Longevity was the furthest thing from my mind when I started my first business 35 years ago, but when I do an inventory of those years, it’s obvious that creating things with a lengthy life span has been part of the process. Nobody is more surprised than I am that Winning Ways newsletter is in its twenty-third year of publication. Or that Making a Living Without a Job has never gone out of print since 1993. Not all projects have lasted so long, but the things that have are the real core of my business.


Although I’ve been busily promoting and hand-selling for the past twenty years,  there are some other aspects to my entrepreneurial life that are also longevity factors. These are things that I think have made all the difference and kept me moving forward. They’ll help you, too, no matter what the current age of your business.


Passion and Right Livelihood are essential. According to the Buddhists, who coined the lovely term “right livelihood”, there’s a simple test to know if your work qualifies. That test is this: the work becomes more, not less, interesting the longer you do it. Avoiding boredom is only possible if passion is present. Best of all, practicing right livelihood keeps pulling us in the direction of mastery, urging us to learn more, do more, be more.


Understand cycles. Every business in the world, no matter how big or how small, goes through cycles. Down is followed by up—and vice-versa. It takes a year or two of entrepreneurial effort to discover the particular patterns inherent in your business, but once you do, you can work around them. For me that’s meant learning what times of year are most conducive to scheduling seminars and then using the down times from that profit center to work on creating new projects. Cycles also teach us about financial management, if we’re paying attention.


Willingly defer gratification. I have advertising whiz Bernice Fitz-Gibbon to thank for teaching me this one. In her marvelous autobiography, Macy’s, Gimbels and Me, she wrote, “It’s smart to defer gratification. Be willing to take less at first in order to have much, much more later.” I believed her and discovered she was absolutely correct.


Stay focused on the big picture. There’s a temptation to declare failure when a project disappoints or, even, falls flat and fails. However, too many new entrepreneurs confuse a project with a dream. Know the difference.


Evolution is your friend.  Anyone devoted to preserving the status quo shouldn’t embark on the joyfully jobless path. I constantly remind folks that the business you start out with isn’t the business you end up with. If you’re doing it right, you’re growing and changing and your business is a reflection of that. It’s equally important to make wherever you are in the process as exciting a place as possible. Now.


The real key to longevity was expressed perfectly by Paul Harvey whose broadcasting career spanned seven decades. He once said, “I hope someday to have enough of what people call success so that I’ll be asked, ‘What’s your secret?’ to which I’ll reply, ‘I pick myself up again when I fall down.’”




If you want more longevity-enhancing tools, join me for one or more of my upcoming teleclasses. We open on Wednesday, October 14 with The Thrifty Entrepreneur: Doing More While Spending Less. That’s followed by Outsmarting Resistance on the 19th and A Beginner’s Guide to the Seminar Business on the 21st. Can’t attend in person? You can still sign up and receive the audio download for any of the classes.


The 16th century essayist Montaigne put it well when he advised, “If you’re going to withdraw into yourself, first prepare yourself a welcome.” While I suspect he was talking about becoming introspective, his advice stands up if you’re going run a solo business and/or live an idea-filled life.

If you run your business from home, one of the dangers is that spending the bulk of your time in the same place can squash your creativity. An antidote for this is to make your personal environment the knd of place that consultant Mike Vance calls a “kitchen for your mind.” Too many homes are filled with the appliances of living, but lack the materials needed to spark ideas. One new entrepreneur told me she started noticing that all the magazines coming into her home were deadfully dull. She promptly cancelled all her subscriptions and began replacing them with new titles that fed her imagination.

It’s not just things, however, that can welcome fresh ideas. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon made a fortune by employing her creativity. Fitz, as she was known, grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. In the twenties, she headed for New York and became an advertising legend. Not only did she write ads that people remembered, she taught hundreds of young people the trade. 

Fitz was a big believer in creating an environment where it was safe to make mistakes. She credits her father with nurturing her curiosity. In her wonderful book, Macy’s, Gimbels, and Me, she writes, “I was fortunate in having a teacher-farmer father who encouraged wildness. He felt that there were always enough tamers-down around. He equated docility with dullness. He didn’t want a house full of docile, respectful children. He wanted kids that exploded with different ideas—cockeyed ideas, unconventional thoughts clothed in an unconventional way.” 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Play with wild and crazy ideas. Whether you live alone or with others, keep finding ways to prepare a hearty welcome for the ideas that want to join you.

$100 Hour: Create a network. “My business really took off,” an artisan told me, “when I expanded my network of other artisans and we passed along leads to each other. Clients appreciated our professional recommendations and since we all knew each other’s work, we felt confident giving referrals.”

Explore More: If you’re not in the habit of looking at books of interior decorating ideas, spend some time browsing at your library or bookstore until you find a book that appeals to you. Authors such as Tracy Porter, Alexandra Stoddard and Sarah Susanka all have different styles, but are popular creative catalysts.

Sometimes I think creativity is magic. It’s not a matter of finding an idea but allowing that idea to find you.–Maya Lin