The “Secret” to Self-Employment Success

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Ask anyone who’s succeeding at self-employment the question, “What’s the secret of self-employment success?” and you’ll probably get a few different answers. Education, talent, connections, being in the right place at the right time… luck! I think there’s at least some merit to all. But while each of them might represent a step in the right direction at some point in the process, none—with the possible exception of talent—are likely to sustain you over the long haul. And even talent won’t get the job done if it isn’t consistently applied.

All of us have an opinion as to what drives success. But if I have to pick one trait that stands above the rest, it’s relentlessness. I credit that trait as the single most important one that enabled me to go from washed-up mortgage originator to a self-employed professional blogger in under three years.

The “Secret” to Self-Employment Success
The “Secret” to Self-Employment Success

I had no special talents, no specific education and no connections that would have made the journey worth considering, let alone likely. But the one thing that I did have was a commitment to succeed no matter what happened.

Why is relentlessness so powerful?

How Relentlessness can Drive Self-employment Success

There’s a long list of possibilities here, but these captures some of the biggest benefits of relentlessness:

  • It can drive you toward your goal even when others say you can’t do it.
  • It keeps you moving forward even when problems hit.
  • Keeps you going when you hit those lulls—the kind you might camp out in then drift off in other directions.
  • It forces you to get what ever training, contacts or resources you need to do what you want to accomplish.
  • It keeps you from quitting.
  • Keeps you from getting distracted.
  • It keeps your eyes, ears and mind always on the goal.
  • It enables you to embrace that critical “don’t look back” mentality.

All of these are important to success, especially when you’re transitioning into self-employment. There’s a human tendency toward nostalgia that needs to be overcome. We tend to look back, especially during times of stress, to another time when life seemed simpler, safer and more rewarding. While all of that may have been true at the time, none of it will help you going forward.

If you want to enter self-employment, your future is “out there somewhere” in the unknown — and it’s not a place, a time or a specific event. It’s a world that needs to be created. In order to do that you have to be relentless in making it happen.

The Power of Forward Motion

At its core, relentlessness is constant forward motion. You’re going forward no matter what happens in the present. Think of it as a football team that spends the early part of the game building its running attack — enough short gains early sets up big plays later. It may not be a pretty way to get where you’re going and it may take longer than you want. But if you keep going forward, even a little bit at a time, sooner or later you’ll get to where you want to go.

We can think of it as delayed gratification, a concept that’s largely lost in our have-it-now culture. But it’s what drove Western Civilization forward for centuries before it fell out of favor. Relentlessness allows you to sacrifice the present for a better tomorrow, and forward motion is how it works.

Keep moving forward no matter what obstacles you face. That’s relentlessness–and you won’t succeed at self-employment without it.

Self-Employment Requires Becoming Single-Minded

Single-mindedness is the close first cousin of relentlessness. It’s a way of clearing the decks for the push forward. You’ll absolutely need to do this in order to be successful at self-employment. We live in a world that’s greedy for our time and attention. If we did nothing constructive with our lives, we would still be swamped with obligations, appointments, bills, problems, TV, music, sports and going to the dentist — and that’s just the short list!

If you’re to succeed in business, you have to become skilled at properly prioritizing, de-emphasizing or even ignoring many of life’s distractions. That requires that you become almost single-minded. You have to focus your most and best time and attention on the venture you’re attempting build. If you’re trying to develop a business or a sales career, you’re almost certainly trying to create something that didn’t exist until you came on the scene. Making it happen will require more than the usual amount of effort and you’ll have to get rid of a few things in the process.

And now the Really Good News: Anyone can be Relentless

This is the really good news about relentlessness. You don’t need a top education, a pedigree, influential connections or boatloads of talent. In fact, a relentless person will eventually come into all of those as they’re needed. You don’t have to sit around rationalizing “I can’t be successful in business because I don’t have a (fill in the blank)”. Relentlessness can help you overcome or acquire what you don’t have.

All you have to do is resolve in your mind that you want what you’re after more than you fear the challenges that stand in your way.

If you truly want to enter self-employment — but have never done it before — be prepared for a hard and extended charge forward. And always be ready to confront and blow through any obstacles that come in your path. That’s relentlessness, and you’ll probably never succeed in self-employment if you don’t embrace it.

What do you think is the most important trait for self-employment success?

Related Posts:

10 Qualities of the Self-Employed Mindset
7 Reasons to be Self-Employed
Why Most New Businesses Fail – And How Not to Become One of Them
Income Security VS Job Security – Does it Matter?
The Self-Employed Health Insurance Dilemma
7 Reasons Why Self-Employment is More Secure than a Job
How to Start Your Own Online Store

( Photo by Ruth and Dave )

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17 Responses to The “Secret” to Self-Employment Success

  1. I will add one more thing why being relentless is a good trait for an entrepreneur. It helps you push through the naivete one might have when they become self-employed. For example, 6 years ago when we made the decision to work for ourselves I think I held onto the illusion that it couldn’t be that hard. Boy, was I ever wrong! Only because we had/have the willpower to keep pushing are we still self-employed.

