The 3 Year Success Rule

I have been discussing a theory with some other entrepreneurs for the last year or so, at first it was just loose conversations but now we have starting calling it The 3 Year Success Rule and I wanted to share it here on my blog. This is a theory that evolved from experiences that we have all had with most of our entrepreneurial projects.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to do something new or setting up a new business is to give up too early. No matter what the project is, no matter what problems or achievements are witnessed in the early stages; the real success comes at the 3 year mark but so many newbie entrepreneurs give up much earlier.

There are a lot of reasons for this but to me it seems like magic, no matter how hard you work or what you do in the first 2 years, it never comes as easy as in the third year.

When you are in the thick of a new venture, 1 year can seem like a lifetime, especially if times are tough and it has been difficult. I have been there and it can be a very disheartening place but corners are turned in the blink of an eye and the hard times seem to disappear in an instant.

I regularly see new entrepreneurs giving up on great business ideas after a year, 18 months because they find it too much of a struggle but they don’t realize how close they are to turning things around.

I have heard many theories about how long it takes to master something, e.g. the old Chinese philosophy of 10,000 hours to mastery. I just got the calculator out and worked out that 10 hours a day for 6 days a week equates to 10,000 hours in 3 years.

Although we might not be constantly working on something for 10 hours a day we are often thinking about it, considering options or problem solving in our heads. So if you started a new business it is totally conceivable to spend AT LEAST 10 hours a day working on it and thinking about it for 6 (if not 7) days a week.

Even if you don’t spend this much time on a project then there is still a strong possibility you will still tick past the 10,000 hour mark sometime during year 3. It might be 3 years and 8 months but it is likely that the 10,000 hours will be reached during the 3rd year.

For a saying to survive for thousands of years there has to be more than a small amount of truth in it and I think this one is spot on.

I don’t think this is the only reason why the 3 year success rule exists. I think it takes a while for a new venture to stick in other people’s (customers) consciousness. To put it simply, consider this: A new shop opens in your local shopping area, it’s a new business and an unknown brand. There might be an initial rush of curiosity from some people but others will pass by that shop for some time before even noticing it. Even when they do finally notice it, they might not go in for weeks or months, maybe waiting until they need something in there. When they do finally go in and like what they see, it still might take more time before they build up the trust and relationship with staff to go in regularly and become a proper customer. Believe it or not this whole process can take 3 years.

When you are involved in that business, living and breathing it, promoting it, telling everyone about it and building customer relationships, it can be hard to believe many people walk past every day not noticing you or considering to come in for a long time but that’s the truth.

I have simplified my example by using a shop but all businesses go through something similar. It’s about building up a trust by just being in existence for a certain length of time, no matter what else you do only time can create that reassurance.

Certain types of marketing, advertising and PR also take different lengths of time to pay off which adds to the time frame.

All of these things and many other quirks of human psychology, fate, learning, time and business go into the magic 3 years success rule. My advice is simple though; If an idea is good, no matter what difficulties you encounter give it at least 3 years before you give up. Change and adapt as you need to, re-brand, relaunch, change location, improve what you offer, learn more, change staff, go online, offline, or whatever you think is best but give your ideas and projects a decent chance before giving up.

Just remember that making your own luck in business or anything big and new in your life takes time, years in fact, so don’t give up.

Have you had experience of the 3 year success rule? Leave a comment below.

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5 thoughts on “The 3 Year Success Rule

  1. I have to agree Matt, My business is just entering its third year but already I am seeing more profitable business coming my way and better relationships with customers. I would definitely recommend (as you have) that people stick with it rather than letting it go even if they keep it as a part time venture rather than giving it up totally to work on something else!

  2. I totally agree and have said: 1st year to learn the beast, 2nd year to tame the beast, 3rd year to master the beast. Be it an entrepreneurial adventure or a high stakes position. That is the truth. And let’s face it, if its too easy the first two years, we’d be bored and move on to something more challenging, anyway.

  3. What a great article, Matt. This is such an important thing to remember for entrepreneurs. As a mediator and attorney who began a dispute resolution firm, I agree that it does take a solid 3 years for customer brand recognition. Thank you for this!

  4. As a 28 year old now, and having grown up with a very fortunate life, patience can be the hardest thing to master. So what you’re saying in this post is very true and somehow we need to overcome the hurdle and keep reaching. There is a fine line between letting something go for the right reasons or being impatient to wait for change that may be just around the corner.

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