While success is definitely not a “one size fits all” proposition, it appears that many successful entrepreneurs share some similar traits and habits. It’s quite possible that what worked for Steve Jobs or Walt Disney may not work for you and your business, but it certainly can’t hurt to learn the secrets of today’s business prodigies.
Let’s look at some of the habits the most successful entrepreneurs have in common.
1. Focus on Planning.
It may not be possible for you to focus every minute of every day on your business venture. Outside responsibilities, day jobs and family tend to demand our time regardless of our immediate wants and desires. However, in order to make your business work, you’re going to have to devote time to its inception and creation. Set aside time to conceive and chart out your business plan, brainstorm ideas or simply move closer to your goal of owning your own business. Make sure this time is sacred and that the people in your life know it. By setting up a boundary and adhering to it, you will demonstrate to those around you that your business isn’t just a dream, but will soon be a reality.
Richard Branson, founder of the wildly popular and successful Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America airlines, makes it a point to make lists in order to keep himself and his ideas on track. According to this Forbes article, Branson keeps four different types of lists:
- People to Call
- Things People Say
- People Who Can Make Things Happen
2. Embrace Difficulty and Failure
This could really be any difficulty—including the one mentioned above, finding time for your business— but especially embrace the difficulty you may face in turning your business idea into a reality. Some places to look for and embrace difficulty include:
- Talking with friends and colleagues about your idea: Chances are your friends and family will have opinions regarding your business, and not all of them will be enthusiastic. While it’s not necessary to closely consider every comment or criticism they raise, it can be extremely helpful to listen. It’s quite possible a third party will be able to see a flaw or opportunity that you might have missed; their objectivity can be a huge asset.
- Securing financing: This will undoubtedly be one of the most stressful elements when establishing your business. You will be turned down, most likely a lot. Try not to lose heart. Take any feedback investors or bank officers provide to you if you are refused a loan or other form of capital, and learn from that to reformat your approach.
- A new competitor emerges just as you’re ready to launch: This is inevitable. With the number of people looking to start their own business, it’s likely someone has considered your idea before and may even be prepping their own venture right now. First, be sure that there is no need for legal action (i.e. patent or trademark infringement); then, embrace the chaos. Competition is the heart of business: at its most pure, it should make everyone better. Closely examine the competitor’s offering, and spend time dissecting how yours is different or better. No one thinks exactly like you do. The differences are there; you just have to find or develop them.
The back-stories of successful entrepreneurs are riddled with many different obstacles they had to face in order to get where they are today. Some of the more notable ones include Steven Spielberg getting rejected twice from USC, Bill Gates’ first business venture failing, and maybe most famously, Edison taking 100 tries to get the light bulb right.
3. Work Toward Success, Not Wealth.
This may seem counterintuitive, but many accomplished entrepreneurs don’t start out with the express purpose of becoming rich. In most cases, this is a positive side effect of dedicating themselves to creating, marketing and providing a needed service or product to consumers. While you always want to be conscious of your profits, losses, financial projections and revenue potential, don’t let these dollar signs trip you up when you should be focusing on the most important aspect of your business: your product. You may be able to make a few dollars from growth hacks, but without an excellent, useful and well-targeted product, your business will not have longevity for continued growth.
Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, creators of Honest Tea, cite passion and commitment to high quality as two of the driving factors of their success. Faith in their idea and vision is what kept them working toward success even when they encountered problems. Honest Tea is now a $100 million company that still strives to offer natural ingredients and give back to the environment and local community.
4. Do Your Research.
While your idea is undoubtedly dynamite, make sure you’ve done your research and not only fully understand the audience and demand for your product, but the market in general. If possible, set aside some time to conduct surveys and focus groups, and really understand the needs of your customers. Take time to research your competitors and learn from their mistakes. Obviously, the past decade has been witness to a fairly steady recession. How will this current economy affect your business’s chances for success? What can you do to combat these shifts in consumer confidence and financial means? How can you protect your business from these market shifts?
By fully understanding the market specific to your business, as well as the market in general, you’ll have a much better chance of managing long-term success.
Evan Williams and Biz Stone, founders of Twitter, initially conceived their site as a way for people to create and share podcasts. However, after Apple integrated podcast support into iTunes, Williams and Stone needed to reevaluate the market and determine how they could repurpose the platform they’d built. By investigating the reasons people loved other sharing sites (namely Facebook and the “status update” function) and the reasons they didn’t, they were able to present their simpler, non-cluttered platform as an alternative for those who felt other social media sites were too overwhelming.
5. Build a Team.
You may intend to go into business by yourself, but the old adage, “it takes a village,” applies to business as much as child-rearing. You’ll need a team of supporters—financial, moral and emotional—to help you see your dream become a reality. Find supporters among your friends and family, your colleagues, former professors and other mentors in the community. If you’re not sure you’ve got anyone to call at 2 a.m. when you wake up in a sweat from a business-driven anxiety dream, it’s time to find someone. You’ll be grateful for the support system later.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page are mostly known for creating Google, undoubtedly the most prolific business on the web today. However, their partnership didn’t start off easy. Brin and Page met at Stanford University and did not get along. After this dustup, Page called on Brin to help him develop his doctoral thesis. Despite having a rocky start, together Brin and Page were able to find great success because they both understood the importance of teamwork and overcoming differences of opinion to create amazing things.
Obviously, different people manage stress and success differently. The above habits may not all work for you, but each is a sound piece of advice that led other entrepreneurs like you down a path to success.