As an entrepreneur, we are besieged with images, stories and tales of business owners that have become billionaires overnight. We are bombarded on social media with pop-up digital companies and courses that promise 7 figure incomes within weeks. Is this the new normal? So how long does it really take to become successful? With this influential expectation of immediate success, the reality of it taking 5-7 years for a business to really flourish or 'hit its stride' can be daunting. Yes, most successful entrepreneurs and their companies are well into the 5th, 6th or 7th year before business seems to be humming along. To use Jim Collins metaphor, the fly wheel is then turning perpetually and without effort.
We have all heard the statistic that most small businesses fail within the first 5 years. This is, in part, because new entrepreneurs are not prepared to do battle as a start-up for the period of time it takes. After a year of new stresses, daily issues, sales struggles and a massive learning curve, new entrepreneurs are exhausted. Give this a second year of mild improvement but many of the same growth challenges and for many entrepreneurs it is gut check time. Do you really want to continue to do this? Or, more directly, I must be doing something wrong as everyone else is clearly succeeding and not struggling like me. New entrepreneurs need to have the revised expectation that success and business 'in flow' is going to be years away. It would set the tone for a much more realistic approach, pace and judgement.
For committed entrepreneurs, it means taking time to actually enjoy the struggles, the challenges and the game of business. You develop an underlying confidence as a repeat entrepreneur. So even if it takes 5 years to launch your company and have it humming, you can now have deep faith in the success quotient and start to embrace the challenges and little moments. The life and death perception of most daily challenges can be replaced with a direct challenge back to say 'Come on! Bring it on!'
What is the true measure for being a successful entrepreneur? For us at Evolve, the definition is something like this:
The owner is making more money in their own business that they could in any job or employment situation they could attain.
The company is profitable and healthy with cash reserves and the ability to pursue growth and opportunities.
The owner works less hours than most people using 40 as a benchmark - unless they choose otherwise (because often they love what they do).
The company contributes to community through employing other people and participation in the community events and causes.
The reputation of the business is solid and positive with strong customer, supplier and regulation relationships.
The owner reaches a level of personal satisfaction with the quality of life balance that is often a key goal in deciding to become an entrepreneur.
So while becoming a billionaire is a fantastic punch line in an online sales pitch, it is highly unlikely as a measure for success. These 6 guidelines paint a realistic measure for most entrepreneurs to use and thrive by.
A great company is often moving through phase after phase of different types of success even through its first years. Recognizing the milestones at all stages is also critical to feeling and being successful as an entrepreneur. We haven't mentioned the value of the learning that an entrepreneur gains as also a fantastic benefit and success measure. We applaud someone that completes an MBA or a certificate program but we have no way to recognize the incredible, high pressure, practical learning that running a company brings.
So how long does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Somewhere between 1 and 7 years. Somewhere between zero and a billion dollar net worth. Somewhere that is unique for each entrepreneur based on how they feel and how they've grown.