If you have read much of this blog you know that one of the things that I am passionate about in life is trying to help others become successful in business and in their careers. I see so many people, especially young people, who want so badly to have a pathway to a level of success that they feel is often promised to them here in America, but feels very elusive.
My background and interest is in entrepreneurship. I started in business when I was 16 years old, so I've been at it for more than 30 years now. I've started at least a dozen businesses, some of which have cratered in magnificent fashion, but most of which have been successful. Some have been wildly, outrageously so. In most cases, at least when I was starting out, I bootstrapped my businesses with little or no money, so I know how that's done and the risks you have to take to make it work. Sometimes in business I've hit the ball out of the park, and sometimes I screwed up royally, but that's part of the lesson too. The single most important thing I can teach is that you're never out of the game and that you can always come back, really from almost anything. You can read about my story doing that on my page "Coming Back From Been Knocked Flat". I came back from being indicted by the feds for a tax offense and spending time in a federal hotel, and let me tell you folks, it wasn't the Ritz-Carlton.
But, I came back from that, a pretty damn bad experience in anybody's book, and just a couple of years later I was running another fast-growing multimillion dollar company.
When you understand some fundamental things about businesses, how to start, run and grow them, success in that business is almost inevitable. However, "understanding" those things is the work of a lifetime and it is the essence of what I mean by "have you sacrificed at the altar of business?"
Let's define what I'm talking about when I talk about business. I'm not talking about fighting to get into a good B-school, getting an MBA and then going on to a corporate career and trying to climb the ladder to a C-level position in a large company. I know little about that world. With a few short exceptions, basically I've never worked for anyone in my life. I now hire those kinds of men and women, and they are fantastic, brilliant people who are integral parts of my businesses. The skill sets they possess are critically necessary to taking a business to a higher level. But, in many instances, they are not the kind of people that start businesses.
Some of what I will talk about here, and in some of the other "education" parts of this blog are applicable to that world, but the person I am really talking to is the man or woman who wants to run their own show. Who has a dream and a passion and idea for a business and wants to pull it into existence out of thin air. For me, nothing is more rewarding than that act of creation.
But, it is an act that is often fraught with peril. When most entrepreneurs start telling their friends and families that they want to start their own businesses, they are repeatedly (and somewhat gleefully) told “80% of business start-ups fail within the first five years”. That statistic is absolutely true and is scary enough in its own right, but what you probably have not heard is that of the 20% who survive, 80% of those go out of business within the next five years!!
Every year thousands and thousands of new businesses are started. Their owners are full of hopes, dreams, and high expectations. The harsh reality is, however, that in many cases, actually in most cases, these companies will fail, the hopes and dreams, and often the financial futures of their owners failing with them.
Why this happens and how to remedy that situation and not have it happen to you is something that I will talk about in detail in later posts. But, before we even get to that point and talk about nuts and bolts tactics, you first have to ask yourself one all-important, deadly serious question:
Am I ready to make the sacrifice necessary to be successful in business?
You see, nothing is more demanding than business on a high level. Nothing requires a greater level of skill, work and sometimes balls out risk-taking. Nothing pays more than entrepreneurial business on a high level. If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow morning with Tiger Woods money he'd probably jump out of a 50th story window and slit his throat on the way down. Nothing pays the financial reward that high-level entrepreneurship does because very few things are harder or require more sacrifice.
Let me be clear, I'm not lumping myself into the rarefied world inhabited by Bill Gates and Larry Ellison and Richard Branson. My accomplishments and the millions of dollars of value I have created are nothing compared to theirs and the billions of dollars of market value they have created. But, my accomplishments are probably easier to understand and more accessible to most people. Much of my career has been spent starting or acquiring pretty common, some might say boring businesses. Trucking companies, staffing agencies, manufacturing operations, etc. these were all small to midrange businesses with sales from just a few million dollars up to 50 million or so. To me though, I am very proud of making those kinds of businesses thrive and grow and turn into market leaders. I think that maybe there is more challenge when it's a basic kind of business with no incredible technological advantage. You are competing on a level playing field with a bunch of other businesses and you can only win by truly conceiving, developing and offering your customers something better. You've got to be better to do better. But, that's a digression.
What do I mean by Sacrificing at the Altar of Business?
What I mean is that if you desire to be successful in starting and growing a business on a significant level you must be willing to make the decision that for a substantial amount of your life there is absolutely nothing that will take precedence over this goal. It must be your dream and your passion and your obsession. Don't worry about how many hours you will work, because, for all intents and purposes, you'll never leave work. Even when you are not physically doing the job, at an office, in the field or whatever, you're thinking about your business. You must except the fact that there may be collateral damage that comes with this. The unfortunate reality is that many successful entrepreneurs have rocky personal relationships and scant, occasionally nonexistent, social lives for perhaps years at a stretch. Sometimes that level of effort is necessary to make your business work, and you have to be prepared to accept it.
Here's a piece of reality: there is no such thing as a work/life balance in high-level competitive business. All the books and articles and seminars out there about how to "balance" a high-powered career, a groovy social life, and a nurturing, Norman Rockwell family experience are simply bullshit written by people who more than likely have none of the three. Business is a competitive jungle and the guy or gal who works 80 hours a week will routinely beat the hell out of the guy or gal who works 40 hours a week.
I think a more effective path is to look at your life as a series of "chapters". To really excel at anything you have to devote the vast majority of your time, attention and mind space to it, and looking at your life in segments - a time to build a business, a time to nurture your mind, a time to grow a family and enjoy your life - Taking each one of these chapters in their time and devoting the bulk of your energy, thought, and intention to them. Truly this is a more focused and effective way to accomplish significant things, if that is, in fact, what you want out of your life.
So, you must first commit to making massive sacrifices in your time, your focus, and your life energy towards mastering your ability to operate in the world of business and in building your own.
The second thing is that you must commit with equal steadfastness to constantly learning about your craft. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to go to college or business school. Formalized education is fantastic and brings many, many intangibles to a person. However, it is a very inefficient way to learn things. Self study is faster, more direct, more focused, and infinitely cheaper. Business is probably the best documented subject on earth. There are literally tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of books written on the art of business. You can easily and relatively quickly become an expert on anything from the most common areas of business to the most esoteric.
I probably read 10 books about business in detail a year. I probably skim through another 10. This is in addition to the three or four business magazines I get every month and the stuff I read on blogs and other Internet sources. And, I've been doing this pretty consistently for 30 years. I'm not bragging here, I'm trying to show you what it takes to gain the level of knowledge and skill sets necessary to be successful in business on a high level.
To be a successful cardiac surgeon, you must spend thousands of hours in intense study. You must understand every facet of the human heart and every related system in the body. After you have spent years learning this subject, you must spend still more years practicing your craft and honing your skills. Only after this level of dedication and discipline are you qualified.
Being successful in business is every bit as hard and demanding, yet every year thousands of people go into business with virtually no knowledge of the subject. They like to cook, so they start a restaurant. They're are a good salesperson, so they open a store, and so on. (this is a simplification, but you get it) Being good at a technical job has absolutely nothing to do with being good at business. Often, they also bring their "9-to-5" work habits and attitude into their new endeavor with them. Is it any wonder then why 80% of business startups fail?
They haven't sacrificed at the altar of business.
If you understand that you must make that sacrifice, that you must put in the time and the devotion to learn about the art of business and then apply those lessons with tremendous focus and energy to your own endeavor, you will be the exception to the rule and you will not fail. But, this is hard, and it's a grind, and you will very, very often feel that it's all not worth it.
But, it is. It's worth every bead of sweat and drop of blood you put into it.