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The Not-So-Secret Keys to Business Success

Updated on August 13, 2008

All over the internet are websites and capture pages trying to sell you someone's "secrets" to business success. Ads written in flowing and confident language smack of the slick sales pitches of old time used care salesmen, and they are counting on several things: 1) that you believe there are secrets to success; 2) that you don't know these secrets; 3) that you can become convinced that they have them; and 4) that you would be willing to pay for them.

I'll admit it. I have fallen prey to some of these schemes, hoping they really contain some secret that might make my life a little easier by saving me some time or helping me market my services (or myself) more effectively. Sometimes I learn something, and I tell myself that the expense was justified. Usually, though, the truth is confirmed by what I read or see in these "secret systems."

What is that truth?

Here it is: The keys to success are not secret. They are right in front of us. Instruction in the keys to success is given away freely all over the place. Most of us just need reminding from time to time. They are simple, but not easy...and sometimes we yearn for an easier, softer way, but shortcuts are rare. I like to think of shortcuts to success as lottery tickets. Yes, some people win the lottery. Most people, however, spend hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars on lottery tickets that never win.

I try to remember that there are thousands of times more millionaires who earned their wealth than who won it in lotteries. That's right. You have a much better chance of getting wealthy by following traditional methods (and some new, well-proven, technologically supercharged methods) than by buying tickets in the "get rich quick" or "buy the secrets to my success" lotteries.

This doesn't mean that you don't need some specific skills to be successful in business. You may benefit from getting training in some of those skills, and you may have to pay for that training, depending on what it is. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about the basic keys to success to which everyone has access.

So, here are a few of the not-so-secret keys to success (for free!):

1. Hard work and perseverance are critical. Every compelling business success story I have ever heard about or read about (including my own!) includes hard work and perseverance. Many people start a business and think it will give them more flexibility with their time (which is true), but more flexibility doesn't necessarily mean less time - especially in the beginning. I have had conversations with real people who honestly wonder why their home-based businesses are failing. As the discussion unfolds, I learn they are only working 2-5 hours a week. At some point, they believed the stories of someone who said they make a million dollars a year in residual income while working only 2 hours a week, and they wonder why it isn't working for them. Are you kidding me?

Most successful self-employed people work very hard. We weather good times and bad, and constantly look for new ways to be more efficient. Over time, you build up some security and wealth and you have the flexibility to work fewer hours, but if you get to that point, you probably love what you do and you want to keep doing it.

Most importantly, successful business people don't quit. If what we are doing isn't working, we find another way. We stick with it. Where would Donald Trump be today if he quit his business when times got tough and money got tight?

2. You can't do it alone.We all need help. We need to learn from other successful business people. We need to network with others to market our businesses. We need the emotional support of family and friends. We need customers, clients, prospects (and these are all people). Whether you communicate with them in-person, over the phone or on the internet, you simply must engage with other people to be successful.

3. You must develop a tolerance for risk. If you are self-employed, you have already demonstrated some tolerance for risk, but many people end up working their businesses only enough to replace their full-time income (or to make the part-time income they want), and they never take the actions they need to find true wealth. One of the factors that distinguishes average small business owners from entrepreneurs is the capacity for risk (another factor is the next key, below). Entrepreneurs are willing to risk the "bird in the hand" to get the "two in the bush." Non-entrepreneurs call that risky and foolish. They simply can't understand. Entrepreneurs know that they will be able to catch another bird, regardless of what happens to the bird they just let go of or the ones from this bush. Oh yeah, and entrepreneurs don't care if others think it's foolish.

4. Remember that there are many avenues of income and welcome new opportunities. People who work a job for a paycheck identify their source of income as that job. Self-employed people typically receive income from multiple sources (i.e., many customers or clients, etc.). Unfortunately, even some somewhat successful self-employed people begin to look at their established goods or services as their only source of income....and they ultimately end up tied to their businesses in the same way that employees are tied to their jobs.

