The “Dry Stretch” that Makes Almost All Entrepreneurs Fail

February 25, 2016 , 48 Comments

Have you ever wondered why starting a business is so damn difficult? And all the while, some entrepreneurs make it look easy.

What's up with that?

In today's post, you'll discover a universal and unshakable principle that makes being an entrepreneur difficult. There's (almost) nothing you can do about it, but if you know about this, you're much more likely to see it through...​


Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail

"You Are Here"

If you've found yourself struggling along with building a business, putting in a lot of work seemingly without payoff, it's likely that you're stuck here:​

That's when your motivation to learn new things and develop your entrepreneurial skills is already fading. You're noticing that you have to put in many hours to overcome new learning plateaus. At the same time, payoff from all your work is still scarce or even non-existent.

​Does Payoff Really Grow Like That?

The payoff curve doesn't necessarily grow the way it's depicted in the video. Just like you can waste your time instead of focusing on core skills and improving them effectively, you can make bad business decisions and hamper that payoff curve.

This is one of the reasons I advocate building a mailing list and creating & selling products so much.

Think about it:

  • Your mailing list grows over time (even if it grows slowly) and the more it grows, the more reach you have. The more reach you have, the easier it is to get customers for a new product, launch a new business etc. In the beginning, making money from a mailing list is near impossible. After a long time of consistent growth, making the average Joe's yearly salary is a matter of sending a couple of emails.
  • Every product you create is an asset. Even if an individual product doesn't sell well, if you set each one up as an evergreen product, your income grows with each product you add to your portfolio.
  • As you create products and grow your company, you set up systems that allow you to grow your business faster with less of your own involvement. The more you do that, the faster you can grow.

By focusing on building these assets, you're ensuring that the payoff curve grows in the best way possible. You're stacking the deck in your favor.

What About Rapid Skill Building?

If you're a subscriber, you saw my recent email series on rapid skill acquisition (I've yet to turn that into a downloadable, so if you missed out, you'll have to sit tight). In the series, I talk about building skills in a matter of weeks and months, so is that a way around the dry stretch?

Yes and no.

Yes, as you get better at rapidly growing your skills, you can also get results sooner and you can shorten the dry stretch.


You have to remember that A) even skill acquisition is a skill, so you won't be good at it right away and B) no matter how great your skills are, you can't expect instant success. There's always a "wind up time" when you start a business, even if you already have a large audience, lots of experience and so on.​

Links & Resources​

  • The Grind - discover more about the skill curve and see a real (embarrassing) example of it in action.
  • Time to Quit - how do you know whether you are stuck in the dry stretch or actually just making the wrong moves? When should you quit and when should you persevere? Click here to find out.

Any questions or thoughts about this topic? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Shane's Signature

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

​Related Articles

  • Shane… thanks for sharing this. I am in a “dry stretch” right now with my marketing efforts, and this is just what I needed today!


    • Thanks for your reply, Brian! Glad to know this was a useful message for you. :)


  • Shane, this is a great article, and I think it is especially applicable to anyone who is trying anything fundamentally new or different from what they are used to. While not every innovation is going to be successful, of those which do, many also go through a period where growth is far slower than expected. This can be especially frustrating if there seemed to be some traction leading to a “launch”, but where traction growth slows significantly once those early adopters have dried up.


    • Good points, Nick. This definitely applies to many things outside of business as well. I think that’s why “grit” is such an important personal quality for people to achieve any kind of success.


  • Great post Shane, it is tough to know if you are just dry, or if your in the wrong direction. Also, lack of feedback, or someone to tell me that :this is a good idea or a bad idea” is also frustrating.

    I would really like to know about growing an audience, without spending money on advertising, and not because advertising doesn’t work, but because my ad budget is near nill.

    Ive studied SEO, recently read The Art of SEO, and reference it often, but still…great content, great ideas, all meaningless without an audience. What good would this post and your video do if nobody was here to benefit, learn, get help from it?

    This is where I am. I do articles/blog posts myself, I do some video, I do a podcast, all to nobody it seems…

    And resources you know of to grow/build traffic, an audience, etc would be appreciated.


