Success is a loaded term. For some it is measured purely in money and how much one earns. For others it is determined by the happiness and longevity of interpersonal relationships. For most, however, it is a combination of factors, some tangible, some less so.
As an immigrant of Pakistani descent who moved to the United States as a kid and worked a series of odd jobs to help my family make ends meet but never graduated college, success is defined by how well I and those whose lives I’ve touched have maximize the opportunities around us.
In 1986, my father found a flower shop in our East Haven, Conn., neighborhood for sale in the newspaper. He asked me, then 17, if I thought I could run the shop with my brother. I said, “Sure.” Using a small loan from family and friends, I negotiated the purchase of the flower shop.
The shop opened a week before Easter, and sales were only about $70 a day. On my way to high school, I would drop off my mother at the shop. She spoke little English, so I told her what to do to supervise the two employees. After school, I would make flower arrangements and deliver them myself until I was able to hire a driver.
Soon, sales doubled. And within a few years, I had two shops and was generating revenue of more than $700,000 a year.
Many people, thinking only of our inexperience, had tried to tell us not to purchase the store. Members of my family, however, saw the bigger picture and realized that we could bring a lot of good into the community by upgrading and improving the shop, hiring local help and improving our own lives while making the enterprise profitable -- which we did.
In 1989, I enrolled in college part-time. As I weighed the benefits of the classes against what I was learning and earning with my businesses, I decided to put off college and never finished.
In 1999, with my younger brother as my business partner, I launched Edible Arrangements in a small corner of the East Haven flower shop. It offered an inventive take on flower bouquets but made of carefully sculpted fresh fruit.
Since my first venture, I have created other successful businesses even though, given my background, some might have considered me “least likely to succeed.” Don’t let a label hold you back! Here are some ways I have found to overcome obstacles on the path to prosperity and successful entrepreneurship:
1. Exude confidence especially when lacking it. Even as a novice business owner, I always tried to project myself as being more than I was. Exuding confidence starts with the power of proper posture and bearing. Stand up straight, provide a strong handshake and look people in the eye. These seem like simple steps but failing to do any one of them undermines the image desired.
2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. When I started out, I sought the advice of people in similar businesses. Not everyone would take the time to help, but I didn’t give up. Those who did find time for me provided a wealth of useful business information. When I found someone willing to offer advice, I only asked one or two questions and then soaked up all the wisdom they had to offer.
I still recommend that approach. Have a couple of important, well-worded questions prepared and take good notes! The advice I received in those early days continues to serve me today. I also believe in “paying it forward” when a young entrepreneur seeks me out.
3. Shed any arrogance. Humility is never a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of willingness -- to learn, collaborate, benefit from experience. Arrogance, on the other hand, is often a sign of insecurity and can be an immediate turnoff when dealing with anyone in a business venture. Opt to be approachable.
4. Find freedom from a “weakest link.” Learn early on what or who is holding back the business from success. If it is a character trait, work on self-improvement. Ask a trusted person for an honest appraisal, then take steps. Take an online course, read blogs and articles. It's possible to learn anything today on YouTube!
If another person is holding back the business, nip this situation in the bud early. Plan a conversation with the individual and present the case in a way that's constructive not critical and work toward an outcome that will benefit both parties.
5. Create a circle of cheerleaders. In building a business, seek like-minded individuals for support in entrepreneurial efforts. Start with family and friends. Join civic groups, Meetup groups and other organizations that will reinforce the enterprise, provide constructive guidance and even lead to potential partners, investors or employees.
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
-- Mark Twain
6. Master even those tasks that are most hated. In my early days as a sole proprietor I knew it was up to me to be skillful in all aspects of running the business since I couldn’t afford many employees. I found accounting onerous, but crucial to master if I wanted to run a successful business. I took a class, practiced and willed myself to improve my accounting abilities.
I became able to competently perform almost any job in my business. Acquiring this skill has helped me hire and train the right people to take over several of those functions in my companies.
7. Don’t let the negatives encroach inside. Finally, understand bad things will happen. Products will fail, the economy will sputter and good people will leave a company. When negative things happen, do something immediate and positive. Share any feelings with a trusted advisor and work on a strategy. Plan an off-site meeting for the management team. Blog about it or just take a day off.
Finally, remember anyone can defy conventional wisdom and surprise naysayers. Start by examining activities that are enjoyable and seek a way to make those the focus of a day job. Passion can go a long way in turning a “least likely to succeed” into a “most likely.”