Note: This post is the first in a series of posts about starting your own on-line business. To see other posts in this series, see the Entrepreneurship category of this blog.
One of the first and most important points I want to make for anyone endeavoring to start a business, is that you must have what I call a “Driving Force” to keep you motivated to finish what you started, even through tough times. Understand that creating this business will probably consume the majority of your time and energies over the next long while (years, possibly). You may find yourself thinking about it constantly, night and day, always dreaming about how to improve it. If you are not totally excited, emotionally stirred up, and mentally thrilled at the idea, then frankly, you’re probably not going to have the commitment you need to succeed. This is not a short nor an easy path to follow, but it can be very rewarding one.
Committment and Persistentence Are Required
I have seen this over and over again with friends, colleagues, and clients. They are really excited about getting a business going at first. But as soon as the work starts, or shortly after, they quit. Why? I think there are a lot of reasons. Some just burn out because it’s a lot of work. Others make a mistake and think they’ve failed, so don’t see the point of continuing. Some don’t see the results they want right away, so they give up, losing site of the great rewards at the end. Many go broke trying to it get off the ground in the first place. And finally, some get distracted by other things and don’t devote the time or energy necessary to make any of them successful. Let me tell you, it is worth it to keep going! I believe that failure to persist is one of the main reasons why the majority of businesses fail. Most people don’t stick to the projects they start.
If you’re not committed to being successful; if you don’t believe that you will succeed; if you’re not sure you have a winning idea – then don’t start a business! Unless you just want a hobby, that is. Yes, it’s true that a lot of successful businesses do start as hobbies, which is fine. But once you decide to make it a main source of income, you have to have more commitment than just “I want to do it because it sounds fun,” because that “fun” will ebb and flow. You need a stronger vision. A driving force.
If you don’t feel like you have that “Driving Force” yet, but you still like the idea of having a business that runs on its own and pays for your lifestyle, how do you get that Driving Force that will compel you to get started? There are lots of ways to find it, from thorough research before you begin, to simply dreaming of the possibilities and rewards the end result could bring. Let me share with you how my driving force came about for me.
How I Discovered My Driving Force
I think I can trace the start of my passion for owning my own business back to the time shortly after I got married. My father-in-law had just lost his job at Novell, and had even been in a high management position. He had done nothing wrong; the company was simply downsizing. Being in my last year or two of college, finishing up my Bachelor’s in Computer Science, I started to realize that in this economy, and especially in this technical field, there is no such thing as “job security” when you work for someone else. You have virtually no control over the success or failure of the company, or decisions of those higher up than you.
I didn’t want to work hard for a company, be completely dependent upon them for my livelihood, only to end up being cut off at their whim, left with nothing, and be forced to look for a new job elsewhere. I realized that if I wanted to be financially secure, and always able to provide for my family, I would need to have my own source of income that would continue to provide, no matter what happened – even if I was no longer able to work. At that time, I didn’t really know if such a situation was possible, but I was determined to find out.
At this time, in addition to going to school, I was also teaching private piano lessons out of our apartment, working as a full-time programmer, taking care of a wife and baby, and doing some freelance web projects on the side for clients. This left me with very little free time. I started looking for ways to save time, and one of them was in how I managed my piano studio. I realized that I didn’t have a very good system for organizing when my piano students’ lessons were, when they paid, and how much they owed me. I was tracking it all in my old Palm Pilot (remember those?), but whenever students asked me how much they owed, it took me several minutes to calculate the amount for them.
Fortunately, I was also a computer programmer, and for a school project, I wrote a small program that ran on the web to help me organize my studio finances and schedule better. It calculated how much each student owed, and even let students login from home so they could know how much to pay me before they came to their lesson. This program saved me a lot of time and headache in my piano studio.
Music Teacher’s Helper was Born
I think I owe a lot here to my good friend and classmate Dustin Davis, who saw the potential of this program I’d created, and put the idea into my head that I could actually sell it to other teachers. I wasn’t very business-minded at the time, so who knows how long it would have taken me to think of that on my own.
I decided to give it a try, and started making it possible for other teachers to use. I called it “Music Teacher’s Helper“, set up some simple pricing plans, and let teachers try it out free for 30 days. I told all the teachers I knew about it, and setup a Google Adwords account to spread the word. (I’ll talk more about Google Adwords in future posts.)
