Everybody starts out their new business venture with a vision of success. Even though there are no guarantees, (it is actually more likely that a business will fail than succeed), newcomers to the world of business only tend to think in terms of their success. The possibility of failure rarely lingers in our minds for too long.
Participating and succeeding in business is a struggle. Having grown a successful business, and worked with a number of different types of businesses, I think an important question people should consider before starting their own business is how long you are prepared to pursue success, if it doesn’t come to you immediately. In other words:
How long do you think it will take for your business to succeed?
Getting to the Top of the Mountain
I haven’t climbed Mt Everest, and I don’t intend to. Mountains aren’t my thing! So the story goes, tackling the top of this famous mountain is extremely inhospitable. To get to the top, climbers can’t simply march all the way up. First they must reach a staging area, where, if conditions permit, they can attempt the final climb to the summit.
This is an important analogy for business. The bottom of the mountain is beginning, and the top of the mountain is success. The staging area is in between, and must be traversed to reach the top. This is where the circumstances that determine who succeeds, and who does not, are revealed.
You can’t stay at the staging area forever, because the hostile environment will overcome you. Not everyone gets to the top – only the lucky, the brave, the well-prepared, the resilient. It’s where you find out how much you actually want to succeed, and also how well-equipped you are. How long are you prepared to stay in this staging area, before your chance to move to the top will appear?
There are many important qualities in taking your business idea from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top. The most important one is perseverance. If ten people, equally equipped, challenge the climb together, and the circumstances are extremely challenging, only the most persevering of the group will succeed. Without perseverance, a business can not succeed – it will succumb to the constant pressure under which it must operate. Without perseverance there is no chance of making it through the staging area to the top.
Perseverance alone is not going to get you to the top. Bearing in mind that not all new businesses succeed, and that actually more fail than succeed, it is irrational to imagine that by purely persevering you will succeed. You also need to be prepared, with the resources you need for the challenge. You need to be informed, so you know what you’re getting into. You need to be organised, disciplined, focused and flexible. You need to be patient. You also need to be lucky. After all, many of the challenges that come our way are completely out of our control. On the mountain, this is the weather. In business, this is a new competitor next door or a malicious attack on your IT network, or being let down by your team. These things make the struggle harder, and in combination or in particular circumstances may make it impossible.
Making your business profitable is an important milestone in measuring success. If that rubs you the wrong way, then bear in mind that without being profitable, your business has no future. This need to be profitable is shared between all businesses.
Becoming profitable takes time and while it is possible to be an ‘overnight success’, it is dangerous to think in these terms. It’s an unlikely outcome. It’s like hoping the weather will be good when you get to the staging area and challenge your ascent to the peak. It’s better to have a long-term vision for your business to become profitable. 3-5 years is a reasonable time to allow, and it’s also important to remember than many businesses never become profitable.
Have you noticed that nobody ever hangs out on the peak of Everest? It’s a dangerous place. You visit briefly, then retreat back down to the relatively-safe staging area. If you stay on the top, you will perish, overcome by the adversity of the environment. In the same way in business, achieving success is often fleeting. The goal-posts are always moving. Achieving profitability is one thing, but sustaining it is another. This forces us back from the peak to the staging area, where again the bitter struggle begins again.
When we’re contemplating how long it will take for our business to succeed, you need to be ready for not only a long game but a complete approach. You need to love what you do and the people you work with. Achieving success includes profitability, but it’s about much more. It’s about achieving your dreams, and also living your life. It’s a struggle, and you might not succeed. But if you do, it will be worth it.