When the media isn’t talking about how much millennials spend on avocado toast, it’s praising them for their entrepreneurial spirit — and for good reason.
In its 2016 Global Entrepreneur Report, BNP Paribas found that millennials launch their first businesses at age 27, eight years earlier than their baby boomer predecessors.
Plus, “millennipreneurs” launch almost double the number of businesses their parents did — 7.7 versus 3.5.
Although technology makes it easier than ever to start a business, figuring out how to become an entrepreneur comes with a steep learning curve. If you’re motivated to start your own company, check out these seven tips from successful founders and CEOs who paved the way.
How to become an entrepreneur and grow a successful business
1. Build a supportive network
As the saying goes, no one succeeds alone. The people you surround yourself with can teach and inspire you, especially as you learn how to become an entrepreneur. Shauna Armitage learned this lesson when she created her own marketing consulting business, Making Moxie.
“Before you dive headfirst into entrepreneurship, connect with someone who’s been there,” said Armitage. “Make a new friend on LinkedIn or at a networking event and treat her to a coffee. … You can never have a big enough network to support your ventures, so make new relationships a priority.”
Not only can new connections teach you the ins and outs of business, they can buoy you up during tough times. Lindsey Smolan, founder of her own public relations company, relies on her network for support. “Being an entrepreneur is incredibly rewarding but also can be very nerve-wracking,” Smolan said.
“Creating a network of like-minded colleagues can be invaluable when you’re stuck on a creative issue, need advice for a tricky client, or just want to chat about industry trends,” she added. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to find a network of communications pros with their own companies — we always bounce ideas off of each other and are there to support each other.”
Whether you meet people through an industry conference or a networking app like Shapr, you’ll set yourself up for success with a supportive network. You might even find someone to mentor you or collaborate on a joint venture.
2. Research your competition
It’s a jungle out there; only the fittest companies survive. That’s why Nick Riesel, founder of Free Office Finder, encourages anyone who wants to know how to become a successful entrepreneur to research their competition.
“It sounds simple but the best business advice I could give is that, before you start your company, you should research your competitors in-depth and find out exactly what you can do better,” said Riesel.
Not only will this give you an edge, but it will also help you deliver a promise to your customers. “Your competitive advantage, that thing your business does better than all the others, is the story you tell to your customers about why they should buy your product or use your service,” said Riesel. “It’s essentially the reason your business should exist.”
Riesel adds that your story doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, your reasoning might be as simple as the fact that a similar service doesn’t exist yet in your neighborhood. But it’s crucial for you to figure out what sets your business apart.
“Knowing whether there is actually a space in the market before you start can save you a lot of trouble and pain down the line,” he added. By analyzing your competition ahead of time, you’ll have a deeper understanding of your own product or service.
3. Let the data speak
Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of Study.com, encourages entrepreneurs to let data lead the way.
“Data is one of the most important tools a new entrepreneur has at his or her disposal,” said Ridner. “Not only should you run frequent tests and collect data to monitor unique audience insights, but be sure to actually use that data to make fast, informed decisions.”
Collecting data could mean sending out surveys to your clients or interviewing a panel. If you have an online presence, use Google Analytics to track visitors to your website.
“Being nimble is key when you’re a startup and embracing data allows you to move quickly and drive better decisions,” said Ridner. “It’s a fundamental way to drive growth and success in a new business.”
Making smart business decisions doesn’t have to be a matter of guesswork. Use data to drive decisions and keep improving the products or services you offer.
4. Bootstrap as much as you can
Every business is different, but most require some influx of time and money upfront. Marcus Harjani, co-founder and COO at FameMoose, warns new entrepreneurs against borrowing too much money in the beginning.
“Bootstrap, if possible,” said Harjani. “I made the choice to self-fund and bootstrap all of my businesses. … For those endeavors that require substantial capital to start, I would be wary of taking on too much debt, as the uncertainty of a new venture is extremely high.”
Everyone’s situation is different, but excessive debt can weigh down a venture before it gets off the ground. If your business doesn’t work out, you’ll be left without the means to pay back your loans.
“Deciding to start a business is exciting and terrifying,” Harjani added. “I recommend to anyone thinking about starting something to do your homework, try to bootstrap the project, always seek good advice, and build a strong team able to execute your vision.”
5. Expect to screw up sometimes
Amanda Austin, founder and president of Little Shop of Miniatures, says mistakes in business are inevitable.
“Expect to make mistakes and to constantly course correct,” she said. “Don’t be surprised if you find yourself deviating from a well thought out business plan — pretty much every entrepreneur does once they start building their business.”
Austin understands this mindset can be a tough adjustment. “This can be hard for a perfectionist like me who likes to follow well-laid plans, but you really have to go with the flow as an entrepreneur,” she said. “There are many issues you can’t plan for, so just take one day at a time.”
Austin also says you shouldn’t beat yourself up over mistakes. “I used to get so upset if things didn’t turn out the way I planned,” she said. “Now, I just look at everything as a good lesson. It’s not wasted time or money if you learned something.”
By adopting a growth mindset, you can learn from your mistakes instead of letting them derail you.
6. Make self-care a priority
Creating your own business can be both exciting and exhausting. It’s easy to overextend yourself as you do everything you can to make your venture a success. But taking time off is crucial, says Alison Tedford, a freelance writer and content strategist.
“When you start a new business, have a plan for how you are going to spend your time and take care of yourself,” Tedford said.
“It’s easy to get caught up in your business, and there’s always ‘just one more thing’ to do. Make sure you have a plan to eat enough good food, sleep enough, and move your body enough. Ensure you have downtime so you don’t burn out.”
Dena Alalfey, a psychotherapist with her own private practice, echoes this advice. “Schedule ‘me’ time,” she said.
“Running a business is not nine to five. Your brain is constantly working on how to make your business more successful. If you do not schedule downtime, self-care, [or] family time, you will burn out,” she added. “Turn off your work phone, stop checking emails, and enjoy some time away from your business.”
Even though it’s easy to get swept up in work, it’s just as important to make time for self-care.
7. The best time to start is now
Xavier Parkhouse-Parker, co-founder and CEO of PLATO Intelligence and Recommendable, started his first e-commerce company at the age of 15. When asked for advice on how to become a successful entrepreneur, Parkhouse-Parker didn’t beat around the bush.
“Just do it,” he said. “Just start the company. Even if you’re unsure about the idea or unsure about the market or the problem, just start. There is nothing worse in the world than ‘What if?’”
Parkhouse-Parker also tells entrepreneurs not to put all their hopes into one idea. “Entrepreneurship isn’t a one-play game,” he said. “You can play over and over again until something clicks.”
Instead of hoping to make it big with your first idea, expect to pivot and change directions along the way. “It is very rare that people make a success from their first startup,” said Parkhouse-Parker. “It is even more unusual that they make it big. Keep playing until you win.”
Learning how to become a successful entrepreneur doesn’t happen overnight
If there’s one key takeaway from all this advice, it’s that you can’t become an entrepreneur in one day. In fact, you’ll need to keep learning — and keep making mistakes — throughout your career.
Be open to risk and experimentation, and grow your professional network. By seeking colleagues and mentors, you’ll have the support you need when you’re ready to take the plunge.
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