Life isn’t fair.
That’s what your mama told you when you were a kid, and you’ve been dealing with it ever since.
Some people are born lucky. They were born with talent. Drive. Focus.
You read about them all the time.
This one made six figures in six months. You’ve been in business two years and haven’t made half that much.
That one wrote two posts and both of them went viral. You’ve written a hundred posts and you’re excited when your mom comments. It doesn’t seem fair that some people have multiple talents that bring them raving fans while many of us struggle.
Take Steve Martin. On the surface, Martin looks like a lucky, talented, focused guy. He was the biggest concert comedian of the 1970s. He starred in the Jerk, The Three Amigos, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
He’s written bestselling books. He’s a playwright. And he won a Grammy for his bluegrass album.
How does one man have so many talents? Is he just lucky? Should the rest of us just accept that some people are given more natural gifts?
Why Steve Martin’s Talents May be An Illusion
Martin’s autobiographical book, Born Standing Up, chronicles his path to a successful stand-up career.
Contrary to what the title implies, Martin never alludes to being born with talent or luck. He tells a story of discipline, frustration, loneliness – and finally, reward.
It’s a journey that mirrors one of many entrepreneurs. And as a small business owner myself, I found the lessons in it invaluable.
Lesson #1: Experiment Often
Martin’s career began in the 1960s when it was not only common to copy other acts, but easy. And that’s what he did. There was no YouTube. No internet reviewers to catch you stealing. You could watch an act in one town tonight and perform it two towns over tomorrow.
But Martin soon realized he would never improve without experimentation. He knew doing an act someone else perfected would only get him so far.
He made a promise to himself to do only original material. This commitment to experimentation allowed him to develop a distinct voice. His big successes came only after fans started to identify him with a certain type of wacky humor.[clickToTweet tweet=”In your online business, experimentation is vital. The online world changes daily.” quote=”In your online business, experimentation is vital. The online world changes daily.”] You may be able to copy the big businesses in your field when you have little traffic. But the sooner you begin to test your own voice and strategies, the sooner others will be able to distinguish you from the competition.
Lesson #2: Seek Feedback Every Day
In the beginning, Martin played his act everywhere and anywhere. He understood he would never know if a joke would work unless he tried it. When a joke failed, even one he loved, he made a note and moved on. I cringed when he described some of the audiences he performs in front of: drunk people, bored people, angry people and often very few people at all.
There is much chatter online about the best way to get in front of people. Yes, guest posting on a major blog will help you, but maybe you’re not ready for the big blogs yet. That doesn’t mean you can stay silent. Just like Martin, you must get your business out there. Only then you can see what works for you and what doesn’t.
Lesson #3: Stick With the Tough Decisions You Believe In
After deciding to be original and seeking lots of feedback, Martin decided he wanted to be avant-garde. In business, we say we want to be innovative.
Martin examined the way comedy worked. Every joke built tension until the comedian delivered a punchline and the audience laughed as they had been trained to do.
Martin theorized that if he never delivered a punchline, the audience would laugh at what they really found funny. Instead of jokes, he performed odd little skits.
Skits that nobody understood. Where were the one-liners? The punchlines?
But Martin didn’t give up. He tweaked his act until they got it, but he never went backwards. And in the end, crowds worshiped him for giving them the authentic laugh they didn’t know they were missing.[clickToTweet tweet=”Innovative businesses shake up the norm. They often provide service and products people don’t yet realize they need.” quote=”Innovative businesses shake up the norm. They often provide service and products people don’t yet realize they need.”]. If you decide to be innovative, you also must accept that you’ll be misunderstood.
And you may start to feel like you’ve gone too far. Maybe they’re not ready for what you’ve created yet. Maybe you should go back to being like everyone else.
Or maybe your marketing just needs a few tweaks until they understand. It’s easy to give up on a good idea, but true innovators make them see what they’re missing.
Lesson #4: Make Precision a Goal
“Like the burlesque comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.” – E.E. Cummings
This quote followed Martin throughout his career.
As his career progressed, he learned to read the audience and make every second count. He moved with them to make sure they were coming along for his ride. In fact, he got so good at reading and reacting to his audience, he started taking them on little field trips around the comedy clubs. At one show, he brought the audience outside, got in a cab and rode off.
To pull an act like that off, you must have control over every beat.
Precision in your online business could mean a slight change in your logo, a subject line, or your latest blog post’s call to action. It’s the little things that create movement in your audience and encourages them to buy.
Lesson #5: Letting Go Moves You Forward
It’s no doubt Martin’s act was a success.
His shows sold out to crowds of up 45,000 fans. He was a household name.
Then he realized his stand up wasn’t progressing like it used to – and he moved on. He began to create movies and eventually to write plays and books.
We often think of letting go of failures. When you create a product that sells poorly, you naturally move on. But it’s a lot harder to let go of your successes. It feels unnecessary.
But you must let go of successes to make time to create new opportunities. Just think – if Martin had continued with stand-up, who would have been Father of the Bride?
Let’s say you create a product that sells twice as well as you expected. The temptation is to dwell on your success. It feels so good to create something people love. Unfortunately, if you hold on to a success too long, it becomes a failure.
Lesson #6: Use Everything You Know
Actually, this piece of advice comes from Johnny Carson. Martin fell in and out of favor with Carson over the years, but in the end, Carson respected him.
One night, Carson was doing his Goofy impression and told Martin, “You’ll use everything you know.”
Martin started out as a teenage magician. When you watched his stand up, you saw a magician’s dedication to props.
In case you’re wondering how he became such a great writer, his first real paying job was writing for the Smothers Brothers. His writing abilities came the same way the rest of his talent did – perseverance and hard work.
Many of us start our online businesses after we’ve tried a career in another field. Maybe you’ve had bosses you hated or jobs you stayed at too long. When you finally start achieving your dream, you might feel like you should’ve started long ago.
Instead, consider it all experience. If you had a boss who treated you unfairly, remember them when you hire your first employee. If you had a bad experience at the grocery store yesterday, remember how you felt when you deal with your own customers. When you start to look at everything you know as an asset, you might be surprised at how much you can use.
Now It’s Your Turn to Be a Natural Talent
When we look back at Martin’s prolific career filled with record-breaking comedy tours, best-selling books, and a Grammy, it’s easy to say to think that guy’s lucky. It’s easy to say, “Well yeah, but he was born with talent.”
Yet when Martin started his career, he was a lot like you. He thought he could do it. He wanted success, and he was willing to work hard. He avoided worrying about whether he had the talent and decided to acquire the skills.
Do you ever look around and feel like you just don’t have a knack for something in your business? Maybe it’s marketing or selling or writing. Instead of worrying about whether you were born with talent, think of how you can develop a talent in that area.
How will you follow Martin’s example and remake yourself into a natural talent? Leave a comment below with your answer!