Have you ever said "Why is this so hard for me when I keep reading about how success is coming so easily to everyone else?"
I don't normally use sports analogies, but for this column it just fits. So first, I should explain that, whether a boxing match lasts 10 rounds or not, that is the length I have chosen for the entrepreneurial bout.
Round 1: Like the ring of the first bell, you launch your business or invention--fit, hungry and invincible.
Rounds 2-4: Big things are happening; every day sees a new customer or a newly opened door. New benchmarks are surpassed and adrenaline is flowing.
Round 5: Your confidence sets in. The crowd and media have been in your corner. You are working harder than you ever have and now have involved others who are dependent on you. It feels like just a matter of time before you turn the corner.
Round 6: You know that you are only four rounds away, but you are now starting to feel the weight of your gloves. Suddenly fatigue is near, and worry has replaced excitement.
Round 7: The rush of the first bell is a faint memory. You understand your business better than ever, and you've taken some tough blows. Just when you think your momentum will carry you, some of the weaknesses in your preparation become pronounced as your guard falls. Product or vendor problems arise.
Round 8: At the moment you are faced with your greatest challenges, competition shows up, which calls on your last reserves of energy and mental fortitude.
Round 9: In an attempt to find inspiration, you read stories about 10 companies similar to yours achieving triple-digit growth in half the time. Each story is accompanied by a photo of the CEO and her family in the Cayman Islands or enjoying hot chocolate in a ski lodge in Vail--with the support of "both" of their nannies. Rather than feeling inspired by these stories, the feeling that things are unfair begins to creep in.
Round 10: Last round: What will you do?
There are several options:
You can throw in the towel. You can decide to just get through the round and see what happens. Or you can decide to win.
The first thing to point out is that this is a decision that is mainly about you. You have made it through nine rounds, so you can certainly make it through another if you choose to. A more important question is, how will you make it through?
From what I have seen, perhaps more debilitating than the worst blows and challenges you have endured is the perception that, while "everyone else" is raking it in, you are fighting every day for every $100--or every dollar. Note that I used the term "perception." There are certainly people who have struck it big with their service or product at a very early stage. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for their example and their success. After all, we are not privy to the struggles others have faced, and that is the success many entrepreneurs aspire to achieve.
Their success is not the problem; the problem is the effect on you of this "perception." The media, especially the business press, look for stories that validate the American entrepreneurial dream. While I feature people at many stages of their business in my blog, I often feature success stories as well. These are popular stories and can have a beneficial effect for many readers. However, I will tell you that there are many more stories where, despite appearances, the company is actually in the throes of Rounds 7 to 9, and struggling.
This brings me to the second "perception" issue. Most glorified in our culture is "success"--especially after overcoming adversity. Therefore, entrepreneurs in the midst of adversity will necessarily put their most positive face on, hoping to soon arrive, with the media's help, on the other side. In my second book, I interviewed many of today's most successful women in business. Many of them faced perilous business situations before they hit it big.
On a regular basis, I meet and interact with entrepreneurs with both service and product businesses. Many companies, including some that appear very financially secure and successful, are facing serious challenges. This is true today, and it was true prior to the economic downturn.
My main point is this: If you are now in those later rounds and starting to look for insight as to how you are doing . . . don't. What you see may be true or may be false. But either way, it will not tell you what you need to know. Instead, look inside and ask yourself, "Do I want to win?" If so, say so, put up your gloves, put your chin down, tune out the outside noise, and give it your best shot. No matter the outcome with your business, you will have fought as a winner.