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Best of Times

What's the key to entrepreneurial success? I don't pretend to know the key, but I do know that one essential ingredient is timing. Bad timing can turn a great idea into a horrible failure. Conversely, good timing can transform a mediocre idea into a blockbuster.

The thing about timing is you can't control it. And entrepreneurs don't do well with the uncontrollable. But there are times in your life when you need to heed the lyrical words first brought to us by Doris Day, "que sera, sera," meaning "what will be, will be." I'm not advising you to give up and put your fate in the hands of, well, the Fates. Rather you need to work with what you've got.

We are just now working our way out of (knocking wood as I type this) some pretty bad economic times. But some businesses have thrived in these past months, many by focusing on markets that were apparently unaffected by the recession. A few months back, we told you about luxury businesses and how they were thriving). In the September issue, we shared the success of eBay entrepreneurs.

In this, our annual "Hot" issue, we give you the inside scoop on 18 businesses that we predict will boom in 2004. Some of these will undoubtedly still be hot in 2005 or even 2007. Others may fade before 2004 ends. Can we predict which ones will do what? Somewhat, given changing American demographics (huge numbers of us are aging) and behaviors. But in other cases, it's unknowable.

As I alluded to above, entrepreneurs are popularly thought to be control freaks. And while that might work for some, most entrepreneurs need to be more flexible than that. To thrive, it's important to maintain the classic entrepreneurial trait of being able to turn on a dime, to go where the market takes you. There is no perfect combination of control and flexibility-you need to come up with the mix that works best for you.

On another note, one positive that seems to have emerged from this recession is a new respect (or, more accurately, a revised respect) for you entrepreneurs. As the nation's largest companies continue to lay off employees and curtail their spending, many of the country's biggest marketers are targeting you. They're offering products and services tailored to your needs. These companies are realizing what you and I have known for years-that if we are to truly emerge from the economic doldrums, you are the ones who are going to make it happen. I just read that a large group of the formerly unemployed have declared themselves self-employed. What that really means is that these folks have given up on the world of employee and will hopefully be entering the world of employer. And that's good news for all of us. They're about to discover the wonderful life of an entrepreneur, the ups and downs, the defeats and triumphs you experience every day.

Some of these newbies are going to need help. As you well know, there aren't a lot of places new entrepreneurs can turn for assistance. Maybe you can help out. Last year in this space, I asked you to make some New Year's resolutions with me. This year, I am going to ask you to make just one. Most of Entrepreneur's readers are business owners. And I know you're busy trying to grow your companies. But try to carve out at least some time to help a new entrepreneur. Give. Teach. Be a mentor. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The only gift is a portion of thyself." On behalf of the staff of Entrepreneur, have a joyous and peaceful holiday season."]

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This article was originally published in the December 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Best of Times.

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