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OWNER'S MANUAL

How to Get Through the Entrepreneur's Middle Mile

In between the initial rush of your launch and the ultimate culmination of your success lies a long, tough road. Stay the course with these tips.

Starting a business is exciting. Selling a successful company, or going public, or handing it off to your kids--that's exciting, too.

But what abut all the stuff in between?

The real work gets done in what Daniel Steenerson, the founder of Disability Insurance Services, the largest wholesale distributor of disability insurance products in the U.S., calls "the middle mile."

That's where you burn the most energy: overcoming minor and major setbacks, dealing with long-term fatigue, working through cash flow shortages, and simply trying to keep from burning yourself out.

"During the middle mile there's a huge temptation to quit," Steenerson says. "That's why such a huge percentage of businesses fail in the first five years. Poor management and lack of capital are the two main reasons, but from my standpoint the real culprit is losing sight of the finish line. While you can't get myopic and focus only on today... you also must keep your eye on where you ultimately want to go."

Here are Steenerson's tips for mastering the middle mile:

1. Constantly visualize the finish line.

Many business owners reach a certain level of success... and then they settle.

When you get to the point where you're good, good becomes the enemy of great. The bad stuff often doesn't keep you from succeeding; the good stuff does, because it allows you to settle.

Look at your goals every day. Measure your progress. Adjust your pace. Remind yourself why you started this journey, and allow the destination to inspire you.

Work with relentless urgency, and work hard every single day. A consistent, hard-driving work ethic will set you apart.

2. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Stay disciplined. Focus on taking small steps. The time and energy you invest will pay off.

Every day know what you'll accomplish, how you'll accomplish it, and keep putting that foot forward. Then measure the success of your activities.

We achieve what we measure--so keep measuring and keep moving.

3. Believe the surge will come.

Very rarely does progress come at an even pace. You may work incredibly hard for three years and suddenly there's a big surge... and then growth levels off.

Then work incredibly hard, because the next surge will come. Stay motivated during the flat periods by planning and preparing for that surge.

4. Put your trust in execution.

Good ideas come to many people at the same time; the people who execute are the people who succeed.

Execution is a function of discipline. Without relentless execution you will never achieve greater results.

5. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Whenever you can simplify a task, a process, the way you achieve a goal, etc., you can accomplish more in less time because you aren't bogged down in complexity.

The same applies to training your staff: It's quicker and easier to share what you know and do when you simplify.

6. Embrace discomfort.

If you're willing to put yourself in a position of discomfort, you can learn anything.

Reaching a certain skill level and a certain level of affluence makes most people comfortable, and that's where they stay unless they expand their area of comfort into areas of discomfort. Sure, you'll fumble for a while and you'll struggle because you really have to stretch in order to do new things.

Most people eventually feel they've paid their dues, but in order to gain something new, you have to give something up--usually that "something" is comfort.

7. Stay nourished.

Don't let your creative juices run dry. Remember, what got you here won't get you there--and in this case, "there" is past the middle mile.

We change in two different ways: the people we meet and with whom we associate, and the books that we read.

Read. Try to be an expert in a particular subject. Or expand into areas you know little about. Or both. Entrepreneurs should always have a book on their nightstands. And talk to people. Meet people inside and outside your industry. Get informed. Get motivated. Learn from others. Everyone you meet knows something you don't know that you should know.

No matter what, don't stop learning. It's all about your journey, not your age. And your journey is never finished.

8. Hold yourself accountable.

The best way to hold yourself accountable is to develop the right relationships: healthy relationships, both outside of your business and especially in your business with your management team and staff.

See yourself as a servant--because you are--and be truly accountable to those you serve.

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Last updated: May 9, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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