The Truth About “Overnight Success”

You hear about it often in the media: New businesses seemingly transform into multimillion dollar companies overnight. Think Groupon, Pinterest, and Instagram. Yet most entrepreneurs put in serious time before they see their hard work materialize into a lucrative business.

This contradiction is enough to make those of us who haven’t hit it big yet wonder whether it’s even possible to achieve success quickly. Is “overnight success” a myth or a realistic goal?

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked three business experts for their thoughts on the subject. Here’s what they had to say.

What Is Overnight Success?

To determine whether overnight success is possible, it’s important to define exactly what it is. Susan Gunelius, president and CEO of KeySplash Creative, describes it as “extremely quick success that comes without much effort and is typically based on being in the right place at the right time.”

Is Overnight Success a Myth?

Chris Brogan, president and CEO of Human Business Works, says there’s “almost no such thing, except for one-hit wonders, and they don’t exactly count.”

David Siteman Garland, host of The Rise to the Top, agrees, adding that “people often get overnight success confused with freedom.” Freedom — the idea that you can work where you want, how you want, and when you want — is very attainable. “To really grow a business, it takes blood, sweat, and tears,” Garland says. “If there is an overnight success story out there, it is either an anomaly or we aren’t getting the full story.”

But Gunelius believes overnight success is possible and attainable. The catch is that it’s difficult to control. Unlike long-term success, overnight success isn’t easily replicated with things like hard work, marketing strategies and setting goals. It often occurs as an unexpected phenomenon with uncontrollable factors like good timing playing a central role.

Should You Strive for Overnight Success?

Instead of trying to make it big in a small amount of time, all three experts say you should spend your energy elsewhere. “Chasing overnight success is like saying your business plan is to buy lottery tickets,” Brogan says. It’s a lot more about luck than strategy. As a business owner, it makes much more sense to devote your time and resources to what you can control. “Small business owners should work on pleasing clients and growing that customer base,” he says.

Gunelius advises entrepreneurs to “focus on developing a great product or service and a long-term business and marketing strategy that will drive sustainable growth and survive any market conditions.”

The Pitfalls of Achieving Success Too Quickly

The thought of having the fastest-growing company or creating a product with a massive following is understandably alluring, but there are disadvantages that come with growing too rapidly.

“Early success almost always swamps a small business, and several go under the moment an overnight success event happens to them,” Brogan observes. “Slower and steadier success is much more powerful should someone want to sustain their revenue streams for a long time. Not too slow, but not super fast.”

Gunelius adds that “not all overnight successes are actually good products. Think of the Sham-Wow. The absorbent towel that hit instant success in 2007. Consumer Reports was less than “wowed” with the product. Focusing on creating a great product consumers actually want and need is always a better long-term success strategy then trying to catch lightning in a bottle.”

Although you may be tempted by the stories of relatively unknown businesses turning into instant successes, reality paints a different picture. “When you look at companies that are often referred to as overnight successes, like Twitter, the people behind those companies often had many business failures before they hit it big,” she says. Yet, we continue to buy into the idea.

Why? According to Garland, many people fear real, consistent hard work. “The ironic thing is the more consistent work you do, the more freedom and impact you can achieve,” he says. “At the end of the day, that is much more important than overnight success.”

About Brandi-Ann Uyemura

Brandi-Ann Uyemura is a freelance writer with a passion for inspiring others. She holds a BA in English and a MA in Counseling Psychology and has worked as an associate editor for Psych Central, a copywriter for various online retailers, and a columnist for The Writer magazine.
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