This story may not seem super relevant to online business at first... but it is. (Bear with me!)
In 1519, a 33yo Spaniard named Hernán Cortés landed at the Yucatan Peninsula in modern day Mexico, with an invasion force of 11 ships, 500 soldiers, 13 horses and a few cannons.
His goal was to conquer the vast Aztec empire and claim its massive wealth for Spain. (And for himself of course.)
With just 500 men and some horses. Against a force of several hundred thousand Aztecs.
Upon landing, legend has it that Cortés immediately ordered his men to burn the ships they just arrived on, destroying their only escape route.
The only choice left was to push forward and succeed… or die trying.
Apparently Alexander the Great did something similar almost 2,000 years earlier… when his army arrived in Persia in 334 BC.
And even before Alexander, Sun Tzu said in his classic The Art Of War:
When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.
But I'm Not Leading An Invading Army...
OK, fair enough.
Let's bring this into the modern world of online business.
I actually first heard about this concept from Tony Robbins.
"If you don’t have what you want...
Stop telling yourself a story (that it’s) because you don’t have the money, you don’t have the time…
The great man himself... must be
something about the first name... 🙂
It’s because you haven’t committed yourself where you would burn your boats.
Wanna take the fucking island?
Burn your fucking boats and you will take the island...
Coz people when they're gonna either die or succeed, tend to succeed."
Tony was talking not just about entrepreneurship, but life in general. So let me take it another step further.
Why It Matters For Entrepreneurs And Online Business Owners
We’ve all seen the stats on how many small businesses fail within 5 years.
For online businesses I think it’s even worse.
According to one of my mentors, over 97% of online businesses never get off the ground.
And I think one of the reasons is that it’s too easy to be an “online entrepreneur”.
There is no shortage of marketers out there spruiking the latest shiny object... telling anyone that will listen that they can have an online business and make a million dollars by next Tuesday.
Just $997 if you buy before midnight tonight.
The reality is that building an online business is hard.
It’s not complex, but it is difficult.
Which means that the people who are looking for the easy path are doomed to fail.
Nowhere To Go But Up
There’s a reason why so many of the successful online businesspeople have a reasonably dramatic backstory about how they were living on their cousin’s couch, thousands of dollars in debt and down to their last $3, and somehow made it work.
Might as well spend your last $3 on beer and pizza...
Those people were in a similar position to Cortés and his army after they burned their boats… their only choice was to succeed.
They didn’t didn’t deliberately burn their boats like Cortés did. Their “boats” may have been destroyed by accident or negligence … or they washed up on shore with no boat to start with.
Either way they had to make it work.
And they did.
You have to COMMIT
So what does that mean for the rest of us?
I’m not saying that you have to make yourself broke and homeless before you can succeed as an entrepreneur. Don’t take this literally.
What I’m saying is that you need to make sure that when things get tough - which they will - you don’t give up.
You need to COMMIT.
Whatever your “fall back” is, if it’s an acceptable outcome for you, then your chances of success are reduced. Not zero, but much less.
I’ve written about the importance of your ‘why’ recently… and obviously that can (and should) be a super important driver for you when things get tough.
It is for me.
And that goes a long way.
But let’s be honest…
For us humans… avoiding immediate pain is still a stronger motivator than achieving some future state.
So if we still have a comfortable fallback… the threat of pain is not really there… it can still be too easy not to do the work.
To cut corners. To go for quick wins at the expense of developing the fundamentals. To stay in bed, watch TV or do something else whenever you “don’t feel like it today”.
When you’re just starting out you might say “that’s not me”… but I’m here to tell you it probably is.
It’s 90% or more of people.
It’s human nature.
Personally, I believe in stacking the odds in my favour as much as I can.
In burning my boats.
Case Study: The Dabbler
I dabbled for a loooong time.
I’m talking years.
I liked sitting at my computer for hours a day, I liked exploring new ideas and concepts…
I liked the dopamine hit of buying a new tool or course and playing with it.
I mean... what's not to love about this set up??
But none of that got me a real online business.
My problem was that I was too comfortable. The consequences of not making money were not enough.
It wasn’t until I properly committed to it that things started to change for me.
First was clarity on my ‘why’.
I’m doing this to achieve financial freedom… live my life on my own terms… and create time to spend with my family & friends, travel and enjoy life.
I could’ve just relied on that… which is very strong and very meaningful for me… and that might’ve been enough.
But I’ve chosen to stack the odds by adding some other elements as well.
Originally it was investing in training.
Nothing like handing over uncomfortable amounts of money to focus the mind.
But I didn’t stop there.
Next step was removing the ’safety net’ of my corporate career.
In 2018 I turned down a career-enhancing… potentially career-defining… role so that I could get serious about succeeding online.
But then I went even further.
I’ve now added public accountability as a way to further burn my boats… I’ve publicly committed to building a brand new online business from scratch… in a new market… in 6 months.
If I fail then I’m not going to be homeless, hungry or die… but I’m going to look pretty silly in front of a lot of people and my credibility is going to take a hit. That alone is enough to keep driving me to keep going through the challenges and low periods that every online business will face.
If you want to see how I go, join my Facebook Group.
Now… I’m not at all suggesting that you copy what I’ve done.
(I’m a hard case!)
In fact, for most people I would caution against giving up your day job until you have established a strong, sustainable income from your online business.
You need to find your level.
It’s about being honest with yourself… asking yourself how committed you really are… and thinking about the actual and potential drivers for you when things inevitably get hard.
If you want some personal help with it, get in touch.