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How to become a successful entrepreneur — 9 lessons from the world's top entrepreneurs

A recent study revealed that one billion people intend to start a business in the next three years.

The burning question is: How?

Entrepreneurship is having a ‘sexy’ moment. Buoyed by the success of college dropouts and tinkering teenagers, encouraged by the wealth of support available to startups, an increasing number of people want to take the leap into entrepreneurship, head first.

In fact, the lifestyle change of ‘being your own boss’ is so enticing, that an OECD 2015 survey found that 69 percent of men and 58 percent of women in the US would ‘rather take a risk and build my own business than work for someone else’.

So, what are the steps you need to take to get your startup, well, started up?

Let’s explore the right steps to becoming a successful entrepreneur in this post. On the side, we’ll dip into quotes from famous entrepreneurs and what we can learn from them.

Here we go:

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Lessons from famous entrepreneurs

If you imagine me as someone who prints out encouraging quotes on success and puts them on her desk, you guessed right.

Truth be told, I imagine every entrepreneur, irrespective of where they are in their journey, fueling their enthusiasm with such motivational quotes. After all, life’s too short to learn everything yourself.

But more importantly than using top motivational quotes from famous entrepreneurs to fuel our drive (because let’s face it — that will only take us so far,) we should look at them as an amazing opportunity to dissect key lessons in entrepreneurship that we can actually apply to our own journey.

So, what can we learn today about becoming a successful entrepreneur? Let’s see: 

1 - Brian Chesky on good ideas:

successful entrepreneur
If we tried to think of a good idea, we wouldn't have been able to think of a good idea. You just have to find the solution for a problem in your own life. – Brian Chesky

This reminds me, the top reason why businesses fail is because there’s no market need for their idea. In fact, 42%, that’s almost half, of startups fail because of this. 

So, the take home message is simple – to be a successful entrepreneur, look for a pain point that you can solve. In other words, we need to solve a problem that needs solving, not only a problem that’s interesting to solve. (Although F4S has found both are key to entrepreneurial success.)

Problem solving in action:

We can learn from the inspirational story of the windshield wiper’s invention. In 1902, Mary Anderson visited New York City. The journey wasn’t a smooth one – her driver had to stop the streetcar every now and again, so he could get out and wipe off the snow that collected on the windshield.

That left Anderson wondering: what could the driver do to wipe off the snow without having to pause and journey out now and then? That’s where she thought of a windshield wiper and worked toward getting the idea patented.

If you’re following along, you’d note that Mary saw a problem and the idea that popped in her mind – that of the windshield wiper – offered a solution. Which explains why we’re talking about her idea several years later.

So, how can you put this into action for yourself?

  • When you have an idea baking in your head, go on and share it with your target market. In our mighty list of entrepreneur resources, we’ve noted a resource called AYTM. It enables you to survey your audience and learn how ripe your idea is and how well the market would receive it.

2 - Anne Sweeney on defining success:

how to be a successful entrepreneur
“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you're proud to live.” – Anne Sweeney

The takeaway? You’ve got to work your way up by cherishing your unique traits. In fact, your strengths, the passion to grow, and the motivation to make greenbacks make a powerful trio that fires entrepreneurs in their struggles.

Do this to iron out your concerns: 

  • Learn more about your strengths and weaknesses. An entrepreneurial lifestyle is hard work. Tools like the F4S platform can help you to uncover your strengths and achieve your goals through personalized coaching.

3 - Jack Ma on passion:

successful entrepreneurs
“In carrying out e-commerce, the most important thing is to keep doing what you are doing right now with passion, to keep it up.” – Jack Ma 

This one’s a no-brainer. But, one that’s vastly under-appreciated. If you think the drive to make more money or name for yourself will keep you going through the rocky terrains of entrepreneurship, think again.

Nothing fuels you like passion does. In fact, if I had to pick one thing that has kept me going as a writer for about four years now, I’d pick passion without second thoughts.

Not sure what you’re passionate about?

Follow this 5-question based framework to pinpoint your passion:

  1. What is it that you’ve been dedicated to since your childhood?
  2. What is it that comes naturally to you?
  3. What is that you’ve been known for or credited for since your childhood?
  4. How do your current strengths align with your business idea? Start by jotting your strengths, then analyze how they connect with your idea
  5. What is that you’d pursue even if it didn’t pay off from early on?

This last question, in particular, is crucial. I’ve been writing since I was a child, so my venture into freelance writing was an obvious choice. What is something you’ve been doing for a long time and can continue doing even when the odds are stacked against you?

Taking the free F4S assessment can also help you pinpoint exactly what motivates you (and what drains you) so you can pick a business that aligns perfectly with your passions.

 4 - Zig Ziglar on goals:

how to become a successful entrepreneur
“Unless you have a definite, precise, clearly set goals, you are not going to realize the maximum potential that lies within you.” ― Zig Ziglar

This is another quote for successful entrepreneurs that rings true. In fact, setting sail without knowing your destination is a fool’s journey to nowhere. Perhaps you do end up getting somewhere, but only after having wasted a lot of your time.

