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Sometimes the best advice is the simplest advice. But sometimes, that advice gets simplified to the point where it becomes not helpful.
“You have to do the work.”
My most frustrated students and coaching clients are the ones who know they have to “do the work” to launch a successful business. They fully accept it and may even know what “the work” consists of. I try hard to give them actionable road maps.
And then the next call comes around — and they haven’t made any progress on any of their to-do items.
Most of them don’t act like petulant teenagers. They don’t make excuses or claim that the dog ate their homework. They get depressed. They blame themselves. They fret that they are somehow “broken” and doomed to an unfulfilling life because they can’t buckle down and do what they know needs to be done. If I don’t intervene, it becomes a downward spiral of negativity.
I love the work
When I try to encourage these struggling students, they sometimes don’t want to hear it. “You don’t know what it’s like, Dylan!” they say. “You love to work.”
They’re right. I do love to work. It’s hard to stop me from working when I get started.
But it wasn’t always that way. None of us are born with an appetite to “do the work.” Instead, we’re born wanting to eat snacks and play.
Before I founded my agency, I had “shiny object syndrome,” and I had it bad. It got to the point where I had 10 businesses going at once — might have been more, I lost count — and all of them were in some stage of failure or underperformance.
From the outside, it might have looked like I was working hard, but ditching a half-baked business idea to start another one became my form of procrastination. From my perspective, in my freezing basement office with a 5-gallon bucket for a chair that left me with a chronically sore back, it seemed like I was doing nothing at all. I was working, but I wasn’t “doing the work” either.
“Grinding” isn’t the answer
Some people will tell you that you just need to grind it out. Sound pleasant? Like a way to go through life? Imagine gears in a car engine grinding, devoid of lubricant, grinding against each other until they wear down and burn out. Is that what you went into business to do?
Grinding — that is, forcing yourself to do work you hate — may work for a small subset of masochistic people, but it never did for me. Chances are, it won’t work for you either.
There’s no real finish line. A successful business takes sustained work, and you can’t sustain a grind. Eventually, you will get ground down to nothing.
In the documentary, Michael Jordan To The Max, the greatest basketball player of all time revealed the secret to his extraordinary success. “You have to fall in love with the game,” he said.
That’s it. Not the right coach, or the right workout routine, or the right training time, or some other hocus-pocus. Jordan became one of the greats because he loved the game, so putting in the work was a joy.
Forget the grind. The better bet is to fall in love with the game.
What do you already love?
One of the easiest ways to fall in love with “the work” is to build your business around something you already love.
Am I about to join the Pollyanna ranks of people who tell you to “follow your passion?” That the best business is to “do what you love?”
Not exactly. Maybe you love basketball, but you’re five feet tall. How likely are you to become the next Michael Jordan?
The best business advice I ever got from a mentor was “Stop trying to build an airline and start drilling for oil.” No, I wasn’t trying to found an airline at the time, nor was I considering the oil industry. The point is that starting an airline is brutally hard. Genius entrepreneurs lose their shirts in the airline industry. At the same time, less-than-genius entrepreneurs have struck it rich digging for oil. It’s such a lucrative business model that it makes even a medium performer look successful.
Following your passion for becoming a basketball star, a movie star, a high-fashion shoe designer, a restaurateur — these are all like starting an airline. Savvier people than you or I have failed miserably at those pursuits.
But becoming a star or a once-in-a-generation success is not the only way to build a lucrative business in a passion-based niche like sports, entertainment or high fashion. Maybe you could build e-commerce stores for boutique fashion brands, start a YouTube channel for other sports lovers, create a niche streaming platform for indie films or do digital marketing for mom-and-pop restaurants.
The key is to look at the niche ecosystem you are passionate about. Not just the most visible stars, but all the small businesses, consultants, contractors and subsidiaries that prop up the star and the entire industry.
Back to our basketball example. You know you aren’t the next Jordan, so look instead at the stadiums he played in, the retailers that sell his co-branded athletic shoes, the publicists and agents, the hierarchy of coaches, and so on. Who are these people? What are they missing that you could provide them?
Thread that needle and boom — you’re in the basketball industry, working with basketball professionals every day. And you don’t even need to be able to make a layup.
If you’re having trouble coming up with the list of things you already love, which will form the seed of your passion business, try answering the following questions:
- What do I search for on YouTube? Check your search history.
- What do I search for on Google? Again, search history.
- What do I spend money on? Check bank and credit card statements.
- Ask friends and loved ones, “What do I never shut up about?”
- What books have you read multiple times?
- What is your favorite movie, and what is the main character like?
Fall in love with success
Did I start a business in a niche I was passionate about? To a certain extent, yes. My company does direct-response digital marketing, i.e., Facebook and Google ads. What I love the most is the creativity AND that it’s a numbers game. It’s a combination of art and science.
I have been fascinated for years by how direct-response digital marketing, when done properly, enables companies to buy growth instead of earning it. Want more revenue? Just buy it. I nerd out on this stuff.
That being said, when I was a kid, did I dream of being a digital marketer for blue-collar service providers? No. I wanted to be a hockey player or coach. Forget Jordan; I wanted to be Wayne Gretzky or Scotty Bowman. Side note, I’m pretty bad on the ice so these things were never going to happen!
You could say I took the other path. I didn’t found the business I was passionate about. I’m passionate about hockey, travel, dogs and charity work. None of that intersects with my business, other than the fact that my business allows me to afford all of them.
I pursued the agency not because it was my passion but because it was the one out of a dozen businesses I started that was doing well. I could taste the success, so I pulled the plug on all my other businesses and chased that success.
This is why I tell my students their top priority is to make the cash register ring. Forget building a website or making a business card. Go out there and make a sale.
This is partially to get revenue into their business, but mostly to get them addicted to the sweet smell of victory. Even if it’s hard to fall in love with the business vertical you choose, it is easy to fall in love with success, especially when you’re coming off a run of failures. Trust me; I know all about that.
Chase that first W, even if it’s small. Once you make your first sale or get that first taste of growth, once you realize that success is within reach, it becomes easy to do “the work.”