Hard Work Is The New Hack

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Put in the effort where it counts, and you can grow your company faster than you ever thought possible.

Everyone loves a good "hack," and it seems like there's one for everything these days.

Too many emails? Hack your inbox. No time to cook? Hack your kitchen. These tricks can help you sail through tasks more efficiently or break down mental blocks so you can focus on what's really important.

There are plenty of hacks in the business world, too, but there's a difference between freeing yourself from busy work and cutting corners. This is where the importance of sweat equity comes in.

When I first launched Tower Paddle Boards as a second business, my poker chip company was losing money. I had no outside investments, so sweat equity was all I could put into it. I built the site myself, wrote a lot of quality content, and created my own SEO strategy.

For the first three years, we didn't spend a dime on advertising. Instead, we used social media and other free online tools. When we were invited to appear on "Shark Tank," we didn't hire a PR agency--we figured it out ourselves. Now, the business is the fastest-growing company in San Diego and on track to make $5 million in sales this year.

As an entrepreneur, it's important to know when taking shortcuts will do more harm than good.

Sweat It Out on Social Media

One thing I've learned while growing my business is that branding via social media is an exercise in scaling the unscalable. It's not a channel you can just throw money at and buy your way into. It requires hard work and demands that you provide a heightened level of personalization to every customer.

If you want to reach your customers on social, take a sweat equity lesson from Gary Vaynerchuk. It wasn't some social media "hack" that took him from being an unknown liquor store owner to a social media marketing mogul. He created daily videos for his website, Wine Library, and spent 10 hours a day interacting with wine enthusiasts on social media. He created 1,000 videos in five years, meaning he created a video every 48 hours or less. He built his following through hard work: answering customer questions and making personal connections.

When it comes to customer service, you can't cut corners. Every interaction needs to be authentic.

Don't Outsource Yourself

Personal interactions like Gary Vaynerchuk's stand out today because we're operating in an environment of automated business functions. But you can't automate social interactions, and you can't automate or outsource learning and thinking.

A student at Columbia University once asked Warren Buffett how he could prepare for a career in investment. Buffett replied, "Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest."

But it's not enough to passively take in information. Thinking is a high-level activity, and you must be able to draw your own conclusions (rather than relying solely on what others are saying). By thinking and writing about cutting-edge marketing--not just reading about it--I've built a reputation for myself as a thought leader.

If you want to be successful, you can't run on autopilot and let someone else do your thinking for you. You need to continually add to your level of knowledge by experimenting with new technologies to understand them better and discover what works firsthand.

This is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur. Digital tools make it easier than ever to reach the right market, but that doesn't mean you can take it easy. Put in the effort where it counts, and you can grow your company faster than you ever thought possible.

It just takes a little sweat.

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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.