The mass market business model is a compelling model to many. Whether you are selling physical products, or software and services, many seem to gravitate towards the mass market model with the singular hope of becoming the next billionaire. However, not everyone will reach that goal, and there is another equally viable business model. What are some things to remember in a sustainable business?

As an industry veteran and educator, many people have crossed paths with me and sought counsel with me. I have had my fair share of exhilarating and profitable journeys, as well as downright depressing ones which I conquered again and again.

In the darkest journeys, I found my greatest learning points, and I shared with many who sought my counsel readily, with the sincere hope that they may not need to make business or career mistakes I had made and save themselves time, resources, and from pain.

I have observed that one of the more common notions for some who would want to enter the business arena, is if they could make a lot of money, quickly.

Of course, as you and I would know, there is really no such thing legally.

Out of every phenomenal success such as Facebook or WhatsApp, there would be thousands of others who would have started, got seed capital, ran for a short while, and fizzled out with heartache.

One of the problems seem to be that many people imagined that to make money, one must be in the “mass market” business model, selling a few items that could be easily produced at low costs, to the global consumers at a sizable profit.

Of course, some companies have gone this route and succeeded. But again, those are the few who, as the Chinese saying goes, “天時地利人和”, had every external and intrinsic factor in their favor to succeed.

So, assuming we are stepping into the business arena with an aim for the long haul, what should we first define?

1. Passion

First, we have to find something we love to do, and would not mind doing for the rest of our lives if our health permits. As all the greatest entrepreneurs who are STILL doing well today will tell you, they have always done something they love to do, and not trying to find a business that seems to make money.

After all, every business will go through cyclical rises and falls, and unless you have the steely passion to carry on, you will not last long, much less succeed.

2. Action

Second, we have to lay down practical plans, and then do them. Too many great business ideas written on napkins became lifelong regrets because not everyone is cut out to be strategic, practical, or prompt in actions. It is always easy and comfortable to talk about grand ideas. But ideas are useless unless and until you execute them.

Once you execute your ideas, quickly, surgically, rationally, and strategically, then you will realize how much your best ideas also need some tweaking and adjustments along the way. Never delay solving problems, no matter how mundane or difficult they seem. Many businesses fail quickly because small problems were rolled under the carpet and these small problems grew bigger and bigger until they eclipsed everything into oblivion. If you have to say something, do it very quickly, and move on to the next item.

The Agile approach to running a business ensures that you are always able to manage every action promptly, and slowly but steadily progress in managing your emerging business.

3. Competency

Define what is your core competency and how that can translate to your potential business model. For example, if you are really an artist, then you will be more likely pursuing an “artisan” business model.

If you are more of a financial wizard capable of understanding complex numerical analysis, you may be more willing to pursue a “factory” business model.

If you have accumulated 3 decades of engineering expertise that has a good market value, and you want to strike it out on your own, again you could be looking at the “artisan” business model.

If you have a shrewd eye in identifying consumer goods that have a short shelf life but great short-term traction, you may be looking at a “factory” business model.

A consulting business is an “artisan” business, and is not scalable like a “factory” business, but can be lucrative as well. And just because a mass market business can potentially reach out to millions of people, does not necessarily mean there is great profit margins or even sustainability.

4. Discern

Every action has consequences, and we are answerable to our own actions. We should set guidelines and best practices early, but we also need to know that every business, especially in community-centric locations such as Asia, the human element is very important too.

For example, how much latitude we can accord to our employees and industry partners, must be carefully weighed.

And discern if we must insist upon certain things too. For example, never feel embarrassed if you have to insist on pre-payment, especially if you are rendering a service, something that is irrecoverable in the event of a default. The increasingly difficult economic climate means that some businesses might be tempted to default on payments, and we should protect our business interests judiciously.

For every deliverable, there should be clear definitions so that both you and your customers are aware, comfortable, and unambiguous. In certain scenarios, we can also discern that some empathy be given, and allow some flexibility when we can. We sow what we reap. In business, always be prepared for risk and danger.

If we sense that there is a deal too good to be true, it may be wise to walk away. And, if we are offered a huge business deal from a single client that demand much more than we can handle, it may be wiser to go for several smaller business deals spread over different clients instead. I always remembered how a small agency was offered a long-term contract with a very large software company, and the agency had to grow its team to meet the contract demands. All seemed well until the large software company pulled the contract, and the agency imploded and ceased to exist.

5. Pace

Look around us, and we would find someone who has worked himself to grave health, or even death. For an entrepreneur, we must always remember that the business does not define us as human beings, nor should it consume us.

Life is much more than that. Pace ourselves for the long haul, and always think of the business as a marathon. There is always a time to have a meal, to enjoy a cup of coffee, or to take a short break. There is nothing life-threatening about a client email or a deadline. There is always the right time to deal with those. Allow ourselves to breathe, or our ideas will run dry out of sheer exhaustion. The best ideas always come from the state of calm, rather than turmoil and anxiety. Breathe. Rest. Eat. Relax. Sleep. Exercise.

Artisan or Factory – you choose

So, if you decide to become an entrepreneur – welcome to the club!

The journey will be exciting, and will demand every ounce of life and energy you have. You will stretch your brains and muscles in ways you never thought possible. For some, the “factory” model will be their cruiser to the grand ocean of glory. For others, the “artisan” model will be their masterpiece in the cathedral of eternity. For all to dare venture – bon voyage!