America is brimming with entrepreneurial spirit. Millions of people nationwide have taken the plunge to launch their own companies, some successfully and others less so. As famed billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson once said, “Our ability to come up with ideas is a blessing and a curse. It’s great that we’re constantly inspired and optimistic, but it can sometimes be hard to focus on one idea for long enough to turn it into a successful business.”
When launching any kind of company, three elements are essential: a viable idea for a product or service, the ability to execute development and distribution and the capital to sustain the business until it sustains itself. I think of myself as a “parallel entrepreneur,” meaning somebody who has launched two separate businesses and is now fully immersed in operating both. Through my parallel entrepreneurship, I’ve learned distinctive lessons that may help other entrepreneurs considering a similar path.
Here are my top four tips for anyone thinking of adopting the parallel entrepreneurship life:
Adapt to change.
Any aspiring entrepreneur needs to adapt to changing circumstances. You can use change to bolster, rather than hurt your businesses. Original ideas may need to be reworked … and then reworked again. You may even have to make major changes to your initial business plan. Many things can and will force entrepreneurs to adapt and adjust strategies, products or services.
In extreme cases, the marketplace may force you to rethink everything, like it did for me in 2008. I worked on Wall Street and never put serious thought into branching out on my own. That is, until people at my firm started getting laid off as the market dropped and firms went under. Only then did I seriously think about going into business for myself. Although I didn’t end up getting laid off, this new business model excited me more than spending another day on Wall Street, so I took the leap into entrepreneurship. Realizing the marketplace was changing and I needed to change with it led me down the path of becoming a parallel entrepreneur, and is a key characteristic of any aspiring business owner.
Meet a market need.
To start and launch a successful business, whether it’s your first, second or fifth one, it’s imperative to identify a vital need in the marketplace and try to meet it with an innovative product or service. There won’t always be a light bulb moment for innovation where it’s clear what business or product will fill a gap. But, through day-to-day work in the market you serve, areas that are missing will start to reveal themselves. Pay attention to these revelations.
For example, my experience in risk management before going into business for myself was able to broaden my perspective on a need that was missing in my firm, risk tolerance tools. Risk tolerance assessment tools focused solely on basic personality quizzes, and I wanted to offer a tool that incorporated cash flows to better serve clients’ long-term goals. My desire to fill a void in my first business spurred the launch of my second company. Always search for ways to improve your product or services — you never know when it could spur a moment of creative innovation for a whole new business line or company.
Hire the right team.
Setbacks will happen to every entrepreneur, especially those who have their hands deep in multiple companies. But, it’s all about how you overcome these adversities. Funding may fall through, there could be a setback in the launch date or, on the flip side, there could be an unexpected influx of business.
In my case, getting my second company off the ground required surmounting significant barriers, like choosing the wrong development team that was not cut out for a project of this scope. I commonly use the phrase “you get what you pay for,” and this was true in my case. Ultimately, I recognized this mistake and through more thorough market research, I was able to hire the right team that bolstered my productivity instead of hindering it. I became a better equipped business owner by overcoming these setbacks and pummeling on.
Know your limits.
Every business owner needs to know when they have reached their threshold. What are some indicators? One is the quality of your work doesn’t meet your standards. The primary consequence of taking on too much is that none of it gets done how you would like. The second is that your relationships suffer. I know that when my kids are complaining about my work schedule for an extended period of time, it’s time for me to pay attention. The remedy for overextending is the re-evaluation of priorities. This is in the realm of professional priorities and determining how to be more efficient. But, it can also be balancing the personal with the professional. In the end, entrepreneurs need to know how to say no. The art is selecting whom to say it to.
The entrepreneurial life entails great risks and long hours, but in turn creates the opportunity for great rewards and to be your own boss. It may not be for everybody but has proven to be a great fit for me, even if I didn’t see it coming. Which brings me to my last lesson learned — nobody can predict the future, so don’t be afraid to create your own.
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