Lots of people talk about the tactics behind building a business and becoming a successful entrepreneur– get on Pinterest! Use this free WordPress template! In reality, these are just minuscule parts of a successful business. What I haven’t seen is a gritty guide that takes you through the process of starting a business and shows you the warts, the mistakes, and the things other people won’t talk about.
That’s why I wrote my new ebook, Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business, which tells you everything you need to know about starting and growing an online business. This is based on my (and my students’) experience scaling businesses from zero dollars to millions.
In this post, I wanted to share one of my favorite lessons I’ve shared. It’s the lesson on the mindset of successful entrepreneurs––how to overcome failures and setbacks, stay focused, and develop unshakable confidence.
What sets successful entrepreneurs apart from the rest is their mindset.
When most people burn out and give up, successful entrepreneurs power through. When most people get exasperated over getting stuck, successful entrepreneurs find another way. Here’s how they do it.
I remember my trainer stacking on weights and saying, “OK, 10-10-10.”
He meant 10 cleans, 10 push-ups, 10 pull-ups… times 10. I just shook my head and got started. On the 5th set, I had slowed way down. I was catching my breath when I heard the voice in my head, “I can’t do any more. My heart is beating too fast. I should just sit down and rest.”
I hate that voice. I hate it because every time I listen to it and quit, I regret it and want to go back in time and slap myself in the face. But it was getting louder and louder in my head.
Then something happened. As I was thinking about quitting, I saw my trainer add more weight for my next set. I was about to quit, and he was adding more weight!
He said, “COME ON!!” And I shook my head again, took a deep breath, and went for it.
I wasn’t the fastest, but I finished. And as I walked out of there, I realized I’d learned more in that one training session than from reading 20 books about business:
I thought I couldn’t go on, and I was getting ready to quit, but instead of letting me quit or even coast, my coach pushed me to do even more.
And I did it. This was a magical moment for me.
It made me think about how easy it is to quit — and how rare it is to find someone who’ll push you harder than you even thought was possible.
Mark Divine, my friend and retired Navy Seal Commander, shared a similar experience. He was on the verge of Hell Week during SEAL training. Hell Week is generally considered the most arduous period of military training in any special-ops branch in the world.
His instructor said to him: “Don’t worry about this. This is an easy day. You’re capable of 20 times what you think you are.”
They started on Sunday. “By Wednesday I was getting more alert,” Mark said. “My body also started to get stronger. I actually started to develop muscle mass. So by Thursday of Hell Week I was developing muscle mass and I was starting to feel really strong, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
What’s any of this got to do with you growing your online business? Everything.
In every entrepreneur’s journey, he or she will run into incredible resistance. Take a look:
It’s in the “Trough of Sorrow” where mental toughness becomes crucial. It’s where many entrepreneurs give up, and let the short-term setback stop them from building a 6-figure business.
These moments are inevitable. Most entrepreneurs go through it in some form:
“One of the hardest things about failing from the get-go is I felt I had to hide it from my friends and family… It was a really hard time in my life.” — Bryce C.
“About two years ago, I decided that I wanted to try the online [business] thing. I actually left my full-time position at my company… That was really the first time where I experienced putting eﬀort into something and then crossing my fingers and hoping for a result and seeing absolutely nothing. It’s like you’re used to succeeding your entire life and then all of a sudden, you’d come up against a brick wall.” — Tom M.
“I was afraid I’d have to move back home to Alabama. I kept asking myself, ‘Am I doing this right? Am I making enough?’ I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pay rent.” — Sarah J.
The entrepreneur’s journey is infected by the Facebook eﬀect. Most business owners compare their day-to-day to everyone else’s highlight reel. You go on Facebook, what do you see? “Oh, I love being on the beach. Costa Rica is so beautiful on a Wednesday!”
At home, you’re like, “What? I’m sitting in here trying to launch this online business. What is going on here?”
The tools to weather the journey and stay mentally tough are just as important as your email newsletter tool or your email capture form, if not more so.
Want more advice on navigating the “Trough of Sorrow?” Grab a copy of Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business here.
The Power of Unshakable Confidence
We all know that person. Someone who’s got it all figured out… their business is taking oﬀ, they are amazing at their 9-5, AND never miss their kid’s football games. You look at them and wonder, “How are you so confident? How do you have it all under control?”
I call this “unshakable confidence.” How can we as entrepreneurs build it?
Imagine you wanted to build an online business similar to IWT. You look at what it’ll take. First, you’ll start a blog. Then you realize, “Oh, no, I have to get a domain. I have to register it, and then I have to set up an email list, and then I have to write every day. Wow, that’s overwhelming.”
It is overwhelming… yet to someone who’s been doing it for years, it seems eﬀortless. They wake up, write a blog post, and hit publish. Ten thousand people see it and 200 leave a comment. If we’re starting out, how can we do the same?