    Keep pushing! But find something worth working on because you probably will be pushing for a long, long time.

  2. Hi Marshall–agreed, you can’t just throw a dart and say “I want to be in THAT business”. Sometimes that can work, but usually it has to be a business that you’re passionate about and will push to the hilt. I think any of us can succeed if we believe in something enough.

  3. I’d have to agree with you that relentlessness is essential to entrepreneurs. There are lots of balls to juggle that your former employer used to take care of. That was one of the harder things for me to get used to.

    I love creating, working with people, writing, all the fun stuff. The rest, not so much. Focusing on the big picture and being relentless in pursuit of that allows me to get through the things I don’t like.

  4. Hi Fred – A long time ago a friend told me “Whatever you do in life there’s always some sort of payback”. In other words, something about the venture you won’t like. You just have to hold your nose on those irritations, and focus on what puts money in your pocket. That’s an acquired skill by itself.

  5. I became self employed in January. Quit a well paying job, with great benefits that I had been at since 1988! Great people but when I became an empty nester I had more choices and less responsibilities. It is eye opening to not get a paycheck every Friday or to go to the Dr knowing I no longer have Cadillac health care coverage. Guess What? I LOVE IT and Im happy to make the change.

    Everyday, Im on the reaching out to grow my business. Some days I get down but Ive got things in place that I do to force myself to turn it around. All in all the choice has been quite profitable and good.

    Love your story Kevin M as you’ve mentioned it several times in your blog. Im not going to lie, you fueled me to consider the change (although I know yours wasn’t exactly by choice)!

  6. Thanks Ruth Ann. I’ve been at this for 9+ years now, and I still have those moments of doubt. But they’re only moments, and I wouldn’t trade this for the world. Doubts are part of life, and I had them even when I had a real job, so it’s nothing new or worth getting worked up about. And since I never know what the new day will bring, my doubts are usually erased by some new pleasant surprise. The hardest part is getting the ball rolling. But once you do, inertia and gut instincts take over and keep you moving forward. Now I can’t imagine working any other way.

  7. Hi Kevin. As I started to read this post, the answer that came into my head about what trait you need is “just a lot of hard work”. Lots of other traits came to me as well, like sacrifice, but as I considered further, I think your term of relentlessness equates to the trait of willingness to work hard. For example, I know of a younger couple with two children, pre-teens, and the wife refuses to allow her husband to work on Sundays because that’s family time. Now, I agree with balance and family time wholeheartedly, but when you’re self-employed and trying to keep a small business afloat, that doesn’t always fly. There is no such thing anymore as my day off, my PTO, sick time, whatever. Yes, we all need those things and have to take them for our own sanity, but often times those things are taken sparingly for after you’re fairly successful at your business, which can and will take years. I see too many people wanting to start and/or own their own business but still want all the perks and freebies they had while employed elsewhere and before putting in the effort to keep the business running profitably or even just to get by. That’s my two cents…I’m sure many will disagree.

  8. I’m not one who will disagree Bev. Your comments are the words of someone who’s been there. I completely agree with you. The regular schedule, the menu of benefits, the predictability of a regular paycheck, having departments handle entire functions – they’re all gone when you’re self-employed. That’s especially true when you’re getting a business off the ground. If you think it will take only 40 hours a week, it’s not likely to work. You have to put in a lot of effort to get the ball rolling, and can only relax when it is.

    That said, I prefer having control of my time, compared to having it allocated to me by an employer. I can work two hours in a day or 12, which means I can make time available for family and personal needs. Since becoming self-employed I haven’t missed any family functions. That DID happen a few times when I was working for someone else.

    As far as hard work vs. relentlessness, I agree relentlessness may be an umbrella term that describes several components, like hard work. It’s really that saying, “when the going gets tough, the though get going”. That’s what you have to do to succeed, and there’s no alternative.

  9. Oddly there are some of us that really never felt they ever worked hard in their life. I recognized that I lacked the grit to succeed at anything that didn’t feel like a game to me, so I found a job that was like a competition and that motivated me to do what looked like hard work to others but was a favorite hobby to me. When I early retired and wanted fun side gigs, again knowing that’s the only kind I could stick with, I invented ones that were pretty easy but also had a competitive edge to them since that’s the only way I’ll ever put in decent effort. You really do have to know what makes you tick. I’m not as good a person as you, I admit that, but knowing that I was able to compensate for my lack of native relentlessness and still succeed. No false humility here, I’m as lazy as the day is long!

  10. Hi Steve – You’ve heard the saying “If you have a tough job, give it to a lazy man – he’ll find a better way”??? But I’m guessing you’re relentless when you find what it is you want to do. Maybe you’re in a field where there are plenty of opportunities, but much like a shark, you know when to turn it on, so to speak. You just don’t waste energy in the process.

