You need a lot of courage to succeed in business. CEOs and managers think courage is about taking risks, but it’s not. They think spending a huge sum on an advertising campaign is showing courage. That’s not courage. That’s gambling.
And most of what business people see as risk really isn’t risk at all.
People often seek my advice about starting their own business. They always ask me how much money they will need to get started. I tell them, “as little as possible.” That’s always a surprise answer.
I can almost guarantee that if you have a million dollars and a plan to launch a simple coffee stand, you’ll eventually lose one million dollars. You would say, ”But I’m a risk-taker! I’m brave! I’m stepping out on my own!“ I would say you are not. I would say you are hiding behind the safety of your one million dollars, but in business money cannot protect you.
I started my first business with ZERO capital. It did very well. In 1998, I sold a different business that I started with zero capital. If you can figure out how to start that coffee stand with no money, you’re smart. If you can quit your job and work night and day with no other source of income, you’re brave. That’s risk-taking, and you’ll probably succeed.
Starting with very little capital compels you to use your brain for your own survival. However, if you start your business with a big slush fund and buy the best equipment, you can just sit back and wait for customers. You will fail. This is why banks don’t like to make business loans. You’re putting the risk on the bank.
How does risk-taking relate to courage? Look at this guy in the video. People don’t sing opera at this kind of competition, but he did. He had the courage to take a risk and do something no one else was doing. He won’t win this competition because the show is not about finding talent. It’s about finding something the producers can sell, and opera doesn’t sell. Even though he won’t win this competition, he’s a winner.
The person who wins the competition may do very well for a while and belong to everyone connected with the show. Eventually, the competition winner will fade away. This singer, though, may get “discovered” and end up with a nice record deal singing what he wants to sing. He’ll do well and will answer to no one.
I like this guy. This guy spent next-to-nothing to sing opera at a pop competition. He could have spent thousands on demo tapes and attempts to sell himself to record producers. Instead, he took the risk. We can learn much from his example.
You could risk a lot of money on a big advertising deal, but if your business isn’t in order, the advertising won’t save it. On the other hand, you could step into a new market (like our singer), in which case you risk looking foolish. And if you succeed? The return is greater because the cost in dollars is far less than your advertising deal.
Trying to change the way things are done at your business also takes a lot of courage. Maybe your idea won’t work. You could be embarrassed in front of your employees. That’s risky! But if you spend a fortune on advertising that doesn’t work? Well, you’re a hero for trying to save the company. I face this all the time in my consulting business. Many CEOs would rather risk money on big, sexy programs than on ideas that take thought and personal courage to implement. They would rather be seen as ”heroes“ than be risk-takers. They do not have courage
For example, rather than working hard to improve customer service by changing procedures and training employees at a cost of a few thousand dollars, some CEOs prefer to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in automated phone systems that their customers hate. Why? Because it takes no courage. No one will blame the CEO for spending a million dollars on a machine to improve service—even if that machine doesn’t work.
As a better alternative, you could hire me to teach your people how to provide better service. Instead of purchasing a bad phone service for thousands of dollars, I can teach your people how to shock your customers with great customer service for only a few thousand dollars. Will this make you look bad? Is that what you’re afraid of?
If you are, then consider this scenario. Let’s say that George Bush appoints an energy guy to eliminate our dependence on oil, and the guy actually does it. Will people think, “Man, Bush is a dummy. Good thing that guy came in and solved the energy problem”? Of course not. They would think, “Bush solved the energy problem by appointing that energy guy. That was a smart move!”
Go back and watch that video again. The last words Vincerò! Vincerò! translate, “I shall win! I shall win!” That’s the message for those of us with the courage.
We shall win.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog