To succeed in business is the dream of many people around the world. Becoming competent and making a lot of money is deeply satisfying on a number of different levels, so it’s no wonder that people pursue success with such motivation and vigor. Few really “make it,” though, and a large part of that is because it takes so long to build a great business.

This is no novel realization. Everyone who is serious about starting a business knows that the task they are undertaking is arduous and difficult. Yet examining why this is the case helps us to understand how a successful business is defined, built, and maintained. It also helps us set realistic expectations and take care of our mental well-being.

What is Success Anyway?

First, let’s go ahead and define success. In our post on burnout, we take the position that burnout is a medical condition. It’s also a condition of the spirit that comes from feeling like your work is pointless, endless, or self-defeating. We then say that the opposite of burnout comes from the Japanese concept of ikigai, which is “reason for being.”

I like the idea of ikigai because it provides a really nuanced vision of what success looks like. In short, you have achieved ikigai when you do what you love, what the world needs, what you can get paid for, and what you are good at.

Indeed, I believe that ikiagi can be achieved on an organizational level as well. For a company, ikiagi happens when you are meeting customer needs, when your employees are engaged, when the money is rolling in, and when your quality of work is good.

To me, this is a far better picture of success than a trillion-dollar market capitalization or a C-level officer making a million dollars per year. Similarly, this sounds like a more meaningful life than setting up a dropshipping store and living at the rest of your days on the beach in Belize. Having a lot of money is great, as is having a lot of free time. Yet neither of these things alone is the sole condition for overall well-being.

How Does a Business Become Successful?

Even when clearly defining success, it’s important to realize there is no silver bullet. The factors that lead to success are multivariate like how a butterfly can flap its wings in Argentina and cause a thunderstorm in Iowa. On top of that, many factors build upon one another in sequence. One domino topples another.

With that in mind, there are some basic elements which successful businesses tend to share. We found some really good lists compiled by Focus Resources Inc. and Nolan Consulting Group, which we will share here.

According to Focus Resources, the ten elements of a successful business are:

  1. A clear concept
  2. Expert market knowledge
  3. Specific customers
  4. Specific niches
  5. A clearly defined message
  6. Good systems and processes
  7. Tangible results
  8. Good execution
  9. A solid business model
  10. Reliable financial information

For Nolan Consulting Group, the seven elements of a successful business are:

  1. Good business planning
  2. Good financial management
  3. Quality marketing
  4. A reliable team
  5. A solid customer service strategy
  6. Reliable sales and demand estimation
  7. Continuous improvement

You can read the opinions of many dozens of other consultancies and find similar results. The point that we’re getting at is that the predecessors of success are not terribly hard to define. With so many things in life, though, it’s easier said than done.

You Need an Immense Amount of Knowledge to Run a Business

Our use of the word “you” is both plural and singular. Obviously, the factors we listed above would require a single individual years, perhaps decades, of learning. Defining your business concept, finding customers, and developing a solid business model takes years of testing and tweaks. Acquiring area knowledge is not fast, nor is building good systems to keep your business running.

The cliche “Rome wasn’t built in a day” comes to mind because of how true it is in this context. Even if you, the individual, built a dream team, it would still take a long time for your team collectively to build a business. Even putting together a team of talented individuals takes a lot of time as well as trial and error.

All this is to say that the learning curve when building a business is steep and long. It’s 100% worth the climb, in my opinion. It is life-affirming to cultivate the fullest extent of your abilities and make an impression on the world with an organization which you have built. Entrepreneurship is grueling, but satisfying for this reason – it creates meaning for the creators.

The Best Way to Learn is Deliberate Practice & That’s Time-Consuming

We have all innate talents which we have the opportunity to nurture. It is through deliberate practice that we can turn our opportunities into avenues for success. However, deliberate practice is not easy.

Deliberate practice works because it is hard. “Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.”

When building a business, you need to identify critical success factors. From there, you can determine which skillsets you need on your team. You then will need to develop the skill yourself, find someone who already has it, or develop the skill within someone else.

Odds are, you’re not going to be able to start a business without some level of skill development. That means you, or someone you work with, is going to have to break down the learning process for a particular skillset into its component parts and start learning every single part. That takes time.

Success Begets Success & Early Signs Are Not Flashy

One final thing to remember is that success begets success. Let’s draw from the words of Ramit Sethi, creator of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. His blog has been running for a long time and it will quite literally teach you to be rich.

Sethi’s philosophy is a powerful one. He believes that it is important to build habits that lead to other good habits. He likens it to dominoes. If you do one small thing correctly, you are more likely to do something else correctly, and so on. If you get your first customer, it will be easier to get your second, and your third, and so on.

The point is that big successes often start a lot humbler than you might think. Success begets success and tends to grow exponentially over time. The pattern of a successful business’s growth so often looks like nothing, nothing, nothing, a spark of success, modest success, big success, and then massive success.

I have had many nights where I’ve been frustrated at how long it takes to build a business. Yet it is important to realize that on top of the difficulty of learning, growing, and experimenting, you will also not see results for a while.

That sounds grim, but I find that setting my expectations properly from the get-go is relieving. It becomes much easier to deal with the arduous journey when you realize how late the potential payoff will come.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that it takes a long time to build a great business. We find it comforting to list out the reasons why this is the case. Many business owners struggle with discouragement, and sometimes have self-awareness about how difficult the tasks you are taking on can make a substantial difference in your motivation.

At Pangea and at Marketing is the Product, our purpose in life is to fan the flames of creativity and innovation wherever we see them. In writing this article, we hope that you can see that struggling is not a sign that you are weak. Indeed, it is a sign that you are stepping up to the myriad challenges of running a business 🙂