25+ Ways to Be Successful as an Entrepreneur
For a while I thought that being successful in business came from sheer luck or chance. It seemed like some businesses I launched were destined for success and others not so much.
Now I know there’s more to it than that.
There’s a formula I’ve seen emerge from the businesses that work, and the successful ones always have the right mix of the right things at the right time.
The trick is figuring out what that right mix of the right things really means.
First, let me say, there’s no such thing as failure. I know you’ve heard it over and over again and it’s true. Failures are speed bumps and your goal should always be to get over them as quickly as you can to get to the other side.
Which leads me to my 25+ tips for being a successful entrepreneur. Follow these tips to get over your speed bumps so you can enjoy the freedom, fortune and amazing ride of being your own boss.
1) First, trust that you can be your own boss
Being an entrepreneur is like sailing out into a big blue sea without a compass. It’s much different than working in a corporate environment where the infrastructure, systems and team are in place to assist in getting things done. The boss who held you accountable in your previous job is now you, and those team status meetings may feel lonely for a while. Be okay with that.
It’s going to take some moxie to navigate the waters until you can steer yourself in the right direction, and you can do it. Over time you’ll create systems and processes for your business. The real payoff is that you’re about to create your own compass for your business and your life. And that’s the thrill of being an entrepreneur, isn’t it?
2) Your most important asset is Staying Power
My father is my #1 business coach and mentor (thanks dad! not sure if you know this but it’s true). I always reach out to him when I’m stuck or can’t see my way to the other side. So when he told me that the secret to being an entrepreneur is to have “enough staying power until you figure it all out”, I listened. He’s been successful in business for 40 years and has navigated some murky waters. It wasn’t always pretty, but he hung in there. I can’t even count the number of times he changed his business model until it all started clicking.
You have to hang in there too. Things may not come together at once or even the way you planned.
Your first few years are about putting your ideas to the test. You’re going to refine your business model, positioning, products, brand, target markets, and sales processes many times before you hit the sweet spot. The big takeaway here is that you need to be able to sustain yourself until you do. That means you need money to pay the bills, money for product development, money for sales and marketing, money for food, and so on. Whatever you do, DO NOT blow your entire budget on any one thing. It will paralyze your next move and slow things down tremendously.
3) You’re going to need to take calculated risks
It’s not exactly like jumping out of an airplane, but you are taking a leap when you start a business. You need to accept the inherent risk with that and meet it head on. That said, you wouldn’t jump out of an airplane without a parachute, would you? Create a business plan, establish concrete goals to work toward and document a timeline, along with milestones and a plan to achieve them.
4) Know what you’re passionate about
I used to think my passion was being creative. It was how I defined myself and how I wanted people to view me. What a big mistake that was. Those ideas I had about myself led to some really poor business decisions, ones that took me years to recover from financially and emotionally. Once I got clear on my true passion, both my financial success and my confidence soared to new levels.
Yes, it takes passion to be an entrepreneur. At the same time you need to have eyes wide open so you can see things that are staring you in the face. Just be real with what you’re passionate about and what you’re not so passionate about. Know that you’re amazing either way.
5) Is it a business or a hobby?
Yes, you can turn a hobby into a business and many people will tell you to start there. Other people start businesses because they can’t find something they want in the market and that’s fine. I started a clothing line like that and then realized that I was really designing tops for myself and didn’t care if any one else liked them.
That’s a hobby.
Generally speaking, passion for business is one thing and passion for a hobby is another. Yes, the two can be the same, you just need to analyze your resources and business model to determine if your hobby would translate well into a business before you jump in with both feet. Most of my successful businesses have been driven by looking at where my ideas fit in the market. So you can love making blueberry muffins, you just need the right ingredients (ahem) to turn it into a business.
6) Test your ideas early on
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get emotionally attached to what you do. But those ideas…boy, they can steer you in the wrong direction if you’re not careful. Early on I thought that everyone in the world would want my clever invention because, well, I made it. I was so immersed in product development that it took me three years to realize that both the market and profit margin were so small I would never sustain myself. If I had only stepped back from my idea, mapped out a business plan and tested the market beforehand, I would have saved so much time and money.
