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Glenn Burkins: Reflections on my fifth business anniversary

By Glenn Burkins
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.

If you hear a loud commotion in the coming days, it’s just me celebrating the 5-year anniversary of my business startup.

Hard as it is to believe, I’ve defied the odds … so far. The U.S. Small Business Administration says that about half of all new businesses fail before they see their fifth birthday.

But as much as I would like to credit my survival to superior intellect or business savvy, such a claim could be quickly debunked.

Truth be told, the survival of any new business will depend on any number of factors, including, in some cases, dumb luck. So for those just starting out, here are four things that (I believe) have worked to my advantage:

Unmitigated stubbornness

Before I launched in November 2008 (into the teeth of the worst economy since the Great Depression), I took a small business class at Central Piedmont Community College. I recall one instructor who said – correctly – that no one would ever start a small business if they truly understood what it takes to make one successful.

Without a doubt, this entrepreneurial journey has been the challenge of my life, and I recall many times I wanted to quit. But I didn’t give up.

Experts list many factors that contribute to business failure; chief among them is the lack of capital, or cash flow. As essential as money is to the operation of any business, experience has taught me that simple, mule-headed determination can sometimes be equally important.

It’s cliché, but true: You can’t fail until you quit.

A strong support system

In reality, success is rarely the result of one individual.

Over the last five years, I have turned to friends and family for moral support, hands-on help with work flow and, yes, even short-term cash needs. Anyone who starts a business without such a cadre of support is asking for trouble.

Some of my most important support has come in the form of simple encouragement – like the words of my brother, constantly reminding me that “every problem has a solution.”

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Starting a business is a lot like planning for war: You’ll need a good plan, but the best-laid plans go kaput as soon as the first shot is fired.

Although I sometimes feel woefully unprepared, I actually did considerable research to get to where I am. I spent many long months researching the Charlotte market, studying successful businesses like the one I wanted to launch and taking classes to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.

Even now, five years later, when I dust off the business plan I wrote, I am amazed at how closely it hews to the actual business I now operate. Yes, my revenue projections were comically optimistic, but the basic framework remains relevant.

Don’t worry if you can’t write the perfect business plan – no one can. The value is in the process. If done right, the planning process will force you to think critically about your business and start to anticipate some of the many problems you are sure to encounter.

As for startup capital, you can never have too much. Remember that.

You gotta love it

When all else fails – and it certainly will at times – it helps to love what you do.

People who advise small business owners say passion alone is not enough. True, but I take a slightly different view: Without passion, there is little to sustain you when times get tough.

I have known since high school what my life’s work would be. So when I decided to start a business, I wasn’t about to launch myself in a different direction. It simply would not have worked in my case.

The challenge for me has been moving beyond my passion to embrace the less-loved aspects of running a business – tasks such as bookkeeping, sales and managing paperwork.

I can’t say that the past five years have all been easy, but they have easily been among the most rewarding years of my professional life. I’m glad I took the challenge.

Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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