Bloomberg Business shared this startling statistic in 2013: eight out of ten new businesses will fail with in eighteen months. That is eighty percent! Eighty percent of new businesses will never become a success! If that depresses you, or makes you anxious about your business plans (and it should!) then the question to ask yourself and your employees is this: what can you, as a business owner, do today, next week, and next month to stay safely in that top twenty percent? What should you continue doing, and what should you do differently? What are the top tips from entrepreneurs, to entrepreneurs?

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If you type “Tips for Growing a Successful Business” into an internet search engine like Google, you will get over a hundred and seven million results. That is a lot of advice! Who has the correct answers? Which entrepreneur knows the truth? Is there one big, all-encompassing secret that guarantees your business’ success? Lucky for us, there is a lot of overlap. Common themes become apparent in those seven hundred million pages of college classes, forums, wikis, books, memoirs, articles, videos, presentations, interviews, biographies, etc. They are summed up in the words of Colin Powell, four-star general and the former United States Secretary of State: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

With Colin Powell’s words in mind, here are the top three tips for growing a successful business: be prepared, work hard, and learn from failure.

Be Prepared

A chef has to have all of the ingredients on hand before he turns on the oven. He does not want to open the refrigerator to get a dozen eggs only to find an empty carton. He does not want to have half a cup of milk left when he needs half a gallon. The chef plans ahead. He always double checks that he has enough flour, that the necessary bowls and measuring cups are clean, and he makes a grocery list before heading to the store. Think about your business plans like a chef thinks about making his recipe: do you have all of the ingredients?

Successful business owners have several tricks for preparation. They make ‘to do’ lists that are more than simple statements like “go to the post office” written on a stained napkin. Tasks are listed by priority – A tasks, B tasks, and C tasks. Tasks are specific. “Go to the post office” is too vague. “Go to the post office on Main Street at 3:00pm for six hundred post card stamps” is specific. Tasks are also updated daily – sometimes more than once a day. To be successful, business owners constantly keep track of what needs to be done. Another preparation trick is identifying exceptionally clear objectives for the business. “Make money” is a vague goal but “increase profit by seven percent by the next quarter is” clearer.

Preparation is about getting organized, anticipating your business’ needs, and creating well thought out business plans. Robert H. Schuller had this to say on the subject: “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.

Work Hard

Do you rely on luck or on hard work? Thomas Jefferson said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Successful business owners work hard. They work long hours, but they are smart about it. Positive habits are formed, calculated risks taken, and cold leftovers eaten at midnight are endured.

Working hard is sometimes accompanied by consequences. You might be late for your daughter’s piano recital, or miss it altogether. You might battle weight gain because you are sitting behind a desk for ten hours every day. What makes a business owner successful is not just profit, but a balance between working hard, maintaining physical and emotional health, and keeping up with important relationships.

Working hard is also about improving yourself. Those who are successful are the ones who take classes to learn about new technologies, network with competitors and other business people, and dedicate their free time to reading new books about the business world.

Learn From Failure

Nobody should expect to do everything perfectly in either their personal lives or professions. If you start a business and expect to never fail, that in itself is a failure right there. What separates businessmen and women from successful businessmen and women is the ability to recover from losses, to bounce back from failures. They learn from their mistakes! Remember Thomas J. Watson’s wise words: “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”

Many failed businesses make common mistakes: failing to follow up with customers about their opinions, failing to provide customers with a product or service of truly unique value, and failing to experiment with new marketing plans or other techniques. And most importantly: business owners fail because they did not have a plan for how to react to that inevitable failure! When confronted with failure, the unprepared business owner will surrender to discouragement, make incorrect or uneducated assumptions about the who, what, when, and why, or find scapegoats to blame. The prepared business owner who expected failure already has a plan for recovery. He analyzes what went wrong, discusses options with colleagues, and adapts by changing tactics.

Following these three tips for growing a successful business will not guarantee that you and your business will be one of the two out of ten that will survive the next eighteen months. But, if you are having one of those days where your profits are low, your anxiety is high, and you know that you need to make some changes but do not know where to start, start with this: be prepared, work hard, and learn from failure. That is your recipe for success today!

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