When people think of great entrepreneurs, the usual luminaries come to mind: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg. Their success stories are the stuff of legend, and they seem almost otherworldly in their abilities to innovate and make things happen.
While famous entrepreneurs do cut intimidating figures, entrepreneurship isn’t just for a chosen few. Anyone can be an entrepreneur with the right attitude and a smart strategy. Sure, a great idea is essential. But ideas aren’t worth much if you don’t know how to execute on them. And that part doesn’t take genius; it takes a strong work ethic, determination, and guts.
Here’s how to make it happen:
The first step toward entrepreneurial success is knowing what you want to achieve. If you have an idea for an app, think through your logic. Why do people need this app? What differentiates you from your competitors? Who do you want to serve? The answers to these questions should help you define your goals.
Make sure you’re setting realistic targets. Facebook didn’t hit two billion users in a day. It evolved during the course of years, iterating based on feedback and user demands. Your initial goals as an entrepreneur should challenge you, but they should also be attainable. Identify key metrics that will help you measure your success. Whether your priority is downloads, purchases, shares, or another standard, you need indicators against which you can judge your progress.
Forget what you’ve heard about all the startups that hand out lots of cool swag and supply their teams with unlimited craft beer and candy. Being able to offer perks is all well and good, but that should be the furthest thing from your mind when you first start a company. Every decision you make should come back to your big-picture goals. If you have employees, every task they’re assigned should align with those goals.
In your first year running a company, you need to focus on lead generation and building a sustainable sales pipeline. Even if you have lots of savings that you’re investing in the company, don’t take that runway for granted. Money runs out faster than you think, so focus on acquiring—and retaining—customers. Their dollars will fund all your cool office perks down the road.
No founder is an island. The idea for your initial product might be yours alone, but you need other people to launch it successfully. Attend industry conferences and participate in online forums. If possible, connect with a mastermind group. Not only will you benefit from the other members’ knowledge and experience, you’ll also gain a reputation for being involved in the local business community. Over time, these relationships will raise your company’s profile as well. Masterminds are also invaluable for getting feedback on your ideas and talking through your challenges.
You’ll also need to establish a strong network if you plan to pitch investors down the road. Instead of spamming investors when you’re ready to ask for money, reach out well in advance. Look for opportunities to provide value to them, and be willing to admit what you don’t know. Investors want to work with entrepreneurs who are smart but humble, and who are eager to learn rather than fixating on startup glory. Cultivating authentic relationships makes it far easier to persuade people to partner with you once you’re ready to take that step.
In addition to forming a strong peer group and establishing relationships with investors, you should approach people you admire about being your mentor. Not only will they provide real-world insights into running a business, they can also introduce you to contacts who can make or break your company. Perhaps you’ve perfected your first product and are looking for a distributor. Your mentor likely knows who you should talk to and how to navigate your first contracts.
As your company grows, you may choose to work with more than one mentor. You might meet someone who is an expert in your field and offers critical perspective on your specific industry. But you may also want to work with someone who has demonstrated incredible business acumen, even if it doesn’t correspond directly to your work. Having a diverse support system will help you grow as an entrepreneur and lead your organization to success.
Spending smartly is the name of the game when you first become an entrepreneur. If you choose the right technology, you can work efficiently without burning through your startup capital. When possible, outsource tasks to a virtual assistant. Automating repetitive or low-level tasks, such as scheduling, will save you hours each month. Apps such as Calendly make it easy for people to connect with you, but they remove the need for back-and-forth over email.
Nowadays, there’s an app or software solution for just about every business function. HelloSign offers an affordable way to sign and share documents, Google offers a powerful business suite, Slack makes team collaboration easy, and Buffer enables you to set and forget your social posts. Identify which areas you need to streamline, and then test a few apps or products designed to help with those functions. Don’t be afraid to try a range of options; the goal is to find a workflow that allows you to focus as much time as possible on critical tasks.
The most important aspect of becoming an entrepreneur is being passionate. You’ll encounter a lot of late (and sleepless) nights as you work through product details, balance your budget, and strategize for how to reach consumers. But if you love what you do and believe in what you’re selling, you’ll find joy in even the toughest challenges. And that joy will sustain you as you build your company and realize your dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
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Ian Naylor is the founder and CEO of AppInstitute, one of the world’s leading DIY App Builders, with more than 70,000 apps built. Naylor has founded, grown and sold 4 successful internet and technology companies during the past 18 years. He gives seminars as an expert authority on startup mobile app trends, development, and online marketing.
AppInstitute regularly provides leading publications with app analytics, business data, case studies, white papers and statistics for established publishers across the world. They were named among the top 50 creative companies in England by Creative England.