In part one of this blog series, I talked about how important failure is to success, and ended by saying If you haven’t failed, you haven’t been taking big-enough risks! In this blog, I want to take things a step further and share with you 7 key lessons I’ve learned along my own entrepreneurial journey. From educating yourself constantly to making the commitment to success and accepting how long it might take to see financial rewards, here are 7 key shifts in thinking that are necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur (these tips are especially for the speaker, author, coach, consultant, expert who’s selling their knowledge and expertise):
- The most crucial investment you make is in educating yourself. I really notice this when interviewing new team members – those who’ve been freelancers for a while expect to invest time and money to keep their skills sharp so they are able to create opportunity for their clients and land great gigs. Those who have been “employed” their whole career want you to pay for them to learn something new.
My most successful colleagues all spend a great deal of money on conferences, certifications, mastermind groups, and courses they believe will give them any kind of an edge as they’re growing their business. They don’t “throw money around” at every opportunity–they are intentional and deliberate, and they aren’t afraid to risk some dough if it will give them an edge. And it pays off.
As an entrepreneur, it is a must for you to constantly be investing time and money in your own learning (taking a course, hiring a coach, attending a conference, buying a book, enrolling in a training program, etc). If you’re of the mindset that spending money on your education and / or support is frivolous, or you “don’t have the money,” you’re pushing your success further into the future and potentially creating a more challenging path.
- The only person to blame when things don’t work out is “you”–own it, and go easy on yourself. When things don’t go well, it’s easy to slip into the blame game: it’s because of that vendor, or that bad hire, or that jerk of a client, or the market crashing. As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to manage all the conditions that affect your success. You can’t blame your boss, or your co-worker, or the processes and procedures; huffing “because-they-won’t-listen-to-me” or “so-and-so-didn’t-do-x-so-this-is-what-happens” doesn’t make you successful. The accountability is radical when you’re a business owner.
- Blaming someone else only keeps you stuck. If something isn’t working, at the end of the day, it comes down to something you did or didn’t do. I find myself constantly solving “puzzles” around creating more success: I need a better system, more education, better resources, a new team member, a different client, a new relationship … I need to find out what condition is missing, or what nuance we need to address. Communicate better. Change something. It’s never, ever, ever anyone else’s fault. It’s always mine. I own everything. That doesn’t mean I don’t hold people accountable–I do. And you should. But your success ultimately depends on your ability to bring together the right team and create the right conditions for alchemy.
- Business owners need a tremendous amount of courage, and feeling “afraid” is just part of your job. Corporate environments have many nooks, crannies, and “layers” of bureaucracy that give your ego lots of places to hide when the going gets tough – it’s easy to find someone to blame, or to ignore what you’re not ready to face, or to remain oblivious to a shortcoming, or to overlook your need for someone else’s cooperation. As an entrepreneur, there is nowhere to hide. Every day, every hour, every minute some days, you must face things that are challenging to reconcile–your vulnerability to failure floats just beneath the surface of your experience. If it gets too hot in the kitchen, sure you can quit or find another path, but if you are committed to success, you get really good at finding the courage to set your jaw and plow through.
- You must value your time differently and learn the art of LEVERAGE. As an employee, you trade your time for dollars in a pretty linear way to make money. As an entrepreneur or independent professional, you soon learn that there are a LOT of hours that you could potentially work for which no one is writing you a check. Getting leverage is really the key to success in building a sustainable business — you need others to come alongside you as partners to keep things running smoothly. A major area for “getting leverage” in your business is in farming out the administrative and accounting responsibilities… it’s easy to want to hang on to these responsibilities so you don’t have to pay someone else, but you’ll soon learn that this isn’t sustainable. Your time as a business owner is likely worth at least $100 / hour; every hour you spend doing $15 / hour work costs you money and slows your growth. By hanging onto “menial” responsibilities, you clog up your mental bandwidth with sludge that keeps you from igniting your creativity to serve your clients, find new ones, and to channel the divine into something new and special.
Another huge shift comes as business owners realize that they aren’t selling 40 hours/week. Most independent professionals have 15-25 hours per week to feasibly sell–the rest of their time is spent on marketing, networking, and creative work to sustain growth in their businesses. Misunderstand this, and you’re setting yourself up to ride the roller coaster of feast-or-famine: after you finish what you’ve been pouring yourself into for weeks or months, you’re staring an empty pipeline square in the eye. Rats.
- Becoming successful as an entrepreneur is a 5-7 year commitment. As much as I’d love to paint things rosy, the truth is that for virtually all of us, we don’t really start hitting our strides as entrepreneurs until 5-7 years in. That doesn’t mean we don’t make money starting out–I’ve been fortunate to have “made it” financially since I started my business over seven years ago. However, I didn’t start hitting my stride until around the six-year mark, and frankly, I’m growing and learning every day. There is so much to absorb and understand, so many nuances with which to become familiar. The marketplace needs time to really embrace you and trust you and you need time to really trust yourself. This isn’t what people typically want to hear, but time flies and the journey is life-transforming!
- A strong entrepreneurial ROI requires a 15-year commitment. Every successful (translate: very wealthy) business person I know has stuck with their craft and honed their skills over years, and their tenacity has paid off exponentially when the commitment turns to double-digits. Most people I know choose an entrepreneurial path in part because they want their opportunity at a 7-figure income (or more!). And most of them realize that dream when the tenure of their business crosses into the double digits.
Question: What important lessons have YOU learned on your entrepreneurial path?