My path to $1M in annual sales and revenue

When I started my business, I knew I was taking a risk.

I had invested my time, money, and energy into an idea that I believed in, but there was no guarantee that it would work out. However, I was also aware of the opportunity that entrepreneurship brings. By creating something from scratch, I could potentially build something meaningful and contribute to society in a more direct and fulfilling way.

My doors officially opened in July of 2015, but as a fully remote business there were no actual doors to open at the time – and there still aren’t (unless you count my home office door – ha). Zoom was very new back then, and the concept of remote work wasn’t fully understood or embraced like it is now. Uber & Lyft were also new, and I was a driver for both platforms during my first year, in order to make ends meet while I was getting my business off the ground.

Also notable is the fact that I started a different business in July of 2015 than the one I am primarily operating today.

My original business, which I do still own and operate – just more passively – is called ThinkPlanLaunch. That venture is a business consulting company that offers solutions for leadership training, team-building, and employee selection.

By contrast, the business that I am primarily focused on today – the one that reached over $1M in revenue last year – is called S.MICHAEL Creative Branding. This company is focused on providing solutions in the areas of branding, marketing, and technology; with heavy emphasis on brand strategy, marketing consulting, custom-logo swag and apparel, and web design and development.

S.MICHAEL Creative Branding – Then & Now

Over the years, my business has progressed organically through different stages of growth. The core concept of branding, marketing, and technology has generally remained at the center; but the specific clients and projects have changed, and new offerings have emerged.

My early work primarily focused on web design, development, and consulting in the areas of branding, digital marketing, and technology. The web design portfolio on my business website showcases many examples of this work. Recently, I completed a project for chess master GM Elshan Moradiabadi, who co-won the 2022 US Open and participated in the 2022 US Championship.

However, despite my roots in web design and digital marketing, the bigger and faster-growing side of my business is branded swag and apparel. As a licensed promotional products distributor through ASI, I can offer more than a million different products to my clients through my supplier network. This network consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual suppliers domestically and overseas. Additionally, I have direct relationships with over a dozen factories in China and countless companies that produce and decorate custom-logo merchandise within the United States.

Before starting my business, I worked for a promotional products distributor in California, where I learned about screen printing, embroidery, promotional products, and custom company webstore programs. One of my most successful projects was the Makita Power Tools branded swag store, which I developed and managed at the time. Today, my business manages a number of similar programs for select clients, as well as a steady volume of “one-off” orders outside of any programs.

I also offer consulting on branding, marketing, and technology, which has helped businesses like my law firm client grow from $1M/yr to $5M/yr over the past five years. While I do not always advertise the full extent of my consulting services, I believe this is where my small business clients truly get the most value.

Which brings me to some key lessons that I’ve learned over the years, having worn all the hats, and having worked the equivalent of a dozen or more “traditional” job roles, over the course of nearly eight years of self-employment.

Key lessons learned after eight years of self-employment

There are three lessons I have learned over the years that stand out more clearly than any others:

  1. Over time, I’ve learned that running a business is more about people and relationships than tasks and systems. Building strong relationships with employees, customers, vendors, and partners is absolutely essential to success. It’s important to treat people with respect, communicate transparently, and collaborate to achieve common goals. The fact I was trained in leadership and communication skills through my original company, ThinkPlanLaunch, is something that I believe gave me a significant advantage when starting my business.
  2. As a smaller business, it’s also essential to understand that every client is unique. While I have a general framework for how I operate, I have learned to customize my approach to fit each client’s specific needs. This could mean adjusting my workflow, communicating differently, offering customized services, or providing a more personalized experience. Understanding my clients’ needs and tailoring my approach to meet those needs is crucial for building long-term relationships and achieving success.
  3. Hitting $1M in revenue last year was a significant milestone and I am very proud. However, it was not an easy achievement, and there is no guarantee that it will happen again. It’s also important to note I didn’t take home $1M+ last year, primarily because of the hard costs associated with branded swag orders. Nonetheless, it was a strong year by all measures, and it makes me even more grateful for having taken the risk of starting my business in the first place. Which brings me to my last point, which is that financial success nearly always requires the assumption of risk – and in many cases debt, too.

Continuing on that last point: Entrepreneurship provides a vehicle for accepting risk and debt in a manner that is generally accepted by society, at least here in the United States. Furthermore, entrepreneurship is something I tend to promote and encourage. However, it’s not for everyone.

At the end of the day, whether shrouded in the veil of entrepreneurship or not, you are gambling with your time and money – and sometimes you are gambling with others’ time and money, too.

If you proceed with starting (or taking over) a business, you should be sure you understand what this means and make your peace with the array of potential outcomes in advance. If you do, then you can get on with your life and business. If you don’t, it will undermine your ability to think clearly and to make quality decisions under pressure, especially when you are buried in the day-to-day activities of your business.

In Conclusion

Through this article I am proud to celebrate the $1M milestone, share my story, and pass along some insights from my experience to date. There are many paths entrepreneurship can take, and mine is just one of them. Others will have different experiences, advice, and outcomes – and likely, some really good advice as a result, some of which may differ from mine.

If you take nothing else from this article, though, I would encourage you to be inspired.

While there are never any guarantees in life or business, there are always possibilities, and with a bit of inspiration (and perhaps some curiosity and drive for good measure), we can often stumble into those possibilities more easily than it would seem at first.

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