The last thing I want is for this to happen to you. Find out if your ideas match what people want before you develop the “wrong” product. For info products this means offering a free course to gauge interest in a larger program, and for consumer products this means prototyping and user testing before going into production.
7) Find customers first and figure it out later
One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is perfecting things before they get out there. Now I’m a Virgo and a perfectionist by nature, so I get it. But I’ve also had enough businesses to know that customers don’t really care. They don’t notice those tiny imperfections. Get your prototypes together and find your customers. You’re going to need their feedback to fine-tune your products and the faster you get something in front of them the faster you’ll know what to tweak.
8) Have some kind of business plan
It doesn’t have to be formal, especially if you’re bootstrapping the early years. You just need something on paper that speaks to what your business is about. Here’s where you identify the market size, brand, value proposition, competition, costs, breakeven projections, timeline, management, and so on. This way you can see any gaps in your concept right there on paper. Take the time to tweak your plan until everything adds up and makes sense. Trust me, this one step will save you tons of time and money later on. Besides, this is all the stuff you need to know in order to create and market your product, so why not do it now?
➤ If you need helping creating a business plan, I walk you through what to include in this post.
9) Don’t get hung up on tactics
There are a million ways to find customers these days and tons of ways to market your brand both online and offline. When you’re first starting out, there’s only one thing that matters and that’s getting your first customer. Whether you do that through networking, trade shows, SEO, social media, offline, online, email campaigns…doesn’t matter. Start with what you know and learn as you go. Social media, content marketing and list building all take time. Think about the quickest way to reach your customer and don’t get hung up on tactics. Your customer is out there and you’ll reach them. What you need to be clear on is what to say to them when you find them.
10) Don’t try to educate the market
Everyone loves a niche market. With fewer players, it’s easier to stand out from the crowd and differentiate your brand. But when you’re so “niche” that you find yourself explaining why people SHOULD want your products, you’ve got a problem. Trying to educate the market is trying to fit a circle in a square. You may be too early or too late to market, or the pendulum just isn’t going to swing your way on this one. Move on. The last thing you want to do is try to sell people something they don’t realize they need. Find a hole in the market first and work back from there, or repackage what you have into something people DO want.
11) Pivot often and quickly
Positioning, products, pricing, marketing… it’s all going to change more times than you can imagine. Expect it and plan for it. It’s just one of the growing pains of being your own boss.
You’re going to have to get good at listening to what people say. I’m not talking about your friends and family, they’ll support you no matter what. I’m talking about people who don’t have to care about what you do. What are they saying? What do they really want around your business?
I promise what you learn will catapult your business, as long as you take notes and change what you need to change as fast as you can. For your business to explode you need people to buy your products, and aligning your business with what they want is the fastest way to get there. You may find that you already have exactly what people want. If that’s the case, high five! Your next step is to get the word out.
➤ Related: How to attract your ideal customers
12) You’re running a marathon not a sprint
Someone told me once that a successful business takes three times longer and costs three times more than you think. Is this true?
Could be, then again maybe not. One of my most successful businesses was hugely profitable within the first two years. It really depends on your timing in the market, your business, costs, overhead, forecasts and so on. Every business is different and you’ll need more time to learn the nuances if you’re going in cold.
You’ve got to go into business knowing that you’re running a marathon and will need stamina. Forget about how fast everyone else seems to be moving. Set your eyes on five years out and grab on to your Staying Power.
13) Find a way to create a recurring revenue
A steady cash flow is critical to your growing your business. When your pricing is hourly or project-based you can get caught in a feast-or-famine cycle where you either have tons of business or none at all. Try to offer retainer programs instead, where customers pay you monthly rather than all at once. If you’re a coach think about 6-month coaching packages and for a service business, offer monthly programs or annual contracts and think about turning your services into info products for a passive income.
14) Keep moving
I touched on failure before and here it is again.
You’re going to make mistakes.
