Eliminate the language of limitation

From the Archives

Originally published January 25, 2016

A few weeks ago a young entrepreneur I have the privilege of knowing called to update me about his progress on some business ventures. Yes, ventures. Plural. I urged him to think about narrowing his focus, and he did. I also encouraged him to think about his future and to live out that future. As he responded about his plans, he said something about what he “can’t do without some capital.” I asked him, “What can you do, with or without capital?” And then we got very hung up on the “can’t” part of his earlier reply. If you, like him, are new to starting a business, you probably also have thought about what you can do with money and what you cannot do without it. Let’s focus today on what you can do, with or without money.

I call “can’t” part of the language of limitation. Here’s the problem with telling others what we can’t do: we’re really telling and reinforcing to ourselves what we can’t do. And that’s the future into which we live. We limit ourselves more than others could ever limit us, and it’s how we justify not trying.

Planning versus doing. When the budding journalist and publisher told me of his plans, he harped a lot about having a business plan (a prudent step, albeit also a stalling tactic) and the need for startup investments. Many small business owners are intimidated by statistics about failed businesses, and he’s no different. (Some of the stats you hear about small business failures are myths or at the very least skewed, by the way.) His first self-imposed limitation, then, became an arduous and tedious planning process, one that stumps many fledgling enterprises.

I recently wrote about when it’s time to stop planning and start doing. Many others have written about it, too. Take a page from our books and start doing something today that moves you toward your goal. Business plans are living documents and will change over time. Over-planning doesn’t guarantee any greater success than jumping into your passion project and developing a path once you’ve gotten started.

Show me the money. Tired of the clichés about money? “You have to spend money to make money.” “Money makes the world go ’round.” My young friend calls his situation a Catch-22, and I vehemently deny him the right to do so. Like many budding business owners, he recognizes that he must have some source of income to move his business idea into production and this product into great success. But where does THAT money come from? And in his mind, ’round and ’round he goes. The beauty of capitalism, though, is that it teaches us that while you may have to sow a few dollars to reap more, many a great business idea was launched without startup capital.

I’m a fan of failed businesses. I must be; I’ve started and tanked more ideas than I care to name in this post. And there’s little commonality among those businesses. They range in industry, and there’s a mix between ideas backed by business plans and those that weren’t. One thing they all share is that they were lessons that fueled the next phase of my business experiments. My recommendation to anyone starting a new business, especially one that relies on an online presence – and don’t they all today? – is to start doing something toward your goal. If you’re in the publishing business, start publishing online to give prospective sponsors and investors a sense of your direction and purpose because that’s what investors are buying into.

I’ve got a great idea. Don’t we all? How many wonderful and creative ideas have been snuffed out by failure to act? A few years ago, I had a grand idea for either a book or a blog series (idea, no product defined). I interviewed people (action), wrote short synopses of my findings (action), and talked a great deal about it with persons I thought would promote it (action). I couldn’t decide which direction to go (product indecision), so I thought about it some more (inaction), witnessed a fashion magazine publish an article with the exact title of my project (inaction, followed by slight touch of bitterness), and almost abandoned two years of thought, planning, and action (near death of idea). In a few days, my company will launch a new blog (product) that not only captures the essence of this work (idea) , but also expands on it (idea improvement) to add depth and meaning to its purpose. (Finally, real action.)

The lesson I hope new business owners learn from that experience – and that of many other stories they can read in books, in newspapers, in magazines, and on the Internet – is that moving from idea to product is essential in today’s fast-paced, online-hungry world. Ideas are beautiful, wonderful things until they die before they manifest. And there are few ideas that capture the attention of sponsors and investors. Worse, if your idea doesn’t dazzle such that other ideas pale in comparison to it, you’d best have a dazzling product or prototype that better tells your story that the idea alone. That product or prototype has to embody all that you believe your idea to be.

You can’t “can’t.” Finally, the message I hoped to convey to the young journalist and to anyone interested in getting started in business is this: Stop saying “can’t.” Stop talking about what you cannot do. Stop thinking about obstacles as limitations to your success. Rather, write down action steps you CAN take today. Record – again, in writing – what you CAN accomplish without a cash infusion. View minor upsets or challenges as opportunities to improve upon your idea, motivation to move from idea to product, and inspiration to continue brainstorming new and better ideas for new and better products. Inventory your skills, knowledge, and current resources available to get something done today.

Why? Because there are plenty of people “out there” (wherever that is) who will tell you – and probably have told you – what you cannot do. There are plenty of people who would like to see you fail and will tell you things to help you believe that you will fail. Don’t be one of those people. Be the one person who is in your corner. Be the one person who only speaks the language of assurance and positivity regarding your business ideas, plans, and products. Be the one person who always and only encourages your progress. Let others be negative if they choose to be; don’t listen to them or believe them. That’s YOUR choice. That’s YOUR power. That’s YOUR answer. Eliminate the language of negativity and be the one voice of power in your corner.

Go do that. Don’t think about it. Don’t consider it. Don’t weigh it or mull it over. Go do it.