Starting a business is hard. Sustaining a business is even harder.
Making this leap from promising startup to successful business is the true test for all entrepreneurs. The "X factor" here is early success. It is not uncommon to launch with a boom. Anything new is intriguing and usually worth trying, especially now in a socially-driven era of business. We have the exploding cloud-based marketplace (driving down costs and barriers to adoption), surge of free trials and demos and the all-important social endorsements of friends to thank for this (to say nothing of the "new, shiny-object" force). So, if you are true to your offering, your launch will "stick" and business will grow. That initial surge of success is sweet. But a sour aftertaste looms close -- business stagnation and decay.
Entitlement and complacency are the cause of this souring of success. Yes, success begets success, but it's not magic. No one is granted endless prosperity merely because they started with a strong lead. Those who take their early success for granted are quickly dismayed by clients who don't return and dwindling leads. Entrepreneurs who mange to avoid this quagmire share one behavior in common: they never relax their discipline.
My freelance business (as a progressive editor for indie authors) is a telltale case study of this phenomenon in action.
I enjoyed a hot start with freelance editing. My decisive and unambiguous style and breakout indie author focus helped garner some great projects and solid prospects. The initial half-year was full. Success was streaming. Clients were pleased.
Life was good...until it wasn't. Somewhere along the line my sense of urgency waned. My outreach efforts slowed. My opportunity research faded. Predictable results followed: diminished leads, stalled growth in quality projects and mounting frustration. The bottom line to my burdens was a dangerously relaxed discipline.
Thankfully, all is not lost if you momentarily loosen your grip on discipline. But you must act fast before your business stalls and it's too late to recover. Courses of action are many. The following worked best for me when I needed to reclaim fully my iron will of self-control.
- Surround yourself with an honor guard of accountability. The struggles of entrepreneurship need not be confronted alone. Trust in your friends and fellow entrepreneurs to hold you accountable to your word. I did so by co-forming a professional mastermind group. We meet weekly to review our business plans, share progress and commit to deliverables due the following week. My honor as an entrepreneur is on the line, and they are my guard.
- Always measure up, never down. Eyeing those ahead of you can be a great catalyst for self-discipline. It's worked wonders for me as I've evaluated myself against the next tier of online writers and editorial directors. Such analysis shows me what I'm doing well, where I can improve and what's holding me back. This isn't about envy or unfair comparisons. It's about ambition. Aim high. Measure up.
- Invest in expensive knowledge with high returns. Nobody enjoys burning money, especially entrepreneurs. So whether bootstrapped or investor-funded, make sure every dollar spent counts. For me, I recently invested $1,000 into an advanced education course. It's well-suited to catapult me to the next phase of my career: an author enterprise. Since I'm not keen on blowing my capital (or my time for that matter), I'm extra motivated to make the investment worthwhile.
- Go for broke, and resolve not to. The entrepreneurial world is ill-suited for half-measures. Some folks can straddle the line for a while, allocating their evenings and weekends to the side business. But if it is ever to become a full business, then a decisive choice will one day be unavoidable. I kept my comfortable corporate career for a while but jettisoned it last May. The discipline surge was tremendous. My resolve for success has never been greater.
- Create your own luck. I'm a big believer in the axiom that luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Preparation is rarely the weakest link in this equation. Opportunity is (or the lack thereof). So treat opportunity-identification as a business imperative. I cemented that view when I needed to recover my business trajectory. I sent out loads of personal email feelers. I posted more in subject-relevant forms and groups (e.g. LinkedIn groups). I exercised my audacity to ask for opportunities whenever and wherever I sensed a good vibe. Luck comes to those that sweat for it.
At this point, you might be wondering if early success should be celebrated at all. It absolutely should. But too much high-fiving is a grand distraction. And too much self-praise breeds false confidence. These temptations often trigger a reckless relaxing of discipline, a weakening of the very strength that committed entrepreneurs used to propel their initial business momentum.
I learned these lessons well during my first year as an entrepreneur. They culminate in the truth that early success is a power never to be underestimated or over-indulged. Beware of this and adopt those behaviors that inoculate you from the devilish temptations. Whenever in doubt, be disciplined.
Matt Gartland is the founder and editor of Winning Edits, an agency helping indie authors earn the respect they deserve by winning reader hearts and minds.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.