There is a difference.
We like to think there isn’t anything standing between us and successful entrepreneurs who are getting great results with their businesses.
We tell ourselves they just got lucky.
We tell ourselves that eventually it will be our turn.
And when frustration sets in, we tell ourselves the biggest lie of all: that maybe we just aren’t cut out to be a business owner.
But here’s the truth. If your business isn’t thriving, isn’t operating at the level you would like it to, or is sucking the life out of you, then yes, there is a clear difference between you and other successful entrepreneurs.
But it’s a difference that can absolutely be erased when you learn to operate like they do.
I spent months interviewing nearly 40 elite entrepreneurs across various industries. I talked to multi-millionaires, best-selling authors, heads of software companies, real-estate moguls, podcasters, bloggers, consultants, designers, public speakers, and more.
Through the conversations with them, I picked up five essential things they focus on consistently to build a thriving business.
And if you put consistent attention on these elements, you will have a successful business too.
5 Things successful entrepreneurs focus on that makes all the difference
Building a business can sometimes feel like putting a puzzle together with a million little pieces.
Even though there are a lot of moving parts that go along with making a business work, the puzzle isn’t as complicated as we often think it is. Especially when you realize there are only five core pieces that need your attention.
Let’s take a look at each one.
Thinking in the right way is a cornerstone of building a successful business.
It’s what separates those who perform at an elite level from their peers.
The way you think about yourself, how you handle failures and less than ideal circumstances, and even your approach to the unknown make all the difference in terms of the actions you take (or don’t take) to advance your business.
So when it comes to making sure your mindset is a strength, rather than a weakness, focus your attention on these three areas to make sure you’re prepared to win.
Figure out what to do with your fears
In his latest best-seller, Seth Godin shared this powerful commentary on fear:
Shomo Morita taught his patients that our emotions, like the weather, have nothing to do with our need to do the work, to live our lives. Emotions like fear and anxiety come and go, and we can note them, but we don’t need to battle them or obsess over them, particularly when they become an impediment to creation.
If fear is able to keep us from showing up when it’s our turn, then fear has won the day and it will return again and again. Morita took a different approach: When fear arrives, do what you should do. Note the fear, welcome it if you can, but do what you should do.
The goal for you isn’t to try to eliminate your fears. That’s putting your energy in the wrong place, and it only distracts you from making forward progress toward your goal.
The trick is to figure out what to do with your fear when it shows up.
Here’s a quick example to illustrate. Every time I swim laps in the pool, my arms scream at me. Every time, for the first eight laps they beg and plead with me to just. stop. the madness.
I know my arms are going to sound the alarm in a number of ways to get me to end the workout. But because I know what they are trying to do, I acknowledge their cries, and I gently talk to them.
“Hey, it’s ok. We’ve just got to get through these next eight laps.” And then a few minutes later, I encourage them some more. I tell them that if we can just get through the next 4 laps, then we’ll be one step closer to looking like Angela Basset’s arms.
And then just like magic, after eight laps, my arms settle down. They recognize that I’m not going to let their shenanigans keep me from completing my workout.
You’ve got to do the same when it comes to your fears.
That means paying attention to when they show up. It also means experimenting and trying new things to figure out what will work to keep your fears from terrorizing you, or worse – preventing you from moving forward.
Build confidence methodically
I find it fascinating that entrepreneurship has the power to bring otherwise brilliant people to their knees. It makes them feel like impostors, frauds, and like bumbling fools.
Henneke from Enchanting Marketing shed some light on why entrepreneurs often struggle with confidence:
So after you separate your self worth from the results you achieve in your business, you’ll be in a better position to do other things to boost your confidence enough to be able to take another step further outside your comfort zone.
The key isn’t to try and live in a state of absolute confidence 100% of the time. That’s not realisitic. But rather you’ve got to find a way to build confidence methodically over time.
This may come from getting feedback from a small group of trusted advisers, keeping a file of nice things people have said about you and how you’ve helped them, or even logging in some serious deliberate practice time to improve your skills.
Embrace your ability to learn
Your thoughts about you and your abilities turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.
World-renowned researcher and best-selling author Carol Dweck has seen this play out over and over again in her research over the years. She described the phenomenon in her book Mindset:
Instead, as you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another – how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of diffrent thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.
There is nothing you can’t learn without adequate time and effort.
So there’s no saying “I’m not a business person,” or “I’m not a marketer,” or “I’m not a salesperson.”
And you don’t get to hide behind not being the world’s greatest networker, writer, or focuser.
If it is a task that is essential for you to grow your business – then know that you absolutely have the ability to learn the skill. And you have the ability to excel at it. Fact.
So don’t avoid the things your business needs you to do, because you feel like it doesn’t come to you naturally. Instead, prioritize the roles and skills that are essential for you to reach your business goals.
Then create a simple plan to help you improve your proficiency at it.
2. Keeping an intense focus on the customer
Your customer is so integral to everything that you do as an entrepreneur, that she is the centerpiece of the elements of the puzzle that makes your business a success.
