Michael Cheney of “You’ll work harder for yourself than anyone else”

You’ll fail so much it will nearly kill you (but will actually be the making of you) If someone had told me how hard this journey would be, how many sleepless nights, tears and buckets of sweat I would have to shed I would have run a mile. One of the most valuable things you can […]

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You’ll fail so much it will nearly kill you (but will actually be the making of you)

If someone had told me how hard this journey would be, how many sleepless nights, tears and buckets of sweat I would have to shed I would have run a mile. One of the most valuable things you can learn is to recognize that your failures are what make you successful. Everyone fails. Some let it force them to quit or change their moral compass or core drive. As long as you can remain focused, determined and driven to succeed then failures are steps in the right direction and not the wrong one.

As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Cheney, an online entrepreneur and founder of who has been running internet businesses since the year 2000. His ventures have generated millions of dollars through email marketing. Born in York, England and now living in Scotland, Michael started his business from his bedroom and has grown it into a multi-national, 7-figure-a-year operation.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I first encountered the internet in the early 1990s when I was at university, and I fell in love with it. I was using internet chat before there were even any graphics or web browsers! I didn’t know how but I knew I had to build a career around it. Having tried to get a job in the field (and failed because companies were slow on the uptake!) I started working for ExxonMobil instead straight after university. I quickly became disillusioned with employment so set up my own online business. It was an internet community for seniors — the fastest-growing online demographic back then. I learned so much getting that website ranked in the search engines that I started up a marketing consultancy to help other companies get traffic for their businesses.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

It hit me like lightning! Here I was travelling around the country helping business owners get ranked in the search engines. I had staff and the business was growing fast but…

The expertise was all in my head and I was the one doing the consulting. It was then that I realized I could take everything I knew and package it up into a digital product and sell it worldwide using the internet. This is when I made the big switch from offline consultancy to full internet marketing. The first digital product I launched made 250,000 dollars in a week so I knew I was onto something!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

As an entrepreneur you are always going to hit hard times. I’ve had several. But you only ever fail if you totally quit. As long as you keep going you cannot fail — this is the key (although it’s easier said than done!). When I first started the business, I was still in a full-time job at the same time. I used to run home from that job at lunchtime just to get 20 minutes on the computer to try and grow my business. I would then work 6pm to midnight all through the week on my business. Plus, I would dedicate every waking hour of every weekend too. I did this for over year but the business didn’t make a penny at first. It was demoralizing! I’ve definitely considering giving up numerous times.

What has kept me going is realizing working for someone else as an employee is even worse! There is always a way through or round obstacles. I disliked working for someone else so badly that I’ve been able to push through a lot of barriers to ensure I don’t have to go back to that.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great but it’s been a long journey. I’m now fortunate to be financially free and still be able to work from home and see my kids grow up. You can’t always see it at the time but every single setback you face is just strengthening and preparing you for what lies ahead. You can’t breakthrough to that next level without the hurdles which make you stronger. I’ve had to completely change business models and brands overnight on several occasions because the internet changes so quickly. The big players online hold a lot of the cards so if they change something major overnight you have to react, fast. Being flexible is key. You need to be fluid in your approach and be willing to reinvent your business (and yourself) at a moment’s notice.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We specialize in helping businesses generate more sales using email and nobody does it like we do. Everything is about stories. Most businesses send promotional, corporate, boring emails which nobody wants to open, let alone read! We help entrepreneurs release their inner voice. This enables them to tell stories to their subscribers and form deeper connections with them which resonate more and get more sales. It’s amazing to see the light go on in an entrepreneur’s eyes when they realize they can just be themselves in their marketing… It’s more fun, more natural, easier to do and way more effective than what everyone else is doing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When I set up the online seniors community, I was totally naïve. I didn’t even look to see what was on similar-named domain names to mine. Well…

It turns out an “adult” site was located on a very similar domain name! Needless to say this led to quite a few red faces of seniors trying to get to our site but landing there by mistake! We tried to buy up the domain name but the guy was trying to extort us and we just couldn’t do it. The takeaway is; Always do more research that you think you need before you start a business. You cannot know too much.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Ooh great question! I once found myself trying to grow my business through telephone sales. So, this was calling self-selected prospects on the phone — they had requested a strategy call with me and I would call them, give them some advice and then offer further services at the end. Well, I hated it. I loved the teaching aspect (I always have because both my parents were teachers and it’s in my blood) but the selling aspect made my skin crawl. I was useless at it — it made me sweat and feel sick. The coach who’d recommended this entire method to me said I should just push through and overcome the fear — that I was just being a wuss. I persevered and tried to push on through despite my own gut feeling this wasn’t for me. It tanked. I lost a lot of money in that period chasing something that just wasn’t me and it was the most stressed and unhappy I’ve ever been as an entrepreneur. The lesson? Always listen to your gut. It knows best. Before you even start to think or consider something your gut already knows.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

#1. Resilience

There will be hard times. One day I woke up and my business (which relied solely on Google for its traffic and revenue at the time) was completely wiped out. We went from 20,000 dollars a month to 0 dollar literally overnight. It was devastating. But it taught me a lot — that was the first major knockback I had but it was also the most valuable. It taught me not to be over-reliant on one traffic or revenue source. I also had to learn on my feet and quickly pivot into another area.

