The first million dollars are sitting there, just waiting for you. You can almost taste them. But you need to build a bridge to access that kind of money -- and that bridge is your business. Many entrepreneurs feel it's hard enough to make a living, let alone a profit or a fortune.

Seasoned entrepreneurs agree that your first million is the hardest. Maybe it's the shift in mindset or the learning curve; maybe it's the relative ease with which money propagates itself once it's established. But according to several millionaire entrepreneurs I've spoken to, once you're over the hump, you'll have a hard time remembering why it was all such a struggle.

This is what successful serial entrepreneurs have to say about bridging the gap to your first million.

1. Outwork everyone else.

Mark Cuban told Valuetainment that people don't just fail because of a lack of smarts -- they also fail because of a lack of work ethic. He explained that he views business as if people are working 24 hours a day to take market share away from him. That motivates him to work harder, learn more, and outstrategize his competitors. "If you walk into a competitive environment and they still know more about the business than you do and more about your customers, you're going to lose," he said.

Cuban has talked about his early start, when he lived with five roommates in a small apartment as he worked to build tech company MicroSolutions. He relentlessly researched the industry and gobbled up any news on trends and developments. Now a multibillionaire known for Shark Tank and the Dallas Mavericks beyond his companies, Cuban attributes his success to his effort, more so than any of his connections or money.

"You're not going to outwork me," he said. Cuban's multiple ventures highlight why it's so important to build companies in industries you truly see a long-term future in: If you're not willing to spend your days learning and improving your knowledge and skill set, your business won't be on a path to make millions.

2. Choose your people actively, not passively.

"People say, 'Your network is your net worth.' But there's a difference between just using that as a slogan and actually living it," explained Ian Balina. "You can't do it alone. Whatever your path to millions looks like, you'll be working with others, whether they're partners, customers, investors, or even just supportive friends."

Balina urges entrepreneurs to "choose these people wisely instead of passively," noting that "choosing a successful company will stretch you, give you new ideas, and keep you growing." He knows what he's talking about: Balina started off as a data analyst at IBM, but he made his way to financial freedom as a serial entrepreneur, author, crypto investor, and founder of 100x Advisors.

The past year has taken him around the world for speaking engagements, encouraging others to follow his path to success -- or to blaze their own. Balina describes one such recent speaking event at Harvard Business School as emblematic of this point. "The conversations happening there are totally different," he said. "Everyone's switched on, everyone's set to succeed." There's a reason Harvard produces more billionaires than any other school, he says: It's because people are surrounded by a community of achievers, who push up their own standards.

3. Focus on your strengths rather than your passions.

There's not a leader around who hasn't been told to follow her passion. And that's a crock, explains Scott Galloway. Galloway, a serial entrepreneur who sold L2, Inc., for more than $130 million and teaches at New York University, said, "People often come to NYU and say, 'Follow your passion' -- which is total bulls---, especially because the individual telling you to follow your passion usually became magnificently wealthy selling software as a service for the scheduling of health care maintenance workers." He added, "I refuse to believe that was his or her passion."

Instead, Galloway believes that people on a wealth track should be focused on what they're good at. Where an entrepreneur's natural talents lie is more indicative of where she'll find success than what's popular. The things that people are often passionate about, Galloway points out -- like sports and films -- aren't lucrative for the vast majority. But more mundane -- albeit necessary -- pursuits can deliver the trappings of success that are often more important to people: money, status, recognition as an industry expert.

Another thing to remember: "Passion" fields are often crowded, meaning those who do succeed are often paid a modest amount for their trouble. They're also more subjective than other industries, where metrics and market share can enable you to more frequently gauge your level of success.

Becoming a millionaire has never been easy. But some of our own beliefs make it harder on us. Overnight success doesn't happen often. Commit to outworking others, surround yourself with people who build you up, and bypass "passion" for talents. That will get you further on the path to your first million, and every day your work toward your goal brings it that much closer.

Published on: Apr 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.