    • My top recommendation for learning about traffic generation is Authority Hacker Pro. Gael teaches very detailed and very smart strategies, mostly focused on traffic generation. What you can also learn from him is the way he goes after specific traffic sources or marketing channels with tenacity and intense focus. That’s why it works so well for him and why he can make it look easy.

      You mention several things like SEO, podcasts, blogs, videos… that might indicate a lack of focus. If you take just one of those things and you relentlessly focus on it, you can start climbing that curve. If you jump back and forth between them, you’ll be extending that dry stretch by miles.

      When I say “relentless focus” I basically mean this: try to become the best in the world at something. Pursue a skill of SEO or podcasting/podcast marketing or video marketing or whatever, but don’t pursue it thinking “I’ll try to figure this out and see if I can get some traffic” pursue it thinking “what do I need to do to become the best in the world at this?”

      You may not actually reach that level of expertise, but this kind of focus is what will get you to the point of payoff in a reasonable amount of time.


      • Thanks Shane,

        You may be right…I feel that I am trying hard and feel like I am focused…I guess when it comes to creating content, in this day and age, it feels like you need to be using multiple platforms and media to get noticed. I guess I dont really mind focusing on one thing and being really good at it, it’s just that I dont have an audience that consumes the content.

        Thanks again

      • Nicci Ashby says:

        Ryan you do need multiple platforms for sure and media exposure is one of the fastest ways to gain business growth. However in doing so you need to be acutely aware of who your target audience or “avatar” is.
        Having a mentor can also short cut your journey to success also :)

  • Really interesting thoughts on the subject. Something I’ve experienced in my own life but had not given much contemplation. Certainly sparks my interest in looking a little more closely and exploring techniques and tools to manage this process better. Thanks Shane.


  • Great Post, Shane, and a very compelling curve! I think one of the most important things is, and this sometimes is quite difficult, to make the right decisions and to know, which topic is worth to stick at. I saw so many people enthusiastically climbing the ladder – only to find out later that the ladder was standing at the wrong wall …

    So your approach of delivering straight forward information is very helpful and highly appriciated. Thanks!


  • Shane, this is a really clear explanation of this step in the process of building up a business. And you’re right that this is a common quitting point for many people. It took me over 2 years to build up the skills for creating a website and building up a mailing list, and in the 3rd year I started to sell products. I came very close to quitting many times!

    Mind you, it didn’t really have to take this long to start selling, but my perfectionism tended to get in the way of progress. You kindly gave me a kick in the butt about this issue. (Thanks!)

    But I think I’m finally approaching the end of the dry spell. My business actually made a tiny profit last year, and should produce part-time income this year. I’m hoping next year to finally approach full-time income from it.

    But the LOOOOONG dry spell can be tough to survive! I’m feeling really burned out from all of the work required, without receiving enough payoff from it yet. Ugh! I just keep plugging along….


    • Hi Debra,

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, it can be really tough to get through, for sure. I’ve had my moments of despair as well, along the way. I guess it helps that I’m totally unemployable and don’t really have any other options. :)

      I hope you’ll get to a point of greater payoff soon. And using the idea from this post can help you focus on the right things. If you do so and build the right assets, the jump from a bit of profit to full time income can happen surprisingly quickly.


      • Christoph Schumacher says:

        Hey Shane

        ” I guess it helps that I’m totally unemployable ” –> I really had to laugh out loud, because this describes me as well, I guess. Sometimes it’s good luck to have only one way to go.

  • Another great post Shane.
    Your explanation makes a lot of sense. Simple and to the point. Knowing that dry spell period doesn’t happen jus to me but to most entrepreneurs helps me to keep going.
    I am about to launch new product and I am following your advice on minimum viable product rather then perfecting it for months. I see how it goes and Lwy to know.
    Hopefully dry spell Is over for me soon.

    Keep up the great work :)


    • That’s great to hear, Hubert. If you keep products minimal and you keep working on those skills, you’re doing well. Being close to launching a product means you already got further than about 90% of people in this field.


  • This is quite true. I like to think of it as growing in capacity.
    There is an apprenticeship we all go through in online business and I should imagine it’s longer than the usual 9500 hours of trade training you do. The thing is if you don’t have a support network around you its easy to lose hope especially if you have had to suspend your disbelief to start online in the first place.
    You really have to learn how to look after yourself and celebrate your successes.


