Among the perks of entrepreneurship are work-life autonomy, financial independence and guiding one’s own business goals from vision board to reality. But starting from scratch is as challenging as it is rewarding. As the effects of the pandemic continue to ripple throughout the economy, achieving longevity requires dedication, business savvy and an eye for upcoming trends.
For many emerging entrepreneurs, finding enough starter capital is their main focus. Securing funds from angel investors, venture capitalists and other financial sources is crucial and difficult work, but it is by no means the last hurdle to success. In fact, the excitement of pitching one’s ideas to interested parties can occasionally overshadow their actual execution.
Getting off the ground is only the first step in sustaining a business for the long haul. While about 80% of small businesses in the U.S. survive their tumultuous first year of operations, nearly half fail by year five, according to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. In 10 years, only roughly one-third are still up and running.
Among the common reasons startups close shop within less than a decade is an inability to anticipate market demands, unclear business models, low customer and employee retention, and insufficient cash flow. Below are five recommendations to address these issues and meet long-term entrepreneurial goals.
Define your destination.
It might seem obvious, but knowing your end goal is the most straightforward way to chart a path to success. Branching out into new product lines, services or collaborations can only happen after establishing strong business roots. When developing a business model, recruit talent, accumulate capital and make sure to hone a concise mission statement that determines what measures of success will matter the most. Relay those conclusions to your team to ensure they align with your planned trajectory and can translate any overarching goals into their daily work.
Charisma and a positive attitude only get a leader so far. Setting well-defined and easily communicable goals are more likely to generate lasting investment from your staff, customer base and other stakeholders.
Be willing to adapt.
A strong initial vision can guide your entrepreneurship through times of uncertainty, but it’s never set in stone. Unforeseen economic concerns or changing market demands may result in a loss of interest in your initial product or service.
Fleshing out a diverse portfolio of services can prevent your business from becoming a one-hit-wonder, as can a willingness to change tracks entirely. Some of the most profitable businesses in the world got their start in entirely different markets than the ones they currently dominate.
A popular example is Wrigley, the famous American bubble gum company. In the 1890s, its founder, William Wrigley Jr., was a baking powder and soap salesman who would include a free pack of gum with every purchase. When Wrigley noticed the chewing gum appeared more popular than his actual product, he capitalized on that realization. Now we have beloved flavors like Spearmint, Juicy Fruit and Hubba Bubba.
For entrepreneurs in tech, such a pivot will probably be less drastic. Several now ubiquitous media platforms started online and merely began offering different digital services that proved more profitable.
Think beyond your immediate concerns.
So much of entrepreneurship is putting out fires as they ignite. It might feel like there is never time for reflection or proactive endeavors. But what can seem like the most pressing concerns at the moment might look quite small in hindsight. Rather than becoming sidetracked in the minutiae of daily operations, be willing to delegate administrative tasks so you can focus on the future.
New technology and trends develop at an exponential rate in the 21st century. Consider the case of Blockbuster Video and Netflix. They both provided similar services to consumers interested in at-home entertainment, but one has become a nostalgic cultural landmark while the other made nearly $25 billion in sales in 2021. I believe the difference lies in the two companies’ ability to follow technological advancements: Netflix adapted from offering mail-order DVDs to offering digital access to classic films and creating its own production studio.
Ask yourself how useful your products or services will be in five years, in 10 years and in 50 years. How can you transform to satisfy the needs of customers without sacrificing the core of your vision?
Support and trust your team.
No entrepreneur truly works alone. Every great business idea takes a great team to implement it. The same effort put into winning over customers and investors should be applied to retaining top talent across all divisions in the organization. Supporting employees, taking their feedback seriously and acknowledging their inherent value will foster loyalty, high morale and a sense of belonging. Offering them a stake in the company is one way to encourage collaboration and dedication.
Building a dream team will allow you to breathe easier because you’ll know that people have your back and want to see your plans come to fruition.
Let mistakes be lessons learned.
Don’t allow a past setback to immobilize the future of your business. The greatest CEOs recognize the futility in lingering on the consequences of failure rather than moving forward. Rather than beating yourself up about an error, look to it for valuable lessons about what does and does not work. The best and most accomplished leaders grow from their downfalls and do better going forward.
Entrepreneurship takes unwavering commitment, and simply beginning a new project and getting initial traction is an impressive feat. While celebrating early victories is fine, it’s important not to get complacent at the first taste of success. Veterans know that the only constant in the business world is change. You will have challenges yet to overcome, just over the horizon.
Likewise, failures, however disheartening, are par for the course. Everyone has scar tissue. Behind every successful leader is a lengthy list of missteps, miscalculations and ambitious but ultimately abandoned ideas. So long as an entrepreneur remains willing to listen, adapt, problem-solve and self-inspire, longevity can be achieved, and a flourishing and purposeful career can be possible.
Originally published in Forbes Business Council