Chapter 2

Overnight Success is a Myth

the myth of overnight success in ecommerce

First, let’s get one thing straight.

If you expect to achieve success in life tomorrow, you’re in the wrong business. Ecommerce has enormous potential if you’re willing to put in the work–but it won’t propel you to fortune and fame in one day.

That’s probably frustrating to hear, because it’s contrary to what a lot of people say. There’s no shortage of Instagram personalities and hustlers who claim they’ve hit the jackpot with this one simple trick.

But the truth is, overnight success is a myth. It’s a lie sold by gurus and coaches who want you to buy their secret plan for massive growth without doing any of the work.

It’s a narrative spun by successful entrepreneurs who want to sell you the key to success by overvaluing their achievements.

“Look how talented I am,” they say. “I achieved all of this overnight.”

It’s a dangerous myth.

It prevents you from appreciating what it actually takes to build a profitable business. It’s really easy to look at someone successful and curse their luck or dismiss their success by saying, “They were in the right place at the right time,” then sit back and wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap.

The worst part is, it feels like overnight success is everywhere. There’s never a shortage of people posing on a beach or the hood of a sports car with claims of having discovered the key to success in a weekend.

After a while, you begin to wonder:

If they can accomplish all that so fast, what’s my problem?

The inevitable conclusion of this sort of self-doubt is this: “I don’t have whatever they have. I’d better give up now.” Suddenly, you’ve given up on your project before you’ve put in any real effort at all, all because the rewards didn’t appear on Day 2.

Everyone Loves an Overnight Success Story

We live in a world of instant gratification. We demand information and entertainment immediately. We want our products delivered today. We even check Facebook on our phones at stoplights.

We love the idea of sudden success because it skips the hard part: The work.

 

Quick success is all the dream and none of the labor. It’s a signal you’re unique, that there’s something special about you that’s more capable or deserving of success compared to others.

It doesn’t help when we’re constantly being bombarded with images and stories of supposed meteoric overnight successes. No one writes about the slow and agonizing grind most entrepreneurs have to push through every day.

You never read stories about the hours someone spent editing product photos. No one talks about the morning slog of getting through their inbox. Or about the hours they spent learning how Facebook ads work, just to create one that actually gets a click.

There’s just no drama in any of that.

Moreover, you need to take these so-called success stories with a grain of salt.

Leadership and entrepreneur coach Luis E. Romero puts it perfectly:

Videos and pictures of people working out, looking beautiful, and driving fancy cars are not evidence of success. Always remember it costs less than $500 to look like a million bucks.

Further, we often confuse overnight success with early success.

We see a young person achieve something great and assume it happened instantly. How else could a 25-year-old make a million dollars if not overnight?

So, it’s not weird that you want to skim over the hard work researching how to be successful, and instead aim to achieve overnight success.

Who wouldn’t?

There’s just one problem.

Overnight Success Just Doesn’t Exist

Obviously, success is real.

And of course, it’s entirely possible for an ecommerce store to experience periods of sudden growth. In fact, many store owners can point to a time when “things really picked up.

In contrast, the concept of overnight success is disingenuous.

It just doesn’t exist.

That said, it’s not unusual for an entrepreneurial journey to seem like an overnight success. From the outside, a person might be saying, “Wow! That business exploded overnight.”

In reality, a dedicated entrepreneur has toiled for monthsor even yearsto learn how to be successful and get to the point where someone takes notice.  

This is best explained with a metaphor. An ecommerce business is a lot like bamboo.

After all, bamboo grows astonishingly fast.

Some species can sprout 60 feet in just 5 weeks. Bamboo forests seemingly replenish themselves overnight.

But just like overnight success, this too is an illusion.

You see, bamboo roots grow steadily for 3 to 5 years before they ever push a cane aboveground. Under the soil, the bamboo develops a complex root system strong enough to support rapid growth. Once the roots are in place, it shifts its resources to growing the cane.

Growing an ecommerce store happens the same way.

There’s a period of growth under the surface other people just can’t see. Suddenly, one day (maybe months or years after you open your shop), others will point to your store and declare, “Look at that overnight success!”

And the myth persists.

But unlike bamboo, it won’t take 5 years for your store to see action above the surface.

