Stewarttitle: Most business owners will tell you that starting a business is both one of the most challenging and most rewarding ways to earn a living. Being a successful business owner requires a large amount of hard work and dedication, but also generally relies on a set of personal qualities and business practices that are common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. These characteristics lie as much in a business’s founding principles as in its day-to-day operations and dictate every decision the entrepreneur makes. By following these guidelines, you can up your chances of founding a successful business or getting your existing business back on track.
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Start a business that you’re passionate about and knowledgeable in. That knowledge can come from either prior work experience or a personal hobby that you’re ready to turn into a career. Even if a business idea seems highly profitable in theory, don’t start that business unless your heart is in it. While profit is important, it likely won’t keep you coming in early every day and driving growth.
- For example, imagine you have experience making coffee as a barista or waiter and want to turn your passion for good coffee into a small business. You would already know a good amount about the industry and be able to apply not only your knowledge but your passion to your work.
Start with a well-defined purpose. While the financial benefits of business ownership can be great, most successful business owners don’t start with money in mind. To get your business off the ground, you’ll need a clear purpose. This purpose should be something more intangible than money, like giving back to your community by creating jobs, solving a problem that you see in your daily life, or pursuing a passion. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also strive for profitability, just that your primary goal should be the achievement of a greater purpose.
- For our coffee shop example, your purpose would be serving the perfect cup of coffee to every customer. Alternately, it could be to form a community in your coffee shop where people can meet and spend time with friends.
Understand your customer. Before you get started, take some time to do market research and get to know your customers and your industry. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a great deal of information on which services and products are in demand. You will also want to think about who will be buying your product or using your service and learn the best way to appeal to this population.
- With the coffee shop, ask yourself: Am I trying to appeal to “coffee snobs” who don’t mind waiting five minutes for their pour-over? Or is my focus on the people who are on their way to work and want to grab a cup and run? Or both? Understanding the people you plan to serve can help you serve them better.
Find a first step instead of a destination. You should always start with a business model that can be up and running quickly on a low budget. Too many small businesses start with grandiose goals that will require a large amount of startup capital and investors. However, successful businesses will have a model that can be used on a smaller scale. This proves to potential investors that your idea is a valid way of making money, and increases your odds of ever getting investment money (if that’s what you’re looking for).
- For example, imagine that in our example, you want to start a large operation that sources, imports, roasts, and packages its own coffee beans that are then either sold or served to customers at its coffee shops. Rather than seeking huge contributions from investors to buy all of this equipment, you should start with a small coffee shop first, then maybe try sourcing and importing beans, and work up from there to build a brand.
Create a support network. One of the most important parts of successful business ownership is getting over your own ego and seeking help. Your biggest sources of advice are going to be your group of business associates and other professionals that share your goals. Surround yourself with knowledgeable and successful people and feed off of their ideas and enthusiasm.
- Also seek general small business tips online; the web is a goldmine of information. Just be sure your information is from a reliable source.
Find a mentor. A good mentor in this case is someone who has already run or is running a successful business of their own. A good example would be a family member or family friend that has been successful in business. This mentor can help you with anything from knowing how to manage your employees to properly filing your taxes. Because their knowledge comes from direct experience, they’re able to help you more personally than any other source could.
- While your mentor doesn’t have to have founded the same type of business you are starting, it would help. For example, another coffee shop founder would be the best source of information in our coffee shop example, but a restaurateur could also be of significant help.
Earn a reputation for good service. Earning a positive reputation is like free advertising; your customers will spread the word of your business to friends and come back frequently. Treat each and every sale like the success or failure of your business depends on it. This also means that you should be consistent with every action your business takes and every interaction with customers.
- For your coffee shop, this may mean throwing out a burnt batch of coffee so that your customers are always served the absolutely best product you can offer.
Watch your competition closely. You should always look to your competitors for ideas, especially when you’re starting out. Chances are, they’re doing something right. If you can figure out what that is, you can implement it in your own business and avoid the trial-and-error they probably went through to get there.
- One of the best ways to do this when you’re starting out is to examine your competitors’ pricing strategies. In our coffee shop example, it would be much simpler to price your coffee similarly to competitors rather than to experiment with different prices on your own.
Diversify your income streams. Another way to increase the value of your business is by seeking out other areas where you can make money. Assuming you’ve already established your primary business, look around and see where you could offer a different service or product. Maybe your customers frequently visit your store for one item and then immediately go to another store for a different item. Find out what that other item is and offer it.