We hear a lot about self-belief in relation to ambition and achievement these days, don’t we? It’s almost as if willing ourselves to succeed is the only ingredient we need to not just reach for the stars but also grab and keep them.
This is especially true when it comes to business. There isn’t an entrepreneur alive who hasn’t either read or been told at some stage that all he or she needs to do is believe in themselves.
If only it were that simple, right?
A healthy dose of self-belief and rhino-thick hide certainly go a long way to helping people achieve their goals, whether in business or in life.
If you started a healthy eating programme believing you were never going to succeed, you’d simply order in another pizza and veg out on the sofa. If you didn’t believe you could pass your driving test, you’d simply shrug resignedly and renew your Oyster card.
If you didn’t believe you could set up and run your own successful business, you’d settle for the job you were in or be scattering copies of your CV like seed in the wind.
Self-belief is an important trait when it comes to business, but to my mind, having been in this crazy game for a decade and a half, it’s not the most important quality when it comes to being successful.
That accolade goes to willingness.
If you really want to be successful in business – and let’s not forget that success has many definitions; it’s not quite all about the money – then you have to be willing to put yourself through situations and experiences that you would otherwise instinctively avoid.
First off, you need to be willing to feel really uncomfortable. Just like life sometimes teaches us harsh lessons, business will also make you face up to your own ignorance. You’ll have new things to learn that are far outside your comfort zone and you’ll be embarking on a journey littered with mistakes, many of them financially or emotionally expensive.
Building a business requires investment and not everything you put your money into will return a profit, so you’ll need to be willing accept that you may waste money in trying to find the key that unlocks future growth. When you find it, the chances are it will cover your losses.
Behind every success is a failure of some description or other. Often these missteps are the inspiration for the success that follows, so being willing to fail is, to some degree at least, part of the preparation for success.
It’s about being willing to say yes. Saying no is easy and it’s safe. Saying yes when you want to say no is where innovation and entrepreneurialism live. It’s uncomfortable and leads to angst, but sanity lies in calculating the risks and mitigating failure.
Sometimes you just need to do it. There will be times as a business owner when you’ll need to get something done quickly but don’t know exactly how to do it. Be willing to be imperfect – it doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty, sometimes it just has to be in order to move forward.
And being willing to do things clumsily means you have to be prepared to do that age-old thing of imitating a duck. Act as if you know exactly what you’re doing above the surface – and then paddle like billy-oh under the waterline.
Being successful in anything requires tenacity and whilst there’s definitely value in knowing when the horse you’re flogging has expired, until then be ready to keep going because you’ll never know when being the last man standing means you’ll discover something your competitors gave up on too early.
There are few of us who like conflict or confrontation, but the simple truth of being in business is that you absolutely have to be willing to have difficult conversations, occasionally with people who you like and respect. Setting boundaries is essential, the alternative: being a people-pleasing businesswoman / man is a disaster if not already happening, then waiting-to-happen. I’ve been down that painful road & you end up seriously depleted of the three essential resources for business: time, money & energy.
At the end of the day, you need to safeguard the financial and emotional investment you’ve made and if that means you have to tell someone when you’re not happy, then so be it.
Staying under the radar is all well and good, but if it means losing money or, at an extreme, losing your livelihood, then it’s not an option.
Good businesses constantly review and evaluate their activity and processes and it’s a good habit to have – but you have to be willing to listen to opinions you might not like. Limiting your evaluation to the views of people who love you and love what you do won’t help you to build a better business, it’ll only help you to feel temporarily smug.
Confirmation bias – when you look to prove your own prejudice – kills business every day, even the big ones. If you want proof, you need only look at the collapse of Monarch Airlines last year to find an example of a company that became complacent in a bubble of false awareness.
And running a business is personal. At the hardest of times, you must be willing to carry on showing up, to risk the fact you may look like an idiot, to make your personal experience part of your brand story, to leave your vanity and pride at the door – and then to not take anything personally when some things don’t work out quite as you expected.
Your business is – or should be – aligned with your personal beliefs and values. It’s what makes you stand out and you have to be ready to work at that, too.
You don’t need to understand business to be in business, but you do have to be willing to learn on the job & understand that the road is likely to be tough and challenging and, at times exhausting – but like most things in life, what is hard won is often the most treasured, so saddle up & go on the journey anyway.