By John Rampton for Inc. Magazine
There have been thousands of books written about what it takes to be successful in business, and a thousand more about achieving success in life as well. You can find another thousand articles on the web that discuss the topic, and a thousand more will be written tomorrow. With such a broad subject and with so many things that can play a role in making us happy, it can be difficult to boil it down to a short list of things that anyone can read and apply in their lives.
However, across those thousands of books and articles, among the countless legends and stories, you’ll find some common themes woven throughout. You’ll find principles about us as human beings that many of us think about but never try hard enough to achieve. You’ll hear about ideals and decisions that we all wish we could aspire to but often fail to understand. Here are ten of those things you’ll find among the tales of those who achieved success in business (and in life) – which ones do you currently have and which do you need to obtain?
1. Be Fearless
Want to know why becoming successful in a business venture is considered such a daunting feat by society? While there are obvious hurdles to face, one of the biggest challenges is in overcoming the fear of jumping into a business in the first place. Most people dream all day about launching a successful business while watching the clock tick at their mundane day jobs. The reason they never quit the security of a paycheck is because they are too scared by the unknown that comes with starting a business. If you want to separate yourself from that crowd, you need to learn how to manage your own fears. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. When I quit my job to start my business, I was making double my salary outside my day job than I was inside working my eight hour job. I still had that huge fear of failure.
However, this is only the beginning of the road for those who want to be truly successful in business. Overcoming your fears and getting started is noble, but the true tests of a fearless entrepreneur will be constant, from initiating a conversation at a networking mixer, asking for the sale on a major deal, severing ties with a partner who is causing harm to the venture, and perhaps the most frightening of all situations – watching a business fail (it happened to Henry Ford twice before he designed his famous assembly line!) One who can fail miserably and not be scared to dust themselves off and try again and again until they are successful is truly fearless.
2. Understand Finance
Now, people all the time will talk about how a well known business brand started at one time in someone’s basement or garage, so much that it’s become a romantic notion of sorts that going from rags-to-riches is what really identifies a true entrepreneur. The reality of most successful businesses ventures couldn’t be farther from the truth – if you want to make it, you’re going to need money. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a lot of it when you’re just getting started, but more importantly understanding how finance works and how to use your money to grow in the smartest way.
Robert Kiyosaki is most famous for teaching the world about the importance in how financial literacy plays such a crucial role in the lives of successful entrepreneurs. Those who live from paycheck to paycheck are also those that fill their lives with liabilities – car and house payments, credit cards, and other materialistic things that cost them money. Those who are financially literate, however, understand the importance of building assets – things that make them money instead. Once you start having a positive asset column, you can then learn how to make even more money through investing. To be a successful entrepreneur you need to know how to take money and make it work for you.
3. Grow As A Leader
Once you harness your fears and make the leap to starting a business, you’ve already begun the journey of becoming a leader. As we’ll discuss shortly, your ultimate success will have a lot to do with how you help others find their own. Many of us hold successful entrepreneurs on a pedestal much like football fans hold a star quarterback or wide receiver in high regard. However, there’s always a team that these individuals lead that ultimately leads to their success. You must learn how to be a leader on some kind of level in order to motivate others to join you in your venture, believe in what you preach, or give you money for a product or service that you offer.
Just because you need to possess leadership qualities does not mean that everybody successful in business has to be the CEO, face of the company, or person “in charge”. When Google started to really grow, the company’s founders brought in a successful CEO in Eric Schmidt to come in and run their company – they were engineers, not CEOs. The ability to lead a team or lead the masses can sometimes come down to just having the right charisma and message to get the right people to do the things that need to be done in order for the entire thing to just work. A great soldier may be good at leading troops on the field, but not managing the entire war. An amazing product designer may also be a lousy salesperson. But a great leader will discover what they do best and where their weakness lies, and know who to put where in order to ensure that their company is one that achieves real success.
4. Use Your Leverage
One of the greatest challenges that will stand in the way of an entrepreneur from getting what they want is understanding what “to do” with the opportunities that fall in their laps along the way. This is where leverage becomes such an important concept that people going into business need to understand, and it takes a certain kind of mind to think “outside the box” in situations to find the value in a new relationship or circumstance. The same people who are too scared to quit their day jobs are also the same people who do not know how to leverage the assets and relationships in their life. A successful entrepreneur, on the other hand, is constantly finding ways to create profits and new opportunities each and every day.
The simple adage “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” is a great example of using leverage to move your business forward. Many people will make the lemonade and drink it themselves. A true entrepreneur will make lemonade and sell it to those without lemons, and use the profits to buy more lemons or move into another business. While today a polarizing political figure, Donald Trump is a great example of an entrepreneur who time and time again used leverage to acquire crucial pieces of real estate or strike very lucrative business deals. Love him or hate him, his book The Art of The Deal is a great resource on how leverage can make someone mega successful.
5. Acquire Partners
We talked earlier about how becoming a leader is one of the most important qualities one needs to “move the chains” in the game of business. In order to achieve greatness as a leader, one must then have a team of individuals who believe in the mission in order to move forward. That’s where assembling a great team of partners plays such an important role in any profitable business. Many start out alone and the wearer of many hats, but a business can only scale so far if there is only one source of energy, of inspiration, and of the actual sweat equity it takes to keep the lights on.