Successful entrepreneurs know that the world has an unlimited supply of income sources and they always keep their minds open to new opportunity and new ideas. Employees won't even listen to new business ideas because they don't have time or energy or whatever (what they are really saying is that they already have a job, thanks very much). Entrepreneurs are excited about listening to opportunities because this next one might eventually be the source of their next million dollar paycheck.

5. Attitude is everything. You have heard this before. Whether you think you will succeed or you think you fail, you will be right. Successful business people (and those on their way to success) do not think of success as an "if;" they think in terms of "when" and "how." Surround yourself with positive people and people who believe in you and in themselves. Read inspirational stories of others who have been successful.

6. You must continue to learn.Really successful business people are lifetime learners. They listen to CDs, read books that interest them and will teach them things, attend workshops to improve their skills, and so on. If you are lacking some important skills necessary for your success, identify what they are and get to work to acquire those skills. Devote some time every day to self-improvement and learning. If you hear yourself saying that you know everything you need to know (even if you only say it to yourself), you're in trouble.

7. Don't follow the crowd. Many of the important lessons for business success are counter-intuitive. For example, if the economy is slowing down and sales are down, most people will want to stop spending money. However, that is precisely when you need to re-examine and expand marketing activities. You can do it frugally, but if you tighten your belt too much, you'll strangle yourself.

Another reason not to follow the crowd --- the crowd is not wealthy or successful. For the most part, the crowd is not even happy. Why would you want that for yourself? Why would you listen to the advice of the people who are not going where you want to go? Seek out the people who have been successful in business. Listen to their advice. Watch what they do.

8. Get into action and stay in action. Don't just watch what successful people do, do it for yourself. Focus your business efforts on income generating activities. Document your activities, analyze the ones that are most effective. Keep the effective ones and ditch the others. Learn how to manage your time.

9. Never forget that there is more to life than money. Money does not necessarily buy happiness. It can buy you freedom, and time with your family, but you have to find happiness yourself. Before I went into business for myself, I worked for a man who taught me this lesson the hard way. He had been self-employed for over two decades. He was successful by most business standards, and he was wealthy. He had more than enough money to retire comfortably. He had enough to retire, and travel, and invest, and still leave millions to his children. What he really wanted was to stop working, fish more, travel with his wife, and spend time with his adult children. He hired me so he could work less. At first, he did work less. He cut back to three days a week. But he couldn't stop altogether. He couldn't walk away from even more income from that source. He couldn't let go of making as much money as he ahd been making. He couldn't trust anyone else to make money for him. I left and started my own business because he just wouldn't leave the business to me as we had agreed when I was hired. Two years later, he was diagnosed with cancer. About a year later, he was dead. What a terrible tragedy. What he wanted most in the world was to work less. He could afford it. But he couldn't let go...until it was too late.

Make a list of what is most important in your life - faith, family, learning, friends, community. That's my list. Make your own. Be specific (write in names and specific activities). Write it down. Keep it in your wallet and on your bathroom mirror. Make time for the people and things on that list every day, even if you still have a job working for someone else. Develop goals and plans to get to the financial freedom you need to spend even more of your time focused on the people and things on your list. When you achieve wealth, use it to secure and support what you really value.

Once a week, make a gratitude list. Write down everyone and everything for which you are grateful. Review your list every day.

Show your gratitude by being of service to others (regardless of whether there is financial gain in it for you). Share what you have learned, even if you are new in your business venture and you have only learned a little. You will learn even more as you share it. Share what have, too. Give to your church and local charitable organizations. Look for opportunities to help individuals who need it. The harder you hold onto your money, the faster it will slip away. The more freely you share it with others and remain open to opportunity, the more money will come your way.

That's the real secret to success.


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    • profile image

      Eddie Perkins 

      10 years ago

      Very good. The best things in life really are free and I believe that we were born with the gift of our most important resources. ~ eddie


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