As an entrepreneur, we are besieged with images, stories and tales of business owners that have become billionaires overnight. We are bombarded on social media with pop-up digital companies and courses that promise 7 figure incomes within weeks. Is this the new normal? So how long does it really take to become successful?
With this influential expectation of immediate success, the reality of it taking 5-7 years for a business to really flourish or ‘hit its stride’ can be daunting. Yes, most successful entrepreneurs and their companies are well into the 5th, 6th or 7th year before business seems to be humming along. To use Jim Collins metaphor, the fly wheel is then turning perpetually and without effort.
We have all heard the statistic that most small businesses fail within the first 5 years. This is, in part, because new entrepreneurs are not prepared to do battle as a start-up for the period of time it takes. After a year of new stresses, daily issues, sales struggles and a massive learning curve, new entrepreneurs are exhausted. Give this a second year of mild improvement but many of the same growth challenges and for many entrepreneurs it is gut check time. Do you really want to continue to do this? Or, more directly, I must be doing something wrong as everyone else is clearly succeeding and not struggling like me.
New entrepreneurs need to have the revised expectation that success and business ‘in flow’ is going to be years away. It would set the tone for a much more realistic approach, pace and judgement.
For committed entrepreneurs, it means taking time to actually enjoy the struggles, the challenges and the game of business. You develop an underlying confidence as a repeat entrepreneur. So even if it takes 5 years to launch your company and have it humming, you can now have deep faith in the success quotient and start to embrace the challenges and little moments. The life and death perception of most daily challenges can be replaced with a direct challenge back to say ‘Come on! Bring it on!’
What is the true measure for being a successful entrepreneur?
For us at Evolve, the definition is something like this:
- The owner is making more money in their own business that they could in any job or employment situation they could attain.
- The company is profitable and healthy with cash reserves and the ability to pursue growth and opportunities.
- The owner works less hours than most people using 40 as a benchmark – unless they choose otherwise (because often they love what they do).
- The company contributes to community through employing other people and participation in the community events and causes.
- The reputation of the business is solid and positive with strong customer, supplier and regulation relationships.
- The owner reaches a level of personal satisfaction with the quality of life balance that is often a key goal in deciding to become an entrepreneur.
So while becoming a billionaire is a fantastic punch line in an online sales pitch, it is highly unlikely as a measure for success. These 6 guidelines paint a realistic measure for most entrepreneurs to use and thrive by.
A great company is often moving through phase after phase of different types of success even through its first years. Recognizing the milestones at all stages is also critical to feeling and being successful as an entrepreneur.
We haven’t mentioned the value of the learning that an entrepreneur gains as also a fantastic benefit and success measure. We applaud someone that completes an MBA or a certificate program but we have no way to recognize the incredible, high pressure, practical learning that running a company brings.
So how long does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Somewhere between 1 and 7 years. Somewhere between zero and a billion dollar net worth. Somewhere that is unique for each entrepreneur based on how they feel and how they’ve grown.
Business is a complex and dynamic collection of decisions and actions. It is interdependent departments jostling for attention. It is a rush of energy as the day starts and an exhale of exhaustion as the day ends. A business and its pieces move fast and run into struggles continuously as the company grows and adapts.
With all the moving pieces of finance, marketing, sales, operations, delivery, HR and administration it becomes a lot to track and organize.
How do you do it? What’s your system?
Too often good solid business owners and entrepreneurs don’t have a real system for running their company. They move from decision to decision with their best ideas and insights but without a broader mental model of their business and what they are trying to build.
What does every business need? Structure. Not just the structure of set hours, a fixed location or a website address. A structure to use as a blueprint for growth. A structure for measuring the performance and output of the business.
This structure needs to come in the form of a framework. A model, or a way to think about all of the intricate, interconnected pieces of the business. Most people structure a business in the traditional silos or segments of sales, marketing, finance, operations, admin and HR.
These silos compartmentalize the business nicely but does it really give us a way to think about the business as a whole? Does it give us any tools to consider how to improve in each area or how to grow the business overall? In my opinion, it doesn’t–and that is a significant gap for the entrepreneur.
A framework is also critical for your management and team. The use of framework in the business means that everyone uses a common language. As you reference an idea, people can put it into the framework and know how it fits. Much like knowing the general grouping of contents of the cupboards in a kitchen, when an action is discussed the team can quickly know what business cupboard to look in.
So what is a framework?
A framework is simply the naming and identification of pieces of the business as well as their relationships or progressions.
With our clients, we identify and work on 3 key points:
- The 5 Drivers of Business Revenues and Profits
- The 5 Foundations of Business Performance
- The 8 Stages to Business Growth and Scaling
With these reference points, everyone in a business can be thinking about, discussing and understanding the way the business runs AND where to look for improvements in the company.
