Here are 9 lessons that we as modern day entrepreneurs can learn from the pilgrims:
Take risks: The Pilgrims took a huge risk – they left their homes, got on a ship with few belongings, and set sail for the New World with little idea as to what would happen to them when they got there – if they got there at all.
While we might never take a chance as big as that one, every new business comes with significant risk. Did you quit a full-time job? Risk. Finance your business with credit cards maxed to the limit? Risk. Hire family members to cut costs? Huge risk. Bet the bank on a previous successful entrepreneur with potential in hopes of leveraging his/her expertise, no matter the costs? More risk. But for your business to succeed, you’ve got to take some risk.
Lesson #1: Entrepreneurs have to be willing to learn in many different ways. Whether it’s finding a mentor or just reading, knowledge is vital for success. You have to be open to learn from anyone and anything as much as you can.
Sacrifice: Starting a business requires sacrifice and that is a key characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. It was also a key characteristic of the early Pilgrims. They sacrificed their homes, relationships with extended family members, money they would have earned in their jobs back home, or in worst cases, their own lives or those of their children. They believed in what they were doing and prayed that they’d be successful.
Starting any new venture requires sacrifice. At the beginning, we sacrifice full-time wages, time with our families and very often a good night’s sleep. But as William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony, once said: “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”
Lesson#2: If the Pilgrims could survive one of the harshest winters in history by not giving up, we as entrepreneurs can achieve anything. The key is persistence and finding a way to make things work no matter how hard times may get.
Set goals: No matter their reason for traveling to the New World, someone had to make plans and set goals for success. Writing down the goals – and referring to them often – is critical to reaching them. The same goes for starting any business.
Lesson#3: If you really want to make a success of your business, it’s important to define your business goals, especially before you get started. Setting goals is an integral part of choosing the business that’s right for you. After all, if your business doesn’t meet your personal goals, you probably won’t be happy waking up each morning and trying to make the business a success. Sooner or later, you’ll stop putting forth the effort needed to make the concept work.
Be flexible: As the Pilgrims quickly learned, though, they had to be flexible. Their intended destination was near Virginia’s Hudson River. As we all know, rough seas and storms moved them far off course near the shores of Cape Cod. Your company might face some storms of its own, but if you’re steadfast in your goals (yet flexible in how you reach them), you can overcome most any challenge.
Lesson#4: Flexibility is one of the key aspects of an entrepreneurial personality type. As an entrepreneur you should always have in the back of your mind that “most things will not work according to the plan”. Many have failed simply because they do not have backup plans when something negative or unexpected happens.
Be persistent: Those Pilgrims who made it through the first winter were diligent, strong and persistent. They couldn’t be any other way if they wanted to survive and thrive. You might feel like your struggling business can’t survive another day, but unless there’s really no hope, come back tomorrow and try again.
Lesson#5: The greatest opportunities require us to become early adopters. Sometimes the first one through the door is the last one out. As entrepreneurs, we must take chance on products,ideas, and innovations that are new to us and then be persistent with them.
Work hard: Surviving in a new land took hard work. Unfortunately, after the leaders organized a collective farm, without free enterprise, many of the men were unmotivated to work. The crops suffered, as did the Pilgrims. Fortunately, the leaders decided that the land could be divided and each family would grow its own corn. The ambitious would eat while the lazy would go hungry because they wouldn’t work for it.
The hard workers prospered, as did corn production. Within two years they had a surplus and began trading it with Native Americans and other small settlements for furs to export to England in exchange for supplies. Corn became currency as entire families worked on their own patch of soil. Now those were entrepreneurs!
Lesson#6: You have to work hard to succeed as an entrepreneur. Talent and luck can only take you so far. At some point, you have to work hard to implement luck or talent to be successful like the Pilgrims were.
Form partnerships: The Pilgrims learned to partner with each other and with the Native Americans to survive. They couldn’t do it alone. If you’re struggling with a certain aspect of your business, partner up with an expert.
Lesson#7: Entrepreneurs often worry too much about their competition. They look for ways to annihilate their competitors rather than finding a way to co-exist. Some of the biggest competitors have formed the most formidable partnerships, which brought huge amounts of success. Entrepreneurs should look to work with the competition to service their customers better.
Be teachable: If the Pilgrims hadn’t been willing and humble enough to accept help from the natives, they would never have learned to live off the new land. As entrepreneurs, we need to be willing to ask for help and be teachable enough to learn and apply the new direction. As educated as we might feel, there’s always something we don’t know.
Lesson#8: Entrepreneurs have to be willing to learn in many different ways. Whether it’s finding a mentor or just reading, knowledge is vital for success. You have to be open to learn from anyone and anything as much as you can.
Be thankful: After arriving at Plymouth Rock, Governor Bradford wrote in his journal: “Being thus arrived at a good harbor, and brought safely to land, they fell on their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.”
Whether or not you are religious, expressing gratitude (even to your employees, partners, customers, etc.) will give you the humility needed to continue on.
Lesson#9: Entrepreneurs are some of the busiest people around. They work around the clock and thus their relationships with friends and family often get affected negatively. This Thanksgiving, take some time out to thank the people who mean something to you.
So, as you pause to give thanks during this holiday season, remember these characteristics that helped the Pilgrims lay the foundation for the country we love – one that allows the right to own property, to engage in free enterprise and to live in a society governed by justice and the rule of law. The lessons we can take away from their experiences can be invaluable.