Say you’ve decided you want to try being an entrepreneur. Or that you want to try and make some online passive income.
The next thought that probably enters your mind is “where on earth do I start?”
Where do I start?
The thing that every successful entrepreneur knows is this:
There’s no 100% sure way to figure out what to do.
That’s a new feeling for a lot of people. Our entire lives in school and at work, we’re told very explicitly what we need to do to “succeed”. We’re given instructions for what’s expected of us.
But it turns out, there’s no syllabus for entrepreneurship.
People can show you what’s worked for them. We can talk about best practices and things one should definitely avoid. But no one knows for sure exactly what will work for you.
You are going to make mistakes.
You’re going to try new things, and sometimes (most of the time?) they aren’t going to work out perfectly.
But that’s okay. That’s expected.
The trick is to readjust our internal expectations. We’ve been programmed to avoid mistakes at all costs.
For example, if you make a mistake at your job you might get fired.
So when you’re working for someone else you’re probably much less likely to try new things and experiment. You don’t want to make a mistake and they don’t want you to mess up, either.
But entrepreneurship and working for yourself is a completely different animal.
Do you think someone told Steve Jobs or Bill Gates how to make their companies? Or that they just always knew what to do? No way! They worked really hard, experimented, and made tons of mistakes.
And so what can we learn from them?
- Their mistakes never broke them. Aka they didn’t bet their entire companies on one project or “big bet”. They took calculated risks so that if, say, an entire project didn’t work out, they could continue working.Apple’s Power Mac G4 Cube is a great example of this. They built this great product that just didn’t sell. There’s lots of speculation as to why (e.g. was it too expensive?) but ultimately that doesn’t matter. Apple had to cancel it. I know for certain it wasn’t Steve’s first mistake, but it was one of his most public mistakes since he had become CEO of Apple.
- You cannot learn without making mistakes. More specifically, you can’t start a new company without making some mistakes. They don’t even have to be big! But it’s going to happen. And that’s okay.
Learning New Things
Remember the last time you learned something new (for some of us, myself included, it’s been a long time!). You can pick multiplication tables as a kid, learning to play an instrument, maybe learning a language. Or maybe cooking or some other hobby that you now enjoy.
I speak Spanish, so I’m going to use that as an example.
Have I always known how to speak Spanish? Duh, no. So what happened along the path between knowing nothing (literally being left Mexico and barely knowing how to count to 10), and speaking fluently today?
Of course I studied and practiced every day. And I went out and I talked to people. I tried to force myself to learn.
And what happened? Well, at first it wasn’t pretty. People were very nice, but they’d often treat me like a child (I was actually 19 at the time) because they didn’t understand me at all. And because I spoke so slowly, I often couldn’t get most of thoughts out before I was interrupted.
It was really frustrating.
Over time my daily practice and study helped, and I improved slowly but surely. It was hard to measure the progress day-to-day, but over a few months looking back I could start to notice people treated me differently. They could finally understand me!
All Learning Requires Mistakes
Now, if you went up to someone and asked them “do you think you can learn a new language without making mistakes?” they’d tell you “Of course not.” And obviously they’re right.
Starting a business is just like learning a new language.
The reason we’re often afraid of business mistakes is because, personally and as a culture, we treat learning a language (or playing an instrument, cooking, etc.) differently from starting a business.
It’s mostly because of money. People associate “business mistakes” with losing money.
The classic example is starting a restaurant. You pay a bunch of money to prepare the restaurant, buy food, hire staff, etc., and then if it fails you lose all that investment.
And for some businesses that’s true. Things like restaurants require a lot of upfront money, and so they’re inherently more risky.
But that’s not true about a lot of other businesses. There are tons of opportunities available these days where you can take a calculated risk and try something out, on the cheap, way before you have to spend a lot of money like you would with a restaurant.
My First App
For example my first app cost only $500 to make. Of course $500 isn’t exactly pocket change, but compared to starting a restaurant $500 is a steal!
If I’d tried the app and spent my 500 bucks and it completely failed, I’d have been out 500 dollars. But by taking a calculated risk, that was okay! I knew that if I lost the $500, I’d be okay.
And, even more importantly, at least I tried! Most people are so terrified of the unknown that they won’t even put themselves out there, personally or financially. So I told myself hey, if this goes belly up and you don’t make a dime, at least you tried.
(I have to insert one of my favorite quotes here, by Hellen Keller:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”)
So I was totally fine with potentially making a small, calculated mistake.
What About You?
You might read $500 and think “whoa, that’s a lot of money”. The good news for you is, fortunately, there’s plenty of businesses that require even less than that.
And maybe you read $500 and thought “oh hey, I can do that. How do I get started?” Which is great!
The most important part is realizing mistakes are part of learning, and that learning is part of starting a business. And, of course, mistakes can be calculated and controlled. There’s no reason whatsoever to bet the farm on something new.
If you can grok that, you’re emotionally ready to start your own business.