Sales can just be about ‘sell more’. Marketing can’t just be about ‘advertise more’. People can’t just be about ‘work harder’. The inputs and variables that create the results of the company have to be known and managed. A framework makes that possible.
How do you develop a framework?
Frankly, it is often easier to adopt one that already exists. There are many models to explain a business, just be sure to adopt framework that focuses on improvement and the levers you can influence to get dramatically different results. The time to create your own is not something most entrepreneurs have time to develop and prove out.
Unsure of where to start? We can share our models with you and give you that starting point. Otherwise, look online and ask other entrepreneurs what they use (and what results they get).
A good framework allows operations to run more effectively. It also paves the way for growth and performance in a company; as every participant knows the ways they can positively impact the business day to day. They’ll understand how the small steps taken roll up into the master framework of business success.
Today I sent 56 emails, I liked 15 stories and posts on IG. I commented on 4 LinkedIn articles and posts, I responded to two DM’s and I posted one story on all my channels.
Wait, did I connect with anyone?
Let’s get clear in our work about where we are filling the voids with false connection and where we are really making human connection. Sorry, but you liking my post or giving me the thumbs up to an article isn’t connection. Your personalized responses or comments (and I do mean personalized, not the form responses that social platforms now offer) start to make some electronic inroads.
What about a phone call, a Zoom call or, wait for it… a face-to-face meeting? How often in a week are you recognizing that the most traction comes from actual connection with other humans? If business is people … then doesn’t more people connection make for more business?
From hand written thank you-s, to personalized gifts, to a phone call just to see how you’re doing; the actions that really make connection are less and less practiced. The ability to stand out simply by focusing on what drives connection is now at a pinnacle!
Start now by recognizing what prospects, customers, vendors and stakeholders need to connect with you. Remember that you are creating a community as much as you’re pursuing transactions and sales.
During this holiday season, it is the ideal time to focus on actual connection with people. Fill your day with meeting people in person. Fill it with live calls without an agenda. Even a compelling voicemail is still impacting. Fill it with ideas and opportunities to present to others – you know, a “hey I was thinking about this idea for you” kind of approach.
Hey, for sure, keep ‘liking’, clicking and commenting online … but recognize that it is the table steaks of business today. Everyone can, and does, do that. To stand out, get back to making connection with people. Be interested in them. Ask how you can help them. Determine what value you can add to them or their business. Contribution is connection.
Get conscious about how you spend time to connect and stop just scrolling through the feed. Be aware of the time you’re wasting and get committed to reaching out to people with meaning and purpose.
True connection is what matters to people. Ask your kids. True connection is what drives success in business and life. Commit now to making a connection, or re-connection, with a person today. Every day.
Watch how a renewed commitment to human connection in your business approach dramatically transforms your results in 2020.
This time of year there is no shortage of messages about how your 2020 is going to be even better. And why shouldn’t it?! You deserve to have a new year that is even better for you and your business.
The plans most people make for any new year – for them and for their companies – often focus solely on the concept of “more”.
You can hear them: In 2020, we need to focus on more sales. We need more customer retention. I need more meetings with people. We need more team events and more focus on culture. Like the personal list of more workouts, more healthy meals and more reading … the MORE epidemic is easy to be infected by.
More works. Yes, focusing on more will get you just that. The challenge becomes the level to which you want to improve and change. Rarely can we create the time to do twice as much of anything to create a massive change. We can do incrementally more but this undermines our results and undermines our desire and motivation for big change.
What are you going to do Differently in 2020?
It is through different, that we create the opportunity for massive change, significant change and outstanding results.
People asked me, when and how, I completed a 65,000 word book. I tried doing more in my week. I tried cramming more into my regular schedule and pressuring myself to get creative in windows of 30 minutes. It failed. I finally said, I need to create a different time window to write where I am free of distraction, creative, energized and focused. I started to ask why it needed to be during my work week. I discovered that early Sunday mornings I was refreshed from Saturday off, keen to write and not bothered by business or family obligations. My writing window became 4am to 8am on Sunday. This is a different approach that cost me sleep but gave me energy because of the progression on the book. Radical? Perhaps, but different enough to be effective.
Don’t ask your team what they are going to do more of. Ask what they are going to do differently in 2020. For them to have breakout results, it means doing their work and thinking about their contribution, differently.
Look at each of the areas of your work and your life that you want dramatically different outcomes in. Now inquire within yourself, what can I do, what will I do, differently to get those results, experiences and outcomes?
Look to the unconventional approaches to your 2020 plan. Figure out what is stopping most people from succeeding and change your approach to be unique. Make it different.
