People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years. – J. C. R. Licklider
Is there a good time to start anything?
As an old saying goes, the best time was ten years ago. The second best time is now.
Can you last the distance?
When you start your project you should ask yourself whether this is something you can commit to for ten years.
If you’re starting a new business, can you do what it takes – hustle, work all the hours you can, raise money, hire people, build product, get customers, create cashflow – all while maintaining a relationship and being there for your kids?
Maybe that’s not what you want – you want a lifestyle business that allows you to pursue your dream and give you enough time to enjoy life – so is your dream enough to keep you occupied for ten years?
A ten-year period is a significant chunk of time – it’s a serious part of your life to set aside pursuing something that may or may not work out.
So, how can you maximise the changes that you will make it and create something worth having.
Have a clear outcome you want from each decade
When we look back at the lives many of us lead, they probably follow a pattern something like this.
Until we get to ten, there isn’t much pressure on us, we play and get socialised – become part of the culture we live in.
From 10 to 20 we learn how to learn.
From 20 to 30 we start making our own money, get our first job; we go from depending on parents or the state to becoming cashflow positive, bringing in more than we spend on our own.
From 30 to 40 we develop in a profession, find our own place and start to find a niche that we can call our own. A niche that we can dominate and where we can do competent work when others ask us to.
From 40 to 50 we start becoming responsible, for others, for bringing in business. We operate increasingly independently, as the ones who take decisions rather than the ones who implement them.
From 50 to 60 we’re in charge – we are responsible for the future as well, so we spend more time training and developing others.
From 60 to 70, we wind down, easing our way out and letting others take over.
And after 70, we have the time to do what we want, with few responsibilities and obligations – and hopefully with the health and mental ability to use the time well.
Now, your chances of making it, of succeeding are greatest in that period from 30 to 60 but you can do it at any stage of your life.
It’s just that the chances are less of you being a child prodigy or being a 17-year old millionaire or an 80-year old startup founder.
But it happens.
Don’t let age hold you back.
Just recognise the reality of where you are and decide what you’re going to do in the next ten-year chunk.
But how do you do that – decide what to do?
Say yes until you have to say no
At the beginning of a period, when you’re just starting out, you have to take every opportunity you’re given.
For example, let’s say you want to build your consultancy practice but you’re at the start of your journey – then don’t worry about money.
Just take every chance you can to practise your craft.
For example, you may have spent the last decade working with top brands – but now you want to go independent.
Don’t just target the top brands that you used to work with.
Instead, book sessions with everyone, with individuals, small businesses, medium sized ones, large ones, charities, non-profits, startups – anyone who will take the time to talk to you.
Don’t make those sessions about money or value or exchange – just listen as hard as you can and give as much as you can.
Sometimes you will get paid, and sometimes you won’t.
But, if you do that for a while, pretty soon you will know what people need and are desperate to have and how much it costs them to do it the old way but they’re stuck because they can’t find someone who can solve that problem.
That will tell you what you need to make and how much you can charge and how big the market is and whether you have a viable business.
And once you match what you do to what people need you’ll start getting interest and once you have proof that it works – social proof, in the sense that others have used it and it worked – it will be easier to show others and get them to say yes.
As more people say yes you will have more work and so you start to have a problem as you haven’t got enough time and you’re working all the hours in the day to get everything done.
Which is the point at which you start putting in filters – things that reduce the amount you have to do – so that you can focus on what you do best.
You start by raising prices, then by reducing availability – and you fine-tune that until you can once again match supply and demand – your ability to create and your market’s desire for what you do.
Eventually, you will find yourself saying no to everything that doesn’t help move you towards that outcome you want.
Maybe you over-correct, stop doing too many things, and find you have to say yes again.
That’s ok – you don’t have to feel like you’re committed to anything other than making your customers happy.
If a process doesn’t work, abandon it. If a book isn’t engaging, stop reading.
Say yes, but don’t be afraid to stop if it’s wasting your time – abandon stuff without guilt – books, projects, opportunities.
Don’t put down an anchor until you’re certain you’re in the right place and this is going to work for you.
But once you do, commit, do it every day and make it a routine – get used to the idea that you’re going to do this for ten years.
Make fewer, better decisions
Warren Buffett has talked about how the ability to do more investments doesn’t do anything other than making the people who help you do transactions rich.
If you could pick only twenty stocks in your lifetime you’d be much more careful about which ones you chose.
If you could do only one thing in the next ten years, you might be much more careful about what you chose to do.
The thing to realise is that your success doesn’t depend on your age – there are advantages and disadvantages at every stage of life.
When you’re young, you have time but lack knowledge.
When you’re older you know what needs to be done but you have responsibilities that take up your time.
Success depends on making it easy to do what’s important for as long as it takes, being ready to commit for at least a decade to make what you want come true.
Ten years where you will build something – put together the pieces in a way that only you can to create something that didn’t exist before that people want and are willing to pay for.
And you have to work through what that looks like, which is what we’ll get to next.