When you read about successful businesses and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get the impression that success comes in a sudden flash, that with the right business idea you’ll make your fortune overnight.
Unfortunately, that’s almost never the full story. The not-so-glamourous truth? Start-ups and new businesses don’t usually succeed without a huge amount of effort, dedication, and strategic thinking from their owners. Their stories are often littered with setbacks – many almost go under before ‘making it’. Mistakes and failures are inevitable.
The good news is that by adopting the habits of successful entrepreneurs, you can put your business on the road to success – even if it’s a long and windy one.
Here are our must-haves for sustainable success:
1. Hold on to your ‘why’
You started your business for a reason, right? Keeping that ‘why’ in mind is crucial throughout your business journey. Whether it’s about changing the world, creating a unique product, or simply offering a great service, never lose sight of your reason you’re in business.
Every decision you make should move you towards your goal, and your ‘why’ should be clear in everything you do. If you started a business because you wanted to create new, sustainable packaging, then you probably shouldn’t choose suppliers that use mounds of plastic wrap. If you’re all about honest, straightforward financial advice, that honesty should be apparent in all your business practices.
2. Plan, plan, plan
It sounds obvious, but many businesses start without a solid business plan. This means decisions are made on the fly, rather than as part of an overall strategy. It means they’re more likely to make mistakes, be distracted by exciting (but ultimately irrelevant) opportunities, and waste a lot of time and money feeling your way.
Make sure you don’t make the same mistake. If you’re not sure how to create a plan, get help from a mentor or professional – it’s worth it in the long run. Your business plan will help guide you as you make decisions and move the business forward. Review and revise your plan regularly - it should be an accessible, relevant living document, not something stashed away in a drawer.
As your business grows, you may want to create a strategic plan to help guide your business strategy, and a succession plan for when you’re ready for something else.
3. Go for your goals
Goals keep you on track for success – whether that means cracking the international market or just getting your Facebook page up and running.
You should have some smaller, short-term goals as well as more ambitious aims. Remember to keep them measurable, with a clear timeline and steps toward completion. Like your business plan, your goals should be reviewed, measured, and revised regularly.
The longer you’re in business, the better you will be at setting realistic but challenging goals – don’t despair if you fail to reach the first few. It also helps to have an external expert guiding you. They’ll have the expertise and the perspectives to help make sure your goals are ambitious enough, while still being achievable, and can also help you break them down into more manageable chunks
4. Work on the business, not just in it
When you’re in the process of starting a business, it’s easy to spend all your time on the practical elements – working with customers, making product, hiring staff. But, if you want long term success, it’s essential to set aside time to work on the business as well as in it.
Dedicate some time each week or month to your business. That could mean reviewing your business plans, looking at your progress, working with a business mentor, planning marketing or sales strategies, or looking at your financial plans with your accountant. Without dedicated time, you could miss major issues or lose track of your business goals – it’s critical.
5. Consistency is key
Start-ups sound exciting and spontaneous, but most businesses actually thrive on consistency. Keeping things on track – like bills, customer complaints, Facebook updates, payroll – means you’re less likely to end up with unexpected costs or unhappy clients.
Put systems and reminders in place so you can be consistent even if you’re overwhelmed in other parts of the business. Something as simple as a calendar reminder to update the Facebook page every week or setting up automatic payments with your bank could make a huge difference.
6. Know your strengths
We all have strengths – and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to outsource jobs in your weaker areas to save time and stress.
If you’re not a numbers person, it’s probably better to hire an accountant and bookkeeper, rather than spending hours working on your finances and still ending up with errors. If you’re great with customers, but struggle with technology, it might be worth getting someone else to manage your Facebook page or online presence.
It’s about making the most of your time and effort, rather than trying to do everything yourself.
7. Accountability counts
Having someone to keep you accountable is a crucial part of business success. There’s no point in having plans if you don’t stick to them.
This is something you can’t really do for yourself, so you’ll need to ask for help. This might mean finding a mentor, working with a business advisor, or hiring a business coach. The key is having someone to offer an outside perspective, keep you on track, and challenge you to do more.
There’s no secret to success
No matter how consistent and dedicated you are, you’re bound to make mistakes and have some major failures in the process of starting your business. It’s a natural part of trying something new – you never know what’s going to work until you try it.
There’s no magic bullet or hidden secret to lasting business success, and there’s no way to skip past the hard work that leads up to it. It’s all about learning from your mistakes, keeping your business goals in mind, and seeking help whenever you need it. If you’re committed – and lucky – you’ll get there eventually.