Here are three places to direct your energy when it comes to keeping the true boss of your business happy.
Pop quiz: Have you ever tried to buy a gift for someone you didn’t know? You could get them something, but it’s a guess whether or not he would like it.
Ok, let’s make this a bit easier. Buy a gift for a single man, aged 24, who lives in Miami, and works in the restaurant industry.
That gives you a bit more context, but still you don’t really have enough details about this guy to feel comfortable enough to get him a gift that he’ll cherish, instead of one he’ll quickly regift.
You’ve got to think of the products and services that you offer your customers like gifts. So the better you know your customers, the better you’ll be able to give them a gift that delights, rather than disappoints.
Renita Bryant of SightsSet offered some added benefits of knowing your customer on a deep level:
The greater your depth of knowledge of your customers, the easier it will be for you make decisions that will enable you to serve them like none other.
It’s not enough just to have knowledge of your customer. But you’ve got to take the next step to create an experience for them that enables them to enjoy the value you give them. Not one that makes them frustrated.
For instance, imagine someone has given you a gift. But to redeem it, you have to drive to your local post office, wait in line for an hour, show three forms of identification, get fingerprinted, then go stand in another line that is at least a half hour long, answer a few questions, and then……. you’re finally able to get what you came for.
The hassle involved with redeeming the gift almost makes what you actually receive not worth it.
So don’t make your customers’ experience with your business an afterthought. Design all your customer touch points to make it super simple for them to engage with you and to access all the good stuff you have to offer.
I previously wrote about how I used to always buy my family books for Christmas. I know my family well, so I would hand pick a book based upon what was going on in their world.
I’d be so pleased with myself, because I just knew they’d love the books. Until they didn’t.
The reality was, they didn’t want books as gifts. Most of them didn’t get the same joy out of reading that I do. So for a while, I had a terrible reputation as a gift-giver. Hmph.
As business owners, we often do the same thing. We give our customers what we think they need, and what we want to sell them.
But if you want to build a thriving business, you’ve got to give your customers what they want to buy.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t also give them what they need (because customers don’t always know what they need). But you’ve got to make sure you package it in a way that is totally aligned with what they want.
3. Developing and executing the right strategy
A willy-nilly approach has derailed far too many businesses from reaching their goals. The term strategy often throws people off, but really it just means having a clear plan to get you from where you are, to where you want to go.
Those who plan effectively win in advance. They are able to be proactive, instead of reactive. They can lead, rather than follow. And they operate in calm, rather than chaos.
Here are three essential elements of business strategy that are not to be ignored.
Here in Buenos Aires, empanadas are practically the official national food. You can’t go two blocks without coming across some store or restaurant that sells empanadas.
And I totally get why. A good empanada is like a little piece of Heaven. But even though there are empanadas everywhere, when I’m here, I often walk more than a mile away from my apartment to one specific place: Celigourmet. It’s a gluten-free bakery.
Since my body doesn’t always respond well to “the gluten,” Celigourmet has been a mini-miracle in that it’s still allowed me to enjoy empanadas. And milanesas. And cake!
For me, someone who appreciates delicious gluten-free food, Celigourmet differentiates themselves from thousands of other places that sell empanadas here in Buenos Aires.
You’ve got to do the same with your business. You’ve got to find a way to stand out from the competition. That means giving them a clear reason to choose you instead of the guy down the street who offers similar products and services.
Customer Acquisition system
Do you consistently have a line of customers waiting to work with you, or to buy your products? If not, then you may be guilty of engaging in binge marketing.
Matthew Pollard, the Rapid Growth Guy, explains more about what that is:
Binge marketing is not the path you want to take if you want to build a successful business.
You’ve got to put systems in place to get your ideal customers to know, like, and trust you. And you’ve also got to have repeatable processes up and running that turn those ideal customers into actual customers. If applicable, you also want to have a clear plan to keep them loyal to you over time.
That way you won’t have to be guessing each month on whether or not you’ll make your revenue targets. And you won’t have to worry about going to hustle up a new client and discount your prices at the last minute either.
Once you have an effective way to get and keep your customers, all you have to do continue to feed the system so it can work for you.
Vision for the future
As a business owner, you can get so caught up in your day-to-day activities, that you forget to take time and think about the long-term vision for your business. No bueno.
I’m not advocating that you spend all your time setting up elaborate five and ten-year plans. But you do need to think about the direction you want to take your business.
Wearing the hat of visionary and present day overseer may seem like a difficult juggling act. But when you take the approach Rainmaker Digital CEO Brian Clark advocates, it makes it easier to keep both balls in the air:
Be intentional about how you want your business to evolve and grow. And then make steady progress towards that goal each day.
4. Time Management & Productivity
Light years. That’s how long it will take you to build a successful business if you aren’t prudent with your time. It doesn’t matter how confident you are, how well you know your customer, or even how smart your strategy is.
