Where Aspiring Entrepreneurs Should Spend Their Energy

When people sign up for my email newsletter, the first email they get is an inquiry:

What is the BIGGEST pain / problem / or struggle you're dealing with right now in your business?

I typically get dozens of responses a week, and I do my best to answer each one.

Over time, when I notice a similar questions being asked, I like to write a blog about it to help more people (and point new people to it when they sign up and inevitably ask me a similar question).

For example, here's an email I received in response to my question above:

email question

Denise asked me for help with where she should focus her energy so that she can successfully grow her business.

I get this type of question a LOT.

Here's the deal:

Like many entrepreneurs, and especially those getting started, Denise has 1,000 options in front of her...

And she needs to say no to 999 of them so she can say yes to 1 of them (at least in this immediate moment).

So how does someone just getting started decide what to focus on first?

The answer is: be a prospector.

Let me explain:

Have you ever seen the film “There Will be Blood”?

You know, the one where Hawkeye is an oilman and tells the preacher “I drink your milkshake”?

entrepreneurship milkshake

If you're an entrepreneur, it's worth a watch.

I'll give a short, spoiler-free synopsis to explain:

The film begins with the main character, Daniel Plainview, digging a hole, by himself, in the middle of nowhere, in the far west, in the late 1800’s. After weeks of digging and blasting, he strikes oil.

With the oil ready to be collected and sold, he travels town to town to look for investors in his new oil claim so he can speed up production and profit.

The rest of the movie follows his journey, going from "solopreneur" with a single well into a CEO of a national oil company with many wells.

Along the way, he’s hit with just about every setback, hurdle, and challenge you can imagine:

  1. one of his oil wells blows up
  2. he has to deal with the untimely death of team members
  3. landowners block access to resources
  4. a rival, giant oil company tries to buy-out his company

Yet, in spite of every obstacle, in spite of starting from nothing, he succeeds (or the business does, at least).

He succeeded because he did the tough work of prospecting.

That is, he combined intelligence (knowledge of the environment, of the product, of the market), with courage (doing the hard work most people won't), and made educated guesses (good choices) on where to drill. And while the movie doesn't show it, I presume any real-life prospector during that time period would come up empty handed on occasion - to be successful, they use any "failure" as nothing more than new knowledge to make better choices in the future.

In the film, Daniel progressively increases his knowledge and courage, learning new ways to generate investments, figuring out ways to create bigger and better oil drills, and even building a pipeline, so he could own and control everything, from production to the point of sale.

The analogy I'm trying to make is this:

The best entrepreneurs are prospectors.

Or rather - I would posit that the only successful entrepreneurs are prospectors.

They have to be, almost by nature.

What I mean is: you probably don't know which of your ideas will be successful or profitable.

In fact, if you're just getting started, probably none of the ideas you have right now will be successful, at least not in the way you envision them.

As an entrepreneur, your job isn't to create the perfect thing out of the box - it's to take an educated guess, based on your current knowledge, and to have the courage to dig as long as you need to until you strike oil (profit). And, likewise, to have the insight to know when it's time to say "there's nothing in this well, time to move on."

Here's the crux:

Give up too soon, and you'll never strike anything. Take too long on a single well that comes up empty, and you'll run out of resources.

Like everything in life, being a prospector (entrepreneur) requires balance.

You must find a balance between increasing your intelligence, and taking action; you must find a balance between being persistent enough to work through the inevitable challenges that keep most people from taking action in the first place, and knowing when to pack up shop and move on if the situation doesn't develop into profit.

If this answer doesn't inspire you, cheer up because I have some good news:

It's never been easier to "strike oil" in the digital age.

Generating profit is far and away easier than it was 100 years ago.

I can say this with 100% confidence because of the mere fact that each of us has the means of production and distribution at our finger tips.

This is important, because it means you can probably dig dozens of wells before you have to worry about using up all your resources (because it can be done so cost effectively).

The real prospectors of the 1800's didn't have that luxury.

On the other hand, there's a lot more people doing the same thing. This means more competition, more people trying to do what you're doing (times 100). And if you wait to long, you could miss your opportunity.

So "where should you focus your energy?"

Instead of answering that question, answer these instead (excuse the prospector analogies here, but hey, I think they work):

  1. What are you trying to build or create?
  2. What will that look like when you get there? How will you know you've "struck oil" in your niche or industry?
  3. What does a "dry well" look like in your industry? How will you know when to pack up and try something new?

Once you answer those questions, here's the next step:


Take action today.

And whatever comes of that action - success or failure (aka feedback) - learn from it and apply it to your next initiative.

Do that, and success is all but certain.

Your Turn

Let me know in the comments below how this concept of being a prospector will influence your approach to your current business or entrepreneurial / creative endeavors.

Does this change anything for you? Does it make things more clear? And if not, why not?

Share below.

Best answer gets an ultra rare milkshake meme.

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3 comments on “Where Aspiring Entrepreneurs Should Spend Their Energy”

  1. This is a great article Tom. Really good advice and nice reframe on failure! I wish I had this kind of guidance when I was starting out. The question of where to put your energy is a big one, a lot of my clients have that one too. The next question I have is about prospecting. I know you're good at it and you're a great connector. I'd love to know more about what prospecting means to you and how that looks from your perspective, what's important about the 'how' of prospecting in the digital age?

  2. I really like the idea of this post. To extend on it a bit: I always find it helpful to think about the highest return of the time invested. Most Entrepreneurs that are just starting out usually have more time than money to invest. And time is the most precious ressource. So lets take an example: If you are starting a Blog the number one metric you should track in my opinion is your email list size. The bigger it gets, the easier it is to promote your content and ultimately make sales. So you should think which things will get you the most email subscribers for every hour you invest. And while it's maybe hard to guess, as there are literally a hundred things you could do, at least its something you can track. How much hours did you spend on guest posting and in how many email subscribers did it result? How much time did you spend on writing and promoting a post on your own Blog and how many email subscribers did you get from it? These are all great questions you can ask yourself and numbers you can track to remove overwhelm and know whats working for you. So than you can double down on these efforts being absolutely sure that you will get the highest return of investment on every hour you spend.

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