How to Start and Maintain a Successful Business

For as long as I can recall, running my own business was always my goal in life. What was I going to do? I had no idea. How was I going to do it? I definitely had no idea. All I knew was that it was going to be awesome.

When I decided to become my own boss in 2011, I went in with a major assumption (and that I’ve since seen many other budding entrepreneurs get wrong, too) that ended up wasting years of previous solid entrepreneurial efforts. I assumed that the hard part of starting a successful business is finding that one good idea. Everything after that is yachts and sports cars.

I’m here to tell you that’s simply not the case. Ideas are everywhere. They are a dime a dozen. The hard part? The part that only a select few are willing to do? Grind every single day, over an extended period of time.

I had a friend call me yesterday and pitch me a few business ideas that she thought of while on vacation. I pointed out some glaring weaknesses, and she quickly agreed. The conversation ended with her saying “I have all these great ideas! I just can’t get them off the ground.”

There you have it: The ultimate startup myth.

A real-world example

So far, I’ve spoken in generalities. To drive the point home, I want to give you a real world example of how a good idea alone will die on the vine without perseverance. I want to tell you about my business.

I started Distressed Loan Advisors in 2009, on the heels of the Great Recession. The service I provide was exactly the right service to be offering at the exact right time. I assist small business owners who are struggling to repay their SBA debt. More specifically, I help them settle their SBA debt when their business has failed.

Out of the gate, the business took off like a NASA space shuttle. SBA loan defaults were at an all-time high, and I was there to mop it up.  I was shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. For a few years, I thought I had it all figured out. I did a bit of blogging, complimented it with some Google ads and boom, instant business for life. I had a great service to offer, and that was all I needed – or so I thought.

Fast forward five years. After being at the right place at the right time in 2009, I assumed that the phone would continue to ring indefinitely. Then, the economy recovered. Not right away, and not all at once, but eventually my business slowed dramatically. Beyond the economy recovering, my business stalled because I got fat and lazy.

For a solid four years, business was slow. I was previously spending a ton of money on Google Ads, but the leads I was getting were poor quality, so I turned off the ads. My organic traffic was way down, too. I had slacked on blogging and had been pushed to page two of organic search results, which basically meant I became irrelevant.

Rather than fight for my business, I wallowed in self-pity and cursed the strong economy. I even began to use it as a crutch when people asked how my business was going. “The economy is too good,” I’d whine. “I need a good recession to get me back on track.”

A much-needed kick in the pants

The light bulb finally went off when I was pitching one of my many “can’t miss” business ideas to my brother. “Dude, you already have a great idea,” he pleaded.  “Why don’t you just focus on consulting instead of messing around with this other stuff?” He was right.

For the next year and beyond, I re-doubled my SEO and marketing efforts. I brought my website into 2018 – to that point, I had a site that I had created in Microsoft Frontpage – and reformatted my blog. And I wrote, and wrote and wrote. Not only did I write for my own blog, I reached out to dozens of business-related sites and wrote guest blogs for them.  

I didn’t see results immediately. For six months, it was unclear whether my efforts were paying off, or if I was just wasting my time. Then, finally, it happened. 

After grinding day-in and day-out for over a year, I send the above screen shot to my wife. Not only did I have the top organic search spot in Google for my top keyword, I had the top-three positions! The positions drift up and down periodically, but since that day I’ve always had at least one result result on page one for that search term. The hard work finally paid off.

So what’s the lesson here?

If there is something to be learned from my business’s near-death experience, it’s that marketing (especially SEO) is not a single, one-off event. It’s a process that requires perseverance. Without it, even the best idea will fail, or come close like I did.

I mistakenly believed that I could rest on my laurels after some initial success. Only after becoming invisible for several years did I learn that if I wanted my business to thrive again, I needed to be busting my butt every single day. Writing a few articles over a few days doesn’t cut it.  Running one ad in the Sunday paper is not marketing, it’s flushing money down the toilet. I had to be all in, all the time.  

Marketing is not a flash flood, where the customers beat a path to your door with reckless abandon all at once. Instead, it’s like the Colorado River. It requires steady effort over a sustained period of time. If you don’t believe that can get results, take a look at the Grand Canyon.

If you are the type who believes you are just one great idea away from making millions, it’s time to get real. Only when you are willing to commit yourself to sustained effort over a lengthy period of time will you ever have a chance of becoming a truly successful entrepreneur.

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