Sink or Swim – Stage 2 of the Entrepreneur’s Journey

Sink Swim



Sometime during the second year of the entrepreneur’s journey reality is beginning to set-in for the majority of us — and quite often we say to ourselves “This isn’t quite as easy as I thought.”  It sucks working sooooo hard every day and not seeing the results we expected.  We look at our business plan and our marketing plan and wonder where we went wrong and just how long what we are doing well will last.  Our optimism could be fading.   We make the decision to either stick with our business with renewed energy and more effective and efficient practices or we choose to close up shop.

It’s Sink or Swim Time

In my second year of full-time entrepreneurship, I was fortunate, in a sense, that I no longer had to keep reporting back to the group who oversaw the federal program I was in, as I’d “wasted” 4 or so months going back and forth with them so they could understand and approve my business plan.  That business plan had morphed into a 90+ page piece of fiction by the time it was approved!

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t start off as fiction — I really did intend to do what I’d outlined.  However, the more they pushed me for details, the more I made them up because I truly didn’t know!  My vision had changed from simply providing incentive rewards to creating software to manage incentive programs — a vision which would come back to haunt me about 10 years later.

With the bureaucracy out of the way and the cushion of the unemployment benefits gone, it was sink or swim time for me.  I knew I didn’t want to go back to being an employee and I also knew that the money was drying up for dotcom companies, so I gave up on my software dream and focused on generating revenue as a reseller.  The success was almost instantaneous — I signed a reseller agreement one week, updated my website and within a week I had attracted a division of Microsoft who ultimately became my first customer!

I knew I was onto something!  I did this quite a few more times over the years and each time I updated the website with my new products or services, I got an inquiry within a day or so.

I was beginning to enjoy this!  I had gone from paying my Visa with my Mastercard (who knew that was frowned upon!) to receiving a cheque which enabled me to pay off all the credit cards, the second mortgage and hire my first employee.

Many Entrepreneurs Have a Difficult Decision to Make

Can they continue on financially, emotionally, physically?  Do they even want to?

The stats for new business show just how many people make the tough decision to close down.  It’s a heart-breaking time for those who choose not to continue.  For many though, the decision was absolutely the right choice —

  • Their idea was bad to begin with;
  • Their market was not hungry for the solution they provide;
  • They had the wrong product;
  • They took the wrong approach;
  • Their timing was off;
  • Their costs were higher than expected and couldn’t be contained;
  • Their revenue was lower than expected with no immediate expectation for it to rise;
  • Their cash-flow was not as free-flowing as needed;
  • Their reach — marketing and ability to attract customers — was too small;
  • The experience they provided to their customers was not better than their competition;
  • Their employees tend to be there for what they could get, rather than what they could give; and/or
  • They did what I did in my initial business plan and relied on incomplete or inaccurate data to make a decision.

Piggy-Bank-on-LifeRingThis stage of the Entpreneur’s Journey is a tricky one.  It’s where most people give up or run out of resources.   While it’s heartbreaking to see your dream die, sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise.

Spoiler Alert!

The Entrepreneur’s Journey isn’t always straight and quite often there is a backwards slide to a previous stage.   This is what happened to me in 2009 — 13 years after I first became an entrepreneur — as a result of a perfect storm of the economic meltdown, our 2 biggest, best and most profitable “A” List clients going bankrupt within a few months of each other and a third failed attempt at the software project mentioned above.  I went from stage 4 (nearly stage 5) back to stage 1 again and it was this stage 2 which was particularly trying for me the second time around.

As I was rebuilding my business and putting myself back together personally, I tried a number of things to find my footing again.

