Yosef Martin is founder and president of Merchandize Liquidators, a closeout and liquidation wholesale company specializing in selling overstock and customer-returned merchandise from major stores for a fraction of the original wholesale cost.

What Is Focus?

We're brought up in school systems where our teachers and coaches tell us to focus, and this doesn't really change when we enter the work force. We're told to focus in every aspect of our lives, but rarely are we told what it means to be focused or how to achieve it.

Likewise, almost every entrepreneur has received the advice to "stay focused" at one point or another. I myself was given this advice and promptly brushed it off, assuming that focus was innate in everyone.

It was only after I lost out on several million dollars in potential revenue that I truly learned what focus means for me.

The Cost of Distraction

When I started my liquidation business, I had just $375 and a clear vision of where I wanted my business to be in five, 10, and 15 years.

Starting up was relatively simple. I just built a website and dove into Internet marketing.

My clear purpose led to quick success. Before I knew it, I had dozens of major retailers asking for help with their liquidation programs. What these companies didn't know was that the door they were beating on opened only to my one-bedroom condo.

I became so inundated with business and frustrated by my inability to cope with my marketing success that I lost sight of my goals and began dabbling in other low-key businesses. In my disarray, I wavered from my liquidation venture and created another, completely unrelated online business. This e-commerce startup began bringing in a small amount of money, but I lost out on the millions my original venture should have been earning.

It was only after a period of self-reflection that I dropped all of my side projects and decided to define my business. I decided that focus required me to be mentally on target 100 percent of the time. I could no longer get caught up in the past or future; it hampered my ability to accomplish my goals.

Eventually, I put together a new plan, hired the right people, and subsequently expanded Merchandize Liquidators from selling just $650,000 in 2008 to more than $9.1 million in 2012. Simply owning up to my lack of focus and zeroing in on my goals made it possible for my company to grow into the successful business that I had envisioned from the outset.

When entrepreneurs and small-business owners ask me for guidance, I don't tell them to just "focus." Instead, I give them these lessons I learned from my business journey.

  • Create a working definition for focus. Make sure that everyone you work with understands what it means to be focused within your organization, and hold one another accountable as you adapt and grow.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Make a list of your short- and long-term goals, and share them with someone. If you don't have partners or shareholders, you can share them with your CPA.
  • Have regular staff meetings with all key employees. Present your business's problems, and listen to their solutions. It makes your team feel important and helps you find ways to improve your business by hearing from employees on the ground.
  • Be rational, not emotional. Remember that no matter how great an opportunity may seem, numbers don't lie.

These are the things I wish I'd known when I began building momentum early in my career. Entrepreneurs are predisposed to see opportunities everywhere, but you need to be able to see the finish line, too. If you don't know in which direction you're going, you'll never win, no matter how fast you run.