Big Goals Take Time

Over the last several years my company has received thousands of applications from entrepreneurs seeking guidance for their start-up.

Here’s a summary of one of those applications:

Current Occupation: School Teacher

Current Income: $37,000 per year

Business Experience: None

Business Idea: I want to sell something online

Financial Goals: I want to make $500,000 in the next year

I guess with all of the infomercial and sales letter hype that’s out there promising immediate financial rewards, it’s hard to blame him for his unrealistic expectations.

Look, the great thing about entrepreneurship is that, in fact, a school teacher making $37,000 a year can go out there and start their own company and make $500,000 a year. It absolutely can happen. It happens all the time, actually.

But it won’t happen in a few months. It will probably take many years. And that’s ok, because the journey can and should be invigorating and enjoyable.

In regard to the time required for success, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing summed this up recently. He said, “I know you need the quick fix, you want the result now, you need the hot new thing. Ask yourself this question–How long do you plan to be in business? If it’s more than a year…start planting seeds for your long-term growth by investing in foundational marketing practices that may take time to bear fruit, but ultimately produce the greatest returns.”

I think you should definitely go for those big, daring goals that excite you. But if those goals include making large amounts of money and being in business for the long-term; then expect a 3 to 5 year investment of sweat and discovery.

Just decide in the beginning to enjoy every day of the journey. It’s well worth it.

Steve Job’s Billion Dollar Mindset

The entrepreneurial bug bites everyone at some point in life. And who among us wouldn’t be lying if we said that the idea of unlimited earnings potential wasn’t part of the draw? We hear a loud chorus of credible-sounding testimony from people who claim that getting rich was as easy as, well, quitting their day jobs.

As alluring as the idea of instant wealth can be, get-rich-quick schemes don’t work. How does a hopeful entrepreneur, then, parlay his or her ambition into profits? How did the high-profile, successful businesspeople we read about every day get to the top?

Let’s use one especially prolific entrepreneur as an example. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers and the CEO of both Apple and Pixar Animation Studios.

Jobs’ stunning career has had its ups and downs (most notably, he faced public humiliation when Apple fired him in 1985), but any would-be entrepreneur can learn much from him. In fact, we can pick apart his 5-point strategy to learn what has worked for this man with the billion-dollar touch.

  1. Work:  There is no substitute for hard work.
    Building any business from scratch-whether a restaurant or Silicon Valley powerhouse-demands an extraordinary amount of work and discipline. Jobs, a self-proclaimed workaholic, recalls 100-hour workweeks at Apple. Success will not come overnight; it’s important to have both patience and an acceptance that break-even might take years to achieve.
  2. Desire:  Intense desire and vision are the underpinnings of great companies.
    The small-business owner who opens a florist shop in a town with eight other florist shops and aspires to be no better than her competitors may survive but is unlikely to thrive. On its own, a me-too strategy or yearning to be rich cannot support an exceptional business. There has to be a viable concept-an idea for a new product or service or a better way of doing things. Steve Jobs and his partner, 22-year-old computer geeks when they began Apple, truly had something to offer:  In an era of mainframe monsters, they knew that desktop computers were technologically feasible. Just as important, they were determined to see their vision realized.
  3. Focus:  Focus on the real drivers of business and profits will follow.
    It can be tempting to invest a disproportionate amount of energy in marketing and growth planning. Savvy entrepreneurs know that their focus has to rest squarely on providing a superior product or service. Steve Jobs’ guiding mission is to make best-in-class computers, electronics, and animated films. He even once pared back Apple’s product line from dozens of SKUs to just four items out of concern that the company’s product quality and reputation were suffering. Now that’s focus.
  4. Tenacity:  Tenacity and toughness are indispensable.
    The typical route to self-made success is filled with frustration and setbacks. Many entrepreneurs throw in the towel before their businesses have had a chance to flourish. Those who make it are able to steel themselves against the inevitable disappointments, pushing through tough times with an unswerving tenacity. When Apple’s board of directors ousted Steve Jobs, he considered leaving the tech industry for good. Ultimately, though, he rallied by starting NeXT Inc., a company later bought out by none other than Apple Computer.
  5. Risk:  Reward in business rarely comes without risk.
    What rings especially hollow in those get-rich-quick infomercials are the breezy guarantees, the promises that buying this or doing that will translate into personal wealth. In reality, starting a business venture entails quite a bit of risk. The entrepreneurs who have made it did their research, carefully weighed their odds of success, and only then took intelligent risks that paid off handsomely. Steve Jobs’ leap into the animation industry was a gamble and an exercise in self-confidence. When he plunked down $10 million of his own money to buy Pixar, observers questioned the wisdom of his move. But Jobs had bought into the idea that computers could be used to create animation so lifelike that moviegoers would forget that what they were watching wasn’t real. A string of box-office hits, and now Disney’s purchase of Pixar, has proved him right again.

Are these five qualities unique to Steve Jobs? Before answering, take a moment to think about, and perhaps research, the career histories of several entrepreneurs you most admire. Chances are, it wasn’t just luck that got them on their way. It wasn’t being in the right place at the right time. And it almost certainly wasn’t a belief in a get-rich-quick scheme. Like Jobs, the individuals you analyze have probably had deep reserves of the qualities we reviewed; 1. Work, 2. Desire, 3. Focus, 4. Tenacity, 5. Risk.

For some, letting go of dreams of instant success will require a major shift in mindset. Realistic expectations might even altogether dissuade some people from breaking out on their own. But if you found that you could identify with the five points above, you are already one step closer to a successful career as an entrepreneur.

Emotional Liars

By nature, entrepreneurs are emotional liars.

The entrepreneurial nature gets excited about the vision, adopts an unstoppable optimism, and then refuses to face the realities of market factors. We get emotionally attached and we lie (not maliciously) to ourselves and others when market truths scream that something is wrong. It’s a classic formula for failure.

Here’s why it’s not all bad though; the truth is, your initial failures associated with emotional business decisions can eventually be the key to your future success. Ford’s famous Edsel was a massive flop in 1957, but because of it, the Mustang emerged in 1964.

The idea is that you want to fail fast, learn quickly and hopefully the failures, while painful, are not fatal. In the case of Ford, they could afford to learn this painful lesson without going out of business. In the case of an independent entrepreneur or small operator, you might not have as much room for error, so you must consider this carefully. (Want some extreme examples? Recall the the great public flops of the late 90’s.)

So, first and foremost, just keep this in mind; don’t get too emotionally attached to your business idea. If you find yourself defensive or angry when someone effortlessly pokes a hole in your concept, or if you have to work real hard to “prove” that it’ll work–you’re in very dangerous territory. Second, understand that there are a thousand ways to get where you want to go and often the first idea might not materialize, but a new solution or idea will eventuate in ways you could never have planned. It’s amazing how this happens. You’ve just got to stick with it and keep learning.

PS-Need some more evidence that “liar” can be an appropriate term for eager entrepreneurs. In a classic post, Guy Kawasaki provides a list of The Top 10 Lies of Entrepreneurs  from the perspective of a seasoned Venture Capitalist.