Imitation and Mediocrity


It’s kind of funny, if we stop and think about it, but most people are surprised when they find out how hard it is to break into the world of small business. Common sense should tell us that. I guess that it’s the blinders that we all come into the business with that do it, but we would think that common sense would be a bit more common.

people laughing about how hard it is to break into small business as a home inspection

Small business owners are typically a different breed. We’re often born with a “can do” attitude, no holds barred confidence and reckless abandon when it comes to common sense. We think that no matter what it is that we’re going to try, it’s absolutely going to work out better for us than it has for anyone else who’s ever tried.

Yes, I know it didn’t work out for them. But they’re not me. I’m different. I’m better. I’m me!

Thankfully, one of the requisite traits needed to be a successful small business owner is self-confidence. Often, an overwhelmingly ridiculous level of self-confidence. More self-confidence than a normal person can even fathom.

Because, if we stop to think about it (and it’s really best if we don’t look at the numbers), almost 75% of all new small business start ups are done, stick a fork in ‘em, in less than two years from the day they open their doors.

Certainly not awe-inspiring percentages, now is it?

Most sane people would probably look to sink their time, energy and hard-earned money into something with a little better odds of success. Hell, even a 50/50 chance looks better than a 75% failure rate!

But, we’re different. We’re unusual. We’re entrepreneurs, and we’re going to try it anyway. We’ve got every intention to defy the odds (statistics be damned!) and find our own success.

I’m going to make it! I know I will!

Good, I’m glad to hear it. Self-confidence is important in this business.

But so is reality.

And common sense.

Yes, lightning does eventually strike. Someone’s always got to be the next big trending superstar, making an immediate splash without having to wait their turn. Someone’s always got to be the flavor of the week.

trending like the newest home inspector on the block

But, if we really stop to think about it, where are those instant stars now? Just as soon as they’re hot and everywhere on the web, we blink our eyes and they’re gone. Over with almost before they began. Yesterday’s news. Lucky if they get a spot on next season’s Dancing With the Stars.

What about all those other instant stars, we ask. You know, the ones who (seemingly) come out of nowhere but have staying power. Surely, they must have gotten lucky too.

The painful reality is that, most often, the people who experience lasting success are the ones who toiled in obscurity for a while, doing the dirty work and paying their dues, before they got their big break. They didn’t just fall into a pot of gold, they had to do a lot of digging to get to that treasure chest.

It’s sad, but we hardly ever know about that part of the story. We never hear about the 5 years on the road, sleeping in bed-bug infested hotels, driving a broken-down minivan, eating ramen noodles, and playing gigs in smelly dive bars and retread music festivals. We just hear about how they were discovered by some talent scout and immediately started selling out shows all over the globe.

The back-story is rarely sexy. We don’t really want to know about the grind. We just want to hear the Cinderella story. Rags to riches overnight; the fairy tale; that’s what we’re looking for.

Unfortunately, in the dog eat dog world of a small business start-up, that’s exactly what an overnight success is: a fairy tale.

The reality is much less glamourous than we’ve been led to believe. Sure, that school told us it would be easy. Everyone makes bank in this business!

Of course, they told us that. You don’t think anyone would ever sign up for their training class if they told us the truth, do you?

Well, it’s going to be pretty hard to get through all of the different levels of training and tests you have to take. Then, you’re going to be entering a marketplace that’s already saturated, competing against other professionals who’ve been doing it a whole lot longer than you. And you’ll have to convince people to stop using the vendors who they’ve had long-term, successful relationships with and to start using your company, who’s just arrived on the scene, have no experience, and who they’ve never heard of. Yeah, good luck with that!

Sounds great! Where do I sign up? That’s a can’t lose proposition!


Never tell me the odds.

Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back

Thankfully for most of us, we didn’t know the odds going in. We launched our new small business with wide-eyed confidence and reckless abandon.

But now comes the hard part. Digesting the fact that we’re not going to be an overnight success and figuring out how we’re going to survive that dreaded first two years in start-up phase. How do we even make it to year three when the money’s so lean in years one and two?

While there are a few different methods that successful small business owners employ to make sure that they’re around to see year three, the most important part of this crazy equation of success is knowing that the game is rigged against us. We’ve got to know that the clock is ticking and our team is down in the standings. We’ve got to play from behind, with the intention of going all out, trying harder and running leaner than our competition.

the game of football is a lot like being a professional home inspector

Knowing what we’re up against is half the battle. Having a plan and following it to the letter is the other half of the fight. Knowing that 75% of our competitors aren’t going to make it across that finish line, but choosing to focus our energy on figuring out what the hell those other 25% are doing is more important than anything else we will do.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Follow the examples laid out for us by the successful companies that were our predecessors, and one day we’ll be among the greatest that are being copied by the mediocre.

I welcome all feedback (both positive and negative) on this post.
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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector

Comments 2

  1. Really good advice. Totally with the “But I’m different, this will work for me!” mindset. It takes humility to learn from others, but it is a great help. Thanks for sharing.

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