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Swimming With Sharks: 10 Lessons For Business Success

Shark Tank Success LessonsPhoto credit: Photo by Kenny Louie, Creative Commons License

As of this time last year, there were approximately 28 million small businesses in the US, with 22 million of them being self-employed with no additional payroll or employees. Yet, it is statistically proven that 50 percent of these businesses fail, year after year. So what is it, exactly, that the lucky half possess in order to succeed? After working with hundreds of small business owners myself, and my recent Shark Tank binge, I’ve picked up a few potential answers to this million dollar question.

Now, my relationship with cable has been on and off over the past few years. Dishing out countless dollars for inconsistent service was exhausting, and my wallet and I had a much better time streaming what we could online. Lately, the components have changed, and I’m back in the game! This time around, I’m the one being reeled in by sharks – but what can I say? Their bait is so stinkin’ sagacious I have to bite! And after you get to know these powerful creatures a bit more, they’re really not so bad. Actually, they’re a wealth of knowledge, and we could all learn a thing or two from them in order to make many aspects of our own lives a little more rich.

These particular sharks I’m referring to are six self-made entrepreneurs worth billions, and you can see them yourself week nights on CNBC. For those who haven’t yet had this viewing pleasure, they give great advice to three “wantrepreneurs” per hour long episode, and actually invest their own money and resources into their business if they like the pitch. While they’ve ripped many to shreds, they’ve also grown numerous products into household names – all while creating more jobs, fulfilling a need and most importantly, making the American dream come true.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Stay open to opportunity.

Many of the products presented to the sharks came from “aha!” moments. They weren’t planned. Those entrepreneurs were not actively looking for the next best thing, and there’s a good chance they didn’t even consider themselves entrepreneurs at all. But they found a need to fulfill, and went after it.

Take Rick Hopper, for example. He appeared on the show in 2012 with a homemade magnetic eyeglass holder, after realizing that placing his reading glasses in his shirt collar would only find them falling off and floating in the toilet. He now has an $8 million business (ReadeRest) and growing with the help of the QVC Queen of sharks, Lori Greiner, and their new marketing partnership. In every area of life, you never know when these opportunities are going to present themselves. Stay open.

2. Think outside the box.

One of the first questions any business partner will ask you, whether they are a marketing consultant or a financial investor, is “What differentiates you from other businesses?” Your product needs a clear competitive advantage, because that is going to be the main factor in your inevitable success or failure. It makes sense – if there’s nothing else like it, you have no competition, and if it’s something people like or need, they only have you to buy from – problem solved. However, that is rarely the case.

Competition is out there, and if you’re somehow fortuitous enough to not experience it initially, expect it to come very soon. What makes YOU different?  Everyone has something; you just have to make sure that something always stands out amongst the rest. The sharks never invest in a product that can be found elsewhere or easily duplicated. They need a wow factor to win them over, and that doesn’t usually come from a box. Always be thinking outside of it.

3. Make the effort.

The biggest factor these sharks sniff out more than profitability is dedication. Similarly, one of the many mantras I try to live by is, “Do it with passion, or not at all.” These sharks want to know you’re all in, and if you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re probably not putting in the necessary effort to succeed. Take a step back and think, “Is this what I really want?” If yes, ask yourself “Will it work?”, because it surely won’t if you don’t. Go all in.

4. It’s OK to ask for help.

Once you’re all in yourself, you’ll find this task to be incredibly overwhelming. It’s OK to ask for help. Kevin O’Leary, the toughest shark in the sea, said it best himself: “The biggest mistake entrepreneurs can make is trying to do everything themselves. They usually blow up when they try. I did an inventory of every deal I've ever done and it turned out that every single deal I made money on was a partnership, and every colossal failure, where I lost millions, was something I tried to do by myself.” Yes, even the millionaires make mistakes. We’re all only human, and humans need a helping hand every now and then.

