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The Long, Winding, Sometimes Rocky Trail to Business Success, and Why It’s Worth the Trip

A man walking up a hiking trail of a mountain

Wouldn’t it be nice if business success was easy? If there was a formula for success, like all the self-help gurus would have us believe?

My answer to those questions is no. I think it’s good that business is challenging and difficult at times.

It’s only through fighting past the tough times — and puzzling through the challenges — that we learn. And once we’ve put the effort in, we appreciate the success we’re able to create more than if it was handed to us.

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”
–Ralph Nader

The trick to enjoying running your own business is to expect the ups and downs, and the twists and turns. Welcome them. Embrace them. And take full advantage of what they’ll teach you.

Here’s what to look for:

Economic ups and downs

A changing economy is to be expected. Over the life of your business, you’ll see the economic climate go through times when it favors your business, and times when it squeezes your opportunities to a bare minimum.

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Income that disappears

You’re humming along, and things are going well, when suddenly the rug is pulled out from under you. Whether it’s losing your biggest client, a sudden turn in the demand for your product, or a health problem that means you have to dial back your hours, your income will dip from time to time.

An inadvertent hit product or service

Sometimes the products or services you least expect to do well turn into sleeper “hits” that sell beyond your wildest expectations. This is not a bad problem to have, of course, but to continue with your business success path, something you may need to make adjustments around.

Related: Minimum Viable Product Examples: Build the Core of Your Online Business This Month

Potential projects that fall through

You’ve been working on reeling in a new client for months. Or you’ve been talking to a potential partner. The new source of income is so close, you can taste it. You’re on the threshold of new business success! And (you’re embarrassed to admit) you’ve even started planning how you’ll spend your new income.

And suddenly — it’s gone. Plans change, and you won’t be able to count on that source of income in the future.

Sales that fall flat

A service or product you offer has been a reliable source of income for months and years, and sales have begun to taper off. You know you need to make a change: will you keep it and update it? Pull it and replace it?

Related: Why is My Course Not Selling? Smart Solutions to 4 Common Problems

Potential partners come out of nowhere

Sometimes — when you least expect it — you’ll meet someone who will change the course of your business. Oftentimes you don’t realize it at the time, but looking back, you’ll see that change started to happen when you and that person crossed paths.

They may become a business partner, a brainstorming partner, or simply a source of inspiration. Once you find them, your business changes for the better.

You’ll get discouraged

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a long and winding trail to walk as you build your business over the years. There will be ups and downs, and in the down moments, you may feel discouraged. Expect this: it’s natural. The road to business success is never straight.

“Success is never so interesting as struggle—not even to the successful.”
–Willa Cather

Someone in a light blue shirt counting coins - business success sometimes comes in small steps.

You’ll celebrate small victories

There will be many small moments of victory, and you’ll be a happier business owner if you find a way to celebrate them. Mark them on the calendar, keep a journal, report your successes to your business colleagues and family members. Every small business success deserves recognition, even if you’re the only person celebrating.

Guaranteed: your business will shape shift

Businesses evolve. Try to go into your business with a strong vision of what you want to accomplish, and a weak vision of how exactly you’ll accomplish it.

Because as time goes on, the tools and techniques you’ll use will change. You’ll respond to your customers, you’ll learn new skills, and you’ll have more opportunities at your disposal.

Don’t get attached to exactly how you’ll get to your destination.

Related: Should You Build a Personal Brand or a Business Brand?

What should you pack for the journey?

Pack your bags with plenty of persistence. You’ll need it for the trip. Remember, business success is about the journey, not the destination.

“Achieving a goal is nothing. The getting there is everything.”
–Jules Michelet

Take along your flashlight. Your business journey will feel like walking through the woods on a dark night. The flashlight in your hand will show you where to place your feet in the space directly ahead of you, but you won’t be able to see beyond that. And that’s OK: that’s how it works!

Use your listening ears. This is how you can “see” ahead of you. By listening to what your customers need, you can stay ahead of the game. So when that client bails out, or the big job falls through, or the partner loses interest, or sales fall flat … you have a plan B.

Here’s what business success boils down to …

The process is what it’s all about, not the goal. The goal is just what you’re pointing toward.

Human nature dictates that as soon as we accomplish one goal, we set a new one for ourselves. So you see, it’s not about the goal. It’s about the trail we travel to get there.

Let go of your goals. Embrace the process you’ll use to get there.

That’s where the learning happens, that’s where the adventure lives, and that’s where business gets done.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published n November 5, 2014 and has been updated with new information.

The Long, Winding, Sometimes Rocky Trail to Business Success, and Why It\'s Worth the Trip

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson coaches people in mid-career to build profitable online businesses. Apply to work with Pamela in her Offer Accelerator, learn more about her books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site and business.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.

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24 thoughts on “The Long, Winding, Sometimes Rocky Trail to Business Success, and Why It’s Worth the Trip”

  1. Hi Pamela,

    As someone who has made much of my income over the years on commission, I certainly know the feeling of being so close to getting paid and having the rug pulled out from under my feet. Not only will your business change over time, it should be a goal to make sure you are changing your business. As always, thanks for another great article.

  2. This is my first time to your site; my friend Ross Lukeman said I should read this post. He was right! I love the whole thing but particularly loved this quote:

    “Your best teacher is your last mistake.”
    –Ralph Nader

    So true!

  3. Thanks for this insightful post filled with valuable advice Pamela!

    You hit the nail on the head with the quote “Achieving a goal is nothing. The getting there is everything.”
    –Jules Michelet

    This was a great reminder to enjoy the journey!

  4. I’ve discovered that identifying your “promise” both to yourself and your client can help focus on the proper path for the journey. If your promise to yourself is that your work will helpful in creating a peaceful life for your family-you will know when you are off path. If your promise to your client is for your service to be reliable, fresh, helpful and on time, they will tell you when your off. Yes! It’s in the journey to the goals that we learn. But it’s in the understanding of the promise that gives direction.

  5. As an aspiring female entrepreneur, I am really inspired by you. I also saw your post on Copyblogger and how you issued a statement to women in business. That was great. We need more info out there like that. Thanks.

  6. Great article – for those considering starting a business, for those who have started a business and are struggling – and for those of us with successful businesses who occasionally need reminding why we do it!

  7. When I first started by design studio, I found myself easily frustrated by how difficult the whole “small business” thing was. As time passed, the business grew and it’s now easy to look back and see why that was a necessary season. As I’ve learned, anything worth having is worth working on. Similarly, those things that come easily seem to go away just as easily! Thanks for the encouraging reminder Pamela!!!

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Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
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