“The quickest, most sure-fire way to fail is to chase returns. Indeed, chasing money is the sign of a business in demise, a business that cannot live up to the hype it has created for shareholders, and most importantly, a business that is not looking forward to the future.”
There really is no one-size-fits-all approach entrepreneurs and business executives can follow, and there is no roadmap to success that will work in all cases. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of things that can and should be understood, appreciated, and truly internalized if you are going to pursue any kind of economic engagement as more than a hobby, or to do more than merely punch a clock for a paycheck every other week.
This is not to say that there isn’t anything wrong with making a few extra dollars as the result of a hobby, or being happy where you are, doing your job and then punching out at 5 o’clock. But if you want more, if you have hopes and dreams of building something from the ground up that is your own and will become your business, or climbing the corporate ladder to become a C-suite executive, you need to treat each business endeavor with an entrepreneurial mindset from the earliest stages. If you don’t, it will create all the wrong habits, and worse, it will create the wrong mindset. A mindset is a very difficult thing to change, and patterns become easy, comfortable and difficult to break.
By understanding some basic but critical information at the outset you will substantially raise the chances of succeeding. This is not to say that you won’t make mistakes; mistakes are inevitable. You will, however, make fewer mistakes if you give thoughtful consideration to what it is you are attempting to do.
What follows are seven critical tips for those who wish to succeed in business, whether they are inventors, entrepreneurs or business people looking to get to the next level.
1. Find Your Passion
If you are a serious entrepreneur and you do not plan on giving up the first time an obstacle is placed in front of you, then you absolutely need to focus on something for which you have a true passion. The point here is simple: to succeed as an entrepreneur you will spend a lot of time and energy—often very long and uncompensated hours—at the start, so you need to love what it is you are doing in order to have any chance of making it work. There will also inevitably be both successes and setbacks, and any entrepreneur, inventor or business executive who is honest will tell you the setbacks are going to outnumber the successes. What makes the pursuit of business success rewarding is the challenge and the independence that success can provide. If you are not passionate about your field of endeavor, the likelihood you will succeed is very low. That is true for inventors and entrepreneurs of all kinds, whether you are opening a restaurant or a corner market. It is also true for C-suite executives and would-be C-suite executives. Time is a precious resource and succeeding at business will take a great deal of time and energy. As the old saying goes, “find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life!”
2. Become an Expert
The biggest mistake I see all entrepreneurs, inventors and business people on every level make is they rush into a field of endeavor without really understanding what they are getting into. Inventors will rush to solve a problem in an industry they don’t know. For example, every new parent suddenly becomes an inventor in the baby products space, but how many have any idea about the onerous government safety regulations imposed on baby products? While passion is required, knowledge is also absolutely necessary. A successful inventor will learn everything they can about each aspect of the field, from the technology, to the business, to the competition. The same is true for the serious entrepreneur, and any business person worth their own salt who wants to climb the corporate ladder. Who are the top people in the field? What organizations do they belong to? What conferences do they attend? What do they read to stay informed? Networking with like-minded individuals, researching on your own, attending conferences and engaging is how leaders stay informed, make connections and alliances and gain the insights and intelligence critical for success.
3. The Goal is Not Simply to Make Money
This will sound counter-intuitive, but it is an essential lesson that must be internalized by everyone. The goal when you enter into any business endeavor is not simply to make money. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply uninformed, or they are doing their company and/or shareholders a great disservice. The goal of a business is to succeed, period. If you are successful in your efforts, money will follow for you, and for your business, whatever that business may be. But the quickest, most sure-fire way to fail is to chase returns. Indeed, chasing money is the sign of a business in demise, a business that cannot live up to the hype it has created for shareholders, and most importantly, a business that is not looking forward to the future. While chasing returns is a mistake no matter when it happens because you take your eye off the long-term prize, it is particularly problematic and all too common during the infancy of a business endeavor. If you chase money from the outset without laying a strong foundation for success, any success you have will be fleeting at best. And the successes you have may well be in spite of yourself and not because of anything you have done, which very well could lead you to incorrectly believe you have some magic touch.