#2. A Big Reason Why

If you don’t have the most powerful, emotional and heart-pulling reason why you want to succeed then you won’t. “To get rich” just won’t cut it. You need to have a reason which is intrinsically linked to who you are as a person. What makes you tick? Why does this absolutely have to happen no matter what? For me it has always been so I could provide for my family and have enough freedom to be at home all the time and see them grow up. I didn’t want to be one of these Dads who got sucked into the money game at the expense of his kids. Kids want time with you. They could care less about money. They just want you. My big reason why is to provide for their futures but not miss one moment of their present in the process.

#3. Flexibility

It’s not really spoken about but I firmly believe the most important factor in entrepreneurial success is your ability to reinvent yourself. Your specialist skill or knowledge do not matter as much as your ability to always have a loose definition of who you are and what you should be doing. The tighter and narrower you define your “persona” the more restricted you will be (especially if things go wrong and you need to change direction).

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The more time out you take the more productive you are. It took me a long time to learn this one. There’s this whole romantic notion online that “hustling” and “grinding” are things to aspire to. They’re not. People obsess about how many hours they can work and compete against each other. I don’t do that. I obsess about balance. Every day I spend time with my kids, my wife, I walk the dog, cycle, meditate, read, play and work on the business.

You are the golden goose. Don’t put yourself into an early grave or make yourself less effective. Make time for yourself every day just to chill and do whatever you want.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I’ve seen it time and time again; Entrepreneurs think all they need is a specialist skill and they will be successful. It’s the whole “Build it and they will come”. Sadly, it doesn’t work. When you see all these shows on TV about failing businesses, failing restaurants and hotels and so on then you spot a trend; They all suck at marketing. They treat marketing as an afterthought — something they just have to do once they’ve got their business established. Marketing is your business. It’s not an add-on. It is the single most important thing you should be doing. Most businesses create an offer and THEN wonder about how to find people to sell it. This is backwards. You need to find a hungry crowd first and then create an offer which satisfies them.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Letting go is one of the key skills of running a business which can’t be taught, it just has to be learned. As entrepreneurs we are, by nature, very often task-oriented and controlling. It’s easy to fall into the habit of doing everything yourself. The tricky skill is to recognize when you should start outsourcing tasks which others can do and letting go of responsibilities.

I spent far too long in my earlier years trying to do everything and being too close to the “coal face” of the business rather than taking a step back and letting others take the reins. This would have allowed me to focus on what’s important; The over all marketing strategy and direction of the business as whole rather than the nitty-gritty elements you can sometimes get bogged down with.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

#1. You’ll work harder for yourself than anyone else

The myth that setting up your own business is a shortcut to the easy life and less stress is total garbage. I went from working 9 to 5 to instead working 5am to 9pm. For years! While it’s a great positive to have that inner fire and motivation to burn the midnight oil (especially at the start of a business when you don’t have a large number of staff), it has a downside too. You can be very hard on yourself. I’ve burned myself out a few times as an entrepreneur. It’s important you take vacations and time off — even if the business is under-performing. It could be struggling precisely because you are working at it too hard. Take time out. Sharpen your axe and go again with renewed vigor and a new perspective!

#2. You’ll fail so much it will nearly kill you (but will actually be the making of you)

If someone had told me how hard this journey would be, how many sleepless nights, tears and buckets of sweat I would have to shed I would have run a mile. One of the most valuable things you can learn is to recognize that your failures are what make you successful. Everyone fails. Some let it force them to quit or change their moral compass or core drive. As long as you can remain focused, determined and driven to succeed then failures are steps in the right direction and not the wrong one.

#3. The most valuable thing you’ll get won’t be money or success but the person you become

You may start out in business wanting one thing but what you end up getting is entirely another. I started out with a lofty goal of making a million dollars. I passed this goal but only once I’d changed the goal to instead be about helping people. If you chase the money you will ultimately fail or get disillusioned. When you put “helping others” as the central tenet to your business then magical things start to happen. I’m fortunate now to realize that everything I’ve had to change in my life in order to be successful with a business for 20 years has made me who I am. My daily habits (which were initially designed to optimize business performance) have now actually shaped me into a healthy, happy and prosperous human being. If I lost all the money overnight, I would still retain that health, happiness and inner prosperity.

#4. Don’t go into business with your friends

I learned this one the hard way. You can’t make tough business decisions when friend-emotions are involved. I lost two really good friends who were with me at the start but we all had different work ethics and goals. You only find this out once it’s too late. The easiest way to avoid this is to keep things strictly professional right from the outset. When you blur the lines it gets messy, especially when big money gets involved.

#5. Being good at something doesn’t guarantee success — you need to be good at business (regardless of your field)

You may start your venture thinking you have all the skills you need to succeed. You are good at XYZ and surely that’s all that’s required? Sadly not. You can be the best carpenter in the world but if you don’t know how to market your business, attract prospects, convert them into customers and retain business for life you are screwed. I now spend 80% of all my time on marketing and 20% on product creation. It used to be the other way around and I really struggled. The more marketing research you can do BEFORE creating an offer, the more money it will make. And the more you understand your prospects and their habits, the more you can connect with them in all your marketing efforts.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ten minutes a day meditation for everyone! I’ve been meditating for over 30 years and it has changed my life. The physical and mental health benefits of it are incredible. There is no way I would have achieved success I’ve had without it. It helps you understand life and zero-in on what is truly important. You get to see how the mind works and your relationship to it. It really is priceless.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can grab a ton of our email marketing tips, strategies and secrets for free here:

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

You are most welcome, thank you for asking me.

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