Opportunities Over Obstacles - What I Learned In 2018

It’s a new year, which typically involves writing down our goals and setting up resolutions.

It’s exciting to want to look forward to the new year, but it’s also important to reflect back and learn from our past failures and successes, because only then can we learn from and build upon them moving forward.

I must admit, 2018 was a tough year overall. It was filled with situations and events which inevitably placed me in a state of anxiety and resulted in clouded judgement.

It’s taken me longer and proved more difficult than expected to get back into a routine after the holiday break while I was gathering my thoughts and emotions. That’s the reason why it’s taken me until the end of the month to post. Come to think of it, it’s almost Chinese New Year!

I don’t know about you, but writing for me requires deep thinking and getting ‘in the zone’ with the right frame of mind for turning thoughts and feelings into words.

In spite of a challenging year, what’s important is that I took away some important lessons which have only helped me grow even more as a person and a business owner.

In no particular order, I’d like to share some of these lessons with you:

You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do

Starting a business and pursuing what my gut told me to do was one of the proudest moments of my life. However, running a business isn’t always a smooth ride. You have to deal with and be responsible for many facets of the business.

One in particular is cash flow.

Mid last year, sales in my business dropped.

I was looking for reasons why.

Could it be because the products I’ve been releasing haven’t been relevant?

Could it be because affiliates aren’t promoting?

Or could it be because that there’s more competition?

Either way, I had to stop wondering and start taking action before things became worse.

I remember during the slump when business wasn’t doing well and I was in $100,000 in debt, I started to take on Uber driving to cover my bills.

When you hit a plateau like I did, you have two choices. You either give up or you get back up, learn from your mistakes and do better. I chose the latter.

Take care of yourself

The buzz word these days seems be “hustle.” In the end, it’s more important to make sure your health is good—not just your physical health, but your mental and spiritual health, too.

It became even more apparent to me just how important our health is after being hospitalized for pneumonia last month.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, 2018 was a difficult year in business and life. I suspect my immune system weakened as a result of all the anxiety and stress which led to the pneumonia.

I never put my health first previously. It was always business first, and I suffered as a consequence.

I’ve since made sure I go swimming on a weekly basis and go to calisthenics (street workout) classes for my physical health.

For my mental health, I was hesitant to see a therapist at first because I was in denial of my state and that things will get better, but with the support of my wife, I was encouraged to see someone before it could potentially get worse.

After undergoing a mental health assessment with my doctor, the results came out high for anxiety.

Your health should never be taken for granted because neglecting it can ruin your quality of life.

In saying that, it’s also not just about your health, it’s also about making sure you have time for self-reflection and doing things that makes you happy—things that keep you at peace.

You can never have too many baskets

I shared with subscribers in an email newsletter what happened in December 2018 when I had not one, not two, but all four of my PayPal accounts limited or in other words suspended as PayPal claimed I “violated PayPal’s User Agreement.”

I didn’t panic at first because when I received an email notification from PayPal, I thought it was a phishing/scam email. It couldn’t be true. I have hundreds of active subscriptions where members are paying each month. I process 95% of payments via PayPal.

I logged into my PayPal accounts and sure enough, the message was clear:

“Your account has been permanently limited.”

I thought it was all over. This entire business I built in the last 12 years—gone down the drain. Just like that.

I was prepared to find a job because it would have been such a big loss. The worst case was that I would have had to convince members to subscribe again to an alternative payment platform.

I asked a few friends who also do what I do for a living to see if anything happened to their accounts, but no one else was affected. I thought this was an isolated issue until one of my other friends told me the he received the exact same notice days before me.

What was enlightening to hear was that his accounts were fully restored. So I asked him what he did, who he spoke to and what he said. He gave me the exact details and I followed what he did.

I’ve tried my best not to go overboard writing this section but I know you may be curious to know more and I know other subscribers had asked me to share more on this matter. So back to the what I was saying…

A big question PayPal will ask is: “What is your business model?”

So I explained my business model, what I sell and where I sell them, which at the core of it all I’m a digital product seller serving business-to-business customers.

I understand why they asked this question because, since industries like MLM and cryptocurrency are big no-no’s that go against its user agreement, they had to make sure my business had nothing to do with any of those things.

So I sent the email off, crossed my fingers and waited anxiously. The next day I noticed that I started receiving PayPal sale notifications again on my cell phone.

I logged into my PayPal account and the “Permanently limited” message was no longer there. Immediately I felt a sense of relief and at the same time, I couldn’t just sit and relax. I had to have a 'Plan B’ in case issues like this happen again which (knock on wood) they won’t.

Since experiencing this issue, I’ve enabled Stripe as an alternate payment option for customers. That was one of the easiest and biggest implementations I made to ensure I can continue accepting payments.

One of the biggest questions I get about this PayPal ordeal is:

“Why did this happen? What was the cause?”

The short answer is: PayPal will never disclose the exact breach that occurred. What I do know now is that a lot of other users in the community faced the same issue too based off of the conversations on forums and Facebook groups. I suspect it was something that was automated by PayPal given the scale of the purge.

What I learned from this experience is to diversify. When I thought by having multiple PayPal accounts under completely different company names was enough, PayPal still was able to limit all of my accounts.

So have a backup for not just your payment processors but think of things like your website files, computer files and the people you usually hire who may disappear or can no longer work for you. You don’t want to rely on a single source or person.

You’re only one person

One of the biggest reasons for my anxiety and constant worry was that I was overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed with so much work to do, and the pressures of having to keep up with expenses in the business and living costs was getting to me.

I know in the end I am responsible for prioritizing work and saying ‘no’ to distractions that get in the way.

It’s still a challenge for me, but I’m learning to simplify things more in business and in life.

One thing I’ve simplified is the number of tools and subscriptions I have. Ask yourself, “Is this bringing you value?” If not, it’s time to purge.

Personal branding is more important than ever

I must admit, personal branding is something I’ve never consistently put much effort into, but it’s become a lot more crucial as the business I’ve been for the past 12 years became quite a bit more volatile recently.

You’ve just read about my PayPal ordeal and what can happen if you put all your eggs in one basket. That’s why building your reputation online is more important than ever these days.

Take this scenario: If one day your social media profile with hundreds of thousands of followers gets hacked with no way of recovering it, you lose all your followers. Another scenario is when sites like Facebook changes its rules which may affect your business.

This is called “digital sharecropping” which I discussed in a previous post. The one thing that remains is your reputation. Your stories and style is unique to you. When you’ve built your reputation up so much that your followers know, like and trust you, they’ll go where you go.

My friend, mentor and someone I highly respect in the industry is James Schramko. He believes in “owning the racecourse.” It simply means not putting all your content on a platform you don’t control or relying on a site where you do all your marketing. Instead, build an asset that you can control, like your own blog. You want to use social media to drive traffic back to your site.

So launch and feed your blog, develop your email list and establish your presence on the social media platforms where your audience can be found.

The Road Ahead

No doubt all these things I’ve shared were obstacles that could have been prevented.

In no way do I wish any of these issues upon you, and in any event, I think the biggest lessons you’ll take away are those gained from experiencing your own failures and triumphs. It’s what shapes you in the end.

I’m looking forward to living a life with more intent in 2019 and to being healthier not only for myself but for my family.

With plans to do some traveling this year with my wife and daughter, starting with Japan in March, it certainly will be a year to look forward to.

I wish you an amazing year ahead as you achieve milestones in your life and business.

Aurelius Tjin