What’s the right blend of personality and perseverance that makes a successful business owner? So far, nobody’s cracked a fool-proof formula, and often luck, timing, and chance connections make all the difference. Despite all these variables, one thing business owners can control is their perspective. With that, here are five ways you can develop a business mindset that creates the best conditions for success.
1. See failure as just a step to success
If you’re going to fail, fail spectacularly. Sure, some business owners get lucky and their company succeeds right away. But let’s be honest, how many entrepreneurs do you know of who were successful on their very first try? The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that only about half of new businesses make it to the five-year mark, and a mere third last for 10 years or more. Even our most recognizable success stories, from Richard Branson to Elon Musk, were once known for multiple failures!
The successful business owners we see in the world today got there because of their failures, not in spite of them, turning each misstep into a springboard for even better ideas. While failure can feel scary, it’s really just a useful data point. When you know what doesn’t work, you can improve upon it or scratch it off the list and move on. Everyone experiences failure, but wise business owners understand it’s a vital part of success.
2. Focus on what matters most—and delegate or automate the rest
Nobody can do everything all on their own—at least not at the pace of modern business. Even sole proprietors have to learn to focus on the most important business tasks and delegate or outsource the rest—whether it’s automating repetitive tasks, deploying productivity tools, or hiring outside experts to focus on the remaining details.
While it’s tempting to want to control all your business processes, that approach can be extremely limiting in the long run. How will you and your business grow if you’re limited by a 24-hour day and your own flailing energy reserves? The smartest business owners know to apply their energy and talent where it will have the greatest impact, and trust other people (or systems) to help with the rest.
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3. Be excited about the work you’re doing
Remember, this can be fun! Sure, you can build a successful business simply by being smart and methodical, but if you don’t feel at least a little bit excited about what you do, at some point all the energy propelling you forward is going to dry up. After all, why not just go and work for someone else? Plenty of business owners will tell you that that route is far easier—and comes with a much steadier paycheck—than striking out on your own.
The best business owners either have a passion for their particular product or service, or they love the process of starting a business and helping it grow. They know how to find the fun in what they do. That spark’s gotta be there somewhere, because sometimes the only thing that will carry you through the hard times is the joy you have for the work you do.
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4. Cultivate a genuine interest in other people
You don‘t have to be an extroverted “people person” in the traditional sense, and many great entrepreneurs aren’t. But a fact of business is that somehow, in some way, your work will involve other people, whether you’re managing an entire team, catering to a single customer, or nurturing a growing audience.
Working with other humans can be messy, frustrating, and confounding—but it’s also delightful, surprising, fulfilling, and often a lot of fun. Yes, there will be wounded feelings and fragile egos; misunderstandings and conflicts. The right mindset means embracing it all, because running a business means pitching ideas to others, winning over investors and new customers, making those first few sales, and convincing other talented people to join you!
There are entire shelves of books on how to effectively work with people, but we can pretty much sum it up here: cultivate a genuine interest in other people. Stay curious. Listen. Be willing to learn from them, even if you don’t agree with them. Communicate in a way that makes them feel valued and respected. Greet them warmly. Treat them fairly. The rest will fall into place.
5. Ask for help early and often
Small business owners tend to have a do-it-all, be-it-all approach. This works in the early stages of a business, when you’re often wearing many different hats at once. But there’s a dark side: this can-do attitude sometimes prevents business owners from asking for help when they need it most. They’ll take on bigger piles of work, slog through ever-longer hours, fall asleep at their desks and forget to show up at dinner. Or worse—they’ll run their health into the ground, mismanage business risks, or burn out completely.
To succeed in business, you have to be prepared to ask for help. As innovative a trailblazer you may be, chances are that those who have come before you could share a helpful tip or two. Invest time in relationships with mentors and other business owners, and be proactive in asking for—and offering—help, insights, and advice when needed. Whether it’s leaning on mentors, hiring that first employee, or growing a capable team, you’re going to need other people’s help all along the way. Get comfortable asking for it now.
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