Because I have been self-employed full time for close to 15 years now, people often ask me what my secrets are. Basically, there is only one secret. I call it the Law of Twice.

You see, I know zillions of people who have tried to start a business from scratch. And it usually goes something like this – they want to start a consulting firm to help engineers find their bliss, or create a new robotic skateboard, or open a bakery for cats, or turn their arcane job into an arcane consulting practice… or whatever.

Meanwhile, the reason that I am still “out” and they are not simply boils down to this Law of Twice:

Before you start a business, name two people who already make a full-time living at it.

So, when you come bounding up to me, describing your hot new business opportunity, your craft business deep in the woods or whatever it is, I have the same answer for you; I am all for it, as long as you can look in the mirror and see at least TWO successful people staring back.

When I decided to escape from corporate life, I didn’t just ponder what I wanted to do. I asked myself, “What has every company that I’ve ever worked for paid self-employed people to do?” I could think of three things: public speaking, writing, and janitorial services. I chose the first two and thankfully, do very well at both because there is a market for me, which means that all I have to do is be really, really good at it.

Every so often, I have the ability to read minds and I can read some of yours right now, “Yeah, but what about What about Michael Dell starting a multi-billion dollar computer firm from his dorm room? If we listened to you, Rich Gallagher, there would be no innovative businesses!”

Good point. Game-changing startups do occur. In fact, I was part of one myself in the 80s – we grew from a five-person team with job descriptions of “hey you” to a major NASDAQ firm. But Jeff Bezos had tons of capital and logistics experience on his side when he started Amazon. Michael Dell essentially had a risk-free business model (building computers with cash already in hand from customers) in a demand area. And the startup I was part of had very deep pockets from a parent consulting firm, not to mention a product that customers and suppliers were willing to fund.

But more to the point, how many of the wannabe entrepreneurs that I actually know in real life have started successful businesses without following the Law of Twice? Um, that would be none.

So, try an experiment. Go to a business networking meeting sometime. Find the people who have been doing what they do for a while and seem very comfortable in their own skin. I’ll bet that without exception, they all follow the Law of Twice. Next, talk with the people who have that look of desperation on their faces, as they press their business cards on you and search furtively for leads. I’ll bet this part of the room is where you find the cat bakeries, the “I’m-going-to-show-the-market-what-it-needs” consulting firms, and the hyped “business opportunities.” Right?

Of course, my one rule – the Law of Twice – is really a rule and a half. In addition to finding something that other people do (and pay for), you need to be good enough at it that you totally blow away your customers. To me, success is really that simple.

So, what do you think? Does the Law of Twice enable success or limit innovation? Please let us know in the comments below!

** Bonus! Two-minute Xtranormal movie with my view of most business startups