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 🙂

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35 Comments

Michelle · June 15, 2020 at 9:16 am

Do the business elements apply to every industry?

    Brandon Rollins · June 16, 2020 at 8:57 am

    For the most part. Every once in a while, you see something catch on like wildfire by random chance without the hard work.

Lyndsey valentine · June 15, 2020 at 9:47 am

Thanks for the information very helpful especially about the ikigai and the ten elements to a successful buisness from focus resource and being able to compare it with another from the nolan consulting group. To decide which way to go to make any buisness a success so thanks for the information

L.Edwards · June 15, 2020 at 10:46 am

I have learned some new marketing issues and ideas that this blog educated me with. Great

Alex · June 15, 2020 at 11:38 am

Great post. Never heard of Ikigai till now. Very informative.

Maria Teresa Fernandez Ferreira · June 15, 2020 at 12:33 pm

Very good article, but luck also plays a very important role in those cases.

    Brandon Rollins · June 16, 2020 at 9:20 am

    I agree that luck is definitely part of business – more so than most people want to admit. This is also why I like thinking in terms of 5 and 10 year timeframes. Long periods of time tend to smooth out good and bad luck with the exceptions of extremes like major illness or winning the lottery.

    Sabrina Telliet · June 17, 2020 at 3:10 am

    Thank you for this very insightful article.

Janice · June 15, 2020 at 2:29 pm

Thank you for this very insightful article.

Prisca Akpabio · June 15, 2020 at 2:44 pm

As someone that wantsto start my own buisness I think another think that is important to make a buisness successful is going with the time and also starting your own trend. I think that’s why people like Mark Zukerberg and Elon Musk are so successful. They took ideas that were already being implemented and made it their own. And they own it.

    Brandon Rollins · June 16, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Right, and regardless of how much they had to start with, the one thing those two and other major business leaders have in common is the ability to think on a 10, 20, 50, 100-year time frame.

Linda A · June 15, 2020 at 6:45 pm

Deliberate practice works because it is hard

    Brandon Rollins · June 16, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Absolutely! Deliberate practice takes both persistence and self-awareness, which are rare like diamonds and gold.

Paulo Oliveira · June 16, 2020 at 11:27 am

Gostei bastante fui elucidado sobre o tema …

Tina · June 16, 2020 at 12:18 pm

have seen some business come from the bottom

Shannonn Peterson · June 17, 2020 at 10:48 am

It also depends on your target audience and location ,location ,location !

cristian · June 17, 2020 at 1:07 pm

a very interesting article an idea to think about ikigai

marilyn nuovo · June 19, 2020 at 11:41 am

interesting article owned a few businesses never heard of Ikiigal

lisa lawton · June 19, 2020 at 5:44 pm

Very interesting article !

Coolguy · June 20, 2020 at 5:04 am

Interesting article, always wanted to start a business

Stacy Giacosa-Bauer · June 21, 2020 at 9:37 pm

Such an awesome article. My husband has his own engineering firm in Tampa and we really enjoyed reading. Thanks for sharing.

    Jodi Armstrong · June 23, 2020 at 10:45 am

    The problem with society is that we link being successful to having a lot of money. Success shouldn’t be a measure of wealth.

      Brandon Rollins · June 23, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Right on. I would love if we collectively expanded our idea of what success is beyond just material wealth. I love having access to stuff and money. Find me one person who doesn’t! But what is life if you don’t pursue meaning? If you don’t find a way to serve others? To make something that will last for generations?

      To me, these are bigger questions that inform how we should think of success and failure.

Richard Hicks · June 23, 2020 at 2:01 am

It does take a while but it is worth the wait.

Javier Vallejo · June 23, 2020 at 11:17 am

Thank you very much for encouraging us to continue fighting for our business, giving us help to find innovations that can benefit us.

    Brandon Rollins · June 23, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you and keep at it! Life is full of boom and bust cycles, and if these articles can help your business make it to the next boom cycle, then I’ve fulfilled my purpose as a writer!

Jordan · June 24, 2020 at 1:40 am

Patience is the key here. Thank you!

    Brandon Rollins · July 6, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Patience – so simple to talk about, yet so difficult to have!

Nicole Margrif · June 24, 2020 at 7:38 am

Not every business has the same principles or does it? I agree passion and determination is very important.

terry murphy · June 24, 2020 at 12:53 pm

very informative thank you

Julien U. · June 26, 2020 at 3:18 am

Thanks for sharing!

Brandon Sparks · June 26, 2020 at 10:08 am

Thanks for this read. It helps more then you know.

Stephen Reddington · June 26, 2020 at 10:46 am

How old is too old to start my own business? I am 62 yrs old..

    Brandon Rollins · July 6, 2020 at 11:18 am

    They say Colonel Sanders was 60 when he started up KFC. He’s an outlier, sure, but I don’t think there’s any hard age limit that must be obeyed like an iron law. If you have time, the patience, the good health, and the passion, then I say go for it!

LaFrance Daniel · June 26, 2020 at 11:55 am

Great info and love the” ikiagi “ concept.

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