Nine Things Successful Business Owners Do Differently

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Whether building a $100 million dollar tech company, shopping for a killer first investment property, or selling Mary Kay out of the back of a pink car – successful business owners don’t mess around. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that, if forced to start over from scratch, the majority of successful business owners would be able to find great success again.

What is it that sets successful people apart from wannabes? Why do some people seem to have the “magic touch” and can turn anything to gold? The following is a list of traits that I’ve noticed run fairly consistently through most successful business owners as well as tips to help you implement them in your own life. This list is by no means exhaustive, but simply my opinion of traits I’ve noticed.

Which ones do you exhibit?

Write

1.) Write Down Specific Goals

Most business owners know that a plan unwritten is a plan undone. Equally important is the evidence that making those goals specific is also key. It’s not enough to simply say

  • “I want to invest in real estate this year” or
  • “I want to quit my job this year.”

Instead – goals should be specific and measurable (see SMART criteria) like:

  • “I want to buy a duplex in Aberdeen that provides $300 in monthly cashflow” or
  • “I want my business to earn $4500 in profit during the month of January.”

Write down your specific goals – as well as the path you plan to take to get there. Your journey becomes much more clear when you have a map to follow.

Sleep

2.) Wake Up Early

The philosopher Aristotle said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” The technique of waking up early has been used since the dawn of mankind to try and accomplish more in the day and many of the most successful individuals I know put this into practice each day to maintain and grow their businesses.

Our bodies naturally will often take 8, 9, 10 or more hours of sleep each night if allowed – but our bodies don’t need that much. Successful business leaders know the value that 30 minutes or an hour can provide. After all – an extra hour per day equates to an extra 30 minutes of productive daytime equates to 182.5 hours of productivity each year, or the equivalent of an extra month of work at a 40-hour per week job.

If you are struggling with getting up earlier, check out this great post by Steve Pavilla about How to Become an Early Riser.

Offense

3.) Market on the Offense

Very few business owners ever found success by playing defense. They don’t operate on the “if you build it, they will come” principle. Instead, they take their marketing to the streets (sometimes quite literally, like in the cases of bandit signs, billboards, and other similar techniques.) Marketing on the offense is about going out and bringing your customers back in. In real estate – this means getting out there to where the buyers or investors are, not just waiting for them to come to you. Whatever your industry is – get out there and start marketing on the offense.

outside the box

4.) Think Outside the Box

Business is never cut-and-dry. There are far too many variables to simply follow a basic plan and hope to succeed without wavering. Smart business owners know how to think outside the box and be creative. This is a skill, I believe, that is sharpened through the active discussion and deliberation of problems when they arise. Don’t simply stick your head in the sand and accept defeat when problems arise (because they will.) Instead – follow what most successful business owners do and force yourself to get through and find a solution.

Strength

5.) Focus on Utilizing Strengths, not Weaknesses

Successful business owners know they are not good at everything. Rather than trying to fix all the things they are not good at, they focus on maximizing the things that they are. This is when outsourcing and hiring out jobs becomes especially important. Many house flippers learn this lesson the hard way (myself included) when they try to do the entire rehab alone. Sometimes a plumber can fix something in ten minutes that would take you or I an entire day. However – I wouldn’t want that plumber to negotiate a deal for me with a bank. We all have different strengths – seek to maximize them and find others who can cover your weaknesses.

Reading

6.) Read

As the popular phrase states, “those who lead, read.” It doesn’t mean only books (though, books are a great source.) Blogs (such as this,) newspapers, magazines, and even audiobooks or podcasts can become excellent tools for growth. Successful business owners know that business growth is linked to personal growth, and personal growth to reading (Tweet This Quote!). Don’t have time to read? Refer back up to #2.

Scale

7.) Test and Tweak

Keeping active tabs on the performance of a business is one of the most important jobs of a business owner. Successful owners understand the need for continual monitoring, testing, and tweaking of the systems they have in place. This can include anything from marketing, organization, business structure, profit sources, or more. For example:

  • What would happen if you changed the words on your direct mail campaign?
  • What if you started cold calling at 8am instead of 9am?
  • What if there was a way to automate your bookkeeping?
  • How big of a difference would it make if you paid 7% commission instead of 6%?

Sometimes minor changes can create massive results. Other times they’ll do nothing. How will you know unless you continually test and tweak your strategies?

Help

8.) Seek Out Advice from People Smarter Than Themselves

Successful business owners don’t rely on their past successes to propel them forward. Instead, they draw upon the advice, guidance, and examples set by people who have come before and are smarter than them. This is the motivation behind finding mentors, getting connected with local clubs, and engaging in online communities like the BiggerPockets Forums. If you are the smartest guy in the room – you probably need to add on a new room if you want to grow.

Hearse

9.) Spend Time with Loved Ones

If you were to ask 100 business people leaders in the twilight of their lives what they would change if they could go back and do it again – I would guess “make more money” wouldn’t be on the top of their list. In fact – I would wager that the majority of them would say something about spending more time with the ones they love. Don’t forget that this is all one giant game. Winning doesn’t mean anything, and you never see a funeral procession led by a U-Haul; you can’t take “it” with you when you die

  • What other traits can you add to this list?
  • What traits do you currently excel at?
  • Which are you going to improve on this week?

Please share this article with others and leave me a comment below and let’s discuss!

Photo: Hartwig HKD,Lecates,Mark Sebastian,Pedro Ribeiro Simões,Jon Candy,Irene Nobrega,David Reber,Ta Duc ,Michael Gil

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About Author

Brandon Turner (G+) is the BiggerPockets.com Senior Editor and Community Director. He is also an Active Real Estate Investor (Flips, Apartments, and Buy-and-Hold), Entrepreneur, World Traveler, Third-Person Speaker, and Husband. Come hang out with him on Twitter!

