You can avoid the dismal fate of most small businesses. But you won’t find a foolproof plan anywhere, despite what a lot of people will tell you. (Do you know why nothing is foolproof? Because fools are so ingenious.)
In order to succeed in today’s world of entrepreneurship, far more is required than capital, teamwork, planning, and a product or service that fits the market. There are thousands of examples of companies that had all the money and talent in the world but went down the drain nevertheless. Speed to market, acting with a sense of urgency, understanding what it takes to acquire a customer, and understanding the motivations of your customers are all key.
The psychological aspects of business are often far more important than having a good product or service. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” but he lived in a completely different era. Whether or not such a viewpoint was true then is not important, but it is certainly not true now. Our era is characterized by noise, clutter, and confusion, and lots of it. When AOL gave everyone 10 MB of storage in the early days, the Internet quickly became flooded with minute trivia, useless information, and downright stupidity. And it’s only gotten worse. Today, low quality is drowning out high quality, and you need to find a way to rise above it all in order to get noticed.
And don’t forget that IBM used to tell its sales force to instill Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) in the prospect’s mind. You couldn’t go wrong buying IBM, but if you bought from the other company, you could lose your job. The FUD Factor is alive and well when so much information is generated every day that one can’t possibly keep up. Knowing what is valuable and what is not is a full-time job. (Mick Jagger used the term “useless information” in the hit song Satisfaction.) You need a reliable filter to help you sort things out.
In my extensive experience, there are a number of timeless principles that all entrepreneurs should know and practice. They have nothing to do with gaming Google or figuring out the latest Twitter trick. And while others may offer timeless thoughts too that have great value, mine go far beyond the typical suggestions about setting goals, being persistent, fostering innovation, and working with the end in mind. While the above character traits are necessary, they are hardly going to prepare you for the rough and tumble world in which you will find yourself. The principles that I am going to explore will provide you with a roadmap, a foundation, of what to expect as you go through your entrepreneurial journey. When things seem to be going haywire, take heart in the fact that you are not alone. Many have been there before you, and they have not only survived, they have thrived.
Here are some timeless principles at work in business and in life. Not all apply equally at all times, but they are filled with insight and wisdom. Some of you may not agree with me, and that’s fine. There will always be exceptions. But try them on and see how well they fit before you decide that they are not for you. We’ll be coming back to them in various ways, and you need to keep them in mind as you go about your everyday life. They are not in a particular order of importance, and they should be taken together and absorbed over time. I’ve heard about some of them for decades, and at times they take on new meaning. They can be very powerful if you use them accordingly.