Rick Spence writes about and works with entrepreneurs. He’s a Director with Startup Canada, writes a column with Financial Post, and runs his own business, Canentrepreneur.com. Spence shares how to overcome a fear of failure, why entrepreneurs shouldn’t do it alone, and why picking up the phone still beats every other form of communication.
YouInc: What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting out as an entrepreneur?
Rick Spence: I started out as a business journalist, and gravitated slowly to entrepreneurship, as I began to learn that just writing was not enough – you have to market the heck out of your work and build networks and alliances to keep your platform strong.
My first editor, Ted Byfield at Alberta Report, told me to verify everything I thought I knew – which is excellent advice for entrepreneurs. And my next editor, David Tafler at the Financial Times of Canada, taught us all to answer the question: “Why is this here?” Which is to say, when you write a story (or do anything new and creative), you must very clearly indicate what the work is about, what purpose it serves, and why it really matters to its intended audience. New products and services have to over-communicate.
YI: What are 2-3 questions an aspiring business owner needs to ask themselves before getting started?
RS: What’s the failure rate in this industry, location, or market? Why do I think I will succeed where others fail?
Who will actually buy this product or service? Why? And why would they choose me over the competition?
What’s the failure rate in this industry, location, or market? Why do I think I will succeed where others fail?
Who are the people I need to know to make this venture succeed? How can I get closer to them and win their trust?
YI: How can entrepreneurs overcome a fear of failure?
RS: Understanding the high probability of failure is essential in any new venture. This awareness enables you to address the roots of potential failure and improve your chances of success. Using a disciplined planning framework – whether it’s a traditional business plan or the more contemporary “business model canvas” – will help you identify the flaws in your business or marketing plans before you get too far down the road of no return.
I tell entrepreneurs all the time: understand how and why people in your intended market make their buying decisions. Some people take this advice. Many do not.
YI: What's your personal or professional motto?
RS: Make the call. When you know you need to get in touch with potential decision makers and you just don't feel like it, make the call. When you don't know who to call, make the call and find out. When you're too tired at the end of the day, make the call. Business is done through people, not companies. And of course “Make the call” refers to any business-building initiative – a phone call, email, letter, ad campaign, whatever. But personal calls have a power that other media still lack.
Don't try to do it alone. Surround yourself with advisors and mentors. Not just one. The best entrepreneurs have multiple mentors they can call anytime for help in different situations. Pride and stubbornness suck. Good things happen when you ask for help.