What you thought was a smart thing to do will turn out to be not so smart and cost you money you didn’t have to spend. That’s okay, give yourself a break. You’ve got to keep moving and not get hung up on it. Learn from each obstacle so you can dodge the next one. In the marathon of running a business, you’ve got about zero time to feel sorry for yourself and zero time to beat yourself up.
15) Don’t compare your start to someone else’s finish
Comparing your start with someone else’s finish is like playing your first-ever game of tennis against Serena Williams and expecting to win. It’s not going to happen.
When you compare yourself with big brands and competitors, the trick is to reverse-engineer their starting point and envision the next move they would make given your same resources and bandwidth.
I’ll give you an example. When I started my design business, I knew my website wasn’t up to snuff. Now I’m a designer so that’s kind of a big deal, but I didn’t care. I saw what established designers were doing and they were light years ahead of me at the time, so why would I compare myself to them?
And really, your focus should be on everything in between your start and your finish. That’s where the secret sauce is.
What’s the next step that will bring in one more client? Keep your eye on what’s right in front of you and you’ll get to the Finish line soon enough, I promise.
16) Know what you can do and what you can’t
Before you jump into any business, you have to look at the fundamental requirements of the business itself. Are you planning on designing, manufacturing, and marketing the product yourself? You’ll need to find another way, because that’s going to be challenging.
If you’re a service business, how will you scale beyond a Rollercoaster Revenue that comes from the “sell-then-do” cycle? Can you stand on a handful of products or does your business require a slew of new products every quarter? If it’s a new industry, how much time will it take to learn and can you sustain that learning curve?
The fundamentals of any given business are pretty much set in stone and wishing them away may make you feel better, but it won’t change the facts. As an entrepreneur you’re about more than feeling good, right? Focus on the business requirements and be sure you have the resources to fulfill them before you commit.
17) Trust your instincts
When I started my first business the Internet didn’t exist. If I wanted to find out what other entrepreneurs were up to I either had to join a networking group or go to a library.
Nowadays, it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other without feeling like you’re missing something. Everyone else has got the key and if you just read one more article, you’ll have the key too. So you look for more stories to validate your own journey, and wind up feeling further away from where you want to be.
Half the battle here is monitoring your social time. The other half is deciding to trust your own gut and instincts. Listen to your story more and others less.
Deep down somewhere you know exactly what your next move is. So shut down the computer, turn off the TV and crank up the volume of your inner voice. Then muster up enough courage to take the step you KNOW you have to take. Trust me, you already have the key.
18) Create a partnership
I’m not talking about a referral partnership here, I’m talking about taking on an actual partner in your business. You can go it alone and you can hire business coaches, still nothing beats having someone in the trenches with you every single day. You want someone whose skills compliment your own without overlapping.
I once partnered with my best friend who did the same thing I did, which meant neither one of us did all the other stuff. And my best partnerships have come about organically where we were naturally a good fit. So if you’re the creative arm, find a partner who has business development or sales experience to balance out your skills.
19) Market, market, market!
I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs forget about marketing and it kills me. You can’t put all your money into product development and leave nothing for sales and marketing. There’s just no place in the business universe where you can justify spending $50K on things like materials, labor or structural improvements and $0 on marketing.
Here’s the deal. If nobody knows you exist, then you don’t, period. People have to be able to find your business and they won’t be coming out of the woodwork to do that. It’s up to you to wave your brand flag and let them know you’re here, and it takes time and money to do that. If your marketing budget is small, be prepared to put more time in to things like social media, email, PR, and so on.
If you’re short on marketing ideas, check out this post where I list over 100 ways to market your business. The possibilities are endless!
20) Prioritize goals and tasks
It’s easy to get stuck when you’re staring at a huge To-do list and not quite sure what to do first. I know I’m a lot more pumped when I feel like I’m checking the box and getting things done.
Time management really boils down to three things: 1) factoring in everything — work, exercise, shopping, kids, date night…all of it; 2) getting better at estimating your time; and 3) breaking each goal down into sub-components. So if your goal is to launch a webinar, you’d break that down into smaller tasks like this:
- Research webinar platforms (2 hrs)
- Pick a topic (1.75 hrs)
- Find a presentation template (1.5 hrs)
- And so on…
21) Find ways to automate things
Being an entrepreneur means wearing many hats and one of your biggest challenges is how to get more done wearing fewer hats. The great news is that a lot of the things you find yourself doing over and over again can be automated.
