By Kathleen Laney - December 13, 2015
I started my entrepreneurial journey about two years ago. Unlike some, I never wanted or intended to be an entrepreneur. It was not something I dreamed about as a kid. It was not something I had listed in my five-year plan. But when I saw an opportunity to provide a recruiting solution to a niche that wasn't being serviced, my drive to conquer challenges inspired me not to pass up this opportunity.
And so I jumped. I jumped off the path I was on and into a new life, head first with no parachute (technically the parachute was attached to some other guy, not me). It was the best decision of my life. I have learned more and grown in character more these past few years than I did in my previous three decades combined.
So, as we close out 2015, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I have learned and perhaps share some insights with my business associates and other potential entrepreneurs.
1. Do something you are 100 percent passionate about. The truth is, there is no path paved in gold to the top. Just like there is no quick fix, and there is no billion dollar idea. It all takes hours, days, weeks, months and often years of hard, hard work. When your friends and family are relaxing with a good Netflix video or out for a night of good food and drink, successful entrepreneurs are working. A typical evening in an entrepreneur's life can consist of scouring data, interpreting analytics or writing blogs (such as this one). You may spend your weekends formulating strategies and innovating new solutions. Passion is what motivates you to do all this. And people buy passion – if you are not passionate about your products or services and your overall mission, how can you expect your customers to be?
"One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested." ~M. Forster
2. Fail fast, learn faster. Mistakes are inevitable. The key is to learn from them – quickly. If you aren't failing, you aren't innovating or working hard enough. Mistakes are inevitable. Although I hate to mess up, I've learned a lot from the times I have. It's not good to dwell on your mistakes, but it does make sense to figure out what went wrong and how you will fix it, so you don't encounter the same problem down the road.
“The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” ~Thomas Watson Sr
3. Know your competitive edge. Differentiate yourself or die. If you can't succinctly explain why your products or services are of value and how they are different, then you can't expect other people to see your value. You must be clear on who you are and what you can provide. Your product, service or solution must have a clear benefit to your customers that provokes an emotional response.
"You must become a "meaningful specific" rather than a "wandering generality." ~Zig Ziglar
4. Early to bed, early to rise said the wise entrepreneur. If you were to get up just one hour earlier each morning, you would gain 15 days in a year. Scary when you put it like that. Watch entrepreneurs working during the start-up phase of a new venture and you'll find them working whenever they're awake. One of the easiest ways to gain uninterrupted time to work is during those early hours before people start their standard 9-to-5 jobs.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” ~Benjamin Franklin
5. Karma is a b*tch, so learn to share. People who repeatedly put themselves out there, have a greater potential for an appropriate opportunity to present itself. I discovered one of the best ways to make this happen was by sharing, and specifically sharing information. The majority of my business has been referrals or word of mouth. In today's business world, power and success are in the hands of those who have access to and can share ideas and information. While sharing information might result in a small loss of a competitive edge, the influence you gain from sharing such information can make it worthwhile. Through such practices, you will gain credibility to help you along your journey.
So when you discover a great tool or solution or have an epiphany that doesn't detail any proprietary information, tweet it, blog about it, submit an article to media outlets or post it on Facebook.
"Life is an echo. What you send out, comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others, exists in you." ~Zig Ziglar
6. Don't make snap decisions. Never jump right into a new business without any thought or planning. At the same time don't spend months or years waiting to carry out your plans. Map out short, mid and long-term goals with deadlines. Keep your goals where you can see them. Don't fall into the trap of indecision. You can't "hem and haw" all day theorizing about what you will do. You need to take the leap.
“Never make permanent decisions on temporary feelings.” ~Unknown
7. Lack of courage is a deal breaker. Confidence is essential. Successful entrepreneurs must possess enough courage to cope with the risks associated with running a business. Despite these risks, you have to muster serious gumption to build and run a business successfully. When you're starting out, it's easy to feel like an impostor. In study after study, experts have concluded it is the courage to take the "first step" that makes all the difference. You must have the courage to go after your goals, with no guarantee of success. It is courage that will allow you to endure in the face of adversity until you finally win.
"Courage is rightly considered the foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend." ~Winston Churchill
8. Everything takes longer than you think. Despite the preference of most people to have instant gratification, the process of starting and building a new business is slow, deliberate and anything but instant. The greater the degree of innovation and novelty of your product or service, the longer it will take to build awareness and "buy-in" from potential customers.
We often attribute success to being lucky. But this assumption couldn't be more wrong. There are of course some very lucky people. But most, if not all of the time, "luck" is deliberate and the result of preparation, the development of long-term relationships and an expansive network. There is no quick fix.
"Two of the hardest tests in life: The patience to wait for the right moment and the courage to accept whatever you encounter." ~Paulo Coelho
9. Remain humble. Don't forget those who have helped you. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the impact the support and patience of my husband, family, and mentors. By the time you fulfill your goals and achieve success, lots of people will have helped you along the way. One of my most trusted industry mentors always reminds budding entrepreneurs to never get too cocky and remember your roots.
"Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground." ~Theodore Roosevelt