Here’s What I Learned:

  • If the market isn’t reacting positively you need to change quickly and substantially so that you are selling to a hungry audience who is actively looking for a solution to a problem and they are having trouble finding it.
  • The ripples you make with your business start with You, the person.  Revisit what you want, your ideal day in your ideal lifestyle, your vision, purpose and core values.  I realized I wasn’t really engaged in what I was building because it wasn’t in alignment with the core of me.
  • Fail fast and fail forward — failure is an opportunity to succeed elsewhere — but hanging on to a dream if there isn’t a market for what you are selling is a mistake.
  • Remember to start with the end in mind — the end of the journey is having freedom and leaving a legacy aligned with your higher purpose.
  • Keep track of where you are spending your time.  Are you fighting fires all day?  Are you wasting time on social media and other people’s emails?  Are you spending hours each week on webinars which aren’t providing any actionable insights but you sign up for the 6 week course anyway?   Or are you consistently working on your #1 – 5 priorities — your big rocks — which will make the biggest splash and have the most ripples?
  • Relationships matter — don’t be that person who uses and abuses people.  You won’t last long.
  • Become crystal clear with your vision, passion, purpose, higher purpose and your why and share this with everyone — it will attract those who align and repel those who don’t.
  • Revisit the value you are providing and your ideal customer.
  • Ask your customers, your vendors, your employees, your partners, your investors and your trusted advisors what they’d like to see you start, stop, increase and decrease and what you should not touch.
  • Review your Impact Performance Measures
  • Evaluate your customer journey — are you easy to do business with?  How can you improve their experience — which is ultimately how they feel doing business with you?
  • Align yourself with like-minded entrepreneurs — but not struggling entrepreneurs — you need to find successful entrepreneurs.
  • Review why you are losing people — Why didn’t you close the sale?  Why did that employee really quit?  Why couldn’t you secure investment?  Why won’t that company become a strategic alliance partner with you?
  • Identify what you need to outsource. How do you finance it?
  • Critique your processes, procedures, policies and decisions.  Where can you improve to be more efficient while offering a better experience?

If you are truly commited to your business purpose and higher purpose and you intend to keep moving forward you must take your blinders off and answer these tough questions.  There is usually a way — but the path isn’t straight.  You may have come to a cross-roads and you need to go in a different direction.  Or you may need to go back along the path you just carved through the jungle so that you can get to a clearing where you choose another path.

To Ease Your Journey You Need a Few Things I Didn’t Realize Were Important When I Started Out.

StandOutYou need a framework, systems, Impact Performance Measures, great employees, profitable customers, excellent mentors, teachers and professionals along with a valuable product, service and experience mixture which solves problems for a market which is big enough to support your dreams.

You also need to be different — in a good way.  You need to offer a great customer experience and if you are already an employer, you need to have excellent people who you treat well.  You need to be that “breath of fresh air” whenever you share your platform and your message.  You need to be building community and supporting community.  You need to be marketing to those who will align with you — which means you need to be sharing your purpose, vision, passions, higher purpose and your message clearly to as many people as you can possibly reach.

It’s time to sink or swim — and if it’s a sink, you need to revisit yourself — the person and the professional in the ripples below and decide what to do next.  If it’s a swim, then grab the lifeline that your trusted advisors are offering and hold on to it while you continue on your journey.


Our Role Is To Guide You on Your Journey

My personal purpose is that I’ve been Chosen to Reinvent Lives Globally.

The purpose and higher purpose of my brands is to Reinvent Business to Transform Lives.

My vision includes changing the dialogue about how business is conducted.  As the leader, I am passionate about bringing humanity back to business by tapping into the desires and potential of people so that they willingly support the purpose, vision, core values, strategy and goals of the business.  With engaged people profit increases and it’s that profit (or a percentage of it) which transforms lives.

I’m leading a movement to bring Enlightened Capitalist™ concepts to the mainstream.  Our planet, our economy, our communities and we, personally, need this to happen sooner rather than later.   Join us…

Continue Reading the Third Stage of the Entrepreneur’s Journey

About the Author

As an entrepreneur, Carol Wain has created a number of brands which focus on integrating engagement, sustainability, and both personal and business performance.

She works with individuals in leadership and management roles and with aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to leverage the power of business to create positive change.

Carol is an author, speaker, trusted advisor and mentor who won Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003.

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