Burn the ships.
One of the great romantic notions of striking out and starting your own business is the classic “Burn The Ship” story.
Apparently (and their is some dispute about this) when Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez landed in Mexico, one of the first orders to his men was to burn the ships. Cortez was committed to his mission and did not want to allow himself or his men the option of going back to Spain. By removing this option, Cortez and his men were forced to focus on how they could make the mission successful.
I’m surprised at the number of people who start an online business and take the same approach.
I’m even more surprised that right thinking people would recommend this!
How does this apply to starting an online business.
The budding full time business builder builds up a bank of three months, six months, 12 months and plans to dedicate themselves to starting an online business from scratch.
This next sentence is not going to make me popular…
It never works.
Okay, I’ve never seen it work. I’m sure you can point me to a dozen examples of where someone has metaphorically “burned the ships” and started a new life.
In six years of doing the challenge, and seeing thousands of online businesses start, I’ve never seen it work once.
After speaking to many “burn” victims, I have a theory why it doesn’t work.
Before I look at the theory…
I have reviewed many examples of successful online businesses. Guess what – in every case the person who created the successful online business was working on something else (and being paid!) when they came up with the online business idea.
Steve Jobs was working at Atari, Woz, an engineer at Hewlett-Packard. The founders of Youtube were working at PayPal. Dell was created as a sideline in a college dorm room.
It dawned on me, all these ideas which eventually became new businesses were generated while the person was doing something else.
What about people who open cafe’s? Don’t they “burn the ships”? I would argue no.
The idea to start a cafe, the saving up and getting of loans and all the other horror involved in opening a cafe are done while doing something else. A person with no income cannot suddenly decide tomorrow to open a cafe.
I have racked my brain to come up with one successful online business that has started from a “Burn the Ship” scenario.
I can think of none.
Back to my theory.
To explain my pop theory I have to reach back to my year eight social sciences class and discuss (and without a doubt, butcher) the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid, with the largest and most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom, and the need for self-actualization at the top.
The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem , friendship and love, security, and physical needs. With the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) needs, if these “deficiency needs” are not met, the body gives no physical indication but the individual feels anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs **must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs**. Like, starting an online business…
Stay with me, I’ll bring this all home…
Let me explain how the average “burning the ships” scenario goes.
Sadly, I have seen this too many times.
Jane Smith, does a brilliant job,and saves up a bank of six months worth of food, rent and utility bills. She’s been dreaming of the day she can finally chuck everything and focus solely on an online business.
Once she’s free of working “for the man” she can finally create an online business, to work on the business full-time, she is sure, is the missing link.
Mistake 1- “no idea, no research, no market.”
The first two months of this ambitious “Burn The Ships” project are fantastic. Jane watches all the webinars, clears google reader everyday, finally gets to study all of the courses sitting on the shelf. It’s a brilliant time.
For some reason, one thing doesn’t happen, a massive amount of testing. There is a revelling in the new found freedom and lifestyle of being a professional online marketer but very little testing.
The first signs of trouble typically happen just before the half way mark. Jane can’t believe it was just eight weeks when she stuck it to the man quiting her job. She only has four months to go. It’s time to buckle down, listen to Ed’s going pro speech and really starting to take action. I better get the team member Ed is always rabbiting on about.
Mistake 2 – Getting Your First Full Time team Member Takes 2 months.
While Jane goes through the process of trying to find a team member she starts to research phrases and markets. She’s still calm, and purpose driven at this point. This is the high point of productivity in the burning ships project.
Hitting the halfway mark, always causes a reflective moment.
All of a sudden, from out of the blue, there are less days of this ambitious project than what has already been. The majority of this crazy adventure is already over! We are on the downhill slope.
This is where things really go “Jersey Shore”.
Time at this point seems to go so fast. Outsourcers don’t work out, things go wrong, the wheels start to fall off the wagon.
Most crucially, the money is running out and those very real-world obligations are starting to invade in your subconscious and conscience. These are dark days. It’s not pretty.
It’s at this point, ” Burn The Ships” turns into something far worse – we see another failed approach-the Hail Mary.
