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How to Be Successful According to America’s Top Entrepreneurs

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How do you go from a being struggling young professional to a successful leader in your industry? Regardless of what field you’re in, setting yourself apart from your competition is a challenge. Don’t forget, if you’re in this position right now and don’t know what to do, remember every successful person’s career began where you are now. Many are sharing the strategies they used to achieve extraordinary levels of success.

We’re breaking down lessons from two of America’s foremost entrepreneurial experts. Barbara Corcoran shares the unconventional lessons that led to her business success and the best advice she’s learned from working with the entrepreneurs she invests in. Eric Ries, in his book The Lean Startup, teaches entrepreneurs how to be more innovative and build wildly successful businesses.

We’ve put together the top 11 tips you can use to become more successful starting today.

Style Speaks First

Regardless of whether you think it’s fair or vain, people judge you on your appearance more than they do on your resume.  This is because your appearance – both in-person and online – creates your first impression. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, creative, or skilled you are; if your first impression says otherwise, it people will struggle to see your full potential.

While polished outfits may not seem like a worthy investment when you’re a struggling professional, Corcoran says

All the best money I spent in business was on things that helped create an image of success.

When she walked into meetings early in her career with people who could help grow her business, people respected her because she looked the part. Not only did she invest in stylish clothes, but she also made sure her business card, documents, and anything else people looked at reflected the powerful image she wanted to convey.

Bonus: If style isn’t your strong suit, check out our advice on How to Dress the Part in Any Situation and Ways to Make Your Business Card Awesome.

Deliver Bad News with Bunny Shoes

One of the hardest responsibilities to deal with is delivering bad news. No one wants to hear it and there is a risk that people will take their negative reaction out on you, the messenger.

Luckily, Corcoran has a secret for softening the blow of bad news: deliver it with a touch of humor. When she made the decision that her sales managers needed to fire their lowest performing employees who were holding back the business, she knew it was going to be hard. So, she delivered the list of people who needed to be fired in a pair of pink bunny shoes with a note that said the people on the list needed to “hop on out.” The delivery made her managers laugh and took some of sting out of a difficult issue.  

If You’re a Workaholic, You’re Only Fooling Yourself

When you have big goals and are building your career, it can be tempting to say yes to every opportunity you’re given. However, it’s a myth that the more you do, the more successful you’ll be. At some point, you won’t have the time or the energy to do anything well.

how to succeed

Corcoran learned this firsthand when as, her business grew, she became a workaholic who tried, and failed, to manage everything herself. She explains,

I realized that in trying to be everything to everybody at my fledgling company, I was only fooling myself.

Many other successful entrepreneurs including Arianna Huffington have had similar experiences of pushing themselves to their breaking point only to realize that the quality wasn’t reflected in the amount of work they were doing.

Instead of fooling yourself by believing you can do everything on your own, learn to ask for help and carefully choose what opportunities you take on. When you do this, you’ll achieve greater success because you’ll have the time and energy to produce extraordinary work.

Learn to Fill in the Blanks

Conventional wisdom says that you should know how to do something before you agree to do it. Corcoran believes just the opposite. She says

The secret to growing your business fast is not waiting until you are ready.

Whether you are an entrepreneur or a seasoned professional, if you want to take on new opportunities, you’re not going to be prepared the moment they are offered and that’s okay. The key is to convince the person offering the opportunity that you know what you’re talking about. To that, you need to learn to fill in the blanks of what you don’t know by focusing on what you do know and reassure the person that you’ll succeed. Once you’ve secured the opportunity, invest 110% of your effort into learning whatever it takes to get the job done.

Corcoran’s Recipe for Great Business Partners

It’s common knowledge that the people you work with have a huge impact on your happiness and success at work. The question is, what makes a good business partner?

how to succeed

According to Corcoran, there are three simple traits: “good character, lots of enthusiasm, and a genuine sense of thankfulness.”

While none of these traits are ones that are typically attributed with success such as expertise or ingenuity, Corcoran believes that those are the characteristics that drive people to be committed business partners who are resilient during tough times.

“Everybody Wants What Everybody Wants”

The secret to making yourself, your product, or anything else seem valuable isn’t telling people how great it is. To sell something you need to make people believe that what you are offering is in high demand.

The reason for this because people naturally compare themselves to others so, when they find out that other people want something, they think that they should want it too.

Here how you can do this:

  • To sell your product or service use testimonials from previous customers and emphasize how many people have already bought what you are selling.
  • To sell yourself to a client or employer mention the great people who have hired you previously or other important people you know to show that influential people want to work with you.

Bottom Line: By showing that other people love what you are offering, you create the social proof needed to convince people that you are worth their money.

