Updated: Nov 28, 2018
1- You “may” not become a millionaire in a few years. I have had dozens of clients between the ages of 18 to 25 who ask me to coach them and provide business consulting for their “startup”. Almost every individual (in this generation) seems to believe that they have a new money making idea — and that they intend to be a millionaire by age 28. I applaud everyone who thinks this way, as dreaming is part of reaching success. The reality is that not every person is fortunate enough to be a Mark Zuckerberg and build a company like Facebook before finishing university. And even in his case, it was not an instant success as it took time and hard work and many investors. So temper your expectations as to how quickly you may become successful and if you do succeed and become a successful entrepreneur (by any definition you use), I congratulate you and ask that you share your story so others can learn from your experiences and also — please donate some of your time and wisdom with others as a mentor.
2- Have a clear understanding of the direction you are heading towards — what you want to do and where you wish to go. All too often I have had clients come to me after they have invested thousands of dollars on things like registering a business name, a web site or even hiring people. I have even had a client who amassed a team of talented people, but had no real idea of what type of business they wanted to start. I believe if you are new to the entrepreneurship scene or starting a company, write a business plan. I say this not for the traditional uses of a business plan such as financing, but more for your own personal benefit. Going through the mental process of researching and writing your own business plan forces you to really think through all aspects of starting a company and in many cases, entrepreneurs will actually modify their initial outlook about the project. A business plan also provides insights into numerous aspects and elements of the business that may have been overlooked or not well considered in the first place. The concept of pivoting, or changing ones direction (also being agile) is fine, but try to stay your course in terms of the overall picture. You have to know where you are and where you want to go and then plan the strategy (route) to get there. This may obvious, but sadly there are too many individuals who do not actually practice this. So be wise and think through your business idea and how the model looks like, how you will make money from it, how you will finance it etc.
3- You better have think skin, because rejection and failure is part of the success story and learning curve. Being an entrepreneur is like being a hunter versus a gatherer, you have to always be alert and aware of your surroundings, which is fine, but not enough to be a success. You will certainly have to sell — be it yourself, your concept or your company. You will have to speak to people who may be older than you, more successful, more educated, more wealthy or have a higher status in business or society — regardless, you need to be able to stand toe-to-toe with these individuals and produce an image of confidence. Throughout the journey of being an entrepreneur, you will constantly be putting yourself in the line of fire and you have to be prepared for this. You will receive this from prospective investors saying no or trying to tell you why your project is worth much less than you believe, you will have prospective advisors who will not be interested in acting as an advisor or being on your board, you will have rejection from prospective customers telling you the product or service you are promoting is less great or over priced etc., you may even have friends or family members who will tell you to stop and go get a job. The bottom line is entrepreneurship is not made for everybody. In addition to rejection, you will most certainly have failures. This area is an area you should take seriously as it is one of the most significant ways a person can learn. It is not a question if we will have failures; it is a question of how we will react to failures such as learning from it instead of beating yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes, even Coke made a blunder of “new Coke” by the Coca-Cola company in the spring and summer of 1985, which led to a revolt from fans of the original recipe “Coca-Cola Classic” — the net result being that the company brought it back onto the market and sold it alongside the new Coke then referred to as “Coca-Cola” which later changed to Coke II and eventually the product was no longer available in the United States. But there was a lot to learn from this blunder and it was how the then CEO, Roberto Goizueta reacted to the error and what lessons was learned and how the company moved forward to propel it sales and reinvigorate sales and brand love in a category that for years was stale and where for the previous 15 years, preference for Coca-Cola over other Colas was dipping.
4- No one will motivate you — procrastination is not a weakness can allow. In the world of entrepreneurship, one has to deeply understand that you are the individual who is entirely responsible for your success and the success of your company — and no one else. You are the person who, day-in and day-out, must drive that vision, push that envelope and grow/advance your business, solve problems and jump over hurdles to achieve success — you are the one must inspire your employees, investors and even suppliers — to have faith in you, the company and its vision. So who helps you, the entrepreneur? In some cases, a business coach and/mentor. In some cases a person does not have the luxury of said person and is therefor responsible to oneself, regardless of the situation. It is you who will have to kick your own buttocks when you are being lazy or procrastinating — no one else. This is perhaps one of the toughest jobs (for some) as an entrepreneur, especially at the earlier stages of a startup or project. All I can advise is this; do your best every day and remember, this too shall pass and this day shall pass and you can look forward to tomorrow to make things better.
5- If you are in school, stay in school — or perhaps not? Not everyone is meant for school, this being stated, there is nothing like a solid education and the knowledge and structure is provides will (one day) pay its weight in gold. When you are young and full of optimism you tend to believe that you can conquer the world. For some people who stumble upon (what seems like) a great business opportunity — your impulse may be to quit school and got for “it” — as this may never happen to you again. News break, there will always be opportunities coming your way, if you are motivated as opportunities do not usually come to those who wait for them, but for those who seek them out — but school lasts forever. Even Mark Zuckerberg went back to school, 12 years after dropping out of Harvard University to pursue Facebook full time. Ok, he is a unique example given that he was a multimillionaire at that point, but it also proves a small point — even when a person is a success in business, their education still has value. I suggest to all young entrepreneurs who have forgone their academic compass — please, reconsider either going back sooner than later or, consider going back to school and work on your education part time while pursuing the entrepreneur thing or startup or what have you. With so many schools now having incubators as part of its business school, it is totally acceptable for students to be able to work on a startup project while still attending university. Just think about it as it is the most important investment — “you”. If academia is truly not your thing — ok, fair enough, but realize that the best education is by investing in yourself and that can come from constant reading, learning about subject matter readily available online, attending seminars, on the job learning, shadowing a mentor what ever — just try your best to learn something every day. The way I believe and that of my beloved grandmother is simple, “if you are not learning something every day, you are simply not living life”.
