So you’ve gone and done it, disabled the excuses and avoidance behaviors that held you captive. You’re wiser now, stronger and self-confident. You’re finally ready to make the commitment that will enable you to create your future and live your dream. You will become a successful entrepreneur. Yes!
You know there will be mountains of hard work ahead of you—how will you get through it all? To work effectively requires that you work smart. There are but 24 hours in a day; on the way to becoming an entrepreneur, you’ll also need to sleep, eat, and attend to responsibilities other than spreadsheets and pitch contests. Not everything can be outsourced. The road forward will be long and uphill. Focus, drive and absolute belief in your business vision and mission will envelope the core of your being. But know that the discipline you summon each day to roll out of bed at 5 a.m., ready to work hard and smart until 10 p.m. or even later, is the sweat equity investment that could make your entrepreneurial concept viable and sustainable.
To give you some inspiration, let’s unpack the terms “working smart” and “working hard.” The dichotomy has echoed through business media outlets for quite some time, but lived experience tells me that it is a straw man argument. In reality, if you want to realize your objectives and goals, whatever they may be, then be prepared to work both hard and smart. It has never been either or. It’s both.
Working smart means prioritizing and devoting scarce time and resources to people and projects that deliver the desired results. Some ideas and activities are very appealing at first glance, but either they do not have the potential to bring the deliverables, or you lack the resources to see it through. Your research and analysis show that time and money would be wasted there, so you move on.
Mark Cuban, founder of the hardware and software integration company MicroSolutions and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, knows all about working hard, working smart and making sacrifices. Those behaviors supported him as he built MicroSolutions into a $30 million business. In his role on the ABC-TV reality show Shark Tank, the billionaire angel investor has found that aspiring entrepreneurs who have the discipline to learn more about their product, business, prospective customers, the marketplace and the competition have the greatest chance for creating a successful enterprise.
He claims that money and connections are not as important as one might think (on that point, I beg to differ). Cuban goes on to say that if you fail, identify what went wrong, re-group and re-launch. He also cautions against designing your products and services to give customers precisely what they say they want. He advises business owners to solicit customer opinions about what might be made to function better and make doing business with you easier, but to avoid relying on customer opinions to create future product or service offerings. He wisely points out that creating the road map to the future is the business owner’s job. Your venture will remain viable by offering products and services that customers don’t know they want until you give it to them.
Alas, hard work, smart work and good market research won’t guarantee that you’ll create a successful venture. Contrary to Cuban’s assertions, connections count (especially in the intangible services sector, where word-of-mouth is powerful); money counts (especially when funding product development); and good luck and timing count (he may agree with these last two factors). Vision, ingenuity and risk calculation also matter and these will impact your luck and timing. Further, do not underestimate the momentum-building power of your unshakeable belief in your product or service and your ability to communicate that passion and enthusiasm to prospective investors and customers.
I leave you with a quote from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the social news website Reddit and author of Without Their Permission (2013) “I was willing to burn the candle at both ends.”
Thanks for reading,
Kim L. Clark is an external consultant who provides strategy and marketing solutions to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Kim is the founder and principal of Polished Professionals Boston and she teaches business plan writing to aspiring entrepreneurs. Visit polishedprofessionalsboston.com for more information.