Does this sound familiar to you? I saw on LinkedIn that an acquaintance who is more than a decade younger than I am has made it big as a successful startup founder. She just closed a big second round of funding. The same day, my alumni magazine came in the mail with an article on one of my high school classmates who is now interim mayor of San Francisco. I simultaneously felt happy for both her and him, but also experienced a pang of anxiety. I wondered whether I’m trying the right tactics to ensure my entrepreneurial endeavors are successful.
Are you? This guide will help you do just that, featuring four simple but often overlooked tactics for becoming a successful entrepreneur.
1. Develop a network of trustworthy mentors.
The two biggest challenges for an entrepreneur are time and money. During the early days of a new business you’ll have too little of both valuable resources. However a network of mentors with relevant experience can help you to succeed anyway.
First, what if you’re feeling lost or confused about your direction? Learning from business leaders who faced similar challenges can help you accelerate your learning. This will help you save valuable time in reaching solutions that might otherwise have been far harder to discover.
Second, a network of well-connected people can make it easier for you to find investors. In many cases, top venture capitalists meet with entrepreneurs referred to them via people they trust.
Remember that mentorship isn’t something that can be forced. Don’t ask just any business acquaintance to become your mentor. Treat it like any other close relationship. Put effort into getting to know the person in order to form a real connection. If it appears that a connection is there, over time a valuable mentor-mentee relationship will flourish.
2. Learn the wants and needs of customers.
This is one of those easy tactics that many founders don’t ever get right.
Dharmesh Shah is a good example of someone well known to obsess over the wants and needs of customers. He’s the founder and CTO of Hubspot, a marketing automation company worth upwards of $3 billion. Though the company is less than 11 years old, it has disrupted the digital marketing world thanks to a user-friendly platform.
Shah has a habit of bringing a teddy bear named Molly into important meetings. The bear represents one of Hubspot’s key customers, and is evidence that focusing on the wants and needs of users is one of the most important jobs of any entrepreneur.
3. One of the most effective tactics is learning to analyze data and build financial models.
It’s never been easier or more important to use data to make informed business decisions. As an entrepreneur it is never too early to rely on data to determine what your next business move should be.
But in order to make data-driven decisions, you must first invest in collecting the data across various touch points along the customer journey. Website analytics, product usage behavior, social media growth and overall business trends are a few of the areas you should consider monitoring on a regular basis to understand the health of your startup.
Once collected, you can use this data to build models to help you take better strategic decisions. But building models that work well isn’t as simple as learning a few formulas. Consider taking a business analytics course like those offered by online learning platforms like Coursera.
Investing a few weeks in familiarizing yourself with data collection, analysis and visualization is one of the best tactics you can use to compete against stiff competition.
4. Get comfortable negotiating, otherwise the answer is always “no.”
Maybe the biggest difference between working for a large organization and working for yourself as an entrepreneur is that every dollar spent comes out of your own pocket.
For many people, negotiating feels uncomfortable or unnecessary, but if you fail to negotiate as a small-business owner, you’re essentially robbing yourself of money that could otherwise be reinvested in your business. As they say, if you don’t negotiate, the answer will always be “no.” With that in mind, get comfortable negotiating. Never settle for the terms offered by the other party until you get them to sweeten the deal in some way.
Many MBA programs, like those offered by Harvard and Stanford, feature access to online lectures about the art and science of negotiating that can be accessed for free.
Take this lecture by Harvard Professor Deepak Malhotra. While the lecture is ostensibly about negotiating a job offer, the principles detailed in the video can be applied to a variety of settings.
Stepping out of the safe confines of corporate America and into the fast lane of entrepreneurship can be frightening. After all, a life as an entrepreneur can be far less predictable and far more isolating. You’ll be forced to take a series of challenging business decisions alone.
Remember that success is ephemeral, even for the most successful of us. No one stays on top forever. Tiger Woods didn’t. Neither did Barack Obama. Donald Trump won’t either. Have the perspective to know that all entrepreneurs go through difficult periods when they can’t seem to make the right business choices.
But by building a network of professionals who are ready to lend you advice and access, and by investing in yourself to acquire new skills, you’ll be setting yourself up for entrepreneurial success.