Need a planning tool to help you think differently about 2020? Download our Holiday Workbook.
Make 2020 great, and different, so your business and personal results are transformative.
His insight five years later was that quality was no longer the secret sauce to his success. He said the traits that have led to his success were the same but in the opposite order of priority. Consistency of effort was now his absolute key to success of his marketing, the podcast and the business that flowed from it.
It is true in all aspects of our work and life … consistency is the key. Frequency is the next most important to make strides and impact. Finally, or in third place, becomes quality.
For someone who loves quality in everything, this prevailing order was tough to accept until I started to apply this insight to many different projects and areas of life:
Physical Health – people who maintain great physiques and fit bodies don’t always have great workouts. They don’t always get to the gym every day. But, consistent exercise is part of their life and habits. They often talk say things like, my workout was terrible today but at least I went. This really summarizes the idea that consistency of showing up and putting in an effort, any effort, is the key to their performance and results. It is not a fast metabolism or some miracle workout routine that is a higher quality.
Sales – Not every sales call, not every presentation, can be your absolute best. It is known that most salespeople don’t follow-up more than 1 or 2 times before going silent and moving on to the next opportunity. Great sales people consistently make the extra follow-up calls and efforts. They make the extra new business call each day or have a weekly target. They consistently do slightly more than their counter-parts. The quality of a conversation doesn’t always need to be scripted and perfected for it to be real, effective and successful. It is their goal of consistent actions and efforts that produce big sales outcomes.
Team – It is the consistent actions, communication and approach you take to your team that creates the culture and relationships. It is not the one time Xmas bonus you paid, the pay raise last year or the time at the company BBQ you talked to someone about their pet snake. It is the ongoing consistent work you do that creates team among your people. Frequency of communication and efforts in relationships is also key. Quality of every conversation and every team message is of lesser importance when people consistently know you care and are interested.
What efforts are you consistently doing each week? Where is your consistent focus?
Knowing the answers to these two questions will tell you why you’re getting results in some places and not in others.
The shift to consistent effort doesn’t need to suddenly be 90 minutes a day spent on sales activity. It doesn’t require 30 minutes a day talking to each of your people in-depth. Great shifts in results comes with a daily focus of 5-15 minutes to start. Begin making changes to your consistent routine with time allotments that you can handle calendar-wise as well as emotionally. Then watch the changes.
Changes won’t come on day one but they will appear sooner than you expect. Like playing piano for 15 minutes a day, within weeks and months, your skills will improve exponentially. Focus on the consistency of your efforts above all else for incredible results in 2020.
Consistency. Frequency. Quality.
These are challenging times. Few business owners have been through something like we’re experiencing today and had their business come out strong on the other side. Do you know what it feels like to have your business challenges completely consume you? I do. I know the struggle first hand, and I made it through to the other side.
In 2010, I took over a publicly-traded marketing and advertising agency called Rare Method. Rare was locally famous for its work and reputation. It had worked on major accounts across Western Canada and as far away as Hawaii through our Salt Lake City office.
Unfortunately, as the recession of 2008-2010 took its toll on marketing and advertising, it took a very heavy toll on Rare. The company was losing good staff, cash and customers on an almost daily basis.
The quarter before I became the new interim CEO, the company had lost $993,000 –In one quarter!
I got into the operations and realized quickly that my titanic of an agency wasn’t just taking on water, but it was also on fire. People were jumping into the water without life rafts and the lights were flickering—I froze.
There were so many problems and challenges, I was unable to determine where to focus and what to fix first. Outwardly, I talked a good game but internally I was confused and torn about where to start.
By the end of the first week or two, I knew I needed to step into more leadership and make some announcements to start to shore up the ship.
I started with the people. They had been leaving regularly on their own. Many had also been laid off with ceremony. I gathered the people and told them my first commitment was to them.
Without them, we wouldn’t have a business. There were no additional layoffs planned I announced and I would tell them, well in advance, of anything like that into the future. I promised to share more information about the business with them. I said we were going to start to pull together.
Then I started to call and meet with clients. As our people left and departments got scrambled, client delivery suffered. Contacting clients gave them a chance to vent, and gave us a chance to rebuild rapport. I talked clients into giving us another shot; one more campaign and to watch and see how we adapted.
As I shored up staff and clients, I had to look at costs and expenditures too, but not before the people. As a fresh set of eyes to our expenses, I could see all sorts of places where we spent money and needed to stop. We turned things off, we cancelled services, we sold equipment and negotiated hard with every vendor and our landlord.
I had inherited a team and didn’t know the dynamics of the people or the culture yet.
