The same way it’s easy to hate the homecoming queen or class president in high school, it’s easy to resent the business owner who succeeds at what other people see as a Sisyphus-like task. Taking in the reasons why someone else succeeds is like trying to swallow a bitter pill. Are some people just born to do what others see as impossible? Is it nature or nurture that separates the employee from entrepreneur?
A successful small business starts with a dream, but we all have dreams, don’t we? I worked with a young man who created LinkedIn. Well, not exactly LinkedIn, just the concept. Jack drew it out on a white board for me, drawing circles and lines to indicate all the access to experts and others we had if we leveraged the connections of the people we knew.
I had built a small advertising agency and Jack was my first employee. We had a new client who came up with a fancy customized cat box to sell in upscale pet boutiques. At the time Jack was dating a woman whose father is a veterinarian. Jack point was this. We were just one separation from the expert opinion we needed to weigh in on the finer points of ideal living spaces for cats (much less feline hygiene requirements).
He then expanded his case to show that if we put all our friends, family and business contacts into play, we were less than six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon much less anyone else we might ever want to know for business.
On that whiteboard Jack had sketched out everything he needed to create LinkedIn. It was a perfect business idea, except for the three key factors that would make him a successful entrepreneur.
1. Tremendous will
This isn’t the same as optimism. It is the ability to remain undaunted and intrepid, even when it appears to be impossible to start or continue to build on your idea. Just like Olympic athlete Kerri Strug nails a gold medal vault for herself and team USA in 1996, sticking the landing on a busted foot, the best business owners play hurt. They play tired, they play sick, they play worried and they play big with what could be their last dollar.
2. Acceptance of reality
You might think a business owner has to overlook reality in order to beat the odds. No. It is their understanding of the brutal truth that allows business owners to move around obstacles, rather than continue to crash into them. Strug landed her gold medal-winning vault on one foot, because that was the one foot still working.
3. Commitment to a “change or die” philosophy
This attribute causes the most conflict. Almost everyone in an organization hates change except the successful business owner. Typically employees resist when it’s time to move along to a new product, new market, new delivery mechanism, new vendors or new anything. Painful but true, successful small business owners cut anyone who stands in the way of survival or progress.
My former co-worker Jack is now employed in a staff position by a multi-national energy company, where he enjoys the work and loves his free time. I think he twinges a little when the subject of LinkedIn comes up, but he doesn’t regret what he could have done, because he never pursued the idea past our whiteboard session.
The facts about success in a small business are these. Genius doesn’t get you anything but a starting place for hard work. Freedom to do your own thing probably comes when you’ve sold out or retired. The excitement of launch becomes a fond memory and eating cold take-out stops being fun.
Here’s what remains as the conditions of success.
- The inevitable pain of fortitude on a rocky road.
- The uneasy embrace of the worst scenarios in the least favorable times.
- The misery of losing friends who were once colleagues but had to be cut because they couldn’t live in a state of constant change.
So, don’t envy successful business owners. The same thing goes for homecoming queens, senior class presidents or gold medal winners. Even with natural good looks, physical skill or genius, my experience is these titles are earned.