I’m in my forties and have been an entrepreneur my whole life. When I say my whole life, I mean it. One of my youngest memories is selling a toy I bought at a garage sale to another kid for twice the price, so I could buy candy. I think I was 7.
I’m here to say, firstly, that I don’t have all the answers. I never will. Every year I think I have business figured out and then I get schooled by life and circumstances. So, this article is about what I think I know so far. Subject to change, I offer no guarantees and or warranties. Also, no refunds and no do overs - Just like life.
In my experience, business comes in stages. It seems like every conference I go to, and every meeting I have with another entrepreneur, the phrase “taking us to the next level” always comes up. This is repeated in one form or another so often, it’s almost a running joke.
The desire to reach the “next Level” is behind nearly every marketing effort I see. It’s also the hook that people use to make empty promises. So, is the “next level” a place?
An income? Reputation?
It’s all of this and more, and it’s real, but this world view has a problem.
In my experience, thinking about strategies to reach the next level is the best way to keep your head above water. It’s the most useful way to view business.
I started buying things and selling them, then selling a company’s products, then making my own products, then doing interviews (over 2000), then getting backers to sell my stuff (infomercial), then teaching others how to market, then Consulting, then hiring and offering services as a firm, then building a brand that offers marketing services, and finally, buying real estate and investing.
Bump Up to the Next Level
Every stage had a sort of machine or balance of its own. Money comes in and out. Products or services are delivered, leads are found and converted. It has a type of beautiful balance to it.
To get the next level there is always new energy that needs to be added.
It reminds me of the classical model of electron orbit. In fact, I have found that many things in business are similar to physics; to understand, you need to know a basic classical theory behind electricity.
Science Side Note: Electrons orbit a nucleus in an unchanging state. Only so many electrons can orbit at each level. When you add an electrical charge (more electrons), it adds energy, bumping up other electrons to a higher orbit. Get high enough and the electron jumps to the next atom. That’s how electricity moves. (Don’t write me about the electron cloud and how quantum theory has changed this model, it’s just a metaphor, don’t overthink it).
So, in order to bump to the next level, we need to add energy. In business, this is an investor, mentor or consultant. But it can also be a Marketing Campaign, a new product, a new strategy.
One of the reasons I love PR so much is because it can take someone from nothing to famous quickly.
When we have a new client and help them get major media attention, it is life changing. That media spot is now connected to them for years.
When I think about the next level, I form it clearly in my mind. What would the day to day look like? What are the risks and problems? And how much energy (or web hits, sales, price) is needed to be there?
“The Reed that Bends in the Wind Does Not Break” – the TAO
Once you form this clear picture, don’t stick to it. Be flexible. At this point I may sound a little crazy, but follow me, as this is an important key to success in my opinion.
It’s better to go into battle with a plan and abandon it, than to start planning on the battlefield. I have seen many business plans fail simply because reality was telling them to change the plan and they did not listen. I have also seen people fail because they fail to plan. The only thing I have seen work time and time again is for skilled, intelligent people to make the best possible plan with the full intention of following through, but the humility to abandon it at a moments notice in light of new information.
Think of how Steve Jobs changed all of Apple into high end, small sku, multi-use products while Sony still stayed with the single task per product. They sold a digital recorder, display screen, camera etc. or you could buy one tablet that does all of this and a hundred other things. BlackBerry invented the smartphone and yet, did not change to join the app revolution.
Or more recently, how Uber used brash, almost criminal disregard for local rules and regulations, to develop the largest workforce in the world (that are not counted as employees yet). Yet today, this asset has become a liability. The same brash disregard to public safety and regulations have resulted in multiple scandals and lawsuits. So far, they look like they are changing their culture and will become a company that looks nothing like the original plan of the founder.
What plan are you sticking to just because you like it? Where is your blind spot?
At the end of the day, to be an entrepreneur is to take risk. Staying at your level or shooting for the next one are both risky and no one can know what will happen in the future. There is one way, however, that you can limit your risks. With strategy.
When you plan, split your thoughts into two scenarios: both winning and losing. We all want to win but no one talks about losing. What if you could set up the game so that when you lose, you still gain?
This is the ideal plan. This is the equivalent of all ways looking for a silver lining. I met an inventor who had produced thousands of copies of their product for a launch that failed. He was devastated and stuck. Then a liquidator came along and took his entire stock for just slightly over the cost of shipping.
The liquidator then resold the stock for a big profit. The point is, if that inventor had the humility to plan for the possibility that his product would not be popular they could have been prepared to liquidate and recover costs, maybe even a small profit.
But the inventor was so focused on getting rich they didn’t think about the down side. Now they have debt and someone else made a profit from their invention.
This is the equivalent of a landlord losing a tenant who leaves the place an utter mess - you can be upset that you missed out on rent and the cost of damage, or you can focus on the new tenant you can get who will treat the place better and may pay more.
As you jump to the next level, be ready to fall down without falling out of the game.
Getting to the next level is like jumping from one rock to the next to cross a stream. Many people need to get their house in order first so that when they jump, it’s from a solid foundation. However, others make the leap because the rock they are leaping to is MORE stable than the one they are standing on. To understand which one you are, I like to think of equilibrium.
Equilibrium is a state of balance - your revenues and exceeding your expenses. Your people are paid on time and you have a good reputation. One of the big mistakes I have seen is not reaching a state of equilibrium first before reaching for the next level. I just bought four properties. I need to finish renos and start renting them out before I look for new deals no matter how good the deals are.
I have had to exercise patience far more often than I prefer. In one case, I’m working on a robotics project for over four years. But I need to perfect and test everything before launching. When you do a launch, there is only one shot to get it right so preparation and having a solid foundation is the best strategy.
But then, there is the other scenario where your market is in decline. A competitor or change has made you fall behind and the writing is on the wall. You need to change or die.
What are your revenues and incoming leads? Is it growing steady or drying up? What are your competitors doing? Is technology changing things?
This is a key moment in life and the next decision you make for your company will affect years of your life so try to be objective. Look at it from all sides and honestly consider that you are wrong. I’d rather be wrong any day than lose money.
CEO, Dave Farrow is the two-time Guinness Record holder for greatest memory. He has been a featured guest expert on over 2000 media interviews including, The Today Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, Steve Harvey, Discovery Channel and many others. As a result of this publicity, he has made millions in product sales for his memory program, which is backed by a double-blind neuroscience study at McGill University. Dave is the executive editor of the online magazine, BrainHackers.com which features the "Brains Behind It" podcast series. His memory record still stands today: He recalled the exact order of 59 decks of shuffled playing cards in a single sighting.