Martha's Three Rules for Success for Starting, Building, or Managing Your Own Business

"If you've found your passion in what you do, you're very lucky," our founder says in her book The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business.

martha stewart with pen and notebook in office
Photo: Marcus Nilsson

In her candid book, The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business, our founder shares advice based on her own business experience and iconic success. As America's first self-made female billionaire, her omnimedia empire includes retail collections, magazines, books, and more. Here, we examine three of her ten essential rules for business success. (To get the rest, you'll want to read the book, which you can purchase on Amazon or at book retailers across the country.)

Rule: Build your business success around something you love—something that is inherently and endlessly interesting to you.

Martha says that businesses fueled by passion can be truly successful. In fact, she says that doing work you love can give you energy, make you sharper, and fuel your creativity, and she likens it to a powerful emotional connection, writing that, "This passion for ones work is just like an all-consuming love affair—something that all of us crave to experience but encounter only once or twice in a lifetime. If you've found your passion in what you do, you're very lucky."

"I've always found it extremely difficult to differentiate between what others might consider my life and my business," she admits. "For me, they are inextricably intertwined. That is because I have the same passion for both. Simply stated, my life is my work and my work is my life."

But what if you haven't found a thing you're passionate about and can build a business around? She encourages you to keep searching. Martha herself searched for her true passion for many years, working as a model and as a stock broker and as a real estate agent, all before launching the business you know and love today. "It is not uncommon to try a number of different things before you passion becomes clear," she says. "Experimentation is the only way to figure it out."

Rule: Focus your attention and creativity on basic things, things that people need and want. Then look for ways to enlarge, improve, and enhance your big idea.

"Passion can be a wild thing, taking you in many different directions," Stewart says. "Try to grab it by the reins and, as you harness that passion to grow your business, begin to focus on a goal." In other words, it's important to focus on the thing your customers really need and want, and not get pulled in a direction that won't satisfy their desires, as tempting as those directions may be.

"My advice to you as an entrepreneur? Take off your shoes and step into your customers' shoes for a while," says Stewart. Take a walk down their street and ask yourself, 'Is there a use for my idea in her life?' Or, in my case, 'Would the colors that I love on this paint chart really look good in his house?' Would a digest-size magazine of easy-to-follow recipes be useful to this family?"

Another way to find something others may value? Look to your own personal frustrations, says Stewart. "When you are alert and tuned in to the world around you, it is interesting to note how often your personal frustration can help you experience a Big Idea," she says. "My own brand of paint in all of my favorite colors was created just this way." As Martha explains, when she went to paint her own home years ago, she found the selection of natural-looking colors lacking. So, she says, "It suddenly became quite clear to me that I would have to formulate my own paint colors, borrowing them from nature, so the palette I wanted—needed—would be attainable."

Rule: In business, there's a difference between a risk and a chance. A well-calculated risk may very well end up as an investment in your business. A careless chance can cause it to crumble. And when an opportunity presents itself, never assume it will be your last.

Don't be afraid to take risks in your business, Martha encourages, while cautioning you to avoid chances—i.e., careless actions that can land your business in trouble. "Business is all about risk: assessing risk, managing risk," she says. "But it is also sometimes about taking a deep breath, looking all around you, then doing what my friend and colleague Market Burnett calls 'jumping in,' following a well-informed instinct or a calculated hunch even when others can't understand."

What you don't want to take, however, is thoughtless chances. "You should never try something that makes you uncomfortable or that you are ill prepared to undertake just because you think you may never get another chance," Martha says. "Prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and intellectually, and you will be able to differentiate a long shot from a good, well-calculated risk."

For additional rules to help you successfully start, build, and manage your business, be sure to check out Martha Stewart's "The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business," which is available on Amazon and at major book retailers.

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