To the Founder Just Starting Out

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By Aileen Gemma Smith

Entrepreneurship is a marathon.

When you start a new business, a lot of folks will tell you to quit. They will say, "Don't do this. It's too risky." Or "Why lose money when you can have something much more dependable?" Folks will question your idea and how you can monetize it, how you will scale, and how big your company has the potential to become. They may also question why you are the person to do it.

Armchair critics are as plentiful as fall leaves in October. Their opinions may be rooted in genuine concern, or envy, or even a well-intentioned desire to offer guidance. As an entrepreneur, one of the most important skills you learn is how to listen. This also means how to evaluate - and what credence you should give to - the piles of unsolicited advice you will receive in person, via text and by email.

Considering an advice-giver's motivations and experience is a useful marker in evaluating how helpful the advice will be. I remain intrigued by the fact that folks who have chosen not to take the risks involved with being an entrepreneur will readily tell those who are building companies what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

Building a company is hard. You must deal with uncertainty and emerging situations. Things may take more time and money than you would like. Yet, as the builder and leader of the business, you are required to find a way forward. If you don't want that responsibility, then don't be an entrepreneur. It's hard work that requires a thick skin and creative problem solving. Every. Single. Day. For years.

Don't let armchair critics get you down. Build a circle of genuine support that can sustain you. And build those relationships for the long term. Not only do you want supporters who have the experience and connections to help you, you want relationships with people who genuinely care about you and are invested in helping you succeed.

An investment in your success equates to more than a check or a closed contract. It also means a willingness to help you, to listen and to bring value to your endeavor. This kind of relationship isn't about meeting once a quarter or doing warm intros. It's about being there when times are tough.

People have asked me: "But how? How do you get someone to help you? How do you get someone to believe in you?"

I usually respond with my own questions. "How do you carry yourself? What do you do that makes folks want to help?" Be confident and be genuine. Focus on why you are doing this and how you will succeed. Lean on the people who want to see your dream move forward, not those who want to tell you the thousand reasons why you should not, cannot and will not.

Also remember the value of how you use your time. Even when starting out, you can create small opportunities for others. You can earn trust by what you choose to give and by establishing yourself as more than a person selling a solution but as someone focused on building for the larger good. Remember: we are all in this marathon together. Those relationships and early investments of time and effort build as you move forward to give you an advantage. And it happens because you took the time early on to nurture relationships.

A marathon in the context of building a business means years, not weeks: years of commitment and doing work that may be rote or require long hours. But running a marathon means you are devoted to the long-term outcome. You need to be disciplined about how you spend your energy and where you direct your focus, because the path to a successful organization is long. Remember to consider that long journey as you build relationships and take actions.

We are defined by our choices. And every single day we have an opportunity to make choices. Choose what you believe in, and choose what you know you want to commit for the long term.