Anyone who conducts business—whether that business is on behalf of a small company, a globe-spanning corporation, or your own entrepreneurial venture—can be considered a businessman (or businesswoman). Success in this field can be measured by looking at both personal achievement of a businessman, and the overall health of the businesses that person has been a part of. The two are often intertwined quite deeply, as the attainment of company-wide goals begins with the work a person puts into their own success.
Gaining Appropriate Experience
1Educate yourself. It’s important that you know the fundamentals of your industry, though that doesn’t always necessitate an MBA. A lack of post-secondary education can be a deal breaker for many prospective employers, however. Enrolling in business classes, even if they’re at the learning annex or a community college, shows a determination to learn that will definitely appeal, and should be highlighted on your resume. Everybody has to start somewhere!
- College. A degree in business makes sense for any businessman, though you should research the industries you’re interested in before declaring your major. Some positions may prefer more specialized degrees, so do your homework.
- Trade schools. If the business you’re interested in specializes in a particular trade, you might be best off immersing yourself in the trade.
- Lectures and seminars. Listening to the advice of those who are successful in their field can be enlightening. Check the schedule at local colleges for speaking tours, or search online for industry-related speaking engagements in your city. Staying up-to-date on what the top minds in the industry are saying is essential, even if you already think you’re at the top of your game.
2Put in after-hours work. Success in the business world means going the extra mile. There are multiple resources available to you online to further immerse yourself in further learning, if you find you’re finishing your schoolwork (or the work at your side job) with time to spare. Never rest on your laurels: think about what should come next.
- Many employers nowadays are prioritizing the skills a candidate brings to the table over their GPA or higher education. Research example resumes for positions you’d like to hold, and put effort into developing those skills in your free time.
- The extra mile shouldn’t come at the expense of every other aspect of your life, though. Finding time to reward yourself for hard work will instill better habits in you for the future.
3Seek the guidance of a mentor. Developing a relationship with a professional whose career you admire is one of the more direct and efficient forms of networking. Establishing the connection might prove difficult, but reach out through whatever means are available to you. Prepare a few pertinent questions for your meeting, e.g. “How did you get your start?”; “Did you go to business school?”; and “Was this your first endeavor in the industry?”
- If a coworker or friend of your parents works in a profession you’re interested in, ask your parents for their email address, or to arrange a meeting.
- With a local business owner, you might just try walking up to them in their place of business and asking! Introduce yourself as an aspiring businessman and admirer of their accomplishments, and ask if they have any time available to speak with you on the subject.
- At school, you might find a mentor in a professor. Never neglect the wealth of knowledge which exists in a university, and don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re only allowed to learn during class. Approach your professor for advice during their office hours.
- Some companies employ on-the-job mentoring programs which pair recruits up with experienced workers. Take advantage of these, and look to them not as a burden but as an opportunity to learn and excel.
4Apply for internships. When you don’t yet have the experience, use internships to get your foot in the door. Don’t balk at unpaid positions if they can build the bridges you need to succeed in the long-term, and the hours won’t leave you penniless in the short-term. Internships provide many college students their first opportunities to network on the job with working professionals. Low-paying entry level jobs are simply the price to be paid in the business world right now, when true “entry level” jobs won’t give you a chance without a few years of experience already under your belt.
- Do balk at unpaid positions which don’t present themselves as pathways to success, either within the company or by opening further doors to you.
Establishing the Best Habits
1Prioritize tasks. Complete the tasks which will benefit you the most in the long run first. You’ll need to identify the difference between “high-value” tasks (those which will benefit you the most in the long term) versus “low-value” tasks (tasks which may be easier, but will offer fewer benefits).
2Stop procrastinating. Avoiding the less pleasant aspects of work doesn’t make them disappear. Building up a huge hunk of the bad stuff to deal with all at once, after you’ve completed the enjoyable stuff, is just going to leave a sour taste in your mouth at the end of a project.
- Make lists. Enough can’t be said about the anti-procrastination benefits of seeing your work in front of you, and crossing it off as you finish it. Each list should be long enough to keep your workload in perspective, but not so long that your day feels paralyzingly demanding.
