Making it on Main Street: Are you looking for the big kahuna?

Lots of people dream of striking it rich, online and offline, too. Whether it is the Euro-millions lottery or the Powerball, making it big on Wall Street, or selling your company to Google, the prevailing wisdom is that to make it, you need just one big score, one big sale, one big ticket, one…

Others are out there looking for the book, the website, the product, the one thing that is missing in their life that will bring them everything they want in life and more… For blogs like this one, it’s the search for the traffic kahuna (as one product is called), the audience, the reach, … But the odds against each of these events happening are quite staggering.

So what is an ‘ornery person to do given odds like that? Success seems evasive, based on luck, and available to only those who don’t really need it. Each time I hear people talking about their entrepreneurial plans, I had the same concern: if you look for the big one, what are your actual chances of finding it? Not particularly great.

It takes effort, dediction, and time!

Success in any venture requires effort. That effort starts with the initial concept, the preparations for the launch, but most importantly, it requires that you stay focused on the task or goal in the following weeks, months, and even years after launch. Our business reached the eighth year this year, and every day is a struggle at times. But it grows stronger each day as we work on it…

I remember many years ago when my mother and sister were trying their own entrepreneurial activities: They started a small knitting service and toured several markets in our area to see if they could drum up business. It was a brave venture that utilized their creativity, resources and vision. Unfortunately, their expectations were just too high; and, of course, such expectations could not be met on the time scale that they were using.

Success is a series of small victories

Every day that we open our business, welcome our regular customers, and introduce ourselves to new customers, I have to remind myself that victory is a series of small victories. When we started out we used to think that we’d be successful when we reached certain numerical goals only to find that we needed to raise those goals as we attained the previous ones.

And we felt we weren’t successful even when we met the goals. It’s only looking back over those eight years that we realize how far we’ve come in our business, and we look at where we are. In fact, we are perhaps one of the biggest language schools in our area that ONLY focuses on one subject. Many of our competitors are indirect competitors in many regards as they have a number of other services and products. We don’t.

Each student that walks through the doors of our school is a sign of our success; as such, we must go on building our business one student at a time. There are times when it’s difficult, just now it’s been a little easier.

Think Long Term: Is Five Years Long Enough?

Looking at our school eight years ago, who would have known that we’d still be around in 2008. Who? We certainly didn’t KNOW. We hoped we’d still be around in 2002 or 2003. But five years later?

In the golddigger mentality, you don’t plan for longterm horizons because you’re going to win the lottery soon. You can just feel it. You can’t imagine that in five or ten years you’ll still be buying lottery tickets, can you? In fact, the return on your ‘investment’ in lottery tickets is quite negative that if you’d actually put that money in the bank over five or ten years, you’d be surprised how much there was.

But through the magic workings of time and effort, even a small business can grow exponentially to achieve status because its owners start thinking longterm or at least longer term.

Unexpected Events: Insights, Challenges and Outcomes

And unexpected events do also happen: customers suddenly drop your products or services. Why? Sometimes they find something more appropriate to their own problems. Sometimes they find something cheaper. Sometimes they just don’t care that much about your products or benefits that they stop buying it. Sometimes you never know what happened.

Similarly customers suddenly come in droves to ask about your products or services. Perhaps an ad resonated with them. Perhaps there was a referral in the community. Perhaps you never find out what you did right.

Whatever happens, the good entrepreneur must retain their focus on their work, on their business. The good entrepreneur must not get too excited or too despondent when these fluctuations take place. As long as you keep your cool and make sure you can play in the next round, then these unexpected events can have good consequences.

A downturn can help you see what’s wrong in your business: poor advertising, poor service, low staff morale… An upturn can cover over any problems, but also it can create problems with extra demand on limited time and resources. So these events can provide insight into your business challenges. Learn from them.

A Formula for Failure?

One of the challenges in this media-oriented world is that we look at a big company or a successful investor and we assume that there’s a magic formula, a trick or an insight that provides the reason for their success. We always try to attribute it to one item above all else. We call it their ‘competitive advantage’. With Microsoft, it was their market share that allows them to dominate the world of desktops. In Coca-Cola, we always assume its their product’s quality. And so on..

Because we assume that the magic formula exists, we meet an endless succession of books, media, websites, CDs, all purveyed by people who claim to know the formula. Many of these people base their success on persuading people to believe them that they indeed ‘know the formula’ and can teach it. Let’s leave aside even the suggestion that they CAN teach it.

I know I’ve bought several books that ‘promised to reveal the secrets’… and the secret was that you always had to buy something else to find out more. Talk about coffee spoons! If a person is making money talking about how to make money then beware. This is little better than someone who advertises opportunities for those who want to work at home. Usually when you apply you find that you are being told to run the same system to make money.

Success is complicated, multi-faceted

A closer more patient analysis of the success of one company or another will always reveal that there is a complex of ideas, behaviors, people, systems, etc. that interact in certain ways to create the success. In Microsoft’s case, the formula included Bill Gates, the burgeoning PC industry, insights about what people needed, success in providing good products, a system for creating software, etc…

Even successful people often boil down their success to a formula. John Chow’s secret is, he claims: create content, then drive large amounts of traffic. That may be the essence of his formula, but it’s quite clear to me that he is also innovative in creating advertising opportunities, has lots of experience and technical knowledge in building websites, and is skilled in creating good marketing for his blog(s). These factors should not be overlooked at all. Without them, he could not create the content in the first place.

So, if you are starting out in business, or starting a new business, or even considering it, temper your short-term expectations, expand your longer term horizons, and focus on your ‘small’ victories. Without those daily small victories, you will never find the ‘big kahuna’.

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