A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

“Playing to Fail”–The Harsh Reality of Why 99% of Entrepreneurs Don’t Make It


Playing to Fail Why are you running a business? (Alternatively, why do you want to start one?)

Stop and think about this for a bit. You need a good reason as to why you’re doing this. Otherwise, you won’t make it very far.

I ask this question of other budding entrepreneurs a lot, and I often hear a response like “I just want to make some extra cash on the side.”

That is a vague, hand-wavy answer. One thing I know: When I ask you this question, and you respond with that answer, I know you’re not really serious about growing a successful business. You are playing to fail.

Why You’re Not Getting Any Attention or Endorsements

After meeting thousands of entrepreneurs when I speak at conferences or attend networking events, I can count on one hand those who really impressed me with their knowledge and vision. I can see the look of determination in their faces.

Sometimes their motivation stems from a negative event: “Erica, I’m doing this because I have to make this business work or I’m going to be out on the street next month.” (That’s where I was when I started my first business, too.) And sometimes it’s positive: “I’ve talked to [my target market] and I know they need this. It’s killing them to have to do things the old way. I see that pain and I know I’m the one who can solve it. My company can fix this for them.”

Occasionally, their motivation is even bigger: “I want to cure cancer. And I know I’m the one being called to do this. I’m here for a reason and this is it.”

Do you see the difference between those strong statements and the wishy-washy, hand-wavy answers most people give? I do. To experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors, your vague answer is a dead giveaway that they’d be wasting their time helping you out. Harsh? Perhaps this blog post is the wake-up call you need.

Throwing “Passion” in the Garbage

I often hear teachers, coaches, and even bloggers describe this as a “passion”. “You have to find what you’re passionate about and then do that,” they say. And to that, I say: Hogwash. You don’t need to go on a mission and “find your passion” to start a business. You just have to throw away much of your guilt and self-doubt…and own the fact that you were put on this planet to do this very thing that you’re doing right now.

The people who can do that are rare. Which is why most people don’t succeed. I don’t think you were put on this planet to “make a few hundred extra dollars a month.” Nor do I think you were put here to buy a bunch of books, tutorials, webinars, and other products that teach you how to start a business–and then sit on your butt and not do anything. Once you have the fire lit under your ass, you won’t watch the latest reality show instead of working. You’ll be motivated to get out of bed and get working on your business.

Whether your motivations are personal (“Gotta do this or they’re gonna repossess my car…gotta make this work!”) or world-changing (“Gotta cure cancer so no one else dies from it. Fuck this disease that took my loved one…I’m going to help stop anyone else from having that pain.”), you need to be 100% in the game if you’re going to be a success in business.

You’re Being Called To Do This.

I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re seriously doubting that you would ever be that person who is going to cure cancer. Well, why not you? Someone has to. “But Erica, don’t I need a college degree or to be a scientist for that?” Not necessarily. If you have to, start smaller. Start by helping others in your same position, for instance, because you’ve been there and have gotten through it. Buy a biography about one of your heroes and read that, then take some action based on what that person did in their lives. Go offer to buy a scientist or researcher or someone in that field lunch, just so you can find out more about what you’re facing. Write a blog post and share it. Write a book proposal and shop that around. “But don’t I need credentials to write a book?” Nope. If you think it’s going to help others, it’s your duty to give this a shot.

I don’t think you realize how scared everyone is. Every time I write a blog post, I have this voice in the back of my head–sort of a conglomeration of every bad comment anyone would ever write on this blog post. “Erica, I can’t believe you’re telling people with no experience that they can cure cancer! That’s delusional!” Thank you, self-doubt. You’ve been heard. And now I’m going back to writing, because I want to push you, my reader, out of your seat and into taking action.

If you’re sitting around right now wondering how you can make an extra $50 a month, I’m going to stand up and shout this at you right now: Your goals aren’t big enough. Somewhere between “making an extra $50 a month” and “curing cancer” is where you want to start.

