Be an Overnight Success Story - 10 Years from Now

By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES Consulting

We live in an automated, fast-food, more-is-better, now-is-too-late world, and while technological advancement has certainly made some aspects of life more convenient, it has also, quite frankly, made us very lazy. I know I'm dating myself, but when I was a kid, the television had a dial - you had to physically get up and turn the dial to get a different station, and there were only a handful of stations - some of which actually went off the air by 2am.

And then we got cable TV. I remember when Suburban Cablevision came to our house and hooked up our cable tv. I was the most popular kid on the block for a few months, until everybody else got their MTV, too. Cable was cool. No more dial-turning on the the tv (the dial had to be fixed on channel 3 in order for the cable to work), and the cable box was attached to a cord long enough to allow my grandmother to sit in her EZ chair and change the channels without screaming my name through the house to get me to come downstairs and change the channel for her (I think you can tell how much that annoyed me). Life became more convenient. And people got lazier. When we only had 5 channels to watch, people watched a lot less television. When the tv went fuzzy at 2am, it meant that there would be no more Honeymooners reruns coming on for the night and it was time to get some sleep.

Now, as we rush headlong into a digital age in which there are 10 year olds who can't imagine what my childhood television set must have looked like because not only have they grown up in the Internet age, they were born the the DSL-wifi era. They expect things now, and good luck trying to get them to be patient enough to wait for things.

This wouldn't be quite so bad if I didn't have to spend almost a quarter of my time in my kids business bootcamps working on the collective mindset of our youth who expect overnight success to come in about 10 minutes. What's worse is that some of the young adults I coach have similar misguided expectations: everyone wants immediate success, but few are actually patient enough to trust the process and work hard on their business ideas until they achieve their goals. I have had more than a few entrepreneurs bail out on a business right before it became profitable. In some cases, investors emerged with the capital needed to push the venture forward, only to find out that the founder had thrown in the towel just a few weeks before.

Of course, the one-off stories of 'overnight entrepreneurial success' don't help matters, as they set unrealistic expectations of a 'eureka moment' followed by riches that exceed your wildest dreams. The reason those stories resonate and go viral is that the instances of real overnight success are so rare that they make for a great story. However, the truth of the matter is that it takes most people around 15-20 years to become an overnight success. Unfortunately, no matter how much I sing that refrain, many of the young people I mentor and coach are stubborn enough to expect rapid order success, putting me in the unenviable position of having to talk them down off the ledge when they consider tapping out and closing down their businesses. 

If you are a young (or not-so-young) entrepreneur struggling to gain traction with your business, here are a few pointers to keep you on top of your game towards becoming an overnight success.

Stop Lying About Your Grind

Nothing drives me as nuts as mentoring an impatient business owner who talks a good game but isn't really putting in the work necessary to develop the business. As a startup owner, you have to realize that absolutely nothing happens unless you make it happen. If you're not willing to do the dirty work, the unglamourous behind-the-scenes stuff that it takes to push a business forward, the reality is that not only do you not have to worry about becoming an overnight success, but you don't have to worry about success of any sort, at all. Stop dreaming about success - get up and grind for it. Put in the work without complaining, as you build trust among the players in your ecosystem. You know what they say: everybody wants to be a diamond, but few people are willing to get cut. Don't tell me you'll try....just get it done.

Mind Your Business

If you are not singularly focused on building your business and making it a success, chances are you will fail. It doesn't matter whether your entrepreneurial efforts are full time or a side hustle, when it comes to your business, you have to have laser-focus. Set out a strategic plan based upon your goals and break down the goals into processes. Being consistent in driving the processes of your business is a huge factor in being able to ultimately succeed. As a matter of fact, this consistency is critical to mastering your craft so that you can delivery expert-level knowledge and skill to your customers - extremely important if you aspire to dominate your niche. This also means that you have to resist the temptation of being distracted by taking on new projects that seemingly promise quick wins. I have one client who wasted two years of development for his business by chasing other fast-money opportunities that didn't pan out, and this severely stunted the growth and development of his primary business. This focus and tunnel vision are also very helpful for helping you stick it out through the tough times, as there will almost certainly be some tough times in your entrepreneurship journey.

Walls Are There For A Reason

You have to have a thick skin when you're trying to build a business. If hearing 'no' bothers you, it's going to be an uphill climb to success. The reality is that we all get told 'no' at some point - sometimes for months at a time. However, sometimes 'no' means 'not right now' instead of 'never'. Unfortunately, you'll never know that if you give up too easily. I remember my earliest experience with overcoming objections. My grandmother was a huge Les Brown fan, and while listening to one of his lectures, she told me to get out there and start selling and not to come back home until I reached my target. At the time, as a kid, I had a hard time dealing with rejection, so hearing the word 'no' bothered me. Ultimately, I learned that some people say no, not as a rejection of you or your business idea/product/service, but to make you prove how badly you want this opportunity. I carried these lessons with me when I was a door-to-door salesman hawking everything from Kirby vacuum cleaners to Cutco cutlery. Having said that, there is obviously a point of diminishing returns in which your persistence is a nuisance, but that's a balance that you will find with experience. But again, don't tap out too fast. Let your passion fuel your persistence, and you might be surprised how far you get.

Don't Live In A Plastic Bubble

Do you know how many entrepreneurs I've met who never get anywhere because they don't tell people their ideas? Far too many. The fallacy is that ideas are gold. The reality is that a good idea might be worth, let's say, $100, but it's the execution of that idea that's worth millions. You don't lose anything by expressing an idea, and, in fact, you might be able to vet the idea more quickly if you do tell a few people. I know a guy who had a head full of ideas but didn't have the cash to execute any of them. If he'd kept all of those ideas to himself, he would never have gotten anywhere. A couple of years later, he found an investor who bought into his passion and funded his startup - something that simply won't happen to a tight-lipped idea hoarder. Also, don't look at everyone who does what you do as competition; try to look for opportunities to collaborate. I mean, what good is owning 100% of an idea that has brought you $0? Personally, I'd much rather have 30% of a growing business with a turnover of, let's say $1 million. I've collaborated with partners in unusual circumstances and found secondary market opportunities that I wouldn't have otherwise known about, making a lot more money in the process.

Tick Tock Don't Stop

Above all else, the most important factor in becoming an overnight success is patience. Initially, you might find yourself taking two steps back more often than you take a step forward, and that's OK. With each series of success and failures, you will learn more about business and market forces, and you can make the necessary adjustments to your business model, product, or service offerings in order to meet the demands of the market. As long as you learn fast enough to pivot before you run out of money, you have the opportunity to be successful. Who knows? You just might be the next 'overnight success story' - but don't be disappointed if it's a decade in the making.