As we will see in understanding the meaning of success both in business and in life, a true “business owner” is one who does not need to be a part of the day-to-day operations in order for the business to run and stay profitable. The classic book “The E-Myth” is a great story of how many try (and fail) at running a business all by themselves. Instead, you need to take those leadership skills and motivate others to take their own specific skillsets and apply them together as a team for the greater good of the company. This doesn’t just include employees, but also includes knowing who to shake hands with, how to create strategic partnerships, and how to use that leverage we previously discussed to convince others to have an interest in your venture. And once you reach a certain level of success, it will be an even greater feeling when you get to share it with all who helped make it possible.
6. Having the Right Attitude
So far we’ve discussed some of the most important concepts you need to understand in order to achieve success in business – but how do you exactly justify what is true success? Is it money, or sales, or the influence your actions have over the environment around you? Ultimately real success in business only matters if it also equates to success in life, and that all starts with having the right attitude towards it. Nobody cares about those who are rich but hate the world they live in. Everyone knows the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the jaded old man that had all the money in the world but did nothing but create misery for others.
To have a truly happy and fulfilling life, it’s important to know what’s really important and to develop values around what you can do each and every day to make that world a reality. Sure, many who start a business venture want to achieve a certain level of financial independence. But what does one do with those riches once they finally have them? Those with the attitude that having money means they can buy more “things” to surround themselves with in order to feel superior to others will never be successful in their life. The entrepreneurs who focus on how they can create wealth that can help others and solve problems have the right attitude needed to obtain true happiness and be seen in a positive light by their peers and partners, and are the true embodiment of the word “success”.
7. Showing Gratitude
We live in a world that is changing each and every day, at a speed that any of us can really truly appreciate. Technology over the last 30-50 years has altered the way we communicate not only with our neighbor and loved ones but our business contacts around the world. The generations that have grown up with this technology often take it for granted, never once stopping to “smell the roses” and to realize that they live in an amazing time in history and that much of what they have in their lives – everything from the electricity powering their lights, the cars that help them get to their next meeting, to their smartphones in their pockets are all things they should very much be thankful for.
Those who are happy in both business and if life are those who are grateful for the world they live in. These are the people who make sure to thank the barista for their coffee in the mornings, who open the door for others, who actually listen to those who they have conversations with. Successful entrepreneurs should never forget all the people, places and things that have played a role in their lives that helped them get from their humble beginnings to where they are today. The next time you’re flying on a plane, remember the comedian Louis CK’s amazing observation that you’re “sitting in a chair in the sky”, and be grateful for all the wonderful things we get to experience every day.
8. Staying Healthy
Your money and success isn’t going to do you any good if you’re not around to use it – so why would you live your life so dangerously that you would sacrifice your health? What good is all the passion you have for your business dreams if you’re not going to be around to see them come true? Too many of us get caught up in the game of life that we never think about the damage we all do to our bodies along the way. As entrepreneurs our days are so full of work and juggling projects that are lunch breaks become mere small breaks in the day where we shove fast food down our throats to get rid of our hunger. I personally inhale my food.
Our nights turn into a time where we sometimes burn the candles at both ends, turning the stress of the day into an excuse to ease the pain with alcohol and drugs. While we worship the celebrities who died before their time, is that how we define success in life? Our obsession with money and material things makes us greedy and insecure of who we are and how others perceive us. Without our health, we can never truly achieve success. A leader needs to be strong, and we’re not just talking about a lean body or muscles here – your mind has to be healthy in order to persevere through the day and not only achieve the success you’re looking for, but to be able to enjoy it as well.
9. Keeping the Right Friends
We’ve discussed the importance of not going it alone along your path to building your business, and this same ideology applies to your personal success and happiness. What’s the point of doing anything if you don’t have special people in your life to share it with. No one wants to be the Bruce Wayne of their city, the quack who owns the huge dining room table with no one to dine with.
People are social by nature, and it’s important to have a life outside of those you work with. Your friends are people to share your experiences with, who will be there to high-five you with every victory and also pick you up after every failure. Make sure they are also the ones who have the same attitude, give back gratitude, and remain a positive force in your life. Those who feed off of negative energy are the ones you can bring the whole house crashing down around you.
10. The Importance of Family
We’ve discussed in detail why we become entrepreneurs in the first place, and the importance of deciding what goals we’re trying to achieve. Most will begin the journey with dollar signs in their eyes, or seeking some level of power. Many times these things are personal and selfish, but one who is seeking true success in their lives will be doing so not just to share with their friends, but more importantly their families.
Not everyone has the greatest of childhoods, and no one is expected to share wealth with their siblings just because of blood. Not every entrepreneur has a soulmate, not will we all have children. It is important, however, to think about success beyond just the material or power one might ultimately yield. Real success lies in having a positive influence on those who you call family and those who will eventually remember, and hopefully continue, the legacy you leave behind.