But don’t you “have to start somewhere”? Take whatever your goal was and make it 10x bigger. Then start there. That’ll get you out of bed!

When You’re Feeling Unmotivated…

If you ever wonder where that motivation is…your goals aren’t big enough. Realize that “making some extra money” isn’t the goal. Changing the world is the goal. Making some extra money is a side effect of changing people’s lives. And any voice echoing in the back of your head telling you you can’t do this, that no way are you credentialed enough, that it takes money to make money, that you’re not good enough…that’s what is standing in the way between you and greatness.

Once you start to shed that fear, or at least look past it, people take notice. A sort of power and confidence enters your voice. You stand up straighter. You shrug off the inevitable criticism. When people ask you what you do, you smile. You look them straight in their eye, and you tell them in a sentence or two how you’re changing the world.

How to Get the Attention of Celebrities

And then, interesting things happen. Let me tell you this story as an example. I went to a networking event. Hundreds of people were there. A famous individual walked in. People were crowded around him, telling him about their businesses, wanting his help.

I snagged him on his way to the bathroom. “I don’t know if you remember me,” I started out. “I bought one of your products a couple years ago. My name is Erica Douglass.” I watched his face. No hint of recognition. But he was still standing there. So I said, “I write a popular entrepreneurship blog at erica.biz. People know me because I sold a business for 7 figures…”

The look of recognition clicked. He smiled. “I’ve read your blog!” he said. “I know who you are. Good to see you here.”

Then he said something that I will never forget. “Let me tell you something,” he said. “I go to these events and people are always telling me about what they’re working on. But I always want to hear what they’ve done. 99% of the time, they’ve never done anything. And they never will do anything.” He paused. “It really saddens me,” he said after a couple thoughts passed through his eyes. “But let me tell you…it’s so refreshing to meet someone who has really taken action. I was thrilled to find you and read your blog. You really made it work online.”

Then he laughed. “Okay, I really do have to go to the bathroom,” he said. “But here–” He pulled out a business card. “On the front here is an email address. But don’t email that–it goes to my assistant and I may not see it.” He took out a pen. “Here’s my personal email address.” He scribbled a different email address on the back of the card. “Let’s grab coffee sometime. It’s on me. I really want to hear your story. And I’m glad you’re here.” And he handed me the card, smiled again, and headed off to the bathroom.

Stop. Now picture that. 100 people tried to get this guy’s attention that night. They were all bombarding him with what they wanted to do and wanted his help with. Since he’s well-known, I suspect that happens to him a lot. How many people do you think he gave his real email address to? Not many.

How to Chip Away at the Criticism

“An extra $100 a month” may not get you out of bed. But to really make a difference in this world…that’s pretty huge. That should get you out of bed. And then it’s just about breaking down all your personal barriers to get there. I get criticized near-constantly. I get long emails from people critiquing everything from my writing style to the topics I write about on this blog. But I’m here because I know this is part of my story–to help you.

To really succeed, you have to have the guts to not listen to basically anything that’s popular in our society. If you have weak goals, you won’t be motivated to work on them. And if you’re scared of criticism, you won’t make it. But if you have the guts to go up to someone–even a celebrity–and say, “Hey, I have big goals and I’m taking massive action toward them. Here’s what I’ve done so far and here’s what I need next. I could really use your help!” they’ll listen. Why? Because that confidence, that focus, is so rare. They get 1000 people talking to them a day–why should you be any different? Because now you know the secret–those 1000 people don’t really have big goals. If you do, you stand out. People will take that interest in you and want to help you succeed. You will learn that you can motivate others, no matter how famous they are or what they’ve done in the past, just by having big goals and showing with confidence how you’re making them happen.

Are you the right person to make huge changes in the world? Absolutely. There’s absolutely nothing external standing in your way. People younger than you, with less education, have done more than you have. They knew the world starts paying attention when you grow confidence, articulate yourself well, and refuse to give up. Now it’s your turn.

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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