The Myth of Overnight Success

In the age of "Do what you love!" there is an overabundance of gurus who tell you that all it takes is passion, an idea, and a website to be a success. They are not telling you the whole story.
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I always tell my clients what they need to hear -- even if it's not necessarily what they want to hear.

Tough love doesn't always make me the most popular consultant on the block. But for the founders who are truly dedicated to their businesses, getting the truth makes advisors like me the most valuable players on their team.

In the age of "Do what you love!" and The Secret and The Four-Hour Workweek, there is an overabundance of gurus who tell you that all it takes is passion, an idea and a website to be a success.

They are not telling you the whole story.

Listen, it's an easy (and often profitable) business model to guarantee people that they can get rich, happy, fulfilled and famous (and get thin! and find love!) in just seven easy steps. Why wade through a nuanced, open-ended drama when you can get frenzied from a feel-good fairy tale? It feels better to believe that if you simply follow your passion, everything else will fall into place.

But building a successful business or career requires more than passion. And contrary to what most books, articles and experts sell, there is no single stroke of genius that will catapult your business from obscurity to permanent profitability. Successful businesses take action, focus, discipline and space to learn from mistakes; they're a combination of solid strategy and the right team dedicated to hard work over time, including the ability to adapt as new opportunities and challenges arise.

While our culture celebrates those who rise from obscurity to celebrity, whether startups or superstars, the vast majority of "overnight successes" have been in the game for a long time, working hard and navigating their respective industries for years before landing on the front page or the award stage.

The hard truth of running a business, especially making it past that elusive five-year mark that 90 percent of small businesses fail to reach, is that it's a marathon, not a sprint. Making it to the starting line is just that: the start. You've got to harness and continually restore your resources, infrastructure and resolve to make it through the slow times, the doubts, the boredom, the haters, the competitors, the drops in sales, the unreasonable customers, the unexpected expenses... not to mention maintaining your personal life. This is true of all big goals that are worth pursuing.

The entrepreneurs in my network who have stayed in business for over a decade and become profitable have indeed celebrated big and well-deserved wins along the way. But behind the scenes, they have also weathered slow months, low-response campaigns, shady competitors, deadbeat partners, outstanding invoices and the painful moments of self-doubt that sabotage even the most passionate CEOs.

So my secret-formula strategy to support entrepreneurial vision is to tell the truth about how to create a solid foundation for growth, including potential challenges. Because my priority and passion is building healthy businesses, not perpetuating the myth of happily ever after.

Whether I'm pointing out pervasive marketing mistakes, training creative professionals to do their own small business PR, warning producers against alienating their audience when fundraising, or even suggesting that not all businesses are built to last forever, all of my advice -- consultations, articles, books, blogs, videos -- echoes the same theme:

There are no magic pills in business. But there are best practices.

Yes, passion and a strong start are indispensable for getting into business, but it's the long-term focus, willingness to stay focused and when needed, refocus, over months and years that will keep you in business.

And at some point, you'll need support -- find it with advisors who will support your vision with the whole truth and nothing but. Now that's real magic: creating a business that will be successful for years to come.


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