If you’ve been paying any attention at all to developments over the last few years, you’ll already be well aware that times have been tough for a lot of people. Since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, economies across the world have been mired in slump. While there have been some signs of a revival – albeit a tentative one – in recent months, the medium to long-term outlook remains unclear as yet. As a result of the crisis, unemployment has been particularly high across Europe and youth unemployment has soared to truly dire levels in many countries.
Given the general economic outlook, then, you might think that now isn’t the most opportune time to become your own boss and start a business. However, this is precisely what many people have been doing, in many cases out of necessity and a lack of alternative options. Many young people in particular have tried their hand at entrepreneurship – although others have become more risk averse and less willing to gamble as a result of the economic upheaval of recent years.
If you’ve always fancied the idea of becoming your own boss, then in spite of everything you could well make a go of it, even now. However, there’s a lot you need to think very carefully about before you take the plunge. If you have a mortgage to pay and a family to support, for instance, then you owe it to them to be cautious before doing anything which could potentially have serious downsides. It’s worth looking at the example set by successful entrepreneurs, taking note of what they’ve done right but also what they’ve done wrong. Here are some guidelines to set you on the path to a successful stint in business.
Getting started in business
There’s no question that the prospect of starting a new business from scratch can be an intimidating one, particularly for those who’ve never had any experience of doing so in the past. If you’re serious about becoming an entrepreneur, however, then you really can’t afford to let that put you off. Above all, you need to know what you’re looking to achieve and what’s likely to set your offering apart from the rest of the crowd. Not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurship, and it’s better to be honest with yourself about whether this is really the right path for you to travel along before you commit yourself to anything you later find you can’t deliver.
An article from Entrepreneur.com offers a number of useful tips in this regard. It stresses, above all, the importance of self-belief – if you really have your heart set on entrepreneurship, then it’s ultimately up to you to make it happen. Once you take that decision to start your own business, you have to make sure that you stick to it. However tempting it might be to make excuses later on – whether blaming the state of the economy, or blaming those closest to you – you need to be aware that this won’t help you make a success of your business. In this sense, you have to be hard-headed no matter what’s thrown at you.
You also have to have a clear idea of what you want your business to offer before you do anything else. Blundering into business is hardly the best way of ensuring future success. Think about what you’re most familiar with, and look closely at what your would-be rivals are doing. If you see an example you’re particularly impressed by, then seek to emulate its successes and avoid its mistakes. It helps if you can identify a gap in the market, as the more crowded a particular market is, the harder it’s likely to be to establish a successful business.
Crucially, you need to know just who you’re pitching your goods and services at. This is where thorough market research is likely to be absolutely key to the success of your business. You need to be reasonably confident that your nascent business will have a steady flow of customers, otherwise you’ll really be taking a leap into the dark. Don’t just assume you’ll be besieged by customers, because you won’t unless you make that happen.
Making your business a success
So you’ve got your business up and running, and you’ve had some modest early success. What, then, do you do next to sustain that early momentum? Another Entrepreneur.com article offers some tips. Thorough planning, in particular, can be the difference between success and failure. It doesn’t have to be a particularly weighty tome – just a few pages on your objectives, strategy and finances should suffice – but having all that written down could be crucial. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to revise and alter your plan when circumstances demand it.
You should also be open to suggestions from others. It’s one thing to be determined and single-minded, but you shouldn’t let your ego get in the way. Sometimes feedback and suggestions from others can help you see things in an entirely new way. By the same token, you should be prepared to delegate tasks to colleagues where appropriate. Many would-be entrepreneurs are tempted to do absolutely everything themselves, but this can soon start to get overwhelming. Capable colleagues are a valuable resource, so make use of them.
It’s also essential that you have a good grasp of the numbers, as this can help you make the right decisions at the right time. As an entrepreneur you need to know just what your finances are at any given time, so you can adapt your strategy accordingly. This flexibility is crucial for anyone trying to carve out a successful career for themselves in business – so don’t be afraid to make changes as and when you feel the need to do so. The internet is a valuable resource and can help you keep in touch with all the latest developments in the world of business, so make use of it. It can also enable you to build up stronger relationships with your customers.
How do successful entrepreneurs prosper?
Entrepreneurs are often presented in the media as possessing near-superhuman qualities which enable to bestride the globe like some sort of colossus. The reality, however, is somewhat different – although foresight and hard graft are essential, there’s also a degree of luck required to become a successful entrepreneur. To an extent, it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time and with the right product or service to offer.
It’s worth looking closely at individual case studies to see what entrepreneurs themselves have to say about how they got to where they are. Speaking to the BBC, Innocent Drinks founder Richard Reed explained that building a strong team can provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a crucial head start. He suggested that entrepreneurs are very rarely all-rounders – some may be more adept financially than creatively and vice versa, for instance – so it helps to have capable colleagues on hand to provide valuable input.
He also pointed out that while the risks of setting up a business are considerable, the rewards can be much greater. Running your own business not only enables you to learn skills you otherwise wouldn’t have needed, but it also gives you the opportunity to meet fascinating new people. However, Reed warned against taking excessive risks and suggested that would-be entrepreneurs should take care not to expose their family life to unnecessary dangers.
Perhaps the most interesting observation Reed makes in the BBC piece is that there opportunities in times of economic slump as well as during the boom. Given the continued economic uncertainty, it may be tempting to procrastinate over the idea of starting a business – but being an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word involves taking some risks in time of adversity. Nevertheless, it may be prudent to have a backup plan in place, just in case.
What makes a successful entrepreneur?
There’s been much debate over just what it is that constitutes a truly entrepreneurial mindset, and it’s probably true that successful businesspeople do share a number of qualities in common. That’s not to say that entrepreneurs are a homogeneous bloc, of course, but there are certain entrepreneurial characteristics which crop up time and time again.
According to Ivey Business Journal, no aspiring entrepreneur should expect instant returns. The process of building up a business from scratch is frequently slow and frustrating. It should go without saying, then, that having a degree of patience is likely to stand a businessperson in good stead. However, it’s particularly important to put the hard yards in during the early days of any new business, as around half of start-ups fail within five years.
The ability to make difficult choices also sets the entrepreneur apart from the crowd. Running a business places many demands on the business person’s time, finances and energy – entrepreneurs are therefore likely to find that they simply won’t be physically or financially able to do absolutely everything they’d like. Entrepreneurs are also likely to be faced with obstacles along the route to success, and possessing the flexibility to meet these challenges successfully when they arise is also a central attribute of the successful entrepreneur.
Another Entrepreneur.com article also lists a number of attributes likely to serve aspiring entrepreneurs well. It stresses the importance of doing something you genuinely enjoy – some people enjoy hard work in itself, but it helps to build a business in an area you have a real passion for. If you aren’t totally enthused by whatever it is you’re doing, the chances are that this will manifest itself in the performance of your business – and it’s therefore probably less likely to succeed.
Self-promotion is also an important aspect of entrepreneurship. It’s not enough to just assume that if you build a business, customers will come – this is unlikely to be the case. Your competitors will be putting themselves out there at every opportunity, and so it’s incumbent upon you to do the same. There’s a fine line between being an effective self-promoter and simply being obnoxious, so great care should be taken to avoid falling into the latter category.
By the same token, being personable can provide ambitious entrepreneurs with an important advantage. The dedicated entrepreneur makes the effort to get to know their customers, providing them with attention over and above what they would normally expect. Customers appreciate this kind of effort, and are likely to reward it with their continued custom. This repeat custom will provide your business with a crucial base to build on. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business – they are genuinely indispensable – and it can’t be stressed enough that catering to their needs could be the key to long-term success.