How do you pursue the American Dream when you’ve got a million-dollar idea but only a 10-cent bank account? How do you promote and protect your entrepreneurial vision? If you’re searching for a little inspiration, look no further than the hard-scrabble entrepreneurs of country music. While these entrepreneur’s stories often begin in poverty and obscurity, they all ended up in Nashville with a million-dollar idea (or album). Here are six lessons to take all the way to the bank.
1. Garth Brooks
Brooks is country music's highest-paid performer so far in 2015, netting over $90 million while on tour. How did this country music entrepreneur do it? By marrying his desire to strike out on his own with being true to his roots. Raised in a family of country western singers, Brooks focused on sports in college and even dabbled in rock music after graduation. A talented musician, it didn’t take Brooks long to realize that his true calling lay with country music, catapulting the singer to stardom.
Lesson learned: Does your entrepreneurial dream jibe with your background? While it’s okay to take the road less traveled, don’t deny your natural talents just for the sake of being different.
2. Bobby Bare
Bobby Bare not only wanted to sing, he also wanted to write his own songs. As a young man trying to make it big in Nashville and Los Angeles, Bare faced constant rejection. In a crazy twist of fate, Bare was drafted by the military and the next day one of his demo records, “The All American Boy,” rocketed to the top of the charts -- but the record company credited the song to a different singer! Instead of feeling hopeless and quitting, Bare stuck to his dream and went on to record more than a dozen mega-hits after he finished his tour of duty. In 2013, Bare was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Lesson learned: Bare didn’t get hung up on all the times life wasn’t fair -- he just used these setbacks to keep pushing forward. There’s always going to be someone else who seems to come out ahead without putting in the work. Don’t let that distract you. Stay focused on your goal.
3. Johnny Cash
Joe Chicarelli, a master class teacher at Academia de Musica Fermatta, says of the Man in Black, “Every musician identifies with Johnny Cash, because of his struggle for recognition and his battle with addiction. Many thought he was washed up in the '90s, but he made a spectacular comeback and is now an icon of American music. He didn’t know how to quit.”
Lesson learned: Perseverance pays off. Just because one idea isn’t working out the way you expected it doesn’t mean you should quit -- nor should you keep banging your head against the wall doing the same thing over and over again. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently to get a better outcome?”
4. Hank Cochran
He wrote 29 top-10 hits in country music over a 30-year period. Dan MacIntosh, a writer for the Country Standard Time, explained Cochran’s achievements this way: “Hank grew up on a farm, where everybody had to get up at the crack of dawn. When he began writing songs, he followed the same routine, getting up early to work before there were any distractions like phone calls and folk visiting. That’s why his output is so tremendous.”
Lesson learned: I’ve never met an entrepreneur who didn’t wish there were more hours in the day to get it all done. Are you struggling to carve out time to focus on a passion project? Try adopting Cochran’s “early to bed and early to rise” philosophy. Resist the urge to check email as soon as you wake and instead dedicate the first hour of your day to tackling one of the big picture / visionary challenges facing your business rather than checking off busy work items on the to-do list.
5. Homer and Jethro
This comic country duo made fun of just about every person in country music, from Roger Miller to Davy Crockett. Because their heckling was good-natured yet nuanced -- and they weren't afraid to poke fun at themselves, too -- they were able to laugh all the way to the bank.
Lesson learned: Being an entrepreneur can be incredibly stressful, especially when you’re scrambling to keep your dream moving forward against all odds. Finding the humor in tough situations isn’t always easy, but the ability to take a step back and laugh at yourself will keep you going through the most challenging days.
6. Reba McEntire
Nearly every successful contemporary female country singer calls Reba her role model. Reba says, “I think the secret to success in anything is to have a big heart and the courage to go wherever it leads you. Even if that takes you out of your comfort zone and into some risk. How can you really appreciate standing up if you never fall down?”
Lesson learned: Making mistakes is a big part of being an entrepreneur. Maybe no one will fund your business, a competitor will launch a better product and you’ll be back to square one. Keep taking risks! You can’t succeed if you’re not willing to risk it all and fail, too.
As an entrepreneur myself, I know just how hard it is to take a big risk to pursue an even bigger dream -- especially when it seems like everyone else is striking gold but you. These country entrepreneurs prove that no matter what adversities they faced, they found a creative way to have their unique voices heard. Whether you’re trying to hit it big in Nashville or Silicon Valley, perseverance, focus, a good sense of humor and a willingness to fail will take you far.