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The 4 Difficult Lessons Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Learn

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Successful entrepreneurs are born learners, but often they focus on the wrong lessons. Yes, learning about financing, staff management, selling, marketing, product innovation, decision-making and risk taking are vital. However, there are other lessons that are just as important to the future of your business.

Learn these four lessons, really embed them into your psyche, and you’ll be in great shape to build a successful, sustainable business:

1. It’s essential to pivot

Startup businesses often go off like a rocket. You invest your money in building a top-line product or service, putting together a fantastic team, and making sure the design of your website and marketing material is just right. You invest so much time in this before you launch that you forget about sales and demand. You launch – and, well, all those customers you thought would be knocking down your door aren’t there. It’s a struggle to get through your first year in business.

Growing a business is all about product-market fit – matching up your offering with what customers actually want, ideally at a price that is profitable and appealing to the customer. The important lesson is that while every entrepreneur is passionate about their sector, very few can hit product-market fit first time. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead of getting frustrated about customers not buying from you, ask them why they aren’t. Then take what you’ve learnt and pivot in a new direction.

2. Process geeks are cool

I’ve worked with many brilliant and inspiring entrepreneurs. Some have gone on to build international businesses and others have foundered. What separates them? The truly successful ones all have one thing in common: scratch the surface and they’re process geeks.

Successful entrepreneurs enjoy the detail, they love separating each job into separate actions, seeing where they can make efficiencies and freeing up the bottlenecks. Every element of their business has a written process with clearly defined steps.   

If you’re a visionary, and most entrepreneurs are, the actual nitty gritty process of your business probably leaves you cold. You’re focused driving sales, bringing in new clients and building relationships. It’s the bigger picture all the way for you. Nonetheless, if you don’t put proper processes in place, your business will fail in the long run, no matter how many sales you’ve made or how big your client roster.  

“Details create the big picture.” – Sanford I. Weill

3. Hiring people smarter than you is clever

Everyone knows this one, right? The problem here is that though we all know it, we very often forget it. I’ve seen lots of entrepreneurs fall at this hurdle with sometimes catastrophic results. The reasons for this are very clear to me because some entrepreneurs are control freaks. They are big, extrovert personalities, and they have to be the top dog in the workplace. That means when it comes to hiring, though they think they’re focused on going for smart people, they’re actually choosing people who won’t threaten their ego. Hiring for a startup is difficult – there is no doubt.

Successful entrepreneurs know and understand themselves. They know their strengths and their personal weaknesses. Driven, go-getting extravert founders can be incredibly successful, but they need to surround themselves with people who are unafraid to challenge them. Otherwise, what you end up with later down the line is a business full of yes-men. Smart, yes-men, maybe, but still people who will go along with any mad idea you might have at 4 o’clock in the morning.

The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is to get a second opinion from people you trust, even people outside the business or let your team interview the person, not you. Clearly this plan isn’t foolproof, because if you’ve already built a business full of yes-men they’re just going to pick someone like them. Nonetheless, nine times out of 10 you’ll end up with a new team member who’s not going to be afraid to tell you when you’re being an idiot.

4. All entrepreneurs are afraid – it’s normal

Every entrepreneur has sleepless nights. All startup founders worry that their business is going to go bust tomorrow. All entrepreneurs think they’re going to get found out. This is perfectly normal, and absolutely nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s all part of building a highly successful business. The trick is to ensure that it doesn’t start to impair your judgement or your health.

We’ve all heard stories of entrepreneurs who only sleep four hours per night, and work 80 hour weeks for years and years on end. While some do, most come to the correct conclusion after a few months that if they and their team must work 80 hours per week, they don’t have a viable business. The effects are more harmful than you might expect. Getting a good night’s sleep will calm you down.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein

If your business is sustainable and you’ve just got into a cycle of fear that’s driving you to work ridiculous hours, then stop. Look again at your product-market fit and processes, hire some people smarter than you who will tell you you’re an idiot and go on holiday. Yes, one of those things where you leave the office and don’t come back for at least a week. Holidays are definitely not for wimps.

Successful entrepreneurs understand that it’s the big lessons that count. They are the portable life lessons that will carry you through the tough times ahead. If you can really nail these four lessons, you’ll not only be in great shape but you’ll be ahead of many of your fellow entrepreneurs.  

Which one of these four lessons do you need to implement most in your life? Let us know in the comments below!

Sharon Fishburne is CEO of the Sharon Fishburne Consultancy, which provides startups and SMEs with strategic marketing advice to take their businesses to the next level. An expert at marketing strategy, Sharon previously worked at number of the biggest global consultancies, including PwC, advising multinationals on their expansion strategy.

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