In contrast, clear goals give you a target. Once you’ve this target, you can easily focus on it instead of on a hodgepodge of I’m-not-sure-what-I-want-to-achieve amalgam.

And according to science, setting goals can make you 10 times more successful than moving forward without them — so this is definitely not an empty suggestion, it's the real deal.

Here's how to set your goals effectively:

  • Get clear on your passions and what truly motivates or energizes you.
  • Brainstorm and let all your ideas out on paper so you can see the gaps in your thinking.
  • Bounce around ideas with others you trust if brainstorming alone doesn’t help.
  • Prepare a plan based on the idea you’ve shortlisted with SMART goals and execute without overthinking them.

5 - Walt Disney on getting started:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney  

Not playing favorites here, but this one’s definitely one of my most treasured quotes on becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Often the overwhelm can bite at you and chain you down to a stop. This is a common struggle, so if you’ve been there, you’re certainly not alone. 

To jumpstart things, it helps to read these words by Zig Ziglar on repeat: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

The best part? In F4S’ 20-year study on the world’s top entrepreneurs, it was discovered that successful entrepreneurs are 40% more motivated to turn their ideas into action than the rest of the population.

Here are a few ideas to help you get the ball rolling:

  • Think critically about what’s holding you back and address the culprit before it paralyzes your plan beyond repair.
  • Run your idea(s) through a shiny object syndrome test explained here.
  • Start with a lean version of your idea so you can test and improve it before scaling things.

6 - Ellen DeGeneres on seeing the big picture:

“I work really hard at trying to see the big picture and not getting stuck in ego. I believe we're all put on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose... When you connect with that love and that compassion, that's when everything unfolds.” ― Ellen DeGeneres

Another one of the first steps to becoming an entrepreneur is thinking big. Getting caught up in the details is similar to getting stuck in quicksand – you keep drowning, losing sight of your direction.

This doesn’t mean you need to start big. Instead, start small, but think big as is Virgin’s Founder, Richard Branson’s, motto. He recalls, “when we began Virgin, I didn’t see it as an end in itself, a noun; I saw it as the beginning of a whole range of services, an adjective. Successful entrepreneurs take an idea and let it fly.” The takeout? Think big.

If you’re struggling with thinking big, we’ve got a guide for you right here with a basic rundown below:

  • Stop idealizing perfection and learn to delegate what you can’t do yourself.
  • Ask yourself big picture questions like ‘what can be the possible consequences of X,’ ‘what is it that you’re not asking yourself,’ and so on.
  • Give yourself some thinking time and journal your thoughts to connect them to your big picture.

 7  - Ralph Waldo Emerson on support systems:

“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can. This is the service of a friend. With him, we are easily great.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s be honest: achieving things on your own can triple the troubles you go through. A supportive network or a trustworthy friend can, however, make all the difference by offering emotional, appraisal, and informational support.

Personally, I lean heavily on my family for all the emotional support that I need as I deal with different clients and their requirements. And, I’ve a small but impactful network of freelance peers for the informational support I need. They’re also the place I go to when I’ve to vent my business struggles.

Don’t have anyone holding your back as you take steps to become successful? Here are alternatives:

  • Work with a coach. Here’s scientific proof: individual and group coaching can help you beat procrastination (this solves the issue of getting started too). What’s more, folks who join group coaching also end up widening their knowledge pool and hitting their goals. In a HBR survey, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that coaches helped them reach their potential.
  • Build a support network. This won’t be hard, particularly, as the internet is working wonders in connecting people from various walks of life. Michelle Duval, Founder and CEO of F4S, recommends EO and YPO as good forums for entrepreneurs to check out.

8 - Arianna Huffington on failure:

“We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it's part of success.” – Arianna Huffington

Arianna isn’t alone in experiencing failure. Walt Disney has a similar tale – he was fired from one of his first animation jobs. And, here’s the shocking bit – the editor told him that he, “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” 

Lucky for us, Disney didn’t give up.

So, how do you make friends with failure? Here are some useful tips:

  • Understand that failure is inevitable. In fact, a first-time entrepreneur’s chance of success is only 18%. But once you study the lessons you learn from a failed project, your odds of success increase to 20%.
  • Don’t be afraid of failing. Sure, it stings. I’ve spent the occasional night crying my eyes out with a tub of chocolate chip ice cream by my side. But a mindset change is a rescue operation from all the hurting. So, the best you can do is think of failure as a stepping stone to progress – an experiment you’re supposed to learn from.
  • Every time you falter, sit down to bawl (or scream or whatever your response is) but no longer than a day or two. Then, get back and make notes of what you learned so you don’t repeat those mistakes again.

 9 - Jim Rohn on self education:

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” –Jim Rohn

If there’s one thing that I’ve seen unfold right in front of my eyes, it’s what Rohn gives voice to: “self-education will make you a fortune.”

In fact, 81% of learners throughout the world think education will become more “do-it-yourself” in the future as people choose short courses, online learning, and self-teaching over formal education.

