10 Steps to Success as an Entrepreneur

By Minda Zetlin | Small Business

Want to start a business? Master these skills.

What abilities do you need to do to run your own company? There are many different ways to be successful, but Fred Mouawad has some concrete advice that will help no matter what kind of business you're in.

Mouawad has started seven different companies--enough to impress the most active of serial entrepreneurs. He's currently CEO of the online collaboration platform Taskworld, as well as helping to guide his family's 125-year-old jewelry business.

Here are the 10 steps he believes every successful entrepreneur must take:

1. Do some soul-searching.

"Your startup is an embodiment of your whole and a reflection of your beliefs," Mouawad explains. So before you open your doors, spend some time reflecting on those beliefs, your passions, your intentions for your new venture, and what your ideal company would look like.

At the same time, take an honest look at your own weaknesses and--paradoxical as this sounds--try to find your own blind spots. If you want a successful business, it's even more important to know what you need help with than to know what you do well.

2. Pick the right type of business.

You'll have to devote a huge proportion of your waking hours to your business if you want it to succeed. You'll also be devoting a huge amount of your brain space to it--there will be times when you can think about little else. So it's important to make sure the work that you're doing fits well both with your values and with how you like to spend your time.

Consider not only the business itself, but the characteristics of the industry you're selecting. Some industries require you to be formal and understand traditions. Some depend on your ability to form personal connections with customers. Others are so fast-changing you must constantly adapt to keep up. In some industries, everyone is cordial and friendly while in others tough talk is the norm. Consider whether all aspects of the business will be a good fit for you.

Finally, your business must provide the return on investment that works for you. Evaluate the financials carefully--how much you stand to earn, and how other businesses in the sector are faring--before you make up your mind.

3. Figure out how much money you'll need.

"A lot of businesses make optimistic financial assumptions before starting their venture," Mouawad warns. That's a mistake that can kill an otherwise successful business.

The key here is to ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" And then try to imagine a scenario even worse than that. How much money will you need to survive no matter what goes wrong? That's the capital you should have right from the start.

4. Hire the right people.

"Business is like sports: the best team usually wins," Mouawad says. So make sure you have the best team you possibly can. Take time over hiring, get to know the people who are going to be working with you and make sure they are a good fit for you and your company in terms of their outlook, values, and personalities, as well as their actual job skills. And once you've got the right team, make sure you keep them by giving them jobs that they'll love and the opportunity to grow.

5. Create a winning culture.

We all talk about culture, but Mouawad says most entrepreneurs fail to give this important issue enough thought. "Culture is a living organism that requires constant monitoring and shaping," he says. "Once you come to this realization and start managing expectations, you will discover a formidable lever to inspire and motivate your team to achieve goals that may initially have seemed impossible."

6. Learn empathy.

These days, both skilled employees and customers have a wider array of options than ever before. So, Mouawad says, if you want your business to survive, it's important to learn how to see things from others' point of view.

"Understand the world as it is, and not according to how you would like it to be," Mouawad says. "Every entrepreneur provides solutions to an existing problem or need. The ability to empathize with others doesn't just make you a better person, it also makes you better at business."

7. Find the metrics that matter most.

"Hard work diluted over multiple directions is not likely to yield great results," Mouawad says. Spend some time thinking through what success really looks like for your business, and which numbers you need to move to really be successful. Then create a strategy that focuses on those elements. That's a better recipe for success than pursuing every opportunity that comes along.

8. Use incentives.

Incentives are powerful ways to encourage the behavior you want from all stakeholders, from employees to customers to suppliers. Once you've completed step 7 and know exactly which key metrics spell success for your venture, you can use that information to structure incentives that will help improve those specific areas. Then track performance against those metrics to see if your incentives are having the desired effect, and if not, adjust as necessary.

9. Experiment in stages.

Every industry, and every business, faces constant change, and you will need to keep changing if you want sustained success. Mouawad recommends making small changes and using pilot programs to try out new ideas before committing your whole enterprise to them. Then evaluate the results of your experiment to see if it had the predicted effect and make adjustments if it did not. Finally, "Grow what works and prune what doesn't," Mouawad says.

10. Keep your eye on the future.

Running a successful company is a day-to-day challenge. It can be easy to lose sight of the long term, so make sure you have the time and mental space to think about where your business--and you--are headed.

"Write a journal to gain perspective on how you are progressing and dealing with the challenges you face," Mouawad suggests. "Build an advisory board to provide you with additional external perspective."

Mouawad also recommends thinking through your exit strategy--as a seven-time entrepreneur, I'm guessing this is always top-of-mind for him. "Do you plan to sell the company, pass it on to the next generation, or go public?" he asks. Thinking through your exit options "forces you to evaluate your company--and figure out how to increase its value," he says.

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