    Also, relentlessness isn’t being in high gear all the time. It’s not quitting when things look hard. You may just have the talent to make things easy. Or you’re at a point in your career, and in your field, where you can cherry pick what you work on. That’s a good place to be, but a rare one. Enjoy the blessing that it is. As I’ve learned in my own work life, some jobs and fields really are easier or harder than others.

  11. Thanks Kevin, I actually took up distance running partly to force myself to have some discipline. 24,000 miles later and 15 marathons and I have managed to stick with that even though I kind of hate running. Actually I totally hate running but it is good for me.

  12. I read a quote from Mark Cuban who said ” Most businesses fail because they give up too soon”
    We didn’t make a profit for three years. We stuck with it and have been profitable for the past two years. I never lost money but for three years I was even at the end of each year. Spinning my wheels. I wanted to give up plenty of times. I’m glad I didn’t

  13. Hi Tim – Our culture is so awash in overnight success stories that we think they’re normal. They’re not. They’re certainly more motivational than the much more typical grind-it-out experiences that people like you and I have. But it’s also the reason more people aren’t self-employed. “Climbing that wall” keeps the number of self-employed to a minimum, even without government enforced monopolies or tough industry/professional certifications. I guess we should count ourselves among the blessed for having broken through. Or the cursed, depending on your perspective (I’ve felt both over the years).

    Looking back though, I see it as a total blessing, even the tough, multi-year start up. It’s a life adventure, and it’s one where you really find out what you’re made of. I’ve learned I’m tougher and more resourceful than I ever thought. I think most people are, but don’t let it out. But when you do, boy what a feeling. As I wrote in one of my posts on blogging, overcoming adversity is an empowering experience. Most of us spend most of our time avoiding adversity, which is only natural. But when you overcome it, it’s like no feeling in the world. We often forget God didn’t put us here to live lives of comfort and safety, but to step out in faith. Most of us are a lot more than we think we are, but we miss that by playing it safe.

    I gave up on the pursuit of safety years ago. It’s a myth anyway. I love the saying “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” That;s the real truth.

  14. I learned the same thing. I thought I was tough. When I had my job in law enforcement I faced down some bad situations. No need to explain. Funny thing is it never felt that way to me. I had people come at me with knifes and weapons and it never once dawned on me that I would ever get hurt.

    Once I left and started my own business is when it got scary to me. I had lost that safety net of a steady paycheck. Really, my motivation is that I never want another boss. Most were so lacking of any real understanding. They followed a book. It that type of job there is no book. If I followed the book the way they wanted I would be dead now.

    I have grown and changed so much the last five years after I left than I ever did in 25 years I had that job. I could never imagine going back. My only regret is that I wish I knew this early in life.
    I had reached the top there. I was so good at it that it became automatic. There was nowhere else to go from there but down. If I didn’t move forward I would be dead by now. I was getting sloppy.

    I love your comments. I’d like to bottle them up and carry it around with me.

  15. I’m with you, I wish I got into writing when I was in my 20s or early 30s. I did try in my early 30s but it didn’t happen. I was born a couple of decades too early! But realistically, had I not had my previous career experiences, I don’t think I’d be doing this now. Funny how it all works out in the end, even if it doesn’t seem like it along the way. I can’t tell you the number of times I wondered where I was going in those days. It usually seemed like nowhere.

    My plan now is to do this until I breathe my last breath, at which point I will hopefully have spent at least 30 years at it. Maybe by then my previous careers will be long forgotten. This just feels so right. I think that’s what so many people miss, that an occupation isn’t just about earning a living. It can be so much more if we get on the right path.

  16. Mine is long forgotten now. Your right though. Maybe if I don’t go through all that I would not be grateful now that I took the chance.

    I’m a late learner in life.

  17. Me too Tim (late learner) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My occasional exchanges with people who’s minds froze decades ago convince me that I’d rather be a late learner than a non-learner. Learning is stimulating, even when it’s difficult.

    Case in point: Last week I went to get a haircut. The barber had the news on, and it was something about Trump (it always is). This guy who is a friend of the barber and was just hanging out there blurts out loud “Trump is an a-hole and everyone who voted for him is an a-hole”. When I told him I voted for Trump he said “then you’re an a-hole too” (using the word each time of course).

    Now I think Trump is a bombastic, overgrown adolescent, but I raised my voice a bit and told him he just insulted 50% of the US population. He didn’t care. Realizing he’s an idiot, who simplistically thinks all the nations ills are the result of one politician and those who voted for him (as if all this crap just started happening in January of 2017), I did the Michelle Obama thing (“when they go low, we go high”). I said, again in a loud voice, “Well you just have a great day, and God bless you!” He left the store not knowing how to come back. After he left, the barber smiled and said, “he’s a Democrat”.

    He’s also an idiot. My point is, I don’t ever want to be that guy. There are too many people out there who are like that, totally secure in their ignorance to the degree that they don’t care if they offend anyone. Differences of opinion are one thing, but acting as if others have no right to disagree is ignorance at its worst.

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