6- Find yourself a partner and/or co-founder. If you are an entrepreneur who is involved in a project or startup, seriously consider finding a co-founder and/or partner. Yes, there are inherent negative aspects to this proposition, however, one of the most common pieces of data I have been fed from my long list of startup founders and entrepreneurs is that they regretted doing it alone. Yes, there are many horror stories about partners or co-founders where it ended up a mess, however, there is a way that this can be realized without going through the pain often associated with the risks of bringing on a co-founder and/or partner. So why did hundreds of my clients tell me this? It is simple. The answer lies with weight. It is the weight of the project or startup solely upon their back. The most common reasons cited by my clients for bringing on a partner and/or co-founder, in no special order were; that it would have been most beneficial to have had someone with whom they could have shared the decisions with, someone to strategize and ponder a situation with, someone who could help with many of the daily tasks of the business and someone who could also be there so that the original founder could take a break or go on a vacation or spend time with their family and loved ones — this was by far one of the most common points as entrepreneurship is very emotionally taxing on most relationships as it is not a 9 to 5 type of job or career. So consider finding someone who compliments you, has similar values and vision for the business etc.… and oh yes, do find a good lawyer to draw up the necessary paperwork — just in case things do go wrong… and oh, do NOT be cheap, give your co-founder a sizeable portion of the business as it will keep them very very happy for a very long time… it is kind of a loyalty thing and a sign of trust and value.
7- Have or develop a strong network. You will need to tap into contacts for sales, distribution, publicity and most importantly — fundraising. You had better be prepared to become a personal that is comfortable to speak to anyone and anywhere, to be a professional networker and to be able to build relationships without much difficulty. This being stated, should you not be a master at “schmoozing”, fear not, this can be learned over time for some, and for those who are not comfortable you can try a couple ideas. An obvious one would be to either hire someone or have a partner who is a great schmoozer. I have seen great teamwork where two individuals from a company will attend an event and one is the schmoozer and the other is the one with deep knowledge of something such as the technology or is the numbers person etc. The second suggestion would be to consider joining Toastmasters International as their “raison d’être” is for the purpose of promoting communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. I have sent many clients to this organization, even some who are on the ASD spectrum, and have come out from the program to become very comfortable with public speaking and such. So look into this as it will be well worth your while and will also be another investment into yourself and your career.
8- You best be comfortable being “front and centre” with people and with large audiences. You will need to feel comfortable with pitching, presenting, public speaking and so forth. This is a skill set that will prove its value for many, many years throughout your career. If you are fearful of this or simply lack he skills or experience, refer to the previous point 8 as per Toastmasters International. Over the course of your career as an entrepreneur you will be asked to speak at events and it is essential that you are capable or holding the attention of an audience, able to interact with the audience and effectively communicate the intended information in a confident and professional manner.
9- Unwavering confidence. As I have mentioned in a previous article, “if being an entrepreneur were easy, everyone would be one”. You must believe in yourself and the project with absolute commitment, confidence, focus and determination like never before. It is ok, and pretty much expected to waver here and there, but overall — no. I once heard the expression “Always behave like a duck. Keep calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle like hell underwater”. I wish to pass this wisdom on to you as it “appears” to be quite simple to comprehend, but much more difficult (for most) to enact. The fact of the matter is this, if you don’t believe in yourself or are not confident in what you are doing — no one else will, and you will not be very believable by your audience. I often guide my senior executive clients (who are in mid career) that are seeking to make a change or pivot on the matter of confidence as an expert in their field. Surprisingly, most individuals have been doing so many things over the years that they are unable to identify one things that they feel they are expert in or, a category or subject etc. But when we deeply discuss their career history and explore all the various tasks they performed, the various industries they have worked in and all the different skills they have amassed over time — they are finally able to realize that they do consider themselves to be an expert or master in a particular subject or area of business etc. Whence my client identifies this expertise, we highlight this into all their digital and printed documentation and social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The ability to realize that they are an expert in something had changed the way in which they perceived themselves and as such, developed the level of unwavering confidence in themselves from that point forward. Perhaps this is an exercise you may benefit from as well.
10- Don’t be afraid of making a mistake or taking a chance — but do try to make it a calculated one whenever possible. Taking chances and making mistakes are part of being an entrepreneur, but it is also part of being creative and being a visionary — very common with most entrepreneurs, great leaders and C level executives. Not every decision can be made with a spreadsheet or research paper and not every decision can be made without being part of the equation. Very often people ignore their “gut feeling” and push it away, only later to find out that (once again) their gut was spot on. So why do we suppress our gut feeling? Often it is fear of making a mistake, but sometimes it’s just that we are simply afraid of the unknown. I am not saying do things and make decisions irrationally. What I am saying is that sometimes overthinking something when your gut is screaming out with the answer — you should listen to it and if you are still unsure, check if your gut response is correct.
At the end of this my message to you is this, no matter your age, your experience, or what people say, follow your dreams and pursue the things that you are passionate about for one day in the future you may make your dreams come true.
As usual, please feel free to contact me should you have any comments or questions as I do appreciate them.
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