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Years ago, I worked for a large small business support organization. We provided resources to entrepreneurs to help them succeed. At one point, I led a new initiative focused on helping startups and early-stage entrepreneurs. The focus was on those starting to blaze their own path. By observing so many early-stage businesses, I was able to glean a great deal from their endeavors. Their hard work and tenacity, coupled with the right business model, would propel some to great heights. Others would work just as hard, but not quite get to a level that allowed them to keep going.
The perfect business plan
I’m lucky to have read some outstanding business plans. They were well researched. They presented an innovative look at the market. They provided examples of how others have succeeded from working within that same market. But there never seemed to be a correlation between the business plan and future success. After a while, I stopped worrying so much about their business plan.
Sure, they needed one. They needed to think through their business and have a plan. But that wasn’t the only thing they needed to do to be successful. Instead, it seemed as though other factors mattered more when trying to decipher who would become successful and who would close their business after a few short years.
Now I encourage anyone starting to focus less on the perfect business plan. Things change and we cannot predict the future. Your “perfect” plan will become flawed and outdated soon. To continue, you have to stay focused on doing the things necessary, not just thinking about them or even planning them.
To make this shift, I always recommend focusing on making progress over trying to be perfect. Being perfect sounds great — but usually results in stagnation.
If you are set on trying to be perfect, you won’t take risks. If you want to be perfect, you won’t use trial and error because there is a chance that you make an error. Being an entrepreneur inherently involves taking risks.
At the end of the day, many things will go wrong in your business. You can’t be afraid of failure.
Outside push to be perfect
Our society puts too much emphasis on avoiding failures. In fact, even when someone achieves greatness despite failures, the story always seems to leave that information out.
Athletes provide an ideal example of this. NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre tops the list of quarterbacks with the most interceptions in a career with 336. He played 302 games, which means he averaged one of these major mistakes in every game that he played. MLB Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson struck out more than anyone else during a career. He struck out 2,597 times. Hall of Famer Jim Thome was second with 2,548. The two with the most mistakes are in the hall of fame for their elite careers.
These athletes dominated the game they played. But none were even close to being perfect. They didn’t succeed without failures and mistakes. If you are starting a business and afraid to have any missteps, you will play it safe. You won’t put yourself out there, vulnerable to mishaps. But putting yourself out there is how to succeed. That is a requirement for business success.
Focus on making progress
A better approach is to always make progress. If you keep moving forward through the adversity, through the obstacles, through the challenges and failures, you will emerge more experienced and more knowledgeable.
The successful entrepreneurs that I worked with embraced this. They weren’t afraid to take the uncertain road. They weren’t afraid to stick their neck out. By being bold, they charted a new path forward. They didn’t just try to copy others to avoid having to take the risk. Sometimes it didn’t pay off. Sometimes it did pay off. But either way, they moved forward and got better. Each day they were better equipped to grow the business. Each day they became wiser.
Once you accept that you will make mistakes, you will become free to innovate. That freedom is important for early-stage entrepreneurs.
You don’t start with brand awareness and years of building up a customer base. Those are required to be a successful business and only arrive after the trials and tribulations.
Choose from a bunch of bad options
When I took over the operations of a business that was looking to grow, the first thing we had to do was to stop searching for the flawless approach. We had to stop trying to be perfect. Often this meant that we had to choose between a bunch of bad options. We didn’t have easy, obvious pathways forward.
We would run into a problem and have to decide what path to take, despite all being risky. After each strategy meeting, we would find ourselves at an impasse. Whatever option we would choose was flawed. Each choice contained consequences and risks.
Once we reached a stalemate with leadership unwilling to move forward, someone would say, “Well it looks like we have a bunch of bad options, but we need to make a decision. Let’s choose the best one and move on.” That helped us avoid analysis paralysis. It helped us move past trying to be flawless. We knew the choice we were making was imperfect. That didn’t matter. What mattered is that we navigated the situation as best we could and then attacked the problem.
Now whenever I work with startups and early-stage entrepreneurs, I look for those willing to move forward when others are afraid of the problems. When everyone else wants to wait for the perfect option to appear, they will already be ahead. They will make some mistakes, but they will forge ahead with the newfound wisdom that comes from experiencing the ups and downs on the journey to building a successful business.