7 Habits of Highly Effective and Successful Entrepreneurs

Some entrepreneurs invent only excuses, while others are highly effective and successful.

Success and failure don’t happen by chance. Highly effective and successful entrepreneurs share common habits.

Here are seven habits of highly effective and successful entrepreneurs (plus a bonus at the end):

1. Measure progress. It’s very difficult to succeed unless you can measure your progress.

It’s easy to measure success if you have billions in your bank account, but overnight success takes 10 years for most entrepreneurs.

How can you succeed if you don’t recognize what is working and what isn’t?

Set targets for marketing, sales and profitability, for customer service and other areas of your business, and understand which initiatives bring you closer to those targets, and which initiatives take you further away. If you delegate authority and responsibility to others, measure performance to make sure that the work is done in a timely and effective way. Everyone expected to carry out a task must understand the goals, how their performance will be measured, and when you expect them to deliver results.

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2. Take calculated risks/be willing to fail. Nearly all successful entrepreneurs failed before achieving success. Some failed many times. Successful entrepreneurs, and successful people in general, have in common an ability to see beyond ideas that don’t work out, businesses that fail, and opportunities that don’t bear fruit.

But it’s important to understand that not every failure is a learning experience. Failure is often overrated. Failing while giving your best, and failing simply to fail are two very different things.

3. Never stop learning. Effective and successful entrepreneurs never believe they have enough success or that they know as much as they should ever know. Richard Branson, for example, achieved great success with Virgin Records, but then went on to launch Virgin Atlantic and many other successful companies. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their failures and successes, adapt to changing circumstances, evaluate new obstacles, and evolve their ideas. Successful entrepreneurs learn both from their own failures, and from others. They learn from chefs, kids, dogs, musicians and athletes. They learn from everyone and everything.

To be great and successful, you must continue to stay dissatisfied and hungry.  Apple’s iconic Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish campaign smartly reminds us why this is important.

4. Delegate wisely. Effective and successful entrepreneurs like to work smart. While some see 20 hour days as the entry fee to success, this is neither necessary nor, for most people, effective. The challenge with delegation is that you must learn to delegate to the right people AND to do it the right way.

Many successful people, when starting a business, do various jobs themselves. This is normal – don’t delegate until you’ve done it. But as the business grows, the job becomes too large for one person so you must hire someone to take over some of your duties. Successful entrepreneurs know how to hand over both authority and responsibility to the other person. People who are ineffective try to retain authority, even when handing over responsibility, and this often results in mediocrity.

When you delegate, be certain the other person knows what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and to what standard.  This is especially important when managing remote employees. Then make sure that person has the time, resources and support to get the job done right.

5. Acquire and manage talent. The difference between a successful company and one that fails is rarely the leader. The best leader, without a great team, can’t accomplish very much. A strong leader with a great team can change the world.

Successful and effective entrepreneurs know this – and spend a good deal of their time building great teams. It took us some time to understand that it’s more important to hire the right candidate, instead of hiring the best candidate. The best candidate from a pool of 300 applicants isn’t necessarily the right candidate, and the wrong hire, particularly in a small startup, can do much damage.

We offer many tips, including interview tips, in our recent post on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Employees.

6. Know when to say “no”. Steve Jobs wisely said that “innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most critical features.” In fact, “no” may be the most powerful word. It lets you focus, protect your priorities, and reduces the chance that you will fail. Saying “NO” to customers can save your company.

7. Have a laser focus. Effective and successful entrepreneurs are geniuses when it comes to identifying market needs and focusing their energies on solving real world problems. They spend little to no time obsessing about the location of their business or other factors that often are irrelevant, and the vast majority of their time obsessing about building great things. Take for example what Ben Milne and his team are doing with Dwolla, in Iowa. Far from the epicenter of the startup universe that is Silicon Valley, Dwolla is working to revolutionize the banking industry – especially payments.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, attributes Amazon’s to a laser focus on customers:

If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word of mouth is so very, very powerful.

For a great read about focus (and other useful insight), I highly recommend you read REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Read my short review of REWORK if you want to learn more about that wonderful book.

I promised to highlight seven habits of highly effective and successful entrepreneurs, but there’s one more habit I want to mention.

8. Listen more than talk. The most effective and successful entrepreneurs first seek to understand, before they push to be understood. This is important. You can improve your team’s performance only if you listen and understand their challenges.

This is an important distinction. Successful entrepreneurs listen to understand, not necessarily to respond immediately to what was said.

Listening is not easy for most people.  Most people prefer to talk and rarely take the time to listen. Most people ask few questions and spend their time giving answers. Effective and successful entrepreneurs listen and ask many questions.

What other habits do successful and effective entrepreneurs have in common?

image credit: Anchor of Hope

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