If you don’t make the best use of the finite time you have, it will be difficult to move your business forward.
Here are three things that can help you take control of your time, so you can work done.
Effective goal setting
Having clear and SMART goals are the foundation of strategic time management.
When I work with a new coaching client, the first thing we do is a goal setting exercise. This helps us get clear about the prize we are working toward, so we can chart an effective plan of action for how to make it happen.
Clear and SMART goals give you a roadmap for how you should spend your time. If a task or a project doesn’t move you closer to your business goals, you have to evaluate why you are doing it.
Allocating your time based upon your goals also helps to stamp out procrastination.
Tor Refsland, the Time Managment Chef, has noted a big reason people delay doing work they need to is because they aren’t clear about their goals, and how individual tasks fit into the big picture.
Habits may cause some people to say dirty words. That’s because most people recognize the benefits of habits, but far too many people struggle with how to make them stick.
But as an entrepreneur, habits are how you get things done. Even the tasks that may not even be your favorite to complete. Stephen Guise of Deep Existence explains why:
When you establish habits for your most important activities, you’ll be able to increase your output with a whole lot less resistance along the way.
Systems & processes
Systems and processes aren’t really the most sexy topic to talk about, but man they will bring you some super sexy results.
They are indispensable in your business.
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, a system is a set of connected parts which form a complex whole. Content creation, sales, and accounting are common categories of systems.
A process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. A process is a component of a system. Writing proposals, hiring staff, or posting to social media are all tasks that could have processes associated with them.
Systems and processes help you be more efficient which of course saves you time. They also help you be more effective, which increases the quality of what you produce.
In one study, hospitals in Michigan implemented a simple process to cut its intensive care unit (ICU) infection rate to zero – results that outperformed more than niney percent of ICUs across the country.
Withing eighteen months, the use of simple systems in Michigan hospitals saved more than fifteen hundred lives and $175 million dollars.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, set-up some systems and processes.
If you’re not getting the results you want, set up some systems and processes.
And if you feel like you don’t have enough time to get everything on your to-do list done, set up some systems and processes.
Seriously, it will transform your business for the better.
5. Networking & Relationship Building
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
When it comes to getting big results in your business, it is tempting to take the fast lane. But entrepreneurship is a long-distance race, not a sprint. Longevity is what you need to be successful over the long term.
The best way to make sure you’re able to go the distance as an entrepreneur is to not take your journey alone.
Here’s how to strategically partner with other people to help you earn a greater level of success with your business.
Mentoring & apprenticeship
When it comes to learning the skills necessary to run your business effectively, the process will go faster and much more smoothly when you learn from others who have been where you want to go.
In his book Mastery, famed writer, Robert Greene, talked about the importance of apprenticeship this way:
Before it is too late you must learn the lessons and follow the path established by the greatest Masters, past and present – a kind of Ideal Apprenticeship that transcends all fields. In the process you will master the necessary skills, discipline your mind, and transform yourself into an independent thinker, prepared for the creative challenges on the way to mastery.
You will always be learning as an entrepreneur. So make sure you take the time to sit at the feet of those who’ve come before you. They’ll give you advice and lessons that will help stretch your abilities to develop you into the leader your business needs.
Another added benefit of building your network is extending your reach. Sure, you may be able to do well spreading your message on your own. But a smart strategy is to leverage the strength of other people’s network to get the word out more broadly about your products and services.
One of my business goals is to expand the number of people I’m able to connect with. I can reach a certain number of people with the blog posts I write, and through my podcast, but if I partner with other larger publications I’m able to spread my message to their network too.
So as a result, I publish articles on other blogs where I’m able to get introduced to a new audience. Check out how I was able to amplify my reach by getting published on these large blogs:
And recently, an article I didn’t write, but was featured in, got translated to Spanish, which opened to door for me to reach an entirely new audience.
If you want to spread your message far and wide to make life better for a greater number of people, there are a number of ways to partner with others to get the word out.
All you have to do is commit yourself to finding and sticking with an approach that works for you.
Getting things done
There is nothing in the Constitution or entrepreneur code of ethics that says you need to do everything yourself. So don’t.
That’s a surefire way to reach burnout. And nobody wins when you’re burnt out.
Scott Barlow of Happen to Your Career explains what happens to entrepreneurs who try to do everything in their businesses themselves:
So get some help. Outsource, partner with other people, barter, hire team members – do what you got to do to get the right people working on the things that you personally don’t have to do to build and grow your business.
Not only will it free up your time, but the quality of your output will increase if you’re hiring experts to do what they do.
And then you can spend your time focusing your energy on higher value activities that are necessary to grow your business.
You can build a successful business
You just have to focus on the right things.
There’s no need to flail around experimenting about where to direct your energy. Embrace the lessons from these entrepreneurs who’ve come before you, and have already achieved a level of success with their businesses.
When you do, you’ll be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together much more quickly. It’s time for you to go make life better for the people you serve.
They are waiting for you.
Don’t keep them waiting any longer than they need to be.