I used to spend hours each day scouring Google, LinkedIn, and Data.com for prospect lists. Then I’d research the email addresses, craft each email and send them out one by one. With automation I was able to create an email system that downloaded lists, gathered emails and scheduled email sequences without me ever lifting a finger. I now have my own “virtual assistant” reaching tons of people around the clock and the best part is that it freed up about 3–4 hours a day.
What hats can you take off? Start thinking about systems you can install to replace recurring or repetitive tasks.
➤ Related: How to Prospect Like a Pro on LinkedIn
22) Focus on one thing at a time
Feeling overwhelmed by all the things you need to do? The first thing to do here is to pinpoint the single most important thing you can today do to move your business forward. Make sure you block out time for that each week and do it. Then take a breath and know that everything will get done. Be okay with doing one thing at a time and follow it through to completion before you move on.
23) Get support when you need it
In the corporate world, team status meetings usually go something like this: one person brings up an issue and then everyone chimes in to find a solution. Somehow you need to play all of these roles in your business, and that’s where business coaches can be tremendously helpful.
I worked with coaches when I was starting out and still turn to them for guidance whenever I make major shifts in my business. Try to find someone who understands your business and can provide clarity and direction so you can keep moving your business forward.
24) Don’t procrastinate
The biggest reasons entrepreneurs procrastinate is because they don’t know what to do next — and deep down — they don’t really want to find out how to do it.
I get it. It’s a whole lot more fun to play in a sandbox, but being an entrepreneur means taking action. Have the courage to put your brand out there. Stop doing what you want to do and start doing what you need to do to skyrocket your business.
Yes, it’s hard to navigate social media, list building, Facebook and all the rest of it. You still have to do it. Don’t let confusion lead to procrastination here. Start with one channel, get comfortable with it, and then move on to the next. Before you know it you’ll know exactly what you need to do and when.
25) Know when to fold
So you want to be in it for the distance, but just how far will you go? How much money and time you will invest in your business before you expect to make a profit?
You have to set reasonable expectations for your business so you know what success looks like, when to keep pushing and when to call it. Your business plan is where you’ll project milestones for breakeven and profit points. Obviously you need some wiggle room, but the bottom line is this: what’s your strategy if you’re not profitable within that time frame?
You may need to tweak the timeline, or maybe you underestimated the resources you’d need. This happens a lot, so be flexible and fluid. It could just be that your first projections were off and you need to update your business plan. Just know that if you’re not showing a profit at year five or even year seven, it may be time to walk away. And remember it’s not what you’re walking away from but what you’re walking to that counts. Make an objective decision about what’s working.
26) There are some things money can’t buy
There’s a strange correlation we sometimes make between spending money versus spending time on things. I used to think that the sheer fact I was spending money related to my business meant that I would see a return on it, so I’d kind of sit back and wait for the sales to roll in.
But here’s the thing: money won’t solve poor positioning or a weak concept.
Spending money doesn’t replace the hustle you have to put in to your business. If your messaging or product doesn’t connect with people, then your cost of acquiring customers will be high.
So before you roll out a big campaign or make a huge purchase in your business, put the time in and make sure your products, offers, positioning and marketing techniques are all spot on. Once you do that, you’ll actually be able to spend LESS money to get those same customers, so your customer acquisition costs will be lower (and your profit margins higher).
27) Learn by doing versus reading
You can Google anything you want and spend hours searching for a solution, a path, the answer, a secret formula, the missing ingredient…or you can try something, see how it goes, learn from it, and create your own experiences.
This is really the way you’re going to learn and move forward with your business. The bloggers you’re following are only walking you through what they’ve already tried or experienced and the difference between you and them is that they’re doing it and you’re not. So just start doing it too. You’ll get more confident as you go and light years ahead with your business this way.
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Sandra Clayton is a blogger and educator who helps creative entrepreneurs build online businesses that capture their spirit and set their soul free.