- One tactic is to divvy your seemingly unmanageable task into manageable chunks, then sprinkle those less-enjoyable aspects of a task into that other stuff that you really like.
- Stick to a schedule: physically writing out to-dos and calendars isn’t necessary for everyone, but establishing a regular schedule can help you efficiently take care of business. Scheduling the work you dislike for a specific day—and then pushing it out of your mind to avoid stress on other days—might help you conquer unhelpful procrastination habits.
3Complete projects. Follow through on the tasks you begin. Finishing one project will teach you exponentially more than a dozen fizzled-out attempts, even if you never want to look at that project again.
- Sometimes you’ll find yourself bogged down in work that seems, now that you’ve toiled away at it for a week, misguided in its goal. If the project has a projected timeline that will take up a great deal of your time moving forward, it’s sometimes best to reassess whether you’re spending your time well (see above, about “high-value” tasks versus “low-value” tasks). So how do you know when you should drop a project? Honest introspection, and self-awareness. If you find yourself thinking this often—and you’ve got a string of unfinished projects in your wake—it might be a sign you need to buckle down and see this to the end.
4Take responsibility. Whether they’ve done well or screwed up, a successful businessman must be able to take responsibility for their actions. It signals to both employees and employers a willingness to deal openly and responsibly with the tasks at hand. Squirming away from negative fallout your missteps have made endears you to no one, and can have disastrous consequences on the relationships you’ve made in the business world.
Turning Your Passion Into Work
1Pursue something important to you. Committing yourself to a fulfilling pursuit allows passion to pick up the slack on those days that you’re not feeling especially driven. Passion doesn’t translate to “fun 24/7,” but it should be meaningful to you in some capacity. The effort you exert should always be on something that will make you proud in the end, or will at least put you one step closer to what it is that you really want to do.
2Strike a balance between work and play. Healthy work life balance is essential to long-term success and a worker’s well-being. But as might be expected, when you’re starting out, more ambition means longer hours. Passion for your work will help to keep those hours you spend burning the midnight oil meaningful.
- Diving too hard into work without giving yourself a break will increase your stress levels and decrease your effectiveness. Set boundaries on your workday, and take frequent breaks to recharge your batteries.
- Don’t confuse your work for who you are. Finding time and space away from our work—even if it is our life’s passion—can often provide insight on that work.
3Forget perfection. The more meaningful your work is to you, the tougher this can be, but great, as they say, is the enemy of good. Focusing too intently on creating the perfect, most ideal iteration of that pitch, graphic, or copy can leave you with one excellent piece of work, instead of the ten pieces you needed.
- Find a balance in your work that satisfies you, your boss, and your client without causing the rest of your life to suffer. Employers prize those employees who can deliver solid work dependably over those who occasionally produce great stuff… but repeatedly miss their deadlines.
4Talk the talk. When you’re beginning a new enterprise, it might feel presumptuous to speak of your career like it’s the real deal. Doing so, however, will help others see you seriously, and will help you see yourself seriously as well.
- If you’re starting a business, don’t equivocate. Talk about your new business as you would any other. Refer to it as “work,” and even when you work from home a certain room can be “the office.” It’s alright to have a sense of humor about it, but don’t undermine your efforts.
Knowing the Right People
1Build bridges, don’t burn them. Behaving respectfully, courteously, and humanely to everyone you meet is a good starting point! You never know when you might form a true bond on an unexpected occasion, and find your next business partner, investor, or employer.
- Definitively end relationships only when it’s absolutely necessary. When you leave a job, resist the temptation to gloat, slack off, or tell your boss “how you really feel.” When you tug on a thread in your network, you never know who’ll be feeling its reverberations down the line.
2Network like a person, not a product. Networking can feel mercenary and shallow when advertised too overtly. Understand that networking is essential to success in most industries, but that you should never forget that you’re forging connections with people. Taking a holistic, human approach to your interactions can make you more memorable down the line when it comes time for hiring; employers might have thoughts not just of “Who do I know that would be good for this copywriting job?” but “What job do I know that would be a good fit for Richard?”
- Everybody else in your industry understands how crucial networking is, so don’t think you’re the only schmuck out there advertising your skill. Self-promotion is, to some degree, the name of the game.
