What does it take to be successful in business?

I’m guessing you can begin listing a dozen things right off the top of your head. I know I can – clear vision, business plan, marketing plan, metrics, proper positioning in a highly refined niche market, branding, marketing message, growth strategies, solid business structure, etc. The list just goes on and on.

But one thing is missing from my list – and maybe yours. Rocky Balboa knows what it is. It’s what made him successful as a boxer – and yes, I know he’s a fictional character. That one thing…perseverance – steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

In the movie Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI), he gives a speech to his son who’s struggling with finding his own identity and success in the world. I won’t bother setting up the scene because the movie isn’t the point. But what Rocky says to his son is a pretty remarkable way to look at business and life…(UPDATE 4/28 – VIDEO LINK FIXED)

…I don’t care how tough you are, It’ll (life) will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winnin’ is done.

Now if you know what you’re worth, go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits and not point fingers saying you ain’t where you want to be because him or her or anybody…

Okay, so it’s a little overdramatisized, but the message is solid.

When you’re building and growing a business there will be setbacks (hits) – plan on it. Know they’re coming. Because success doesn’t come in trying to avoid the hits. Success comes in being able to take the hits you can’t avoid and continue on. “That’s how winnin’ is done.”

What hits have you taken in your buiness and what have you done to overcome them? Or, if you’re stuck a bit, what have you tried to do that hasn’t kept you moving forward?

(note: image from MSN UK, Ask The Expert series)

Reader Interactions


  1. rob says

    Sorry to ber the wet blanket here. But define succesful?

    A 800Million business to me is successful, whereas making a living to a farmer in a poor country is successful!

  2. spxtrader says

    The most successful individuals I know aren’t the smartest, but rather the most persistent and those willing to slog through the difficult times.

  3. Dropship says

    ADRIIIIIAAAAANNNN! haha, watching the Rocky movies always gets me pumped up to do just about anything. and you’re right about how he fits into the business model.

  4. David Murray says

    Yeah ROCKY!!!

    Love the 1st two movies…. the rest.. well… ya know. ?

    You did pick the best part and your message is clear.

    Actually for me it is VERY significant. The current project I am working on has finally seen the light of day. I think whales have an 11-12 month gestation period – ours was a difficult “birth” as well. There were many times I thought the bottom would drop out or I would struggle to keep the motivation going. I didn’t have the luxury of thinking any other way. To me it wasn’t really about if I was successful in getting the product up and running – it was more about giving it everything I had and never giving up.

    Well like I said our product is now live.

    Now the next chapter is getting people to use it!!

    Again that will be test with many hills and valleys and I get ready to roll up my sleeves again.

    Perseverance is sometimes the only tool we have left. I believe we truly are at our greatest when things are at their worst.

  5. tim says

    “When you’re building and growing a business there will be setbacks (hits) – plan on it”

    So true…thanks for the fun but real article…

  6. JBourne says

    I’ve been a big boxing fan for years and you just summed up the reason why. Rocky, and boxing for that matter, is a great metaphor for doing business and lots of aspects of life in general. Rocky is known in the US as the ultimate underdog and kept trying and trying despite having all the odds up against him. I agree that the speech in the video is over-dramatic, but it really does speak volumes about how people can look at life and difficulties in general.

  7. Orem Utah Realty says

    Rocky is the best! I would watch those movies as a kid. A lot of ideas in the movie relate to building a business.

  8. hijinks says

    Very true. I think a lot of businesses fail because they haven’t stuck it out long enough.

  9. Nicole Price says

    As soon as i read the title of the post the vision of a bloody Rocky getting to his feet after being knocked down came to mind. So in a sense perseverence is the first thing that i thought of 🙂

  10. Chris Anderson says

    Holy Cow. I’ve been involved with 12 start-ups (10 are still in business) and I finally hit the wall last year. I literally had to take about 8 months OFF. We were productive during this time though and moved to Hawaii. So now I have a new lease on life and am starting lucky number 13 (a sign/banner company- brick and mortar and web based.) I’m glad we moved, because it’s enabled me to get away and focus. I’m working alot on the site, and we just hired our first two employees, so I’m slowly ramping up.
    Rocky 13

  11. Luvi says

    Taking the hits is not hard whether you planned for it or not, dealing with it is the harder part.

    Even with all the preparation in the world, some hits are bound to come. It has more to do with the correct state of mind one has in running the business than preparation.

    Some simply cannot take and just give up. One the other hand you should also know when it is enough and should pursue another line of business.

    If you’re not good at it, persistence may not help you. Find something else you’re good at!

  12. viden says

    I like what you said at the end of the article:

    Success comes in being able to take the hits you can’t avoid and continue on. “That’s how winnin’ is done.”

    Thanks a lot for this advice.

  13. Chris Anderson - Banner Boy says

    I’m trying to find on the net- the story about the VERY first Rocky movie. I read about how hard it was for Sly Stone to get this off the ground, how difficult it was to raise the funds for the movie, and how they came in on “fumes” to make it happen. There are some really cool facts about what they did to make the movie (overcoming shortfalls in budgets, the mistakes in the movie that they integrated into the film, etc.)
    Here’s the wiki on the Rocky films (although it doesn’t get into the behind the scenes as I read it a long time ago:)
    This has really motivated me! Thank you,
    Banner Boy
    Banner Bal Boa

  14. Frank - Web designer says

    It’s easy to shout from the sidelines “Don’t give up! You can make it.”. However in the real world, it’s good to know when it’s the right time to abandon a sinking ship, sacrifice the sacred cow and take stock.

  15. sara says

    Perseverence. I started this little shop, naively not expecting the kind of competition I have. What do you do when a gazillion people are making the same thing you are making?
    1. Make it unique
    2. Promote the holy heck out of it.

    I’m working on it.
    Off to read more of your blog.

  16. Anthony says

    Lol, love it! I never thought I’d be able to turn to Rocky for advice! You’ve just proved me wrong.

    I wonder what Ivan Drago can teach us 🙂

  17. Hippie Dippy says

    We just started our business a few months ago and it is so hard not to be fustrated when sales are low. Thanks so much for the article. Who knew Rocky could provide such inspiration?!?

  18. CastMetrix - Content Distribution Network (CDN) says

    When you finally make it you realize the hard hits are what pushed you through the next level.

  19. jess says

    A beautiful written piece that holds a lot of truth. It’s the tough times that make you stronger and make you fight harder to achieve your goals.

  20. Funny t shirts says

    Great post, you got my attention with Rocky but after reading it you make a great point. I was spending most of my free time at night on the computer trying to gain exposure to a new t shirt website I just started and I was about to slow down or stop because it seemed I was wasting my time when my page rank jumped from 0 to 2. I caught a second wind and just got bumped up to pr 3 within a total of working on it for 3 months from 0-3. I know I won’t get a trophy for this but I felt like quiting several times but the reward makes me so glad that I kept going. thanks

  21. Real Estate License says

    I love the lesson here and of course how you threw Rocky into the mix. I can say that without a doubt this way of thinking is true.

    Throughout my life I have fought against everything life has thrown at me, being homeless, poor, without food, health problems, but I never let it slow me down, I just kept punching back, I knew I couldn’t give up and I never I did. Thanks to my determination, I am a happy father and husband with my own business.

    One thing I would add, is to remember when life lets you stand back up, you are so much stronger mentally than you ever were before. In a way, the turmoils we all face are excellent strength building exercises.

  22. Indianapolis Marketing says

    I agree with your message 100%! 3yrs ago after a heart attack at age 38 I started my new company while recovering from a virus that attacked my heart. I took the time during recovery to make the change despite all my critics. Stood my ground and better for it!

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