started to feel uneasy about the whole situation. All around me were people who’d worked where I was starting out for two, three or even four decades—it was terrifying to think that I might do something similar.
So, I pulled the plug on everything to become an entrepreneur. I quit my job and moved back home to try and save money. When I arrived, I found that my parents had done some serious downsizing. As painful as it was, this meant that I had to sleep on the living room couch and work from the garage. It was intense. I was working on a desk supported by concrete blocks and everything. Needless to say, not the ideal environment for entrepreneurial creativity.
My first three business ventures were an utter disaster. I won’t get much into the details, but the first was meant to be a type of reverse job board—kind of like LinkedIn, I guess you could say. It flopped, and seeing as how the other two followed suit, it took no time at all for me to burn through the little money I had.
Broke yet again, I came to the realization that everything I’d done was based on what I thought people wanted. In reality, it wasn’t about what I wanted or what I thought people wanted; it was about what people truly needed. From there, it was easy—I asked them, they told me and I responded accordingly. Digital marketing was quickly overtaking traditional marketing strategies. People didn’t know how to respond, so I started a digital marketing consultancy business.”
2) What would you do if you were starting over as a new digital entrepreneur today?
“I’d ruthlessly cut out all unimportant costs. It’s funny, but in response to your previous question, that’s about the only thing I did correctly, really. If an expense isn’t absolutely essential or is the slightest bit excessive, get rid of it. You’ll sleep better because of it.
When getting started, it’s important to learn a simplistic, straightforward lifestyle. I’ve seen some big-time successes during my carer, but even now, I’d be the first to admit that you really don’t need much to be happy. The more simple and inexpensive, the better. Living lavishly is such a crutch when you can’t afford it—save yourself the headache, and live cheaply.”
3) And from there? Where can they go after that?
“This is going to sound crazy, but I’d get a job. You probably didn’t expect that, did you? There’s a reason for this, though—starting out as an entrepreneur, it’s very hard to make money. The more you can eliminate tight financial situations, the more relaxed, focused and effective you’ll be as a businessperson. Trust me—I’ve done this the hard way. It’s incredibly stressful when money isn’t regularly coming in to pay for basic things like rent, utilities and food.
But let’s take things one step further with this—don’t get a normal job flipping burgers or stocking shelves. Instead, get an evening job in some sort of sales-related position. Working evenings is important, because it gives you the ability to devote eight hours to your business each and every day. Sales is obviously important, too. It will be at the core of all you do as an entrepreneur. I’ve seen far too many great products and services fall by the wayside, only because sales couldn’t be made.
Oh! I forgot to mention this—if at all possible, try and work in a tele (telephone) sales position. Digital entrepreneurs are extremely connected. Yes, they can make in-person sales, but in large part, much of the time they’re meeting with prospective customers online or on a Skype call. Build your confidence as a tele salesperson, and the transition to entrepreneurial sales will be more natural.”
4) You’ve always vocal about the importance of acquiring new knowledge—why is this?
“Great question—there’s nothing more important for an entrepreneur than acquiring new knowledge. Warren Buffet is one of the wealthiest, most intelligent entrepreneurs in the world—I look up to him a great deal. I remember reading once where he said that, in spite of his wealth, if he were only allowed to keep one thing, it would be the knowledge he’s accumulated over the years. He very much considers it his greatest asset.
As soon as you’re committed to building an online business of your own, immediately begin reading as much as humanly possible. Just to give you a better idea of where I’d start, I’d make it a personal goal to read at least one book per week—that’s 52 books per year. To this day, I still make time to read a book a week. This has taught me more than any class, mentor, mastermind group or conference ever has. Even better, books are extremely cheap—there’s no excuse for not reading them.
There are all kinds of business books out there, but I’d try and stick to reading books that fall into one of four categories at all times—mindset, sales, marketing and business strategy. This isn’t to say that other kinds of books aren’t helpful, but as a new digital entrepreneur, you’ve got to focus on the tried-and-true basics of the business world.”
5) What’s one of the biggest mistakes new digital entrepreneurs make?
This ones is easy—they sidestep the consulting business model, thinking they don’t know enough to make it happen. Consulting is cheap, and extremely rewarding. But seriously, think about it—all you need is a cellphone and a laptop. Both can be acquired in a less than a week for around $1,000—it’s that simple.
And while there’s not one go-to area in which a new entrepreneur must offer consulting services, if you’re looking to quickly get results while satisfying a genuine need, I’d highly recommend digital marketing consulting. The Internet has only been around for about 18 years, and there’s still a great deal that’s not known about it. So, you’ve got million-dollar companies all over the place who know that they need a better online presence, but literally have no idea how to get started. Naturally, this is where you’d come into the picture.
6) But what if someone knows next to nothing about digital marketing?
“I had a feeling you’d ask that. Here’s what I’d do—I’d first approach a smaller, less accomplished business about doing some digital marketing for them. I’d ask them about what they were doing, and would give them in-depth instruction as to what I thought could make their digital marketing more profitable.
This is one of those things that’s easier said than done, but the need is so great for digital marketing expertise, that you’ll be surprised at the number of businesses that are happy to listen to you. In exchange for all of this, all I would ask for is a testimonial on my website and two high-quality referrals.
Once you’ve got the social proof and referrals to keep work coming in on a regular basis, gradually up your price. Soon, you’ll be making more money than at that tele sales job we talked about. Give this your all, and the process won’t take nearly as long as you’d originally thought to gain traction. Believe me—I’m living proof of it, and you can be, too.”