Want to make it in your own business? High achievers share their best advice.

By Nancy Mattia
October 13, 2020
woman at podium leading business conference
Credit: Mikolette / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

It takes more than a good idea to have a successful business, especially in turbulent economic times. The entrepreneurs below have all been in your shoes and are eager to help you avoid the pitfalls and have your own success story. Let their best advice guide you.

Learn to let go.

As much as you want to manage the business, it's best to not get buried in the minutiae. "As my business grew, I realized that in order to scale, I had to remove myself from conversations about day-to-day operations," recalls Beth Gerstein, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant Earth. "Not only did this make me more productive, but it instilled in my team a new level of trust and accountability."

"I was really hesitant to outsource our accounting," echoes Penny Sansevieri, founder and CEO of Author Marketing Experts, "but the minute I did, the business grew because I was freed up, mostly mentally, and could put my energy into things I enjoyed doing."

Don't think you know it all.

Starting a business takes know-how, but it doesn't mean you know everything. "The worst killer of sustained success is a huge ego," says Dr. Ted Sun, founder of Executive Balance. "Being humble calls for an open mind that's always looking to improve and adapt."

"Embrace technology and change," adds Steve Broad, founder and CEO of gimMe Snacks. "Being able to adapt quickly has been a key factor in making our business run more efficiently."

Figure out how to be your best self.

Understanding the rhythms of your energy improves productivity. "When I do one thing at a time, I can focus and get it done more quickly than if I try to do multiple things at once," says Tori Soudan, designer and owner of Tori Soudan. "Time of day makes a difference too: Mornings, I can be analytical and solve problems; afternoons, I'm better at being creative." It's also important take time for yourself. "It's essential to prioritize your health and well-being as you work toward your visions with vigor," says Sarah Barnard, interior designer of Sarah Barnard Design "Active resting activities like spending time in nature, meditating, and painting can help you restore and reset."

Look inward rather than outward. "Avoid competing against anyone but yourself," adds Stephanie Wagner, founder and CEO of For the Feel. "Just aim to improve and outdo the person you were the day before. When you're in your own lane, there is no traffic."

Be prepared.

Start with a business model. "Research, prepare, and create your plan," says Chef Jolie of Low Country Quisine. "Partner with people who know more than you and learn as much as you can about your industry. When you're faced with words of discouragement, trust your core feelings." Along the way, be cognizant of your resources. "Don't waste money on patenting, prototyping, or building a product until you talk to potential customers," suggests Clint Ballinger, executive entrepreneur-in-residence at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "The single biggest mistake of entrepreneurs is to make something that nobody wants and spend a lot of time and money doing it."

"Think like a pilot," adds Nick Tarascio, licensed jet pilot and CEO of Ventura Air Services. "Always have a destination and a plan in advance for getting there. Always be prepared to change course and take a different approach if challenges arise."

Appreciate others.

Make the people in your orbit feel like they matter, says Nikki Boyer, host of Wondery's "The Daily Smile" podcast, who cites Maya Angelou's famous quote: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel," and saying that it's, "a big part of my success story."

Don't avoid networking. "Too many business owners have a fear that engaging with others in the industry may create competition," explains Robert Farrington, the founder of the College Investor, "however, the opposite is usually the case. Learning from and helping others can lead to positive results." Part of this is being a team leader. "Be available to your employees and ensure they feel comfortable coming to you for anything," says Juan Carlos Abello, CEO of Nuvola, "good or bad."

Stay focused.

Being an entrepreneur is a daily hustle. "You have to be all in, all day, every day," says Jake Wood, co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon. "You'll wake up many days wishing you'd taken an easier path, but go to bed each night wishing for nothing else." Stay true to yourself. "Don't be tempted by potential opportunities that distract you from your goals," says Ksenia Yudina, founder and CEO of UNest. "Sometimes, the deals you pass on are just as important as the ones you take."

Keep the lines of communication open as part of your focus reset. "When a problem arises, I always make sure to follow it with a discussion, focusing on finding a solution. Having a positive outlook benefits everyone in the long-run," suggests Daniel Stanton, founder and CEO of Now Optics.

Welcome failure with open arms.

The road to starting your own business is never easy, and that's something to be embraced. "I have had many failures and that is where the hardest and most valuable lessons are learned," says Colin House, CEO, Intellibed. "It has shaped who I am and how I operate a business."

"You may hear three no's before someone finally gives you a chance," says Chris Smith, co-founder of Humblemaker Coffee Co. "It is so important to not give up too soon, stick to your gut instinct, and also be open to variations of your original concept. Your best idea could be  your tenth attempt."


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