A few teachers here and there trickled in and tried it out. Many of them really liked it, and gave me great feedback for ways they wanted to see it improve. I listened and continued to improve the program based on their suggestions. Some teachers even started to pay for the service!
Once I actually started getting money from it, I began to see the potential of this program. I realized that not only could I make a few extra bucks doing this, but that if I did it well enough, I could actually make a living with it! Besides the money, it was also thrilling to see how excited and grateful most teachers were when they started using this product that I had created. They loved how much time it saved them. Many said this was the kind of program they were looking for in all their years of teaching, but could never find. With this kind of feedback constantly coming in, I knew I was onto something good. Although, looking back, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Now, before I get off-topic here, let me get back to the idea of a “driving force”. After reading the above story, what do you think my driving force was at this point – the force that kept me motivated to work hard and build this business? There were a few actually, but one stands out much more than the others.
As much as I wanted to help music teachers save time and manage their studios more effectively, and as much as I liked hearing positive feedback about my work (a good ego boost), neither of these were my main driving force. Call me selfish, but my strongest motivation was not to help teachers. It was to be able to support my family independently – not relying on an employer for a paycheck. I wanted financial security! And the little flame that started to flicker when my father-in-law lost his job started to burn more strongly within me when I realized that this little music teacher website could end up providing that security. That became my driving force.
Identifying Your Driving Force
Your driving force may be completely different than mine. Maybe you dream of an early retirement, more time with your family, world travel, or the opportunity to volunteer or commit more time or money to a church or non-profit organization. (All of these have become more interesting to me lately). Or maybe you just want a little bigger house and a little nicer car. It’s possible that your product itself may provide enough passion to keep you motivated, especially if you believe it could change the world for the better.
For me, helping music teachers was a passion of sorts, but probably not a strong enough one to keep me as persistent as I needed to be in order to make it into a business that could completely support my family. I wanted financial independence, and I now knew that I could get it. That’s what was exciting to me.
Make it Strong
Whatever your driving force is, make sure that it is strong! It will have to be a strong enough desire, and provide enough motivation and excitement to keep you going when you don’t want to keep going. When you get bored, tired, unsure of what to do next, or start doubting your potential, look back on this driving force and get the boost you need to take you through the next step. I had to do this over and over again throughout the years of building my business, and I still do it regularly, although my driving force has evolved slightly along with my business and the goals I’ve already achieved.
So far, I’ve written only about the principle of having a driving force. But before I end, I also wanted to share with you one practical exercise you can do to help you identify your driving force. Finding your driving force may be as easy as thinking about why you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this post. Or if you’ve thought about starting a business, ask yourself why, and what you hope to gain from it. Be specific and write down your thoughts.
If you’re still having trouble identifying a strong motivation, you may want to take the next 15-20 minutes and do the following exercise.
- Step 1: Imagine that you have billions of dollars at your disposal, and no responsibilities. In other words, you have total freedom of time and resources. What would you do with your time? What would you spend your money on? What responsibilities would you take on? Write down a list of all the things that come to mind. (10-20 items is probably enough.)
- Step 2: Look over these items and next to each one, write a number between 1 and 10, where 1 means you have minimal interest in it, and 10 means you’re dying to do it/get it. Or just identify those that stand out to you the most.
- Step 3: Look at the top ranking 3-5 items. Your driving force may well be among these. It’s possible that any of them would be a good driving force for you, or maybe you’ll want to use them all as a combined driving force.
- Step 4: Pick which one(s) of those 3-5 items you feel is the strongest, and write down in greater detail what it will be like to have achieved it. Be specific and detailed. Feel the emotion behind it, and try to taste what it would be like. Review this description often, especially when things get hard.
If you’re still having trouble identifying a driving force, don’t fret over it. Your motivation may be stronger than you think, and will probably increase in strength when you have good evidence of potential results, like mine did when music teachers actually started paying for my website.
Sometimes you need to just take that first step to see if it ignites a spark for you. Don’t let fear hold you back. Few mistakes are truly permanent. It’s better to get started doing something, even if you’re not sure what you’re doing, then to not do anything at all. The learning process is part of the fun.
Good luck finding your driving force!
16 Oct 2014