Think Bigger

The importance of small wins when you’re trying to start a business

Question for you: Why do you want to start a business?

Wherever you are on the “Can I start a business?” continuum — whether you’re just starting to entertain the idea that maybe you could start something for yourself; or you think you have an idea, but you’re not really sure what to do next — chances are you have some version of an answer.

Maybe it’s a big-picture vision of how you want your life to be different, like taking control of your time, or waking up in the morning and actually feeling excited to get to work. Or maybe it’s something a little more concrete, like finally pay off that $100K in student loan that’s been breathing down your neck, or making enough money that you can afford to quit your full-time job.

These are Big Wins — and Big Wins take years, not weeks or even months, to pay off. So the question you’re probably asking yourself is:

How do you stay motivated?

When you know that the Big Win you have your heart set on — the student loan paid off, the down payment secured, the resignation letter delivered deliciously into the inbox of your overbearing boss — is months and years of work away, how do you keep going through all the muddy, messy, deeply unsexy steps you have to get done along the way?

Answer: by forgetting, just a little bit, about those Big Wins, and making room for some smaller wins along the way.

The importance of celebrating small wins

Here’s another list of “wins.” Compare them against the list up top, and see if you can spot the difference:

  • “Scheduled three customer research interviews for next week.”
  • “Just submitted my first guest post!”
  • “Sent an email to a few IT managers to let them know about my blog.”
  • “Updated my website with new opt-in copy and opt-in offer.”

These wins aren’t the student debt vaporized, or the triumphant two weeks’ notice that we talked about up top. And that’s the point. These goals are achievable. They’re the kind of thing that you can write down on a “to-do” list, knock out with a couple of hours of dedicated work, and then actually cross off the list before you’ve forgotten where you put the notebook that you wrote them in.

People need positive feedback — especially when we’re starting something new. Studies have shown that novices are more likely to stick with a new goal when they get confirmation that they’re doing the right thing.

When we learn to see each accomplishment, not just as a tedious task on the long slog toward our “real” goal, but as a goal in itself, something powerful starts to happen: momentum starts to build. We create a loop of positive feedback for ourselves:

Set goal → Achieve goal → Realize you are capable of achieving goals → Set another goal → achieve another goal → etc.

Success is a self-perpetuating engine. It feeds itself. But in order for that to happen, you have to generate enough successes to feed it. You have to set yourself up to know a success when you see it.

Our CEO, Ramit Sethi, dishing some advice on celebrating small wins.

A roadmap for harnessing the power of small wins

Saying “Celebrate the small wins” is great and feel-good and all. But the truth is, focusing on the small wins is only step one. We can rack up a whole raft of these small wins and still not get anywhere. It’s not enough to gather small wins. They have to build on each other.

Think about how you learned how to read when you were a kid: first you learned to recognize the letters and the sounds they make. Then you learned how those letters go together to form sentences. Then sentences become picture books, picture books become chapter books and eventually, reading became so second-nature that you barely think about it as you’re doing it (like now, for instance).

Starting a business is the same way. Eventually, the steps will become so easy, they’ll almost be second nature. But mastering the basics has to come first. And for the 99% of us who aren’t self-taught geniuses, it helps to have outside guidance to help you along the way.

Take our online course, Zero to Launch, for example. It’s literally a pre-designed series of small wins, purpose-built to accumulate toward the Big Goal of having an actual, revenue-generating online business.

Here are a few of the small wins that Zero to Launch students know are worth celebrating. No matter where you are on this list, we have resources and action steps for you each step of the way:

Starting a business is a Big Goal, and you can get there. The secret isn’t one big leap — it’s the hundred tiny steps you take along the way.

Here’s to your wins — big AND small.

I’m curious: What’s the next “small win” you’re aiming for in the list above — and how are you setting yourself up to actually get it done?

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