Entrepreneurs need to create businesses. It’s not an option, it’s a compulsion. They never give up, are prepared to fail countless times, are always on the lookout for new and different opportunities and play just as hard as they work. Here are four key lessons you can learn from self-made entrepreneurs.
1. Fail fast
Not that long ago, failure was something businesses people tried to avoid like the plague. If you failed then you should be ashamed of yourself – you couldn’t hack it, you weren’t up to the job. In the 1990s, there were whole management turnaround courses being run on how to cope with the horror of failure.
Today, largely thanks to the high-profile failures of countless incredibly successful entrepreneurs, failure is embraced, even celebrated as a necessary step on the road to success. ‘Fail fast’ has become a mantra for the journey to success. And this is probably the most important lesson self-made entrepreneurs can teach all of us: failure really is great!
Take British engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur Sir James Dyson whose first 5000 attempts to create a bagless vacuum cleaner over 15 years failed. Or Arianna Huffington who, before starting the wildly successful Huffington Post, had a book rejected 36 times. Or Jeff Bezos, who despite his huge success launched an online auction site that failed before he started Amazon. What if it hadn’t failed, and been a marginal success instead? We wouldn’t have Amazon.
2. Stay on the look-out for opportunities
Successful entrepreneurs are never satisfied. Even if it feels like they’ve only ever created one ‘cornerstone’ business, if you look carefully you’ll see that they always have multiple irons in the fire. And there’s a good reason for this.
Diversification spreads the load and ensures that if one idea or business fails then there is another waiting to take up the slack. Warren Buffett is probably the most high-profile and successful diversifier with holdings in more than 40 companies. But despite his success, it’s worth remembering that Buffett was not born successful, he started his business career by selling chewing-gum door to door.
While not everyone can be Warren Buffett or indeed Elon Musk, other successful self-made entrepreneurs have gone against received wisdom and rather than selling out have built on their existing business by acquiring other companies. Take British investor Ian Hannam for example; he started out on his own by acquiring an existing investment business and has gone on to buy stakes in various other global businesses.
3. Work at relaxing
Entrepreneurs are renowned workaholics but most of them also understand the vital importance of relaxation. The most successful entrepreneurs take relaxation just as seriously as building successful businesses; as Richard Branson famously said: “Ditch any guilt you might feel about stopping work”.
Relaxation is vital because the longer your work, the less productive you become. A study by Stanford University in 2014 showed that once you hit a 50-hour week, your productivity nosedives. After 55 hours it has dropped off so far that there is no point in working at all.
After many years of guilt surrounding time off, it can still be hard for business people at all levels to relax. Burnout is a constant danger in today’s ‘always on’ society. But entrepreneurs tend to be very focussed on what they’re doing at that moment, which means the most successful self-made people are not thinking about work at the weekends, they’re totally focused on relaxation, spending time with the family and enjoying themselves. And they take vacations too.
4. Never give up
At some point, giving up is a temptation for everyone, even the most successful entrepreneurs. But what divides them from your average business person is that as soon as the thought enters their head they dismiss it. It is never a serious option, until every other avenue or business idea has been exhausted – and even then, they usually bounce back after some time away from the world of business.
Entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates famously never gave up, but less well-known self-made people have battled on to success. Take Robin Chase, co-founder of the world’s largest ride-sharing business Zipcar. She readily agrees that she has made some very big businesses mistakes, and left the company after a power struggle, but she has never ever given up, and gone on to be even more successful.
Everyone in business can learn lessons from self-made entrepreneurs. So take note, emulate their approach and you’re on your way to success.