First things first, anyone that tells you they have the definitive guide to becoming a successful entrepreneur is full of shit. Being a successful entrepreneur requires a lot from you, but one thing it does not require is for you to follow any guides or rulebooks. As a matter of fact, some of the most successful entrepreneurs and business owners the world has ever seen did not follow any rules, they in fact habitually broke them.
Whether we are talking about Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Sara Blakely, or Daymond John they all broke the rules to build their empires. They pushed themselves and their beliefs and shaped their dreams one day at a time. If they had followed the rules and listened to everyone around them they likely would not have built their business and become the successful entrepreneurs we know them to be.
So again, spoiler alert, there is no definitive guide to being or becoming a successful entrepreneur, but there are in fact several things to keep in mind and some advice that could help you hone the skills necessary to build the business you have always wanted.
Forget The Rules
Steve Jobs said, “Life can be so much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
For context, I would simply change the work ‘life’ with ‘business’ or ‘entrepreneurship’ because the same quote applies in a big way for business owners. I have met hundreds of business owners and entrepreneurs over the years and almost every single one of them would openly admit that they spent, and still spend, more time than you could imagine, just ‘figuring it out’ as they go along.
They don’t have some secret sauce and they are not a genius, they simply saw an opportunity, figured out how to make it happen and did the damn thing. Most of the time they would fail time and time again before finally achieving what they set out to build. They are not brilliant MBAs with an IQ over 130, in fact many of them are just average on the intelligence scale and lack several other traits you would think essential for entrepreneurial survival.
Keep in mind there are legal structures, financial rules, moral obligations, and just doing the right thing, but when it comes to how you go about building your business, as long as your doing the right thing for you and others, the other rules can be thrown out the window. Throwing the rulebook away is where most of our innovation comes from.
Open Your Mind
To piggy-back off of the last section, I invite you to open your mind in ways you may not have before. In order to truly embrace that last section on throwing out the rules, you must open your mind. Perhaps you already have perspective and recognize the limitless potential in yourself and others, but then again, maybe you don’t.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck wrote a must-read book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and in it she essentially breaks down the Fixed vs Growth mindset and gives us insight into the power of our beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and how changing how we see the world and how we as individuals operate within it can have a profound impact on our lives.
Essentially, what we learn is that there are those of us that firmly believe that we are capable of learning, changing, evolving, and becoming who we wish to be, and there are those of us who believe that we are ‘fixed’ in our intelligence, abilities and bound by what cards we are dealt.
Don’t get me wrong, there are limitations we all face, but how we choose to see what we have, or don’t have, is what separates the growth mindset from the fixed one. If you believe you can’t build a business because you’re not smart enough, cool enough, or don’t have good enough hair for it, then that is exactly what you will get. If on the other hand, you believe that even though you dropped out of college, or high school for that matter, only have $23.45 in your bank account, and are balding faster than you should, but that doesn’t define you and there IS an opportunity for you, then you are on your way to doing the damn thing.
Keep in mind that this is not everything you will need. Just believing it doesn’t make it so. You must act, you must build, fail, get up, build, fail, get up, build, and build again. It is going to be harder for some than for others. I have seen it first hand, there are those that just nail it on their first try, and there are those, myself included, who had to fail time and time again to finally see any success. It doesn’t matter which end of that spectrum you are on, you need to first believe you can do this, then build up the courage and the skills to forge your entrepreneurial blade.
Trust Your Gut
“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” ―Mark Twain
Mr. Twain said it best and there is a lot to learn from that quote. First I believe that he is completely right in that you have to make a bunch of bad decisions, and most importantly learn from them, before you really have enough experience to start making more consistent good decisions.
Second, the more you learn from bad decisions the more astute your gut becomes. Following your gut only works when your mind is free from the clutter to let your gut even be heard. Your ability to make good decisions is thrown out the window when you are angry or emotional. So don’t let your gut guide any decisions if your emotions are clouding your judgment. Your gut is only useful when the rest of you gets out of the way.
Always Be Learning
This goes without saying. You must, and I mean absolutely must keep sharpening the ax. Your mind is a tool, and the most valuable one you will ever own, and it requires constant upgrades. Think of your mind as an operating system that requires updates, reboots, and decluttering.
In this day and age, you will easily get left in the dust if you rest on your laurels rather than continue to push yourself and learn the latest business trends in your industry. Things are changing so rapidly that there is very little time to respond to changes in the markets unless you can stay on top of the trends in your industry to stay ahead of the inevitable changes.
Stop using the internet as a place to mindlessly indulge in cat videos and definitely stop getting worked up over some distant cousin’s political rant on Facebook. Use it for it’s intended use, connect with other entrepreneurs, learn from the thousands of free online courses, read, watch, and listen to thought leaders in business and never stop learning.
Be Willing To Pivot
“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” —Warren Buffett
Change is inevitable, in fact it will not only come, but it will come more often than you would imagine. Your idea could be gold today, silver tomorrow, and worthless on Wednesday. As an entrepreneur, you have to not only stay on top of the latest business trends in your industry (see the previous section), but you have to be able to flip the switch on your idea and your business model in an instant.
Some industries change faster than others, some get completely uprooted overnight, and some take decades to make any real shift, but what is inevitable is that the change will come. So when that time comes, be ready and be willing to pivot. Be the first in line, or at least be early enough to stay afloat.
The readiness required to successfully pivot when the game changes requires everything outlined above. I would highly recommend revisiting this post from time to time, exploring these ideas in more detail through your own research and practice, and remembering that your entrepreneurial journey should never be boring. If you are not learning, adapting, evolving, and growing someone else in your industry is, and they will undoubtedly win while you are asleep at the wheel.