3Develop your interpersonal skills. Not only will you need these skills to navigate the day-to-day with your employers and employees, you’ll also benefit from them when you negotiate deals and contracts. Studies have shown that the most successful business people excel in both cognitive and social skills.
- Make it a point to appreciate the work and input of others.
- Practice active listening. This means acknowledging what other people say by repeating it back to them in your own words, as you understand it to be.
- Pay attention to others. Be proactive about noticing others’ feelings, words and body language.
- Connect people. A successful business owner is a hub through which other interpersonal connections are made. Promote an environment that brings people together by treating people equally and fairly, and encouraging them to work together.
- Take a leadership role when it comes to resolving conflicts. Act as the mediator, rather than involving yourself personally.
4Know your customers and clients. Co-workers and potential employers aren’t the only people you should be forging strong relationships with in the business world. Make an effort to develop appropriate relationships with the people who come into your store, use your product, or appreciate your work. Emotions—not prices—are often more of a deciding factor in many purchasing decisions.
5Hire wisely. Your employees are your support network, and are necessary to your success. Hire those who are skilled and competent, but also consider how well your employees will mesh together as a team.
- Homogeneity should never be prioritized in an effort to have your employees mesh well. Diverse viewpoints offer myriad advantages to your business as a whole, in both innovation and experience.
- Be careful if you’re in a situation to hire family members and personal friends as employees. While connections are the #1 way in which many jobs are found, nepotism can reflect poorly on you. Ensure your hires are qualified for the position,
Taking Care of Business
1Survive. As a business owner, the most important goal when beginning a new business, job, or craft is simply to survive. If you’re starting your own business or getting in on the ground floor, avoid establishing unrealistic goals for the fledgling enterprise.
- The heart of all businesses, even those with altruistic, selfless ownership, is making money. The goal might be modest (just enough to allow your business to survive and grow) or enormous (to attract additional investors and satisfy shareholders), but this is true to some degree for every business.
- You will never achieve that goal of, say, providing mittens to all of the underprivileged kids in the world through your new mitten shop, if you don’t focus on keeping that coffee shop in business and thriving first. Long-term goals are important, but shouldn’t come at the expense of sustainable short-term ones.
2Invest in your future. Ever heard the saying “You’ve gotta spend money to make money?” Frugality is advised wherever possible, but only so much that it frees up capital for the more important, more deserving expenses. Those expenses might be the salaries of particularly accomplished professionals you’re hoping to woo, or trade magazines, or simply a nice suit so as to look the part in the company of your colleagues and clients. Aim to invest in future success, not just celebrate current success.
- Avoid exorbitantly expensive ties and jackets, company cars, and huge offices you really don’t need—but don’t take it for granted that nice things are automatically exorbitant. Image is an important component of success in business, but not just when it comes to the superficial. Having an enormous office you can’t fill or work you can’t pay for punctually (on account of that enormous office or company car lease) will feed into other companies’ perception of you as well.
3Take calculated risks. New businesses need to survive if they’re going to ever be anything, but all businesses must take on risk of some kind. Stepping outside the norm, either in your role at a company or in the expectations for the industry, is necessary for success in a crowded field. Plan your ventures carefully and hedge as much risk as you can, but be prepared for the occasional setback.
4Introduce the unexpected. Successful innovators are held in high esteem in the American consciousness, but actually pursuing unproven ideas can be terrifying. Don’t be afraid of venturing into the unknown—great ideas may be a dime a dozen, but putting in the work to pursue a great idea shows spirit and tenacity.
- An idea’s failure isn’t always indicative of having the wrong idea—sometimes it’s simply the right idea, pursued ineffectively. Don’t scrap everything you’ve been trying all at once and or totally restructure. When working within a company or partnership, for example, the issue could be solved by better understanding each member’s accountability.
5Embrace failure. Failure illuminates some truth about your methods and goals, however much it may sting. Interpret your failures not as shameful, but as a reason to reflect on your work. Sometimes it’s only through facing the insurmountable, failing, and then struggling to pull ourselves back together that we develop the tenacity our work requires of us.
- ”Failure,” as Henry Ford put it, “is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
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