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Being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t come naturally; the bright ideas do, yet learning how to run a prosperous business takes a lot of time. Effective businessmen and women know how to make the most of a bad situation and learn from their mistakes. They didn’t pick up this skill through education, but rather through experience along the way.
To help you avoid a number of hurdles and setbacks, here are the most important business lessons you can learn from successful entrepreneurs.
1. Don’t waste time dwelling on your ideas
Bill Gates gained success by telling a little white lie. He told computer company Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) that he had developed a BASIC interpreter for their microcomputer, the Altair 8800. Turns out, he managed to bag himself a gig, but hadn’t actually produced any software at all! Within a short amount of time, Gates had to create a demonstration of the software that, ultimately, paid off and kick-started his career.
As Roy Ash, cofounder of Litton Industries, put it: “An entrepreneur tends to bite off a little more than he can chew hoping he’ll quickly learn how to chew it.”
2. It’s not all about the money
Obviously, making money is a major part of your business’s success — but what’s even more important is the vision and passion you have for your company. Take social media mogul and multibillionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for example, who just about broke even in his first year of business. He also turned down a billion-dollar offer from Yahoo!’s CEO Terry Semel for the sale of Facebook. (He’s definitely gloating that he made the right decision now.) Mark’s dedication and desire to feel like he’s doing his best every minute of the day is what has made his social networking site dominate the industry.
3. Create something of value and dream big
If you create an identical business plan to that of a successful competitor, you’re literally just setting yourself up to fail. What you want to do is create something that will be of value to your consumers. Take Richard Branson, who says that he starts a business only if it will improve people’s lives. His idea for Virgin Atlantic came about after he was consistently unhappy with the service on British Airways. He only ever builds something he is passionate about, too. The devotion he had to make his airline number one was what made it victorious, and it is now the biggest airline leading the travel industry.
4. Learn from your mistakes
Many celebrities and entrepreneurs are living proof that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing — as long as you learn from your mistakes. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX has a 10-year history of blowing up one rocket after another. Yet, he didn’t let that failure set him back and he successfully landed another Falcon 9 first-stage booster after launching a US Air Force space plane from Cape Canaveral. SpaceX also shuttled astronauts to the International Space Station in 2020. He constantly questions himself and looks for ways to do things better and push boundaries.
5. Believe in yourself
Do you know of an entrepreneur that doesn’t believe in themselves? Probably not, because all prosperous business tycoons have believed in their product or service right from the start; if they didn’t, who else would? Self-doubt can hold you back from taking a risk that would have otherwise paid off and from following through with your new, innovative idea because you’re afraid of the negative feedback. As Shane Barker from Inc so eloquently put it: “If Larry Page had listened to naysayers, we probably wouldn’t have Google today.”
6. The customer is the one that truly matters
Any customer service role will teach you that the customer is always right. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is a strong believer in this and strives to keep his customers happy. He has a 24-hour team at hand when a problem arises with one of his services. Barker says: “By fulfilling your customers’ needs, you can win their loyalty and eventually establish yourself as a successful entrepreneur, beating your competitors in the process.”
7. Set your own trends
In entrepreneurship, it’s important to set your own trends instead of following the pack. You want people to be following your vision and to inspire to be like you. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is a prime example of setting her own trends; she doesn’t conform to society and has still proven herself as one of the leading designers in the industry. She doesn’t believe in social media, either; in fact, doesn’t even own a phone, and is therefore able to create what she thinks is fashionable and wearable without following catwalk trends. If you believe in something, you’ll encourage others along your journey, too.
8. Forget the haters
Whether you’re a celebrity, artist, reality star, model, public figure or entrepreneur, you’re always going to receive some kind of backlash. There will always be haters that will try to bring you down and knock you off your game. Successful entrepreneur and media icon Arianna Huffington knows this a little too well: when she first launched the Huffington Post back in 2005, she received major criticism, with the online publication being described as an “unsurvivable failure”.
The moral of the story here is that you need to develop a thick skin in business and try to ignore the naysayers.
9. Constantly improve and reinvent
If you want to get ahead in business, you need to think ahead; it’s no good just creating a one-hit wonder and sitting back to relax. You need to think of your next move and what you can do to improve and outdo what you previously did. This is a vital business lesson we learned from Walt Disney. He created the first ever animation movies that we have all come to know and love. But he didn’t stop there: he went on to design merchandise and build an amusement park, too. He would also personally test all the park rides and instantly make changes if he felt that something could be improved.
10. Don’t count on always having a high salary
When some people first make it big in their industry, they get a little silly with their money, splashing out on expensive cars, lad pads, glam squads, extravagant holidays and flash designer gear, and fail to appreciate that fame doesn’t last forever. Mike Tyson is a prime example, having spent $140,000 on a Bengal tiger. Soon after this, he declared bankruptcy. On the other hand, tennis champion Serena Williams deposited her first $1 million cheque in the bank, storing her assets, and is now worth over $80 million.
11. Value your team
Many managers think that they run the entire ship, the puppet master holding the strings, but it’s actually their team putting in all the work to get the desired results. Danny Morel, author of The Resilience Roadmap [paid link] and founder of M.PIRE University said: “People means [that] every person who works for you is equal. I don’t let anyone call me ‘boss’. No matter how big you get, remember: you’re nothing without your team.” In other words, it’s vital to show appreciation and value your team members because, without them, you’ll actually be a sinking ship.
12. The process is more important than the destination
According to Dragon’s Den’s youngest entrepreneur, Steven Bartlett, the process of how you achieve business success is more important than the destination. Thinking about the finishing line compromises performance. So, it’s important to take each step as it comes and overcome small hurdles at a time before you can celebrate your overall success.
13. Solve a burning problem
Here’s one of the most powerful lessons — if you want your business to be successful, you’re going to need to find a good solution to an existing problem that a lot of people face. Let’s look at Irene Agbontaen, for example, who is a 5’11 woman and struggled to find clothing to fit her tall frame. To solve her problem — and many others’ problems — she built the brand Taller Than Your Average (TTYA), which specializes in styling clothes for women 5’9” and taller. Since her brand was a niche, it’s been a great success and she’s even been featured in Vogue magazine.
14. Don’t give up
Many businesses fail because the owners throw in the towel too soon, but each hurdle or setback is a learning curve to help you and your business grow and develop. J.P. Pesare, CEO of Kinetic Bridge says, “There are no overnight successes — it’s a myth. It usually takes years to become truly successful in your business, but as long as you don’t quit, it will eventually happen. Hang in there!”
15. Share your knowledge with others
To be a successful CEO, you have to be open with your community. Give back to them and share your wisdom, offering advice on how they can be successful, too. Natalie Ellis, co-founder of Boss Babe is a huge advocate of supporting women in business. In fact, her entire company model is based on giving other women the tools to build and nurture their own brands. While you might be thinking, “why is she giving all her knowledge away?”, it’s actually a great strategy if you think about it. She capitalizes on her personal success story by sharing her knowledge and strategy.
It’s often difficult to take the leap and start your own business, especially if you don’t have a large pile of savings to fall back on, but as you can see from these examples, it’s not impossible! To be a good leader, you must develop a creative and inclusive environment that everyone wants to be a part of, and with a good reputation stored, you’ll be on your way to even better business success!
Are you in the process of setting up your own business, or are you thinking about it? Do you think these stories will inspire you to take the leap? Join in on the conversation below and let us know your thoughts…
Originally published on 5 Feb 2018.