Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
I can tell you with absolute confidence that no one in their right mind sets out to forge a new trail in business and discovers it to be easy. Entrepreneurs knowingly decide they want to take the hard way into a new business venture. The journey may start with a great idea, an identified unfulfilled niche, a concept or something similar. However, somewhere along the way, you find yourself standing alone on untread terroir, asking yourself “where to next?” The steps that follow will determine whether your journey continues on or ends. Tread carefully.
So how do you pave your own way in business without a knowable direction to follow? Based on my experience forging my own path, here are a few tips and tricks that may help you gain perspective and shine a little light on your path when things seem darkest. They are not fool-proof, but then again, entrepreneurs are pioneers, not fools.
First, have a clear picture of what your goals are. You cannot reach a destination if you don’t know what it looks like. Visualize it and hold it in your mind. From this goal, work backwards, creating the treks and trails that get you to your destination. Steps might include product development, raising capital, marketing studies, hiring talent, leasing a space, etc. Work out the method you will take to arrive at your goal. See it in your mind; it is your path. You get to decide how you get there, especially when walking on untrod territory.
Second, take an inventory of your backpack. Identify the skills and resources you have available to you. Note the skills and experiences you personally have and those in your circle of influence that you may call upon. Think about the experiences you have had and how they may be applied along the trail. Not every skill will be an exact fit for the situation, but they may be close enough that their principles may be applied.
Third, strap in for the ride and secure your intellectual property (IP). If you really are pioneering, your ideas have value and will need to be legally protected. This may include URLs, registered trademarks or logos, patents or other methods of IP protection. Your most valuable assets are the unique ideas you bring on your journey. Get them tied down so you don’t lose them to some enterprising person following in your rut marks. You will want to ensure your IP is yours alone so that you can pick it up and move it to your next destination if you choose.
Now that your wagon is on the prairie, know that there will be setbacks. Be prepared to pivot and go in another direction if necessary. When you are the first at anything, there will be challenges and days you feel lost. At times, you will need to dig deep inside for the will to go on. These are the days to reach out to other entrepreneurs and ask how they handled their own roadblocks. What advice can they offer that may help you on your journey? Be prepared to work through the muck of the challenges. When failure is not an option, you put on your trekking boots and develop some grit along the way.
Finally, recognize progress. Thank those who helped guide you or illuminated the way. Gratitude goes miles when navigating through times of trial and error without a compass. Don’t forget to reward yourself — you need encouragement too. Take time to look back at how far you’ve come and enjoy the view from where you’re at. Although the unpaved road still stretches out before you, you have already come a long way. Remember this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep trekking.
You have the power to set out on a path no one has walked. You can forge a new route that others will follow. No one else will be the first on this trail and no one can take that away from you. Stay the course and take time to look at the scenery as you continue on your pilgrimage to success. It is in the challenges that we emerge with new eyes and new confidences to tackle the next mountain, knowing that whatever the journey looks like, we will arrive successfully at our goals.