    • Thanks for your comment, Simon! That’s a good point about the lack of a supporting network. I think that’s one of the things that makes being an entrepreneur so tough: you’re usually going at it alone and often with little support (e.g. people telling you you should stop dreaming and get a real job…).


  • Excellent insight Shane! Thank you for sharing.


  • Really timely video. My daughter is in the very early stages of this process and her husband is really focused on immediate income. I think this will really help them allocate their resources with less friction.


    • Thanks, Paul. Chasing immediate income is a very common reason for failure, especially with online businesses. That’s one of the reasons I always go on about focusing on skills and assets, instead.


  • hey Shane,

    Thanks for a a great post. What’s great about it (for me) is that it told me nothing AND everything. By this I mean that, although everybody probably KNOWS instinctively the facts you presented us with, not many have actually expressed it verbally in the way you have in the video.

    Now, what your article did for me was to force me to cogitate on what you said, and in the process of that cogitation I had my EUREKA! moment. In that eureka moment, I realised and came up with practical ways and ideas to shorten the dry period drastically on many levels, and turn it into a positive instead of a negative.

    (you gave the example of the guitar student. Well, I play the piano (at concert level). When I learn a piece, I found out very early in my playing, that the best way to learn quickly and effortlessly, is to practise a piece in equal sections very intensely, and then to leave it completely alone for a week or two weeks, and then return to it. The recall is 99% usually, much more than if I had flogged away it it night and day trying for perfection.)

    For me, the main thing is (as Debra has already said) to stop trying to be perfect in zillions of yet unlearned skill sets,
    and concentrate on what can be learned and deployed easily and quickly in order to create an undisturbed growing momentum, and get the job done in the process

    I will now incorporate that EM (eureka moment) to build a business model within my existing biz model in order to actually capitalise on the “dry spell”. In other words, I’m gonna turn my desert into a garden with the ideas your post has given me, with very much less effort than if I tried to do everything myself.

    Sorry to have taken many words which I could just have easily expressed this way;

    >Our brains seem to be hardwired to require the “dry spell” in order not only give us rest, but also provide us with the opportunity for inspiration to move us onto the next level of our endeavour.s……

    So Debra, here’s my EM in a nutshell:
    Instead of the burden of the skill sets that need to be learned, in the dry spell I’ll be looking for ways to get things done without the need of those skill sets, and I’ve already had a brilliant set of ideas on how to do just that !! :-)


    • Thank you for your comment, Richard!

      I’m very happy that you got a eureka moment from this! :)

      And I love your method for learning to play a new piece. That’s really making use of the resting period and “passive learning” that the brain does. I want to experiment with this as well now and see if I can incorporate it into some learning process of mine.


  • Shane, I love your teaching. This post is just what I was talking to with my son today. I’m just starting on a completely new project. It’s not new to me, just a new market. Everybody think I’m insane to put myself into more work. It’s a relief to confirm what I noticed. As an entrepreneur since 1990, I never give up. But there were times I wanted to…


    • Thank you for your comment, Irena! Glad you enjoyed this post. :)


  • Awesome Shane, makes total sense to keep going, I only fail when I give up.


    • Thanks for your comment, Surya!

      As long as you’re focusing your work on the right things, it (eventually) pays of to be totally relentless.


  • I was just thinking about this very thing when I got up this morning, Shane.
    In a time in which instant gratification is promoted at every turn, a potential entrepreneur must be prepped to expect that there usually is NOT a direct return on initial efforts.
    Most initial efforts are foundation-building — skills-building in your terms — that will eventually support what comes later.
    The ability to defer gratification and to continue to do the necessary work is one of the qualities that separates those who make it from those who don’t.
    Thank you for this reminder.


    • Thanks for your comment, Phil. I totally agree about instant gratification: it’s something we’ve come to expect in too many areas of life and it can be detrimental to entrepreneurial success.


  • Hi Shane,

    thanks for sharing this! You have the ability to bring complex thoughts to one important point. Great Stuff.


