The desire to own and operate a successful business is one that is familiar to most of us. We dream of the independence, wealth and fulfillment that our own businesses can provide. Our motivations are as varied as our ideas. Some of us need the money, some need to have something to fill our day, and some of us need to make our mark on the world. Whatever our motivation, desire is only the kindling for our bonfire; but, all fires start with a very small flame. From there, we must carefully build and tend to our fire until we either allow someone else to tend it or decide to douse it. The trouble is – many of us don’t know how to build a fire, and a good number of us don’t even know how to strike the match. Even worse, some of us just aren’t capable of the task. The good news is that, no matter which category we fit into, we can be successful with our businesses if we go about it correctly.
If there were one piece of advice I’d offer over any other, it would be to utilize every available resource to us, whether it be our friends and family or professional consultants. Recognizing our own shortcomings is important to our success. I also advocate the use of the resources available through the Small Business Administration. This wing of our government can provide us all with the necessary information to begin and operate a successful small business, and best of all, it's a free resource, paid for with our tax dollars.
A number of years ago, I attended my very first seminar aimed at helping the small business person get started. The most significant statistic shared with me in the opening presentation was an eye-opener, to say the very least. Many more small businesses fail than succeed. The numbers vary according to the sources, but they generally point out a sobering reality: it isn’t enough to have a great idea.
Commitment to the excellence of the idea and to the small business it supports makes the difference. Another way to say it is “survival of the fittest.” The reasons for failure or success are many and varied, but in almost every case, the successes are guided by actions that have their roots in commitment and tapping into the plethora of help available to us in our journey. In truth, most small businesses don’t create great wealth – but they do provide us with the opportunity to obtain wealth.
Wealth is typically the result of sacrifice and hard work. There is no magic formula that ensures we don’t work harder, faster or better in order to succeed. In fact, just the opposite holds true. Assuming that our idea is a good one, our success is directly proportionate to the level of commitment we apply to it. That commitment begins with the idea and is evident in everything we do. At this critical stage, our commitment is simply to decide whether our idea is one that has merit. The worst mistake we can make is to jump on the bandwagon without carefully thinking it through – a sanity check, if you will.
Let’s look at a very simple, but far from complete, sanity checklist:
a. Why do I believe my idea is great?
b. Why do I believe people will buy it?
c. Do I have (or can I make) the time it takes to do it right?
d. Do I have (or can I get) the resources to see it through?
e. Do I believe in it enough to make the sacrifices?
f. Am I willing and able to overcome setbacks?
Just looking at this short example should tell us something – there’s a lot of soul searching for us in this phase that requires our honesty with ourselves. We can’t lie to ourselves if we intend to succeed. Remember, the worst thing we can do is to fail ourselves by not being thorough in our sanity check; however, the second worst thing we can do is to let it drag on too long before we reach a conclusion. Momentum is very important to our business, and if we cannot make a decision in a reasonable time, we’ll sit in our think tank forever doing nothing - while someone else takes action. More opportunities are lost by lack of action than we know.
A true entrepreneur will be able to “go for it”; however, many of us don’t have one or more of these essential traits. It’s imperative that we recognize our own shortcomings and either change them or find a way to productively deal with them.
Great ideas are often left unrealized due to our own lack of commitment. As an example of tenacity, let’s look at Thomas Edison’s electric lamp. Most people think the electric light bulb was Edison’s idea, but they don’t know that his patent wasn’t for the light bulb. Inventors had successfully created light bulbs for almost 50 years prior to his patent; rather, his patent was for a filament that made the life of the bulb long enough to make it commercially viable. Edison’s labs began working on the project in 1878 and experienced thousands of failures before they succeeded. They viewed each failure as a success in how NOT to make a light bulb. It took two years for them to strike pay dirt, and they created a business with the success of their idea. It is this same commitment to our idea that is absolutely necessary. Perseverance is key.
Failures should not be perceived as setbacks; rather, they should be viewed as learning experiences that lead to our eventual success. Once we have confidence in our idea and our commitment to see it through, we’re ready to look outside ourselves to obtain more objective data that can help us to make the right choice for our business.