September 27, 2016

My 7 deadly sins as an entrepreneur

I’m 35. I’m an entrepreneur. I earn a living from the success and failures of my business ventures. I started down this path at 18, was an employee for 7 years starting business after business, and was 33 when I could finally say I was earning a full-time income from my business. So you can understand how I don’t feel particularly proud when people tell me that it’s “great” that I get to be my own boss; in my head I’m saying “it only took me 10 years to get there”. As you can imagine, over the course of 10 years, there are lots and lots of opportunities to make (costly) mistakes. I call them the 7 deadly sins of aspiring entrepreneurs.

1) I wasn’t patient

Result: Throwing money at all sorts of get-rich-quick schemes.

When you want to achieve the dream of financial independence, who wants to be patient? You read about Michael Dell, the Google guys, the Yahoo guys, and that Facebook guy. You figure that you should definitely be on the fast track to millions (or billions) and that earning your dues is not required.

2) I wasn’t focused

Result: Starting many projects at the same time.

Maybe the worst financial advice I’ve followed early in my entrepreneurial career was to diversify. Yes, I said it. Diversifying is not your friend when you’re trying to “make it”. Think about Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), and countless others. They found what they were good at and stuck to it. They only ventured into other stuff after cementing their initial successes.

3) I didn’t have a plan

Result: Being the embodiment of “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”

This one pretty much falls right in line with not being focused. Not having a plan made me a happy-go-lucky entrepreneur. I was content to try this, that, and the third, looking for that elusive “hit”. If you want your business venture to be a success, you’d better have a plan; that’s going to be your compass, so you can focus on your current challenge.

4) I wasn’t dedicated

Result: Not being taken seriously: “So you have ANOTHER idea?”

When you’re not patient, not focused, and don’t have a plan, what do you think happens? You can’t be dedicated to any one business. You have more irons in the fire than you can handle, and at the end of the day, you have nothing to show for your multiple businesses and they all fail. Been there done that.

5) I didn’t adapt

Result: Losing to competitors who were more in tune with what’s going on.

Sometimes you have a business model that works perfectly, and then something happens. It can be technology, it can be a change in consumer tastes, it can be changing consumer tastes triggered by technology! When this happens, you have to recognize it and adjust accordingly. This is how you keep your business.

6) I didn’t look ahead

Result: Starting businesses that quickly became obsolete, and/or failing to capitalize on emerging trends.

It might not sound that different from adapting, but it is. Adapting is about keeping up with the competition and is necessary in its own right, but it’s not enough. Looking ahead is about moving into a league of your own, leaving the competition scrambling for an answer. Wayne Gretsky summed it all up when he said that good hockey players play where the puck is, but great hockey players play where the puck is going to be. Good entrepreneurs adapt. Great entrepreneurs look ahead.

7) I didn’t appreciate failure

Result: Letting setbacks get in the way of reaching my goals.

I have 2 books on my Kindle that have basically reached reference book status: “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure” and “No Fear Of Failure: Real Stories Of How Leaders Deal With Risk And Change”. I used to be terrified of failure. Now, I’m just afraid of it, so that’s an improvement! My goal is to reach the point where it gets me excited because I know I’ve just gotten a bit closer to success.

I am still struggling with all these points, especially the diversification one. I don’t like the thought of not having a plan B. Then again, to enact plan B, I would have to divert resources that I’m currently using to make a success out of plan A. So I think I’ll just keep going; we’ll see what happens. Being an entrepreneur and dealing with uncertainty pretty much go hand in hand. That’s what makes it so exhilarating. 

Will is a former banker turned entrepreneur and “lifestyle blogger”. He runs Former Banker where he shares his insights about his experiences and interests.