Why You Have to Suppress Your Entrepreneurial Instincts to Succeed

March 15, 2019 ​- 48 Comments

To get started as an entrepreneur, you need to develop the ability to see opportunities to jump on. You need to see gaps in a market, you need to learn many new techniques and skills.

And you need a certain optimism and can-do attitude, as well.

These are excellent qualities to have... until they're not.

As you're building up a business, the same qualities that helped you get started can get you stuck and slow down your progress. In today's post, we talk about why this is and what to do about it.


You Can't Give 200%

Too many entrepreneurs make agonizingly slow progress because they do too many things at once. They start more things than they can ever finish.

The first way in which we fool ourselves is to think that we can just do more. As in: sure, I'm already incredibly busy with my one business project, but this new project excites me and I want to start it! I'll just work more and do both!

We delude ourselves into believing we can give 100% effort on project #1 and 100% effort on project #2. But unless you can somehow find 48 hours in your days, that's simply not possible.

You Can't Give 50% x2

But it gets worse. In my experience, you can't give 50% to one project and 50% to another, either.

Well... your input can be 50% of your time and effort for each project. But the output, the results that you'll get with each business will be less than half of what you get from going 100% in on a single project.

I know this seems counter-intuitive, but I've seen this happen way too often for it to be a fluke. If it takes you 2 years to get to $100K pursuing one business project, it will take you 3 or 4 years to reach a combined $100K pursuing 2 business projects.

What About Elon Musk, Though?

Did Elon Musk pop into your head as a counter example of what I just wrote above? He surely seems to be doing alright running more than one business, after all.

Here's my simple answer to that: if you've made $200,000,000+ as an entrepreneur, feel free to ignore my advice. At that point, you have the experience, funds and connections to leverage your efforts. For sure, you'll be more capable of successfully starting and running multiple projects at that point, then when you're just getting started.

I'll even lower the bar for you: if you've gotten at least one business off the ground and to a good, profitable and smooth running state, go ahead and experiment. Before then, stick to one business at a time.

Set Results & No-Results Based Milestones

To avoid the problem of spreading yourself too thin and slowing down your progress to a crawl, here's what to do: define results and no-results milestones for the project you're working on.

The results milestone is the milestone you want to reach, before you even consider starting something new. This could be something like: the business is making $100K/year and requires less than 30 hours of my time per week.

The no-results milestone is the milestone you will go to, before giving up on your current project and starting something new. This could be something like: I will spend 1 full year doing at least 2 hours a day of marketing and promotion work for this business. If it's still not producing regular income at that point, I will close it down.

Now it's your turn: take a look at your current business and tell me what your results and no-results milestones will be. Leave a comment below!

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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.

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  • Always good stuff, Shane. Thanks for the article.

    I haven’t seen you mention the Adizes Corporate Lifecycle, so I thought I’d throw it in here. It’s one of the most helpful analysis tools I’ve seen for thinking about where your business is, and what you should be doing to take it to the next level. (And, how to kill it if you take the wrong tack.)


  • Shane, I’m inspired by your humble approach to the matter of being an entrepreneur. I sometimes think it is a curse! Building and creating things because you can, but invariable not thinking through on how you are going to market what you have built. When no one comes to your product/service/landing page or thing, you turn away and build something new again. Arrr…

    • For sure, it can be a blessing and a curse. I think like with many things, we have to find ways to take charge, so that our strengths can serve us and our weaknesses don’t undo us.

  • Shane, right on spot! I have three websites and none are successful. I will now focus only on what I call my main site.

  • Shane Cato says:

    You seem to have read my mind! I watched your video on that as well! I’m just starting getting my blog going and a “better” subject enters my mind and am tempted to try both at the same time. You just helped confirm that’s a bad idea! Thank you!

  • Hi Shane,

    Yes. This is me X10.

    Do you think about this question —-> “where do I want to be in 15 years?”

    And then filter your opportunities?

    • I do something similar, yes. I like to have clear goals for the short, mid and long term and I use those goals to determine my priorities in my day to day work.

  • Ooh. I like the idea of a “no-results milestone” like a failsafe. I fall victim to the sunk cost bias with my “great” ideas.

  • I struggle with a variation of this, within my business I get pulled into all kinds of directions. For example, I love reading biz books and there are soooo many that get suggested and come out all the time and they all pull me into different directions. How do you decide what books to read and then more importantly implement ?

    • Hi Conny,
      I know the feeling! Shane did a podcast on this very thing: chasing after “the next big thing” which of course could be any number of books!
      It was done in 2017, podcast #7: https://activegrowth.com/7, part of a series called “Your Job is to Ship.”

      I found it very helpful! Hope it helps! :-)

      • Thank you Karen, I’ll check it out

      • Karen M McCamy says:

        That’s great, Conny! I’m not much for podcasts, but Shane’s are different (of course! ;-) ) and this entire series was really helpful!

      • Conny Graf says:

        I love podcasts that are sharing actionable content, so thank you I listened to the first episode in the series and will implement and then listen to the next one. Another podcast I can really recommend is the Online Marketing Made Easy by Amy Porterfield, her episodes usually involve actionable steps that one can take.

