Last Updated Sep 21, 2011 1:26 PM EDT
Lessons learned aside, whether you own a business or work for someone else, failure sucks.
That's why no one sets out to fail -- unless, of course, they do one of these seven things:
- Assume easy entry equals great opportunities. Some businesses are easy to start. For example, anyone with a little time on their hands can build an e-commerce website and sell products others fulfill. E-commerce is easy to do, hard to make money doing. Same with apps; a guy makes $300,000 off a game he developed in a week so thousands of people try to create their own apps. Easy to do, hard to make money doing. Businesses that are easy to enter typically only pay off well in the early stages of a new industry. Excess profits breed ruinous competition -- and so does easy entry. Taking the hard way is generally the best way, if only because a lot fewer people will be walking the hard path with you.
- Go contrary without a plan. Every trend starts with people who go against the crowd. Dell ignored in-store retail. FedEx introduced speed where there was no existing demand. eBay predicted buyers wouldn't need to actually touch what they purchased. Each went contrary -- and they all had a plan. Think you can succeed as a real estate agent even though the industry is shedding brokers by the thousands? Think you can open a clothing store downtown even though a number of retailers closed their doors due to a down economy and reduced foot traffic? Think you want to become a teacher even though the school system in your area has frozen hiring? You can, but you better have a plan. Going contrary can be a great way to seize opportunities others ignore or miss, but only when you develop a great plan to actually make those opportunities pay off.
- Mistake social media networks for a safety net. Building a network of friends and connections can certainly be helpful. But face it: if you lose your job your LinkedIn connections will not ride to your rescue. If you need financing, your Twitter followers won't open their checkbooks. Only your old-school personal connections will pick you up when you're down. I landed my last job before starting my business because a colleague and friend talked the VP into granting me an interview. (Thanks, Randy!) Certainly spend time building social media networks, but spend more building old-school connections. Facebook friends may commiserate with you, but real connections have your back.
- Assume somehow, some way, you will be different. I'll bet there's a building in your town that's housed four or five different restaurants in the past years: the Italian restaurant fails; another entrepreneur revamps the decor, opens a sub shop, and it fails; another entrepreneur gives the building a facelift and opens a Mongolian grill... the cycle goes on and on. Each assumes somehow their venture will be different, ignoring fundamental problems like location, availability of parking, traffic, market potential, etc. Assuming that your venture will be different just because it's yours never works. If others have failed, understand why they failed and then determine the steps you can take to make sure you succeed. The same is true with careers. Most careers follow a typical path, and your career won't be markedly different unless you are willing to do things differently than the typical employee.
- Confuse advice with knowledge. Say you have an idea. You ask a friend for input. They say, "Oh, wow, I wouldn't do that." You're discouraged. Don't be: You haven't learned anything. Ask more questions. If you want to open a restaurant and your friend says the capital requirements are too high, ask why. Ask how they arrived at a figure. Ask what you can leave out. Ask how you can acquire facilities or equipment without making purchases. Keep asking follow-up questions. Eventually you'll learn one of two things: Either you'll find out your friend doesn't have a clue about the restaurant business and his advice is worthless, or you'll gain greater insight into start-up costs and financing. Never ask for advice unless you're willing to ask plenty of questions to uncover the reasoning behind that advice.
- Play covert operations. Several times a month someone says to me, "I've got a great idea for a business. I can't tell you about it right now, but you'll see -- it will be awesome." Why the secrecy? They're afraid someone will steal their idea. Please. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Implementation is everything. Most people keep their ideas a secret simply because they don't want to hear conflicting opinions, since conflicting opinions spoil the dream. If your ideas can't survive the cold light of day they aren't great ideas. Talk about your ideas -- a lot. At the very least you'll get helpful input, and you may even find a partner.
- Let ego override reason. A friend admitted the main reason he wanted to be a college professor was because he loved the idea of having a faculty office. He didn't love the idea of teaching, grading papers, and playing educational politics. Another took a job because he loved the idea of driving a company car. Another opened a winery because, well, a winery seemed pretty darned cool. Lots of people take jobs or start businesses with their ego as the primary consideration. But offices and company cars and tasting rooms quickly pale in significance when you don't enjoy the core of what you do. Ego doesn't pay the bills; success pays the bills, and success is based on making objective decisions. Don't worry -- once you're successful your ego will be doing just fine.
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