  • Great description of the entrepreneur’s life. You do need to be careful that while climbing the ladder to success, you do not have the ladder leaning against the wrong wall. This type of considered analysis is essential for the trail-blazing pioneer in any industry.


  • Thanks Shane. A good dose of reality for those of us wondering just how much longer until we see some light at the end of the tunnel (and hopefully not just a train heading our way!)

    Great stamina you have!


  • Tim Lester says:

    just came across [link removed] not sure if authorised but a familiar voice :)


    • That was me, yes. I tried collaborating with the SMP guys a long time ago, but nothing came of it.


  • Shane, I think that one answer to the time dilemma that you have described is why Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says to begin with the end in mind. Keeping your eyes on the prize eases the pain of the endurance test that’s required to reach that time when the two lines cross.


    • Thanks for your reply, Jay!

      I think there’s a skill in focusing on the right things to stay motivated as well. On the one hand, you need to have a clear, big end goal in mind, as you say. But the downside of that is that there’s no feedback about your progress towards it. Like a mountain on the horizon, you can spend your whole day walking towards it and it still looks like it’s about the same distance away.

      So you also need the ability to focus on the immediate next steps, make sure those are in line with the goal you want to reach and make them small enough that you can get the encouraging feeling of actually making progress.


  • Rick Benz says:


    I’m experiencing this very thing right now with a new website that I’m building. But what I’ve metaphorically done is label a sheet of paper from 1 to 100 and on lines 1-99 I put the words “little traffic, no monetization” but on line # 100 I’ve labeled that line “X” traffic/visitors per month and several monetization strategies.

    Now as I go through the grind and this dead space that you speak of I just look at my sheet of paper and remind myself that I’m just on line 32 so I don’t get discouraged when I do see the results from all the hours I’m putting in. I’ve managed my expectations from the beginning. Plus, I know the integrity of the process will predict the outcome so I just keep going.

    I’m more concerned about creating the habit for the first 12-18 months than I am about seeing any significant cash flow from my efforts.


    • That’s a really awesome strategy, Rick! Congrats on anticipating this and creating a system to manage it from the beginning. Smart!


  • Totally agree about gradually building your list which is your audience. Trying to figure out how to keep the spam bots from posting spam links on my sites. Using a plugin to combat this problem but sometimes it is easier to just make everyone that wants to comment must log in to my site to do so.


  • Hi Shane,
    This is a great video and I relate to it 100 percent because of the experience my wife and I both have had in learning Mandarin. I vividly recall starting to learn Chinese way back in 1998 while we were still living in Canada. We went through the exact process you’re talking about in this video, where initially you learn the sounds and the four tones you need to be able to put words together and have them understood.

    That initial learning is a huge leap of improvement from the zero starting point. But then you’ve got to actually start learning how to say things, how to construct sentences, etc. I know that anyone who speaks more than one language will understand what I’m talking about here; but my point is that you go through that same process you’ve described. You don’t see an immediate payoff when you’re starting out to learn a 2nd or 3rd language. But eventually, that payoff does come.

    So 18 years on my wife and I are fluent in Mandarin, which is our 2nd language. I conduct coaching and sales training workshops in Mandarin when our customers require it (we lived in China for 13 years, and at present are based in Frankfurt, Germany).

    Likewise, building a new business has so many similarities to learning a new language. Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up, because if you keep acting and keep learning your business will definitely start to grow and eventually take off.

    Thanks Shane!


  • Hello Shane.
    This is your best blogpost ever. This is 100% the truth. Now in my brain there is every thing clear. Really clear. Thank you!!!!!


  • I feel like I’m there right now. About 3 years ago I was getting ready to launch my first product (a membership) and then I got sick. Now, after moving to 2 different countries, I am finally in the “race” again… and boy have things changed online!!! I feel like I’m starting out all over trying to figure out the best way to build awareness and engagement and bring something of value to those who put their trust in me.

    The learning curve is steep, but Thrive is helping greatly.



    • Hi Marianne,

      True, 3 years is a long time in Internet time. But the way I see it, it’s not so much about “getting it” as it is about having a system and discipline of keeping on top of the ever-changing landscape. If you have that, you can always catch up and if you’ve done it once, you can definitely do it again.

      Badass avatar image, by the way! :)


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