You Are What You Learn

Eric Ries believes the key to being innovative and successful is to be constantly learning.

However, he doesn’t mean absorbing as much information as possible. This leads to information overload and does nothing to help you in the long run.

In the book, Ries teaches what he calls “validated learning” which means not only learning but proving that what you have learned will play a valuable role in shaping your future.

To do this, you need to focus on learning the right information – things like identifying what responsibilities add the most value to your life and figuring out how you can do those better. Then, apply what you learn and make sure it actually improves your life.

Hypothesis Test Your Entire Life

Unless you have a job that involves processing lots of data, you probably haven’t done hypothesis tests since a high school or college stats class. But don’t worry, there’s no need to bring out your graphing calculator, these hypothesis tests require zero math but will make a huge impact on your life.

Hypothesis testing is the idea that instead of coming up with a big plan and following it, you constantly come up with and test lots of small hypotheses about things in your life. This way, instead of finding out after you’ve invested lots of time in something that it’s not right, you can catch problems early on.

Here’s an example: Say you’ve tried getting in better shape off and on over the years but nothing seemed to work. This year though, you’re determined to succeed.

Option 1 is to blindly follow whatever the current fad is that’s supposedly guaranteed to help you drop ten pounds in two weeks and ensure you keep losing more.

Option 2 is to run a few hypothesis tests to see what actually works for you:

Hypothesis 1: You’re a morning person and there’s a nice trail near your house. You think you could develop a habit of running in the mornings and believe that it will help you meet your weight loss goals.

Do research to learn how long it takes to see results from running and do that as a test.

If you make progress, you’ve proven that running works for you. But if it doesn’t or you struggle to stick with the habit, start working on a second hypothesis.

Hypothesis 2: It was hard for you to stay motivated to go running alone. So, sign up for class at your local gym. Test to see if being with other people helps you be more motivated to succeed.

Keep creating and testing hypotheses until you find one that generates the results you want.

Become Your Own MVP

I don’t mean Most Valuable Player though you should certainly strive for that too. I’m talking about becoming your own Minimum Viable Product.

A Minimum Viable Product is the simplest form that something can be in and still be considered technically complete.

In the book, Ries describes MVPs as the earliest product creation that a business can sell. He believes that for businesses to succeed, it’s critical for them to be willing to sell their early phase products, even though they’re not the best that they can be.

A lot of startups fail because they’re so obsessed with being ‘perfect’ that they don’t realize the full potential of the product until it’s too late either because they’ve run out of funding to sustain their business or because a competitor took over the niche they were going to occupy.

While you yourself aren’t a product, you can use this lesson by giving yourself permission to celebrate the milestones along the way of achieving your big goals. Doing so helps you see the progress that you are making and stop to reflect if the path you’re on is right for you.

Discover Your Unique Keys to Productivity

A lot of productivity advice claims there are certain universal things that anyone can do to become instantly more productive. However, just like no two startups can succeed by using the exact processes, there is no productivity advice that is guaranteed to work for everyone.

This is why instead of doing what everyone else is doing, Eric Ries says you can work smarter, not harder by creating plans that are personalized to your unique needs and preferences.

So, how do you do that?

Combine the skills of validated learning, hypothesis testing and embracing your MVP to make sure that everything you do is measurably moving you towards your goals.

Your Secret Weapon: The Rule of Five

When all else fails and you’re dealing with a problem that you don’t even know how to begin solving, there is one tool you can always fall back on and that’s the Rule of Five.

The Rule of Five is simple: any time you are struggling with a complex problem, ask the question “Why?” five times. By the end of the exercise you’re almost guaranteed to have a better understanding of the issue and an easier starting point.

Here’s an example of the Rule of Five in action:

Problem: Lately you’ve been feeling unmotivated at work even though you love your job and colleagues.

1) Why do you feel unmotivated?

Potential answer: I’m not really sure. For the last couple of months I have dreaded going to work.

2) Why do you dread going to work?

Potential answer: My work is boring and it feels like it has lost its meaning.

3) Why do you feel bored and like your work has lost its meaning?

Potential answer: When I first started working, everything was challenging and new and I miss that excitement.

4) Why is your work no longer challenging?

Potential answer: I’ve become really good at my job and there isn’t much that I don’t already know how to do.

5) Why don’t you pursue an opportunity that gives you more chances to grow so you can feel excited by your work again?

Potential answer and your solution: I hadn’t considered that. Maybe I can talk to my boss to see if there are any openings for a promotion or look for new jobs outside of my current company.

You can use the Rule of Five in any situation to help you get to the core of what the actual problem is. It also works great with other people. If someone ever comes to you with an issue that you don’t know how to solve, asking them “Why?” questions is a great way to figure out how you can help them.

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