I own a company that hosts events around the world. This season, I was at our Utah Dirty Dash event, overseeing and walking around with some friends, when one of them made a comment about the guy emceeing.
"Isn't it crazy that you got into the event world as the emcee for this event, and now you own the entire thing?"
You hear stories all the time about someone who started in the mailroom and became the CEO. It suddenly dawned on me: Five years ago, I knew nothing about hosting successful events. Now, I own an event company that has brought festivities to 3 million attendees in more than 15 countries.
Five years ago, I was the newbie. I went to "experts" for advice. Now, most of those experts aren't even in the industry anymore.
I wondered, "How am I still here?" And more importantly, what could I tell someone who was just starting out that would ensure them a successful, sustainable career, free from eventual burnout? How could I help others avoid bouncing around from company to company, industry to industry?
Achieving this myself took hard work, but just telling someone to "work hard and you'll be successful" isn't only incomplete – it's flat-out wrong. Working hard in the wrong direction or on the wrong tasks won't move you forward; it'll cement you in place, burning you out faster.
Growth requires more than long hours and lengthy to-do lists. Looking back on my journey, I've followed these four tips to reach success.
Learn all aspects of your product and company
I ended up owning the very events I started out working for as an emcee. Over time, event owners became less engaged while I became more.
There came a point where they wanted out, and only I could keep it going. Why? Because I worked within each department, and I understood the entire operation: marketing, sales, production process and everything in between.
This is the exact opposite of the advice we usually hear: "A jack of all trades is a master of none" and "Get really good at one thing, and then outsource the rest. That's how to grow a company."
Here's the truth: If you want to become an owner, you need to know enough about each element of your business to make sure each department runs efficiently.
You don't need to be an expert at each role, but you need to know enough to tell when someone is doing their job correctly. Which marketing company is giving you valuable information, and which one is lying to you? Which employee is being honest about cash receipts, and which is skimming?
Work outside your comfort zone
When I first started, I was working for two fun run events that were on a serious winning streak. Both averaged more than 10,000 people at every market. The company was making so much money, they could afford slipups. They could make a $500,000 mistake that would be erased in a single weekend of sales.
But I could see the warning signs. Ticket sales were dwindling, and ad cost was steadily rising. They had loyal customers coming to their events each year, but the product was dying, and they needed a new event to sell.
During this time, I had been developing two event concepts of my own. One involved a 1,000-foot Slip 'N Slide through city streets, and the other involved sending thousands of burning lanterns into the night sky. I pitched both ideas, but they were deemed "too dangerous."
The company owners didn't want to risk their fun run business and decided the liability was too high for my concepts. But I believed in my event ideas, so I did them myself.
It turned out the concepts weren't as dangerous as everyone thought, and once I had proven that, everyone wanted a piece.
Being afraid of losing what you have is a foolproof way to lose out on opportunity, too. To work beyond my comfort zone, I apply the same advice my trainer used to help me run faster: "Pretend that a lion is chasing you."
Keep working, even after you've made it
One of the biggest mistakes I see with the companies I consult with is that they get out of the day-to-day business as soon as possible. It's almost like a badge of honor for them not to work anymore.
In the event world, the owner eventually stops attending their own events; they hire someone to go check on them. The problem is, no one has your intuition. You see the glaring mistakes that someone else glazes over. Your hire comes back with a 5-star report, but your gut would tell you what went wrong if you'd attended.
You can't hire that sense of ownership. It's impossible.
If you want to keep a successful company, stay in the trenches. Don't allow yourself to get comfortable, because once you start to avoid your own work, your business pays the price.
Focus on the work, not the glamor or trajectory of your position
I've found that when people enter a company with aspirations of being "owner" or "CEO," they want the title without any of the work or upkeep. Being "position-minded" is synonymous with being small-minded. Instead, be results-minded.
Owning, running and growing a company is not glamorous. It's the work that seems too hard or below your position that builds your character and strengthens the intuition required for industry longevity.
Am I saying that if you follow this advice, you'll end up owning the company you now work for? No.
Am I saying that success requires working smart when it comes to working hard? Absolutely.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.