What’s the diﬀerence between the 2 people? One diﬀerence: Realizing that almost anything can be figured out. In fact, as my friend Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figure-out-able.”
One person, who’s not confident, sees all those challenges to starting an online business. Email list, domain, URL, writing all the time… “Ahhhh! Overwhelming! No, that’s too much stuﬀ. I can’t do it.”
The second person has to go through the exact same things, but their mindset is totally diﬀerent. Instead of saying, “Oh, my God, that’s overwhelming,” they say, “Okay, what are all the things I possibly need to do?” They write them down, as many as they can.
Next, they look at their list. “Okay, each of these things is going to be valuable and it’s going to be fun. I’m going to learn something new.” Setting up an email list? No idea how to do it. What does it involve? What are the best vendors? How much does it cost? They start Googling. And instead of feeling overwhelmed, they think, “I’m going to learn how to set up an email list. Once I learn, I’ll know it forever.”
You repeat this process over and over again, for each item on your list. With each step, your confidence builds, slowly creating powerful, unshakable confidence.
How to Never Be Afraid of Failure
Failure is one of the big “F words” in our culture. I want to tweak the way that you think about failure, because I’ve failed a lot over the last few years. In fact, I fail so often, I have a failures folder set up in my email account. If I’m not sending five to seven failures there a month, I’m actually failing at failing. I know that I’m not trying enough, so I’m not failing enough, as well.
You can see just in that simple example how I think about failure totally diﬀerently than many people. Many of us believe, if we fail at something we’re going to be marked with a scarlet letter forever. In fact, some of us have never experienced failure at all.
Think of something you’re not particularly good at. For me, it’s math. I was never really good at math. Yet, my businesses include online business and personal finance. I cover conversion strategy and becoming rich, and I do math on a daily basis. There are a few diﬀerent options to get over the idea of failure and get on with your business.
First, actually get better. There’s no way around this. It can be diﬃcult or challenging to practice something over and over again, forcing yourself to get better. In my math example, that would mean reading math books, practicing problems, etc.
For running your business, it might be writing blog posts. Or staying on top of all the business administration. Or selling your goods or service. The unsexy but powerful thing is to just spend the time getting better at something you’re not good at.
Second, reframe failure. Let’s say that you’re terrible at cardio. You hate running on the treadmill, like I do. I’d rather do pull-ups until my arms fell oﬀ than get on that treadmill. So what can I do?
I reframe failure. I say, “Okay, yesterday I ran for 7 minutes and I was exhausted. I felt like I was going to die. Today, I’m going to just try for 7 minutes and 30 seconds. If I run for that extra 30 seconds, it’s undeniable that I’m getting better.”
See how that’s a reframe? Frankly, it’s embarrassing for me to admit I can only run for 7 minutes, but I reframed it. By adding the 30 seconds, it becomes a growth trajectory.
Another powerful reframe my students use: “It’s not a failure. It’s a test.” No one clicked on your email? Not a failure, you just tested that headline. No one bought on your sales page? That’s a test of your oﬀer, now you know you need to rethink the benefits of your product or service.
Third, prepare for failure. It’s okay to think, “I’m probably going to fail at this, so let me prepare.” I call this a failure expectation strategy, and it’s helped in so many areas of my life. For example, I had a failure expectation strategy when I was applying to colleges. I expected to get rejected by a number of colleges, including Stanford, because it’s a competitive school.
I planned out ahead of time, “What will I do if I get rejected?” In this case, I was going to send additional press clippings from the newspaper. I was going to send an update on my grades and a new essay I’d written. If I failed, it would have just been another stepping stone to eventual success.
In your business, the better your failure expectation strategy, the faster you’ll grow. For example, let’s say you sell a make-up tutorial course. You send it out to some friends and family who might be interested, but all you hear are crickets.
Fortunately, you have failure expectation strategies up your pocket. You tell another group of friends, but this time, you bundle your oﬀer with a complimentary 30-minute Skype consultation, and this time, you get 2 buyers. Interesting… You sell to another group, and bundle it with your favorite bronzer set, and this time 10 people buy.
Suddenly, more orders are coming in, and you’re in business, because you used your failure expectation strategy. We also call this “failing forward,” because each failure propels your business another step ahead, until it’s inevitable that you become successful.
A word of caution about failure: If you set really unrealistic goals, there is a cost to failure. If you say, “Okay, I’m feeling really motivated. I’m going to sit down and write an entire sales letter or write 7 emails pitching my product, which I’ve been putting oﬀ for the last 3 months. I’m going to buckle down and get it done…”
If you use generic phrases like “feeling motivated” and “I’m going to buckle down,” I can tell you you’re already going to fail. And after failing multiple times, you’ll start to see yourself as a “person who fails.” In other words, you start to believe, “I’m not the kind of person who can succeed in business.”
