How to become a successful entrepreneur

There is no such thing as overnight success. So the road to prosperity as an entrepreneur is likely to be long and far from smooth.

Having a great idea, or spotting a gap in the market, is just the first step.

It’s all the steps you take afterwards that will determine whether your idea translates into a successful business or not.

Here, we highlight some of the lessons budding entrepreneurs can learn from the individuals behind the world’s biggest and most profitable companies.

Start small – even if you have big dreams

There are no two ways about it: a lot of start-ups fail.

So while it’s important to be totally committed to the success of your project, it is also sensible to reduce risks by starting small.

Debt is a useful tool for anyone starting a business, but only if the money is spent wisely.

Trying to grow too fast will often backfire and leave you unable to sustain your overheads.

Inspirational entrepreneur: Pierre Omidyar, eBay

Computer programmer Pierre Omidyar started auctioning stuff off on his personal website in 1995. AuctionWeb, as it was then known, was a one-man-band that only began charging fees and taking on staff when the amount of web traffic made it necessary do that. Today, eBay employs more than 14,000 people around the world.

Recognise the value of experience

Most successful entrepreneurs spend years learning a trade and/or how to run a business before going it alone.

The experience you accrue as an employee or manager could prove invaluable, especially during any difficult moments ahead.

Lee Robertson, a multiple entrepreneur who has built and sold two businesses and is now working on two more, also recommends taking advice from seasoned entrepreneurs.

“Use your network to find mentors who want to help you and have the experience you need,” he said.

Inspirational entrepreneur: Jan Koum, WhatsApp

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum spent more than a decade working in the IT industry – including for Yahoo! – before starting WhatsApp in 2009. Just five years later, he sold it to Facebook for a staggering $19 billion.

Look to the future

Developed markets offer few opportunities for massive success.

That’s why so many entrepreneurs concentrate on the young, fast-moving technology sector.

But whatever industry you are in, the key to a successful start-up is to think about how people are going to live in the future, and create a product or service will meet their needs.

Inspirational entrepreneur: Howard Schultz, Starbucks

Howard Schultz was working for a Seattle-based coffee bean roasting company when trip to Milan gave him the idea to launch a chain of upscale espresso cafes like the ones found in Italy. His employer agreed to finance his plan, and sold him their brand name: Starbucks.

Be prepared to work hard

Setting up a business takes a huge amount of work.

“You will have to work harder than you ever have before,” Robertson said. “Sleepless nights come with the territory.”

So if you’re not prepared to put in the hours, you’re probably better not being your own boss.

Building a team of people who complement your strengths and can fill in the gaps where you are less accomplished will help.

Inspirational entrepreneur: Jeff Bezos, Amazon

The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos is famous for his work ethic. In the early days of Amazon, he routinely worked 12-hour days, seven days a week.

Don’t fear failure

Nobody’s perfect, so you are bound to make mistakes when setting out in business.

But many of the most successful entrepreneurs view failure as a positive experience: something to learn from and work out how to overcome.

“Go for it,” Robertson added. “The world needs ideas people, innovators and entrepreneurs so follow your passion and don’t be put off.”

Inspirational entrepreneur: Sir James Dyson, Dyson

Billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson developed 5,126 unsuccessful prototypes before coming up with a bagless vacuum cleaner that worked. The process took him 15 years and all his savings – but it more than paid off in the end.

Stay focused

As an entrepreneur, you have to continuously learn and adapt as circumstances change and new information becomes available.

It is, however, vital to stay focused on your end goal at the same time.

Doing a few things well will benefit your company more than doing lots of things badly.

Inspirational entrepreneur: Elon Musk, Paypal/Tesla/SpaceX

When SpaceX’s third attempt to launch a rocket into outer space failed in 2008, founder Elon Musk put out a statement saying: “For my part, I will never give up, and I mean never.” Seven weeks later, SpaceX launched the Falcon 1 rocket into orbit.

Believe in your potential

Many of the most successful businesses have sprung from ideas others thought unlikely to work at the time.

So don’t let one – or even five – knock backs put you off.

If you believe in your idea, you have to be prepared to defend it and carry on, even while taking constructive criticism on board.

Inspirational entrepreneur: Fred Smith, FedEx

When FedEx founder Fred Smith pitched his original idea for the company, now worth more than $5 billion, in a college assignment, his professor gave him a low grade because he didn’t believe it had a viable business model. Fortunately for Smith, he was confident enough to go ahead anyway.

For great business tips and information on starting a small business, Informi offers business advice and support, made easy.

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor..

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