A Founder’s Journey Requires Finding People Smarter Than You With Neil Heckman

A Founder’s Journey Requires Finding People Smarter Than You With Neil Heckman

MP chatted with Neil Heckman, founder of breakfast consulting, a cutting-edge marketing consulting firm partnering with stealth mode, seed, and series challenger/disruptor founders and business/marketing leads across various marketing projects and scopes in a fractional CMO capacity. Before launching breakfast consulting, Heckman worked in marketing at Casper and Away. He spent seven years in the agency world working on performance marketing initiatives for Fortune 500 brands like Verizon, Nationwide, and Johnson & Johnson.

Neil Heckman Standing
breakfast consulting founder Neil Heckman / Photo courtesy of Neil Heckman

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

I’ve learned even more so to trust my instincts. 

Whether responding to a question during a pitch on the fly or selecting a brand color for my website, no one knows my business better than I do (and I’d say the same for other entrepreneurs). 

Entrepreneurs are naturally confident and second-guessing (and these two traits are at odds). Half the battle of launching a business is being bold enough to believe you are the best to do so. 

That belief and trust in your instincts are pivotally important for one’s self-discovery and business trajectory.

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?

To be an entrepreneur, especially a solopreneur, requires a certain level of comfort in being alone. 

At some point post-undergrad, my Myers-Briggs results changed from E to I, and while I consider myself a social person, I also value my alone time. 

I’m thankful to have solid family and friend support systems whom I regularly go to to avoid feeling lonely. And I also have a dog, and let’s be honest, it’s tough to feel lonely when a dog is by me while I’m working. 

Video response provided by Julie Lowe, Success Coach and Founder of Socially Aligned

The Psychological Warfare

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? 

Despite genuinely enjoying what I do, I have never been someone who lives to work. I am a creature of habit, and a large part of being a habit is maintaining consistency across my non-work activities. This may be partly because I worked at Casper. Still, I typically get more than 7 hours of sleep daily, prioritize my physical health, and maintain manageable work hours and schedules to ensure balance. 

A certain level of stubbornness is required in starting a business, and part of that comes from an unwillingness to forego non-work priorities. 

I’ve never thought the braggadocious mindset of sleeping 2 hours or barely eating was healthy, and I work hard to maintain every element of my health to avoid becoming another one of those stories.

Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of the business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?

I think it’s easy to think of an entrepreneurial venture as an extension of one’s personality, so to refer to this concept as a warped perception of reality is a bit unfair. 

But I believe there’s extreme value in the process of succeeding or failing that will ultimately benefit individuals long-term and lead to future successes… regardless of the outcome of a specific business venture. 

For example, after launching breakfast consulting, I learned early on that my original business plan was too narrow. It would have been easy to consider the whole venture a failure. 

Still, this valuable learning created new opportunities for future successes, which in and of itself created a new form of motivation and a more positive outlook. 

Success and failure can be measured long-term, but an entrepreneur shouldn’t lose sight of short-term successes.

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears? 

1. Bringing On Team Members and Then Needing To Scale Back

As my business grows, I look forward to hiring a team/team of employees to help enhance my service offering by complementing my current skillset (and candidly, where my skills are lacking). 

My biggest fear is the risk of bringing on team members and then needing to scale back the team due to revenue loss or external factors. 

To manage, my CPA and I have aligned that before bringing on any new team members, a full 12 months' worth of future salaries will be on hand to have a safety net should business slow.

2. Living To Work

I don’t want to work to live. 

And I also don’t want to live to work. 

I don’t want work to become my identity, and I don’t want to lose the good elements of my routine above. This fear, while easy to manage, keeps me up at night more than others - as the already described creature of habit that I am, this is both motivating and daunting to think about/through - and my advice would be to stay rigid in your routine and not to sacrifice life for work. 

Especially after seeing some of those recent photos of outer space, does it matter if a deck gets done by 5 PM today or 9 AM tomorrow?

3. Working With Brands Whose Values Don’t Align

I’m thankful to be exclusively working with brands with similar values as me and the business I’m creating (prioritizing DEI, the rights of women’s/minority groups, authenticity, and more). 

To keep fears at bay that this could change and a brand could slip through that doesn’t prioritize these, I have recently implemented an onboarding process for brands to help me understand their brand values. Partnerships go both ways, and just like a brand has to decide to work with me (or customers of yours need to decide to purchase from you), I need to decide to do business with that brand.

The Mistakes

What are some mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes? 

You don’t need to be perfect to be great. 