If fear of failure is paralyzing you, then I strongly recommend you set a tiny, realistic goal for the day. When you achieve it, then move on to the next tiny, realistic goal. Your business is going to see better results from taking action on small goals then dreaming about unrealistic big goals that you never achieve.
Failure is a normal part of business. You don’t have to be a weirdo and track all your failures like me, but if you don’t have 3 things you’ve failed at in the last 6 months, you’re probably not trying enough. A friend once gave me some great advice at a tricky time in my career.
She said: “Ramit, nobody cares what you did. They only care what you’re doing.”
This completely shifted the way I looked at failure, and is a reason for a lot of my success today.
Stop Worrying About Falling Behind
In my program Zero to Launch, students learn all the steps to build an online business. Inevitably, new students join, see how much progress other people have made, and they freak out.
Here’s one email I got, where a student wrote: “I see many folks who seem to have been making progress within the course, and I not only feel left behind but confused as to where I might be missing something important.”
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to this program, there are some superstar students, but they’re probably only about 5% of the student population. They just happen to post frequently, and so you see their results.
It can get uncomfortable after a while, I get that. How did they get 2,000 people to sign up for their newsletter this week? How did they just make $15,000 in sales this month? What am I missing?
I get that. I’m in communities, too, where it’s like, “What am I doing wrong? Did I miss a certain slide in the program, and everyone else got it except for me?”
The truth is, this is supposed to be hard.
But if you compare yourself to what everyone else is doing, you’re going to be stuck there forever for no reason at all.
A while back I posted a short video of me bowling. Like any person who grew up in suburbia, I am the man at bowling. I go up, I look at the camera, and I said, “Here we go.” Boom! Knock them all down! Fist bump!
If you watched it, you’d probably think, “Okay, this guy is pretty good.”
Except no one saw the other video we shot… Same cameraperson, similar set-up. I look at the camera, approach the lane, and completely EAT IT. I slip and fall down. The people next to me are laughing, the camera is shaking because the person is laughing.
Interestingly, that one didn’t make it to social media. So if you had just looked at my feed, it just looks like I’m great at bowling.
The fact is, that was just one success I happened to capture on camera, and the same thing is true when comparing your business to someone else’s. You might see someone who launched a $10,000 product. Amazing, good for them, and I want them to succeed even more. But what we don’t see are all the mistakes they made, all the misses, all the times they fell down. They’re there, trust me, they just don’t want you to see them.
Here’s a simple technique that allowed me to eliminate 99% of these worries about what how others are doing. It goes like this:
Focus on what you can control, ignore what you cannot.
That sounds obvious, but when we look at our actual behavior, it’s actually quite unbelievable how much time we spend focusing on the things we cannot control. For example, the economy, politics, negative people, other people’s businesses, these are all things we generally cannot control, and yet we spend a lot of energy worrying about them.
Once I was getting ready for a TV spot. I was getting my makeup done, and the makeup lady gets really angry with me. She said, “So you’re this finance guy, huh? You know they just started taking $200.00 a week out of my paycheck.”
“Who’s they?” I ask.
“You know, the government.”
I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t think the government is suddenly taking $10,000.00 a year out of her paycheck.” But she was convinced. She was convinced that the government suddenly decided to take $10,000 a year from her.
“What should I do about it?”
I smiled. “You know you could certainly look into that. You should try to find out exactly who’s taking this money out of your paycheck. But, let me ask you a question. Do you have a 401K?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Have you maxed it out?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about a Roth IRA?” I asked. “Do you know what that is?”
“Yeah. I have one. I didn’t put anything in this year. Last year I contributed a little bit…” And at that moment, she kind of got the point, which is it’s easy to complain about what “the government” is doing, or how bad the economy is.
Yet the things in front of her, the very things she has control over, she was not doing.
Why is that? Because we hear from all the media around us how bad things are, and it actually feels great to be able to complain about it and stick it to somebody and tell them, “I can’t believe this!”
What we want to focus on is improving ourselves. Remember, building a business is supposed to be challenging, otherwise everyone else would do it. So I just focus on what I can control, and ignore everything else.
For example, when I see someone who’s super successful, I don’t let myself get jealous. I force myself to reframe the situation. I’ll say to myself, “That’s great, I’m happy for them. We’re all at diﬀerent stages. What could I learn from what they did?” If I can, I’ll even message them or shoot them an email.
I’d say, “That is amazing. Can you tell me what part of the process helped you the most? How did you focus on your copywriting because I noticed that it’s really vibrant?”
This is how we become amazing entrepreneurs. We develop the skills to become mentally tough, to push through the trough of sorrow that EVERY business owner goes through. Then we look at the other entrepreneurs around us and use them for support. We ask for help. We ask excellent questions. And together, we all grow.
This article is an excerpt of the best-selling ebook Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business. The ebook is based on author Ramit Sethi’s 10+ years of experience growing a multi-million dollar business. Get your copy of the book here.