26 Comments

  1. What a great list Brandon. Everyone should make a list of these attributes and hang them up on the wall. The one that takes the most practice for me is the habit of getting up earlier each day. I think just getting up 15 minutes earlier until it becomes routine, then adding another 15 minutes makes it easier.

    Sharon

      • Like he says, it is really just a decision. I tend to sleep a little later on the weekends (8:00 -8:30), so I guess I need to stop doing that. For January, I am going to do an experiment and set my alarm on weekends too. I will see how that goes for 30 days.

  2. I enjoy reading these articles, A good break from real estate articles, some Life experiences that could help me save lots of time. thanks a lot looking forward to the next one.

  3. P.s for the sleeping thing, I have been trying to get good nights sleep for a long time now and did lots of research, and it isn’t about how much Sleep/rest/naps, you take but It is WHEN you wake up during your sleep cycles. Each sleep cycle last for 90 minutes and if you wake up in between those 90 minutes you have that feeling of Cranky feeling, tiredness, that is the reason. It isn’t because you didn’t get enough sleep (most of the time). It is because you wake up during one of the sleep stages.

    Also, if you take a nap in the afternoon, ATLEASE a solid 20minutes you can increase productivity and awareness. 90 minute nap a WHOLE 90 minute will make you feel amazing, like a superman in the middle of the evening.

    • Brandon,

      I would like to piggyback on what Jason posted. A proper nights rest is essential. I recommend reading “The Way We’re Working isn’t Working” It may change your opinion on sleep. But your point is valid, we need to utilize more of our day and work more proficiently. For many of us, that is early in the morning when our analytical brain is hard at work.

      Jason

  4. Great read here. A book a recommend is called ReWork. Its written by tech entrepreneurs, but I use it every week in my management training with my staff at Renters Warehouse. I strongly recommend it. Its a very short read, and chapters are sensational. Here are some chapter titles to get your curiosity going… “Underdo the Competition”, “Pick a fight”, “Planning is Guessing”, and my favorite….”Emulate Drug Dealers”.

    Enjoy!

    • I’ve read ReWork numerous times. It’s a great book and the principles are really effective. I used to be into tech startups but I’ve graduated to Real Estate. A lot of the lessons you learn in ReWork aren’t used by everyday real estate investors. Some of them can really be great advantages over your competition.

      Thanks for this article Brandon!

  5. For me, of primary importance is the network. We are part of a real estate Mastermind group, as well as part of a business owners Mastermind group.

    The groups challenge, stimulate, and inform. They take me out of my own limitations and cause me to think bigger than I would on my own.

    We can all go better and farther with the right support system. I highly recommend to anyone not involved with a group of like-minded individuals to find one and join. And, remember, always hang out with people who are more successful than you are!

  6. Brandon, great article! LOVE the pix!
    I’d add that we are driven by emotions not facts or logic.
    So I build a dream that will sustain me thru the discouragements. When the appraiser boogers up my deal, I go Porsche shopping to remind me I have a dream bigger than this little set back.
    #2 Gotta get around big thinkers- in person. Seminars, take a winner to lunch…

    • Brandon Turner

      Thanks Brad. I love cool pictures in the middle of Blog posts. I feel that they accent the words so well. And agreed – being surrounded by successful people is huge! Thanks for commenting Brad!

  7. Great post Brandon, you keep knocking them out of the park.. I haven’t read a book (other than Bible) in years. Guess a copy of Rework is on it’s way to Mississippi. O, i did read the last Twilight, a year or two ago, couldn’t wait on the movie. (don’t ask) Anyway, i’m also ordering Rich Dad Poor Dad. As Ms. Sharon said this list belongs on the wall, good work…

  8. Great list….only one comment to add :) If not an early riser you can still squeeze in that extra hour…one of the things I love about being self employed is the ability to set ones own hours…i’ve never been an early riser and I love that I can sleep for an extra hour and still be at my computer (in my home) by 7:30 am. I usually end up putting that extra hour in after 5. I think most successful investors lost during the downturn in some manner and we are seeing those that rise above the ashes again…just like you said…those who find success find success.

    • Love the article and think this is gold!

      I agree with Lisa that the flexbility of being a self employed investor lets you determine what type of schedule works best for you.

      My will argue into the grave that the early riser stuff is much more of a preference than a necessity. As long as you are avalible and highly productive during business hours (Which I will define as 8-6) then when you do your other work should be when you feel at your best.
      For me I am way more focused and productive working at 7PM then at 7AM, so why get up early to be tired and les productive when I’m only doing things that don’t involve other people anyway?
      “Early to Bed and Early to Rise” made a lot of sense prior to having interior lighting. :)

      Now this is assuming those late nights (I often work past midnight) are used to do work and you don’t sleep the day away. I function fine on 6hrs, though I think that 6.5-7 is ideal for me, and the occasional 4-5 is okay if need be.
      None of this getting up at 10AM during the week BS until you have gotten so many systems in place that you have pretty much fired yourself from anything other than the highest level CEO functions.

  9. Happy New Year Brandon. Just wanted to add again that I particularly like # 5 on focusing on your strengths and delegating the weaknesses to others in your organization. If it is only you look for intern options…or family members and friends. You would be surprised the help you can get and I am sure you could offer something back of value to them. I will try to employ more of #8 seeking out a mentor with more experience that is successful in apartment building’s and commercial space. My favorite is #9 though. None if it matters if you don’t take the time to spend with your family and those matter most to you. It may take me longer to get financial independence but it will not come at the cost of not spending valuable time with my wife and kids. Thanks for another great post and Happy New Year. Make it a great 2013!

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