Don't Burn The Ships!
In 1519, Hernan Cortes landed his crew on the coast of the modern-day state of Veracruz. His men were divided. Some wanted to go back to Cuba while Cortes and some of the other men wanted to conquer the Aztec Empire. Cortes burned the ships, stranding all his forces and leaving them no option but to either defeat the Aztec empire or die. They eventually were responsible for the fall of the Aztec Empire achieving Cortes’ goal.
This story may be real or it may be a legend. Either way, we can look at it as a modern-day metaphor that can be used in business. When Cortes burned his ships, he let his soldiers know there were only two options, either defeat the Aztec empire or die. In most entrepreneurs’ lives there will be a time when you need to commit everything inside yourself to your mission. However, burning your ships too early in the journey can also result in your inevitable demise.
Cortes made sure he could at least have a chance at success. He was already arriving at his destination. He knew he had access to the essentials for survival.
This is the greatest lesson I have ever learned as an entrepreneur: make sure you can see land before you burn the ships.
This metaphor is the perfect example for those entrepreneurs in the early stages of their project or who just have an idea. I am a big believer in side projects. All of my most successful companies started as side projects and as they grew I was able to have more concrete evidence that I would survive if I burned the ships. Keeping employment or staying focused on your main income source while working on your side project is the smartest choice you could make.
You may be asking, “What concrete evidence do I need before ‘burning the ships?’” Have you proven that your idea will be able to support itself? Will you have enough working capital to keep the business afloat? Not only does your business need to be able to support itself, but you need to be sure that it can also support your personal financial needs. If this is going to be your only source of income you need to be sure that there will be enough money to take care of your personal expenses. Obviously, you might have to live a “leaner lifestyle” while you are getting your business up and running. However, you do not want to sell yourself short. All it takes is one or two unplanned large expenses to sink your business. You wouldn’t want to start your business and be putting in all your heart and soul into it, but then have it ruined by an unplanned personal expense like your vehicle breaking down or a medical expense.
You may be thinking, “I can’t have PROOF that my business will work until I go all in.” If that is the case, and it might be, you better be sure that your idea is a good one and it will work. You need to vet your idea through many different avenues. Be strategic! Get advice from many sources. Find sources that you not only trust, but that will also give you honest feedback. Your sources should not be “yes people” that will say, “Wow, you’re awesome!” to any idea you have. These sources should give you constructive criticism that will make you think strategically about how this business can be a success. On your end, you need to be ready to hear these criticisms and work through these issues and make plans on how to combat these problems if they were to arise. This way, you will be prepared. This process may also help you know how much working capital you believe you will need at hand so that you are ready and capable of “burning the ships”
am also firm believer that you need to develop a system that will acquire you new customers automatically and at will. With my background in marketing, funnels creation and web development, I personally develop systems that potential customers move through automatically that eventually leads them to buying a product or service that they are interested in buying. These systems can and do look much different from one business to another but the overall idea of creating this system that automatically ushers your leads and potential clients through a series of email marketing, retargeting ads, funnels and themed lead magnets that lets you understand their interest is essential to all businesses today.
You see these systems in every business niche that exists today, you can build it for your niche too. Many retail stores will send out weekly fliers via email. When you click on a specific product through the email you have said “I am interested in this”. That information can be used to retarget you if you do not buy and also market your related products or services. This leads to a higher likelihood of you making a purchase and a higher likelihood of you purchasing multiple related products.
Many people start a business do some advertising and hope people buy their products or services. If you are “hoping” you do not have a viable business. You need to develop a systematic process that generates new clients automatically.
There are hundreds of books and courses out there that can help you do this. Spend the time and investment into your knowledge of email marketing, lead magnet creation and systematic processes for generating new clients and revenue for your specific niche. Once you have developed this process you will be able to generate clients “on demand” as you wish. This is a great feeling and one worth burning the ships over.
It is the entrepreneur’s dream to spend your days working on your own business. Most of us are not passionate about our day job. We want to have that entrepreneurial freedom and lifestyle. Here is the good news, it is possible if you are strategic with your business decisions. However, in the beginning you may have to wait until you can get some concrete evidence that your side project is worth burning your ships i.e. quitting your job.
Keeping your day job for six months or a year before making the “jump” and burning the ships is a smart plan. Your day job most likely provides you with a steady income and possibly benefits. These are all the details that add up to success or failure.
I am not saying you should work 18-hour days forever. Just until you can “see land.” Once you can see you can generate customers on demand and will be able to financially support your business and your personal needs then make the jump and burn those damn ships!
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