I can’t take credit for the first of many phrases, but what weighed on me as I was conceiving my business was how it needed to be perfect immediately. I talk about this a bit more in a later section, but the idea of evolution and adapting a business is much more important than worrying about being perfect. Don’t try to be perfect. That’s a mistake. 

Strive for good or even great, and know you’ll need to pivot and adapt no matter how successful you are at launch.

Much more tactically than the first, most people do not know how business taxes work. 

I am most people. 

Whether it was not knowing a specific form needed to be filed by a specific date or through an unnecessary payroll system, some individuals are professionals in this field who can save entrepreneurs a lot of time and money. 

I’ve felt a significant weight lifted off my shoulders since bringing on a fractional CFO/back-of-house CPA, and that group keeps everything running smoothly

What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning? 

1. You Do Not Need To Be an Expert in Everything

Outsource things that live outside your skillset rather than stress them. 

Website building, brand design, operations or logistics, or many other things CAN be outsourced. 

Like the business I’ve built, dozens of groups and wildly talented individuals are fractional resources for these things and more, saving you time and money in the long run.

2. Don’t Lose Sight of the long term due to Constant Prioritization of the Short-Term 

You always need to hit your business goals. Still, long-term process implementation, structural improvement, and planning become future short-term, and it can become a vicious cycle of unpreparedness if not addressed and prioritized.

3. Honesty

Don’t hide the truth or try to muddle the story. 

Be upfront. 

Be direct. 

And prioritize transparency.

Neil Heckman Sitting
breakfast consulting founder Neil Heckman / Photo courtesy of Neil Heckman

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them? 

1. Pressure Test Your Idea

It can be daunting to put your idea and, by extension, your vulnerabilities out there. 

But this step is pivotally important. 

Source family and friends you trust, both in and outside your targeted industry. 

Speak as if you’re pitching an investor. 

Ask for brutal feedback. 

You’ll improve your business offering and increase your confidence.

2. Rip Off the Band-Aid and Launch

This was the hardest part for me. 

Taking that final step and going to market. It helped that I was ready to leave my former employer, so I already had the kick I needed. 

But I still had butterflies. 

If possible, create some overlap between your current role before launching your new business to help shore up some business and continue pressure testing

3. Embrace Change

The idea of change is daunting and insurmountable, but your original business idea will likely not be sustainable for the life of your business. 

You’ll need to pivot and evolve.

Go into your business knowing that as a fact, and when the inevitable happens, you’ll feel less like you did something wrong and more like you’re adapting because of all of the right you’ve done.

What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout? 

1. Streamline Your Work

Use existing services to streamline your time and administrative work

Calendly for scheduling, Slack for communicating, DocuSign or HelloSign for document sign-offs, etc. 

These aren’t free services, but they save time, and time can be as valuable as money.

2. Block Time on Your Calendar

Create recurring meetings on your calendar blocked as “Busy” or “Personal” to ensure you prioritize this several times a week

Also, if you use Calendly, make your available meeting window start 1 hour after your work day begins and end one hour before your work day ends. This prep and come-down hour at the beginning and end of the day are very important during the first year for reflection and, in some instances, administrative work.

3. Know What Tools You Need To Be Successful

I always have a TI-83 calculator nearby. Former colleagues have referred to me as TI-mighty Neil.

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?

Set goals for yourself outside of building a business.

 Having non-work-related goals puts entrepreneurs in a place where they are “forced” to have tasks to accomplish outside of work. 

Run a half marathon, learn to play a musical instrument, take lessons, and finish a book. 

Also, getting a dog is a good idea. 

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why? 

1. Be Excited About Your Business

If you’re not generally excited about the business you’re building, then you should not be taking the business to market. 

This business will consume your thoughts every day, and there will be days (especially if you’re a solopreneur and can’t take time off) when you may not be as motivated. 

If this is the norm, your business will not be successful.

2. People Are Potential Partners, Investors, Clients, and Advisors

Remember that every person you meet in your career is a potential future partner, investor, client, or advisor. 

So many people have reached out, offering words of support, introductions, and the occasional excuse to have a post-drink tequila and coke with/for me if/when the loneliness settles in.

3. Focus on the Good You’ve Done

I saw this on a LinkedIn post earlier, and I can’t recall who to credit, but it read something like, “don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice in the first place.” 

While I’ve fortunately never been impacted by layoffs, I have dealt with my fair share of less than supportive colleagues or leadership groups. 

My advice would be for others in these positions to not lose confidence - instead, focus on all the good you know you’ve done in your career and thrive in that knowledge

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