      • Karen M McCamy says:

        Thanks for the information on Amy’s podcasts! Good to get a personal recommendation! :-)

    • This is a tricky one indeed. I also read a lot and there are always more ideas than I can implement. I try to identify the highest priorities in the business first and then implement what matches that priority. For example, if the top priority is improving our support system, then I won’t start implementing a new marketing strategy just because I read about it.

  • R.C. Radhakrishnan says:

    There is proven wisdom in your video in this post. I know it because I am guilty of spreading myself too thin starting too many projects and ended up getting no results.

    • It’s an easy mistake to make. If you can look at this as an opportunity to learn from the mistake instead of repeating it, you’re going in the right direction.

  • Hi Shane, great post. I completely agree with the idea of sticking to one project until it succeeds. In fact some of the most successful entrepreneurs say that it is the secret of their success. It is interesting that they use the term “secret”. The reality is that I have seen large companies to collapse because not applying this principle. It must be a malediction, as projects tend to bifurcate into two projects. But I like to think of it as the D-day strategy (WW2, Normandy). They concentrated all their efforts in one single point, and only after succeeding there, they started to diversify. Not to contradict, but I also have observed that those B projects may have a meaning, and sometimes it is better not to eliminate them, but merge them with project A making it more niche. So resulting into a simplified project A (only the 20% that is related to project B). Now I am testing that.

    • Yeah, this often happens when a business grows. Even if you have a single business and a single product, you can suffer from feature creep, which is another version of spreading yourself too thin.

      Regarding B projects: I am working on a piece of content on that topic. :)

  • Shane, thanks for one more piece of gold!

    The things you talk about are so far distant from the delusions we find in popular channels, that the only conclusion I can reach is that most people are seeking delisions, not the real thing.

    Honestly it freaks me out, because my focus is also to teach real stuff that delivers real results (but of course, in the end of the day, all the strategies and teachings hinge upon hard work, which most people don’t really want)…

    Recently one of my students told me in youtube: “how come such good video has only 500 likes in 6 months? 501 now…”.

    I’m saying the same here! I hope you never stop despite the low popularity real stuff and work has in the internet. I don’t know if it will happen, but I want to manifest my wishes anyway :-)

    • Reality is complex and messy, but people like simple, easy answers. As long as the message reaches a few people and makes a difference for them, we’re doing good work.

  • Jim Markley says:

    Once again you have nailed me to the wall, Shane! One moderately successful business that I don’t give enough attention too so that I can chase three others that have made no money.

  • Guilty as charged!

    Like Charles, I’ve a couple of websites at hands and I’d always felt myself spread thinly.


  • Perfectly make sense. I have started 5 websites one after another and ended up not getting time for any of them. It was a bad decision, but the domains and ideas were so tempting, couldn’t help it.

    After wasting a lot of time, back to one project.

    • It’s a huge temptation, yes. A struggle to have a creative mind and be forced to focus on one thing. But you can do it.

  • Great reminder, thanks Shane. Also the no-result milestone, very good point. I’ve used 6 months as that milestone before, but 1 year feels more realistic.

  • Ricz Sabido says:

    Awesome tip Shane! You should add the “Results & No-Results Based Milestones” on your productivity course. This will be a good addition to it.

  • Great advice. I have a profession that I love and an online business that I love. My profession takes priority because I know I am helping people by going to work everyday. I enjoy it. And it provides a dependable income. I am passionate about my online business. I love creating the content for my audio lessons…. However, the majority of my energy goes to content creation and when I try to work on marketing, SEO, etc, the content creation goes by the wayside. What I have learned from this video, is that maybe I have to plan a break from content creation to focus on these other aspects of the business, rather than just trying to fit them in here and there.

    • And I should clarify that I have done a rotten job at SEO and marketing because I am trying to juggle too many things at once.

    • Thanks for your comment, Molly!

      Indeed, I think your chances of moving forward are better if you focus on fewer things. I know that can be hard to do, but it’s worth trying.

  • I guess I should be happy that I’m not the only one trying to balance two hands of spinning plates. :)

    I agree 100% and am guilty 100% but as I’ve asked myself when I was going through your course – which has been super helpful on multiple fronts –

    How do I decide which road to go down when three options in front of me have given me small nibbles but no overwhelming ‘yellow brick road’ glowing brightly yet?

    The guy with several hosting accounts with multiple sites on each and more domains than he wants his wife to know about and still doesn’t make $1000 a month from all his efforts!

    • I feel your pain, Andrew. I too, have way more domain names than I’d want anyone to know about. :D

      The thing is, you can never have total certainty as an entrepreneur. There are 3 paths in front of you and you’d like to know which one is definitely for sure the best one to take. But you can’t know that. You need to take a stab at it and see what happens.

      • We wouldn’t be the creative types we are if we only had one iron in the fire I suppose. :)

        I’m getting good at ‘stabbing’ haha – in a law abiding way of course!!

  • This is one reason I dislike the term “income streams”. It makes it seem like you should be creating a bunch of stuff in parallel, all trickling at the same time.

    Instead it should be “income stacking”. Focus on one income until you reach that milestone. Then you stack on another until it’s running well. Then another (if you can handle it).

    Good video and advice, as usual Shane.

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