Pace, Not Race

December 15, 2014


We all know the entrepreneurial stereotype, of the frenzied small business owner running from one project to the next, working 18-hour days at a harried pace. (As one old entrepreneurial cliché puts it, an entrepreneur is someone willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.) And of course, there’s a reason for the stereotype: The entrepreneurial life can be taxing, it can be almost preposterously busy, and it can certainly unfold at a fast pace.

What aspiring entrepreneurs might be surprised to know is that entrepreneurship is not always so frantic, and in fact the beginning stages of entrepreneurship, while eventful, can often hold plenty of idle moments and slow spells. Frankly, there is a lot of work you have to do before you get to that frantic stage—a lot of foundation-laying that doesn’t always come to you in a rush.

Managing Your Pace

As an entrepreneur, your role isn’t just to race from one thing to the next. What you have to do is a lot trickier and more complicated than that. What you have to do is manage your pace—something that requires you to keep four balls in the air at once:

  1. First, you have to think about your own pace. How hard, and how many hours, are you willing to work? All entrepreneurs work hard, and have long days, but if you got into entrepreneurship for the lifestyle benefits then you may not want to move at so brisk a pace.
  2. Second, you need to move at a pace that allows you to manage your resources—raw materials, money, employees, and so on. Chances are, your resources are not unlimited—and their limitations will help define your pace.
  3. Entrepreneurs must also move in accordance with the pace of their suppliers and their stakeholders, who may or may not be willing to move as quickly as you’d like to.
  4. Finally, there is the pace of the market itself. All products have some sort of a sales cycle, and that will also help dictate the rate at which your business moves.

In it for the Long Haul

Speaking of entrepreneurial clichés, you’ve probably heard this one: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Old-hat though that may be, it’s true enough. Entrepreneurial life requires you to pace yourself, and to ensure that the rate of your activity helps you juggle each of the categories mentioned above.

More than that, your pace should allow you some moments of rest—the occasional chance to build your endurance and prevent burnout. As I’ve said before, the strongest swimmers first learn how to tread water, and savvy entrepreneurs set a pace for themselves that allow for exactly that.

Ultimately, it’s not about getting to the finish line first; it’s about working at a pace now that sets you up for success later.

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