5. Don’t be afraid to get bitten.

As with everything in life, if you never try, you’ll never know. The sharks certainly don’t take it easy on their prospective prey – they’re called sharks for a reason. But even they will admit that every time someone tells you ‘no,’ you must realize you are that much closer to a ‘yes.’ Nothing good happens instantaneously. I mean, even instant Jell-O takes some time to fit its mold. Whatever it is we want, we must keep trying if we expect to succeed. And if someone says ‘no’, it’s probably for a very good reason. Look for the yesses in the right places, even if you get bitten along the way.
6. Everyone deserves a chance.

My favorite part about the entire show is seeing hardworking people get the chance they deserve. At this point, they’ve realized they can’t do it on their own, but they care so deeply about what they’ve accomplished thus far, that they simply can’t stop. The sharks have this impeccable sense that enables them to sniff out sincerity in their presenters. They’ll call out a phony when they see one – but they’ll also dish out their dollars for those who truly deserve it. Despite what we see out there so often, many people do. Give them a chance.

7. Emotion sells to even the smartest spender.

Asking someone for $500,000 for 15 percent of your business is not exactly what most would call chump change. No matter how rich your blood is – the sharks need to actually feel something before they bite and break out the bank. I’ve seen them won over time and time again by families who have quit their jobs to make their dreams come true, but can no longer make ends meet. If they bring their children to the tank, the sharks suddenly become baby belugas. No matter what species they may be, at the end of the day, their instincts remain sharp and they have plenty of evidence to prove it.

The combination of a profitable deal and an emotional story to accompany it almost always wins on this show. Coincidentally, it’s the same for the average consumer. We see this in advertisements every day. What Budweiser commercial did everyone love? The one with the puppies. What Nike commercial suddenly turned every Clevelander into a LeBron fan again? 4, 5, 6… TOGETHER! Don’t just give people a deal – make them feel something.

8. Communication is key.

In any relationship, a hole in communication will soon sink the ship – turning everyone involved into shark bait. Whether you are giving the initial business pitch, strategizing with your partner, or coming to the final conclusion, communication is key. Most of all, this communication must be honest, open and often. Sharks have the power to sniff out missing information, often leading to dishonest deals.

But even the smallest fish in the sea can’t effectively partner with someone who lacks proper communication. Do not be afraid of the potential conflict that can come from it. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career so far, it’s that conflict is healthy – because avoiding it leads to a lack of communication altogether, and that, my friends, is lethal.

9. Find the right partner.

In business or elsewhere, the perfect pairing is essential. Even if a shark loves the product and the people behind it, they will typically back out if they know they’re not the best fit. Dig into the person, really do your research, and make the right choice in any form of companionship. Furthermore, know when it’s time to step back, and seek a support system somewhere new if necessary. The right partner is out there – just keep swimming!

10. Dream big, but start small.

The biggest failures on the show happen because someone went too big, too fast. If you start making bracelets, sell out, and want to sell more, do you then open up a store because of that one good run? No, because that would mean you also need to come up with more products to sell in order to pay the store rent, staff members and everything in between. Before you know it, you’re in over your head and you’re part of the 50 percent of businesses that fail. Instead, you take that beautiful bracelet, and put it in flea markets, local boutiques and an online shop with the help of a savvy marketer. That bling becomes your focus with no extra fees, and you’ll soon find a small, but savory, taste of success. Regardless, don’t ever stop dreaming of the bigger picture, because if you lose sight, complacency can just as easily creep up and kill success in a snap.

Bring in the closer, Mark Cuban.

Even after all ten of these tidbits, the greatest takeaway I’ve gained from Shark Tank is something Mark Cuban said: “Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.” From day one it’s been clear that Cuban is the coolest shark, but that right there makes me want to bare a scary shark grin and go take the biggest bite out of life, thanking him the whole way for speaking the wisest words I’ve heard this side of the sea.

While many of these lessons may seem like common sense, you'd be surprised how often they get lost amidst our daily grind – don’t let them drift too far from shore, because if your business surpasses the buoys, you’re shark bait. Now I’m no expert, but I think it’s time to find your favorite floating device and get back to work!

Read more from Jenna:
How to Market to Millennials
Content Writer: Jenna Backus Jenna Backus Former RevLocal Employee

Great read!

Outstanding article Jenna! I'm a shark tank lover too!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Marla