4. Setting a Realistic Budget
Entering into any business enterprise can be extremely expensive, and if you really are an inventor or entrepreneur, that means you are creative, and it is crazy to think that your current invention or business idea will be your last. In fact, most have a handful at any one point in time, so the difficulty they have is picking which one to pursue first. That being the case, and the inevitable reality that you might not score with the first choice, you need to set a budget and constantly reevaluate through the process to make sure that it continues to make sense to pursue from an economic standpoint. Investing time and money is one thing, but investing good money and your time once the pursuit has been demonstrated not likely to be fruitful is nothing short of a disaster. So, set a budget, which you can reassess if things seem to be moving forward in a positive direction. Once you reach your budget limit, if there is no positive momentum, you need to move on to what is next. Of course, don’t throw your work away, you never know when it might become relevant or you might have a breakthrough inspiration.
5. Plausibly Estimate the Size of the Market
There is nothing wrong with dreaming, but there is an extremely important cautionary tale to be told about the tremendous harm that can be done to opportunity when inventors and entrepreneurs exaggerate the potential market size. You don’t want to be the one who confidently proclaims: “Everyone is going to need to buy this!” No one ever achieves 100% market share, and if that is what you expect you will be very disappointed. If you are serious about determining the true size of the market, you will research publicly available information and dig through the data applying reasonable assertions. For example, according to U.S. Census data, in 2016 there were 40.6 million people living in poverty in the United States. The poverty line for an individual was $12,228, while the poverty line for a family of 4 was $24,563. So exactly how many people can afford to purchase your invention, product or service? And then consider how many people might actually need your invention, product or service.
6. Approaching Business in a Business Responsible Way
Given the inherent uncertainty that characterizes business, it is critical that entrepreneurs, inventors and rising business executives treat every new business endeavor in a business responsible way from the earliest stages. Treat your invention or business plan from day one as if it will be wildly successful, because by the time you realize that it will be wildly successful it will be too late unless you have planted the seeds for success early. This means you must have immediate, short-term, intermediate and long-term goals in place, which is the reason everyone will preach to you about the importance of a business plan. The truth is your business plan will be worthless as a guiding document the minute you start actually doing business. There will always be surprises that, by definition, you could not have foreseen. What makes a business plan absolutely vital is the effort! If you go through the process of creating immediate, short-term, intermediate and long-term goals; you understand the competition; and you’ve set a reasonable budget, you will be able to address those unforeseen surprises armed with a wealth of knowledge because you have prepared yourself by knowing the facts and figures and you know your plan.
7. Work Smarter Not Harder
In order to be successful, you will need to spend a great deal of time working on whatever path you plan to pursue toward economic freedom. The question for you to answer will be whether that will be all of your time seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, 365 days a year, or whether there are going to be rules you set for yourself? As a successful entrepreneur and business executive, it will be easily possible to spend every waking hour working, but that means not spending time taking care of yourself, or being with loved ones, or doing the things you enjoy. When you are first starting out there will need to be sacrifice, there is no doubt, but are you being productive or are you just working? There is a difference. For example, if you decide to stop working weekends during the summer, or leave by 4:00 pm on Fridays, or to workout three mornings a week and get in a little bit later, will you be able to achieve the same amount of work? Your initial answer will be no, but companies that have instituted flex time and executives that have taken such approaches – myself included – have found themselves to be more productive, not less. There is a lot that can be said about working smarter, not harder. When you give yourself a more limited window of time to accomplish tasks, you take less time at the coffee pot, or maybe a shorter lunch, or team meetings become shorter and more productive, or you find ways to make e-mails and phone calls shorter and to the point. Look for ways to be more productive and give your body and mind a break so you can rejuvenate. If you are like me, when you shut down and push away and get outside and relax, you have some pretty amazing thoughts and gain real inspiration. It also makes it all worthwhile.