Jane gets increasingly desperate to make something happen. She tries to force the result. She tests phrases that previously wouldn’t have cut the mustard. She realises she’s dropped off on the consistency baclinking requires, tried to do it herself because she doesn’t have the time or the money to hire a team member. It becomes a vicious spiral. Sloppy research, Sloppy baclinking, reaching for ideas and inspiration, cursing every person and idea leading her down this path.
Online marketing doesn’t work. It’s all a scam.
At this point, Jane is joined by another group of people we often see at the challenge. The “I’ve got 30 days until declared bankrupt” crowd. Please, read this carefully, I have enormous sympathy for people in this situation. It’s heartbreaking.
At this point people need a lottery win. It’s just not going to happen.
I’ve never seen a Hail Mary work. I’ve never seen a “Burn The Ships” project work.
If you think you can start any new endeavour with the threat of losing your house over your head – you can’t. According to Maslow, it’s just not going to work.
I concur, I’ve NEVER seen it work.
Unless you’ve got the basics of food and shelter sorted and a break from the relentless calls of the credit card companies that gave you the easy credit in the first place…
You’re not in any state, to start a business.
That’s just the way it is.
This is why those last couple of months in “Burn The Ship” projects are so dreadful. Heart renderingly horrific. You may not be losing your house, but subconsciously, you’re having exactly the same battle.
So what do you do?
If you are falling down a steep hill, heading towards a cliff, the worst thing you can do is try to keep yourself upright.
In trying to stand up, you can’t use the friction of your body on the hill to slow down.
The correct thing to do is fall down and use the friction of your entire body to slow your decent.
If you’re in financial crisis in the last month of a “burn the ships” project, you need to fall down.
Take all that energy you are using trying to “stand up” and channel it in to solving the issues at hand. If you don’t have the foundation of Maslows pyramid right. You don’t have a chance.
Every ounce of your creative and entrepreneurial spirit needs to be focused into solving the problem and establishing a foundation of your pyramid.
Then, and only then, will you be able to start looking at ideas. (By the way, you start practicing first – then the ideas come – not the other way around…)
Trust me, there is some good news here.
There’s never been a better time in history to use a different strategy to “Burn The Ships and “Hail Mary”.
I call it “Paid to Train”.
Rather than take a job stacking shelves at Walmart or being the sandwich artist at your local Subway (And I salute the people doing this work – i’m just saying if your reading this – you have a better option).
Why not take all the online skills you have and freelance for other people!
As I dictate this, there are over 712 freelance SEO positions open at eLance!
By doing the challenge, you have this incredible set of skills. You know how to write articles, do baclinking and a boatload of other useful skills people desperately need. By working in the area you will eventually want to have a business yourself in. You are being “Paid to Train”. You’re honing your skills while getting some money. You won’t make much more than the sandwich artist, but you are getting skills and when that foundation of the pyramid is set you can start working your projects on the side!
You’re being paid to develop and hone your skills. You’re also getting some income and building the crucial first and second steps of Maslows pyramid.
I know many of you reading this are contemplating “Burn the ships” projects.
I’m sure you’ve LOVED this article!
My advice, gradually reduce your hours at work, or get another job doing SEO/content creation for someone else. Concentrate on getting you’re first team member and use those vital critical focus time segements to train and manage a team member.
This is a process, I saw work again and again last year.
There is a massive difference between watching an ever dwindling bank slowly go down and being safe in the knowledge enough income to eat and sleep is coming in each month.
The path to success in an online business is paved by continuously doing the processes required to conduct an online business.
There’s no gold medal, without daily intensive training.
There’s no online business without proper market research, implementation of traffic strategies and the proper use of conversion techniques.
These are not things to be rushed.
The best ideas and the best results always come from working a process.
The best headlines always come after you’ve written the bulk of the sales copy.
The best arcs and storylines come from when your neck deep in writing the story (remind me to tell you about Stephen Kings– “On Writing” some time)
Just as the gold medal only comes from constant training, a successful business comes from constant work.
There is no inspiration, no golden ticket, no “Road to Damascus” moment.
There are certainly no Hail Mary’s.
Fortunately for you (and Jane), there’s an alternative.
Sent from my iPad
Posted via email from Ed’s posterous