Every time I turn around I see another ad touting the ‘laptop lifestyle’. Travel, work occasionally, and have the money rolling in, just because you have invested in yourself and bought a course from a self-styled guru.
Of course it does happen, but very occasionally, and each time it does the person has met a number of key hurdles.
When you think about it the rules of business apply irrespective of the size or nature of your business.
There has to be a market. Nothing succeeds without customers, and customers do not come to you simply because you are following your passion, which is the usual pitch. I would love to be able to make lots of money by splitting my time between surfing, tramping through mountain streams in search of that elusive rainbow trout, and drinking lots of expensive wine, but have not found anybody willing to fund me as yet. From time to time, an entrepreneur creates a market, the magic can happen, but if your name is not Steve Jobs, Peter Theil, or Richard Branson, do not count on it.
You have to create value. Being paid is simply a by-product of creating value for someone else. It does not matter what the product is, someone will only pay for it when they see that they will get something out of it greater than the cost to them.
You need to pay the bills. Every business has expenses, some are discretionary, others are overheads, that show up irrespective of any revenue generation. Those bills need to be paid, you need to eat, and the kids need a roof. This reality is the one that stops many from following the whacky advice to ‘follow your dreams’ and luckily so. However, the business management task is to reduce expenses, particularly the fixed expenses as much as possible, while still generating the revenue and absolute margins.
There is a lesson in every set-back. Life is a learning experience, and failing to learn from every situation you find yourself in is short-changing yourself. As a young product manager I also had to cover the sales territories of the NSW reps when they were on leave. Every couple of months I had to take 2-3 weeks out of what I believed was a busy and useful schedule to go around stores and sell to people who really did not want to see me, I hated it, but learnt more in those months than I realised, and now insist that all marketing people I hire have a period ‘on the road’.
Time is your most important asset. Time is our only truly non-renewable resource, and yet it is so easy to waste. Professionals tend to organise their time more productively than amateurs, they spend time practising, honing their skills, so that when the time comes they perform on cue.. We all see ourselves as photographers, as we now all have a camera in our pockets. However you can always tell an amateur shot from a professional one, the pro is better in a whole range of subtle ways, simply because the professional has spent the time to practise, and learn the skills.
Be different and be a master. Success rarely comes to those who are the same as everyone else. It comes to those who are different, who have a unique take, and who are the masters of their craft. In the digital world, the mantra I use is ‘pick your niche and own it‘ or as Steve Martin says, ‘be so good they cannot ignore you‘
Evolve and adapt. For most of human history, the past has been a pretty good indicator of the future, change happened slowly. Not so any more, relying on the past to forecast the future is a sure way to be wrong. Owners of small businesses have the power to move quickly, adapt their processes, learn by trial and error while their larger competitors are still at lunch. Of course, they do not have the depth of resources to be wrong too often, so it is a Darwinian process.
There are no silver bullets. We humans usually look for the easy way, and this is the hook used to sell us the silver bullet that turns out to be lead. You can get lucky, who you know does count, but the old adage that the harder I work the luckier I get holds.
Apart from these challenging realities, being an entrepreneur is really a doddle!