I’m also an advocate of DIY learning and answering questions that my curious brain concocts. So, yes, I’m holding a bright yellow placard reading: ‘Learn Something New Today’ to urge you to keep learning to become a successful entrepreneur.

If you’re naturally curious, you’ll make an excellent life-long learner. Because learning to satisfy your curiosity makes learning enjoyable and helps you retain more of what you read.

If don’t tend towards having acurious spirit, try this instead:

  • Take a page from Richard Branson’s book and challenge yourself. He shares, “My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had -- every day I’m learning something new.”
  • Make it a habit to learn from podcasts, books, newsletters, and blogs. We’ve put them together in this list.
  • Set small learning goals so learning doesn’t become a chore.

Successful entrepreneurs: What does 20 years of research tell us?

The team at Fingerprint for success is dedicated to your success. So, we’ve put successful entrepreneurs under the microscope for 20 years and studied what it takes to become successful.

Here’s what our research tells us: 

  • Successful entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to think big and 40% more likely to take initiatives. 
  • A successful entrepreneur is also likely to be motivated by money and ROI than an average worker.
  • Focus on excessive details and structure also tends to be vague, which is a motivation related to venture success. 

Basically, this gives us the traits of successful entrepreneurs: they see the big picture, get the wheels turning, and plan on the fly so they don’t get bogged down by excessive structuring. What’s more, their motivation for money and the desire to reap results keeps them ploughing.

You need to follow suit if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.

How to get started as an entrepreneur? 8 simple steps

Let’s condense all that we’ve discussed up into 8 effective steps that will teach what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur:

1. Find out how ‘in demand’ your idea is

Working somewhere you’re not super-passionate about can be drudgery. But, leaping into entrepreneurship without first checking if the grass can be greener on the other side for you can be worse – not to mention costly.

What’s the market like for your business – both now and into the future? What are the growth opportunities? Who are your customers? What will all of this cost?

2. Be ready to make money

Our 20-year study found that successful entrepreneurs are 43 percent more interested in money than the working population. Not just enchanted by the prospect of receiving a return for great ideas, but also taking the time to reflect on margins and ROI.

Do your research on the opportunity for growth, create sales forecasts and if you’re less interested in the commercial side, team up with a co-founder whose mother-tongue is financials?

3. Plan. But don’t overdo things here.

Mick Liubinskas, a San Francisco-based technology entrepreneur defines the ‘p’ word you need to have as an aspiring entrepreneur as ‘patient passion’. “It’s hard. It really is. That’s why I need to see passion. Patient passion. Long term passion. Meaningful passion. The kind that will walk through walls, walk for miles and walk the talk,” he says.

Answer this: Is your determination to become an entrepreneur greater than your determination to ‘just get out of there’? Put another way, wanting to be an entrepreneur is simply not enough. Our founder and CEO Michelle Duval says, “You have to have an idea that you really care about - so much that you can stay with it over time and through all the challenges.”

4. PAYG – Plan as you go.

Successful entrepreneurs have little time for structure, have a flexible business plan (if they have one at all) and don’t tend to get too bogged down in detail. If this sounds like your idea of torture, you might not be suited to the entrepreneurial life. Take heart though - our research shows that these are critical strengths that can be developed, with a little help.

5. Stop waiting. Start doing.

In the entrepreneurial world, there’s no script or rehearsals and a multi-hat wearing director will call the shots. In case the reference is unclear: successful entrepreneurs don’t wait for the right time to start, they just start. In the words of everyone’s favorite mega-brand: Just do it.

6. Think beyond your idea – think BIG!

Like we learned from Branson above, don’t cook up a small idea and treat it as your end goal. Instead, leave space for your idea to grow. It’s wonderful to have ideas in your mind related to the parent idea you’re planning to execute. Just don’t let all the plans stunt your growth and take things one step at a time.

7. Grow your support network and keep pushing.

That includes yourself. How much can you push yourself to improve, learn and stick it out? What support structures - both in your startup team and at home will you have in place to rally behind you?

8. Don’t be afraid of failing and keep learning.

Some stats out there on entrepreneurship can be horrible like this one – 20% of startups fail in their first year. But don’t lose heart – because despite these horrible figures, the rate of entrepreneurial failure in the US has fallen by over 30% since 1977. No wonder, the world is packed with 582 million successful entrepreneurs as of 2019.

To make your name among these entrepreneurs, have a will to learn. And, don’t let a scratch or two stop you from pedalling your way to the top. If anything, don’t pause — note down the lessons you’ve learned and move fast. In the startup world, patience doesn’t help, bouncing back quickly does. 

Are you ready to step up and become a successful entrepreneur?

Here’s hoping you now have the answer to how to get started as an entrepreneur. To be successful, get this straight: just get started. Don’t look back. Don’t look sideways. And, certainly don’t let failure keep you stuck.

Wondering if you’re fit for entrepreneurship? Uncover your entrepreneurial strengths and blind spots by taking the free F4S assessment today.

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