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Hard (but real) advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

“If not me, then who?  If not now, then when?” That was the motto of The Entrepreneur Club at the University of Florida, when I was a member nearly 18 years ago. (As I remember, my membership pushed me further out on the “geek spectrum” than was my nature, but it was worth it.) It was also during college that I first read Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” In parenting, coaching and mentoring, I have borrowed from his book often: “Thoughts are things.” Entrepreneurs take this advice to heart.

What entrepreneurs are made of

They aren’t afraid to take these “things” — big ideas — and think outside the box. Entrepreneurs are also unconventional and can see things that others don’t. They may be one of two extremes—those with an unhealthy fear of failure who can’t stand the thought of it, and those who are unfazed by it.

An entrepreneurial success story that’s close to home

Proverbs 13:11 (New Living Translation) says, “Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.” Everyone wants to reap the rewards of success, but few are willing to plow the fields with sacrifice and perseverance. But those who do (it may be you!) can reap the rewards. I’m close to someone who has done just this.

I am proud of my brother-in-law, Chris McArthur, for what he has accomplished with Black & Brew — a local business in Lakeland, Florida that is continuing to expand and enjoy success. As an investor, I am aware of the tough road he has traveled (it did not come without sacrifice) and the rewards it has brought. He has succeeded because of his willingness to do what others would not.  He cares deeply about his employees and his community and has adapted when necessary. There’s been calculated risks and serious challenges. For example, the building the coffee shop now occupies was 103 years old at the time and had endured several major hurricanes — both a financial and personal challenge. Through perseverance, this building at 205 E. Main in Lakeland is now a community centerpiece — and growing beyond our city. How did he do it?

It’s not all about money

You may be thinking that this was empowered by a large pile of money — but having cash is not a prequalification for becoming a successful entrepreneur. In my brother-in-law’s case, he was 23 years old at the time and had very little except for a dream… and some very prescient investors.

In fact, I’ve found the reverse to be true — the easier the access to capital, the greater the danger may be of failure. In over 15 years as a Financial Advisor, I have seen folks lose money on a myriad of business ventures, suggesting that merely having the funds to work with isn’t enough to guarantee success.

But — if you’ve got an idea and the tenacity to see it come to life — here’s a few nuggets of wisdom to help you start your own business or invest in one, based on my experience and the journey of Black & Brew.

Tips for aspiring entrepreneurs

  1. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Many if not most startups eventually fail — with no profit. It will take more than just throwing money at the business to ensure success. Expect setbacks, challenges, and long hours along the road; it’s just a reality of being a startup!
  2. Encouragement from friends and family may not always be what you need to hear. While well-intentioned, they may be telling you “what you want to hear.” They may not want to crush your dreams or risk offending you. This is a tough one, as the encouragement from loved ones can feel very inspiring. However, the best advice you’ll get — what you need to hear — is often what you may not want to hear.
  3. Trouble with investors may mean trouble for you. Nobody wants to feel that their dreams or best ideas aren’t good ones. Most would agree, though, that not all ideas in existence will become successful. If investors aren’t willing to support your idea financially — leaving only yourself and your own assets — it may be a sign that you need to run. (Or, find a new idea!)
  4. Generally speaking, be very wary of purchasing equity in an existing business. If an existing business needs capital and is willing to sell equity to you, run even faster. Simply put, successful existing businesses don’t usually sell their equity, and if they do it comes at a hefty premium.
  5. Talk to other entrepreneurs who have done this before. Learning from the experience of others can help to guide you. For example, how many hours a week did they work in reality, and did they work on weekends? What would they have done differently?

Perhaps, the most important question every aspiring entrepreneur needs to ask is not, “Can I do this?” but perhaps: “Am I willing?” If the answer is yes, perhaps the fire of entrepreneurship is burning within you, just like it was for my brother-in-law — who is now enjoying the fruits of his labor and has become an integral part of our local community.

Asking the right questions, engaging with professional advisors, and enduring the challenges you are sure to face can help bring your ideas to life.

January 2020