There are a great many entrepreneurs who sit around all day brainstorming the perfect idea.
First of all, no great business comes from a long day of sitting at your desk wondering what will work. Great businesses are the product of trying, failing, iterating, and improving over time. The only thing worse than sitting around all day waiting for the perfect idea to arrive is taking an idea that has yet to be tested and spending hours pouring over a “business plan.”
Business rarely goes as planned.
I have been building businesses for a long, long time. My first business was a flea market table turned hardware store, back when I was in high school, and my most recent company, LendingOne, provides loans to real estate owners looking to “fix and flip.” Between those two companies, I’ve taken a company public (Wilmar/Interline Brands), started The Crestar Group of Companies), and sat on a handful of corporate boards.
After many years in business, I can’t think of a single time when everything went according to plan.
Whenever I hear young, aspiring entrepreneurs talking about their big ideas, I love to encourage them. There’s nothing better than seeing that wide-eyed look, ready to take on the world. And selfishly, seeing that sort of enthusiasm makes me feel motivated all over again. That’s the gift of mentoring younger folks.
However, along with those words of encouragement are also words of warning. That business plan you spent weeks drafting up? Sure, it can be a great guide, but that’s not your compass. Your compass is your gut, your instincts, and all the things you learn along the way.
This is one of the hardest things to teach someone — and is the reason why, although I think there is value in getting an education, and even studying business in school, there is so much you just have to learn through experience. And surviving over the long term in business has far more to do with guts and persistence than it does a golden business plan.
You don’t need a business plan.
You need to go All In.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that it’s the street smarts stuff that is the toughest for aspiring entrepreneurs and business graduates to learn — the things you pick up when you’ve been in the trenches. And if there was one overarching theme of all those lessons learned, it was this idea of going “all in” on your idea and never looking back.
What do I mean by going All In?
There can never be a doubt in your mind. Ever. Doubt is the beginning of a wild roller coaster toward failure. Doubt is what causes you to spend more time worrying about your competition, rather than focusing on the things you can control and improve upon. And worst of of all, doubt is what leads to you beginning to accept the idea that maybe entrepreneurship isn’t for you.
Business plans, then, set the wrong expectation from the beginning. They create this imaginary measure for success that essentially states, “If you do not meet these performance goals, the plan has failed.” Now, everyone in business can attest to the importance of setting goals, measuring what’s working and what’s not. But to think that the plan you created day one will continue to hold true as your ship has set sail is to misunderstand a huge part of the process.
Business is fluid. You win and lose, live and learn, pivot, adjust, and figure it out as you go.
I didn’t graduate from college. At the time, it felt more like busywork than it did a worthwhile investment. But, while I never had a degree to point to, what I did have was belief in myself and my ability to learn on the fly. When I really believed in something, I wasn’t afraid to go all in and commit myself to the process — and that strategy has never steered me wrong.
To any aspiring entrepreneurs, this would be my biggest piece of advice: go through the exercise of creating a business plan, but be fully prepared to throw it away when you begin to see its flaws and how you can reset your measures for success. Those that fail often times cling to their conceptual plans instead of being able to effectively learn and adjust as they go along.
Remember: there is no “right way” to build a business. Which also means there is no wrong way to fail.
Fail often, but learn. And as long as you commit, as long as you’re “all in,” you will become successful.