You should see sales trickle in a short time after launching. Tools like Oberlo and Shopify reduce the time it takes to start making sales. Combine them with paid ads and partnerships, and you’re well on your way to achieving success in life.

But that period of under-the-surface growth is critical for your entrepreneurial journey. It’s a test of your determination, tenacity, and courage.

Three Years of “Overnight Success”

Jessica Geier is a certified health coach and one of the founders of Raw Generation. She started the company in 2012 with her dad. She makes it convenient to drink raw, unpasteurized juice made from fresh ingredients, so busy people can benefit from its nutritious properties as well.

overnight success is a myth

Anyway, in May 2013, Jessica earned $8,000. Two months later, she closed July with $96,000 in sales.

Quite the overnight success, right?

Well, not really…

Like most online store owners, Jessica struggled in the beginning. Six months after launching, she hadn’t made any money. Her juice products appealed only to a small target audience, and she hadn’t quite figured out how to reach them.

But instead of pushing something that wasn’t working, Jessica was determined to find out how to be successful. So she made some changes.

She reevaluated her product, modified her formula, rebranded her company, and targeted a slightly different market. Juice cleanses were becoming popular, so she followed the trend and marketed her products as weight-loss tools.

Instead of relying on social media, Jessica chose to focus on a single marketing channel.

In the past, she had achieved small successes with deal sites like Groupon, Lifebooker, Living Social, and Gilt. This type of marketing appealed to her because she would only pay for guaranteed sales.

So she committed herself to putting her products on as many deal sites as possible.

After 2 weeks, sales started to roll in. She decided deal sites would be an ongoing component of her marketing strategy, but she would continue to experiment with other channels and promote heavily to her customer base.

Her success seems like it happened overnight, only because she spent a year searching for a product, customer, and marketing strategy that works. Once she cracked the code, the market realized her value, and sales poured in.

Jessica’s story is not unique.

She built a business the same way countless entrepreneurs do every single day: By focusing on what’s important, being committed to change (the product included), testing new ideas, and using failure as an opportunity to learn.

The Truth About Success in Life

What is success, exactly?

No miracle shake can actually cut inches off your waist. There’s no sleep rhythm that will add hours to your day. And there’s no “hack” that will flood your store with orders and turn you into an overnight success.

The only way to achieve success in life is to work hard and learn from your failures. If you’re constantly seduced by shortcuts and gimmicks, you’ll trap yourself in a cycle of frustration and failure (but not the good, learning kind of failure).

Building anything takes time.

In most cases, the changes are incremental–even invisible. But one day, those little changes will amount to something greater, and everyone will point to you and say, “Look at that overnight success!”

Even if it were possible, no one should achieve success overnight.

Why?

Because instant success means you didn’t earn it. It means you’re not ready for it. It means you’d probably screw things up the next day, costing yourself a lot of money or damage to your brand.

Here’s an example:

You wake up the day after your grand opening to 10,000 orders. But your excitement wanes when you realize you’ve set your pricing rules improperly and undercharged for most of your products.

Now you have to eat the difference in pricing for those orders or refund everyone’s money.

Neither option is pleasant.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but in this case, it’s far more painful than it needed to be. If you learned about your pricing rules when you only had a few orders on the table, you could have learned the lesson and resolved the issue quickly, without suffering a headache.

In this case, the overnight “success” exacerbated the problem.

The truth about success is that there is no shortcut. It must be earned.

Success comes when you decide to stop living passively. It comes when you abandon the “everything will work out” mentality. It comes when you stop watching Netflix and start creating your own opportunities.

 

The key to success is hard work and learning. Once you’ve got all the right tools in your kit and combine them with a dedicated work ethic, success becomes inevitable.

So ask yourself:

  • Do you have the determination to toil on your site and brand long before making a single sale?
  • Can you muster the courage to send emails to a small list, or create content for a Facebook page only friends have (reluctantly) liked?
  • Will you wake up an hour earlier or give up your lunch to work on building your dream?
  • Can you push through when you’re frustrated or feeling beat down?
  • Do you have faith in your process, your tools, and yourself?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you can learn how to be successful.

But remember: It won’t happen overnight.

Face your venture with courage, humility, and patience. As long as you push your business, you’ll continue to fail, because failure is a part of growth.

But over time, the sting of failure will numb, and you’ll finally find yourself seeking failure for the learning opportunity that follows.

That’s the key to success.

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