When I was young, I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Most of my school friends wanted to be doctors, lawyers or firefighters. Not me: I was driven from childhood toward entrepreneurship. I sold lollipops from my backpack when I was in grade school; being a serial entrepreneur was a gift from an early age.
In spite of trying to find a ‘traditional’ field for my future career, I can recall sitting in an Accounting 101 class and tuning out because I imagined that someday, I would just hire an accountant. I wanted to use my vision and strengths to do what I was good at; then I would hire people who were more passionate about those subjects that didn’t interest me.
I’ve spent the past 20 years building multiple SEO businesses, and I still think of myself as more an entrepreneur than SEO strategist. I’ve learned a few things along the way (I’m still learning new things every day), and I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes over the years. So I’d like to encourage future entrepreneurs with wisdom I wish someone had shared with me when I was considering this journey of bringing my vision to reality.
1. Educate yourself beyond college courses
I went to college. I have nothing against college. But college is designed to teach you how to learn, not necessarily what to learn, so you can only gain so much. There are many other skills learned in college that help an entrepreneur, such as interpersonal skills, research skills and time management.
Learning is a life skill, and reading is the means to learning. Your interests will lead you to your own research, discovering relevant podcasts, following experts in the field and networking with like-minded individuals.
One characteristic of successful billionaires (think Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Bill Gates) is their voracious reading commitments. “Walk into a wealthy person’s home,” states Rich Siebold in his book,” How Rich People Think, “and one of the first things you’ll see is an extensive library of books they’ve used to educate themselves on how to become more successful.”
To explore new areas of interest, or dig deeper into topics that fascinate you, immerse yourself in podcasts. They allow you to multitask while learning; you can listen while you drive, exercise or relax in the evening. They bring new ideas to your awareness and inspire creativity and your entrepreneurial mind. It’s encouraging to hear people sharing about their ideas, successes and failures during a podcast conversation.
2. Foster your vision
I think everyone has big ideas, but not everyone has a true entrepreneurial spirit. Of all of the big ideas, maybe 95 percent of those ideas never get executed. Probably only 5 percent are the brave ones, the entrepreneurs, who follow their passion and bring their vision into a reality. Of those, I would estimate that only 1 percent actually see it all the way through. Following the entrepreneurial spirit is a risk, for sure, and many folks are more comfortable in the safety of a 9-to-5 job.
That entrepreneurial spirit inspires vision. Vision to see something lacking in the world and finding a solution to solve that problem. It takes bravery to move beyond what one can see today, and the vision of a new solution for the future. There are obstacles to move beyond: fear, uncertainty, failure, financial means, inexperience. It takes bravery and wisdom to create a plan, seek guidance in areas of weakness and work the plan you’ve created. It comes down to believing in yourself and your vision and moving outside of your comfort zone.
3. Seek advice
Everyone starts at the same place: the beginning. None of us enter the business world having all of the answers. Most of us don’t even know which questions to ask to find the answers! The gifts of entrepreneurship are creative vision and tenacious drive. However, that comes with the challenge of not having the experience to ensure a clear vision and properly directed drive.
Building a team of advisers excels progress. Sir Isaac Newton stated the evergreen truth: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Having those who have experienced the ups and downs of success share their insights with me has been invaluable. I couldn’t be where I am today without them. And, the truth is, we never outgrow our need for advisers and mentors.
4. Never be the smartest person in the room
Humility goes a long way. I believe I can always learn something from every person I encounter. I practice asking questions during meetings and not just doling out answers. I hire the smartest people in their areas of expertise. Then I share my vision, empower them to lead and get out of the way.
You’ll know you’ve succeeded when your business is growing without you: When there are people, processes, systems and a community culture in place. It took me a long time to get there, but now I have an amazing team who are doing remarkable things! There’s nothing better than seeing your vision emerge into multiple businesses.
One of my core principles in life is that everyone is treated in the same way. An intern just starting out gets the same respect as a VP. It doesn’t matter where they are on their career journey, how much money they make or how much power they have. I never look at anyone differently. That matters.
5. Fail forward
Denzel Washington’s commencement speech about failure inspired me. He said, “Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.” If we don’t try, we’ll never fail. If we don’t fail, we’ll never move forward. Have courage and try, even if it’s at the risk of failure: I call it failing forward.
Remember there’s a small minority of people who are willing to create their entrepreneurial vision and path. Every single one of them made a ton of mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes too, and that’s okay. You want to fail forward, and that means being 1 percent better each day than you were the day before. These actions create results that bring about momentum toward success.
I appreciate the mistakes I’ve made because I’ve learned from them, and they are now a part of this incredible journey that I have been on. Entrepreneurs have vision, see problems, create solutions and change lives. Learning from other entrepreneurs’ journeys helps facilitate the path of your success and mine.
Muhammad Ali once said, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” To all the future entrepreneurs out there, just know that your worldview will be vastly different 30 years from now.
When you experience entrepreneurial success from bringing your vision to life, and look back through the lens of your decisions, mistakes and successes, my hope is that you pass along your encouragement and experience to help future entrepreneurs bring their vision to reality.