The culture on the wall was “something a former CEO loved but no one really buys it”. I had people that quietly undermined me—smiling as part of our management team and then working against my instructions or dismissing my leadership to others. It took months to finally create a team that was moving forward with me.
To top it all off, the finances of the business were in a tailspin. We had payables that were 3.5 times the receivables. We had money owing that we struggled to collect and as I hatched a financing plan, RBC moved from $1M line of credit down to $150,000 … I was already $138,000 into it and it annihilated my lifeline.
The stress of keeping people employed, clients engaged and paying, managing the finances with no support, and appearing positive and focused, was overwhelming. I lost weight. I had insomnia. I developed stomach and digestion issues. I had dizzy spells. And I hid it all. I needed to demonstrate strength and resolve. But it was taking its toll.
I eventually realized I was not going to sacrifice my own health and well-being for any company. So, I started going for walks at lunch. I took up meditation to quiet my stressful mind. I made time to eat. I felt marginally, but increasingly better each week.
Then, I made difficult decisions to get the business to profitability. We cut staff to a level we could maintain. We worked to move the company to private from its public entity. We negotiated hard with payables and accounts. We had to find a path to survival.
In the end, with many bumps, we privatized the business. It was still not ideal but moved us to a new stage and a new lifeline. We started to acquire new accounts and get back out into the market without depending on our old reputation. My motive was to keep going. To make the tough decisions that were necessary because many people depend on the business owner, staff, clients, vendors — a whole community of people. Sacrificing one account or one person to save the overall operation and team was a new commitment. I focused on getting through the next week, with an eye on the horizon and the potential for the future.
The end game was that we were approached for acquisition and I made the difficult, yet gratifying, decision to sell the business. It was the best decision at the time and while there were unavoidable losses, there were also wins: a forging of lasting friendships, a legacy of great work, a challenge that made people better at what they do, and many lessons (life and business) that could only be taught through the experience.
It is an experience I don’t need to repeat, but one I am thankful for now. I am a better entrepreneur and coach because of it.
They yelled, they pointed, they made signs, they held up their pictures high for all to see. People looked from a distance, they honked, they complimented the artists, they asked about the price. It was heart warming and interesting to see.
Here are some of the things I learned from my boys this week about selling. Which ones resonate with you?
- Persistent Smiles are Critical – The boys stood out there for hours working to sell their art. The effort and persistence when saying, “going back out to sell our art some more!” was more than many people will attempt. They also ran back out each day with a smile and made it clear they were enjoying this new game of sales. Are you as persistent and smiling about your product or service today?
- Make it Clear What You’re Selling – Initially the boys stood outside with their art held up and expected people to know what they were offering or to understand it was for sale. We created signs that said, “Art for Sale” that conveyed the message fast and helped the pedestrian market understand the offer that was being made.
- Be Bold – Yell it Out! – Standing quietly hoping someone would talk to them didn’t work. The boys had to yell out to people, “Art for Sale!” They held their artwork up to show passing cars, they yelled at people walking their dogs. AND people responded.
- Don’t Be Hurt When Everyone Doesn’t Buy – My five-year-old took every failed interaction to sell his art as a personal rejection. He thought the art was poor or people didn’t like him. We rallied to let him know, sometimes people who were out walking weren’t ready to buy art. Or sometimes they loved it but didn’t have their wallet. Or maybe they’d be more interested in talking after COVID19. Are you personally upset or offended when people don’t buy from you?
- Be Ready to Transact – The boys made offers on their art, “$1 for mine,” “$2 for mine!” But people didn’t have cash. We quickly offered to take credit cards. We offered to do a trade. We offered to have them e-transfer money later. The boys learned fast that you can’t be stuck to your preferred way to transact (cash) and you need to adjust to how the market can pay.
- Support Your Team–Sell as a Team – The boys quickly realized that saying, “No, look at my picture” and fighting for visibility and attention turned people off. As they came around to working together, giving the customer the chance to see all the art and to decide for themselves, things worked better. Are you working with your team to show the client all the options available to them? Do you ever work with suppliers and vendors to offer more options?
- Have Fun Until It Isn’t and Stop – Their energy and enthusiasm carried the boys a long way and kept them pitching and presenting for hours. But, when that energy wore off, I encouraged them to take a break and go back at it later. They returned the next day, all fired up and ready to sell their art again. All of us need to remember that selling and representing our services and products can become a little draining. Step away for a break or for a day so you can come back to it with energy and enthusiasm.
When you look at selling from the perspective of a child, it gives a fresh look at where adults sometimes get lost. How are you positioning yourself these days? Are you still smiling? Are you trying to get noticed? Are you adapting to new ways of doing business? Are you working as a team?
Share your thoughts below!