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Unlocking Success: The One Piece of Advice Every Entrepreneur Needs to Hear

Updated: Apr 4

By Andrena Sawyer

Thirteen years ago, if someone had told me I would become a law school dropout who owns several successful businesses, I may have laughed in their face. The only thing that would have sounded more ridiculous would have been to add that my new path would put me in position to help hundreds of entrepreneurs start and run successful businesses every year. Thankfully, even things that sound ridiculous can actually become reality.

The truth is, I never had much of an interest in entrepreneurship. As a child, I watched my father work tirelessly to build businesses. Some were successful, while others were not. I now know my father was not alone in his plight because Bloomberg Research suggests that 8 out of every 10 businesses fail within the first 19 months. The Small Business Administration suggests that only half of new businesses survive the first five years, while only 35% are able to survive for 10 years. Despite my early exposure to the unfortunate side of entrepreneurship, I have come to believe that what sets the successful and the unsuccessful apart is not luck, worth ethic, or even skill. Most times, it comes down to the power of flexibility.

When you first become an entrepreneur, you are inundated with all sorts of advice – solicited and unsolicited. There is an incredible adrenaline rush that comes from seeing yourself manifest what had only been a vision in your mind for weeks, months, and sometimes even years. Most of the advice is given with good intentions and meant to be motivational. Yet, some have absolutely no significance to you because your primary concern early on is simply to survive.

Admittedly, I don’t remember much of what was said to me when I launched my first company. However, there is one piece of advice that has not only stuck with me, but saved my business several times. In year three, just as I was preparing to quit for the millionth time, a mentor told me, “to survive in business, you must marry the mission and date the model.” Understanding this has kept me going during the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship. 

To marry your mission is to remember your why, and to maintain your covenant with that why. To date your model is to make flexibility a core value in your business. It is your how. 

I learned the true meaning of this after my first year in business. The excitement and adrenaline had worn off, and the money I’d saved up for the initial capital had depleted. I now faced “real” business issues like cash flow, leadership and human resource challenges, customer service and iterating our value proposition.

For some of us, we went into business to disrupt the industry. We were tired of inefficiency, or annoyed that a few big players were monopolizing everything, leaving no room for anyone else to play. For others, there was a glaring need that one too many people complained about, yet no one was offering viable solutions. Then there are those of us who started a business because we recognized our gifts and talents and saw business ownership as a way to walk in our purpose. Remembering this is critical to success. It is your mission. It lays the foundation for the story that your business will tell. However, even that is not enough sometimes. That is where dating the model comes in.

While your mission—the reason you went into business and the need that your business solves—should never change, the way your business does business had better change if it is to survive. This includes your marketing strategies, your price point, and sometimes even your company culture. All of these things are still connected to the mission, but this allows you to stay relevant and top-of-mind.

The reality is there are many factors that influence your success as an entrepreneur. Some of these factors like industry trends, sales cycles, current events, economic upturns and downturns, and even your organization’s capacity are sometimes beyond your control. By adjusting your model, you develop a culture of freedom that allows your business to adapt to these changes. Ultimately, this hones your business’ survival instinct in difficult times, and leverages positive trends in good times. This ability to be adaptable could very well be the deciding factor between being part of the success statistics or the failure rates.

Have some advice that can help others succeed in 2019? Share in the comments below!


About the Author: 

Andrena is the Founder of the Minority Christian Women Entrepreneurs Network - a faith-based initiative for women in business. 

She is also the author of several books including The Misadventures of a New Entrepreneur, and The Long Way Home. Follow her online @ Andrena_Sawyer


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