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To Be a Leader, You Must Know When to Follow

College Treps

Editor's Note: College Treps is a weekly column that puts the spotlight on college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs, as they tackle the tough task of starting up and going to school. Follow their daily struggles and this column on Twitter with the hashtag #CollegeTreps.

You may be the driving force behind a business that has the potential to change the world, but if you want to lead most effectively, sometimes, you have to know when to follow.

I came to this realization only recently, however. After countless hours toiling on papers and assignments that would often keep me up all hours of the night, I recently had something of an epiphany. I thought, how are others achieving greater success? And what if anything could I do to emulate that success? If I spent my time using the strategies proven successful by others, then the resulting product would still be my own creation, just flat-out better. And I possibly could gain some time for sleep.

In addition to my school work, I've recently also begun applying this strategy to my startup. Here are three areas where you don't need to reinvent the wheel on your road to entrepreneurship:

1. Take advantage of tools.
I already use common tools to help my schoolwork: the computer, calculator, spell-check, etc. Yet, I recognize that those classmates who frequently received the best grades often used additional, little-known aids to support them even further. For instance, online templates, informational essays, guides, and auto-citation websites can help you breeze through an assignment.

Related: 5 Ways to Keep Your Ego in Check as a Young Entrepreneur

To most effectively optimize and grow any part of your business, you must do the same. Research and implement new software applications and reference materials as necessary. When getting feedback on your new product or service, use online survey services and landing pages in addition to live questioning. Implement online metric-tracking software to more accurately improve your marketing. Not taking advantage of the best tool for the job is literally throwing time and potential into the garbage.

2. Tap into your network.
I've found that behind the final product of virtually every effective classmate was always someone aggregating input from multiple sources. Schoolwork was taken to tutors on campus, sent to an acquaintance with more experience or checked over by professors. Collaborative minds most definitely produced better results, and when these minds were more experienced, results were improved even further.

It’s difficult to know how to solve every problem or be the best at everything. In most prominent businesses, the marketing guy isn’t coding the website, and the programmer isn’t doing the marketing -- for the same reason.  For you to do better, you need more talented and specialized people.

Related: How to Find Value in Other People’s Problems

You need to quickly identify others who could help you -- whether the task at hand is as simple as talking to someone about what designs they like or as complex as analyzing retention metrics. Getting other people’s input won't cost you much if anything, and it could move your project along leagues faster.

3. Learn from others' lessons.
Learn from your contemporaries too. Remember what it was like to have that advice from an upper classman about that professor everyone seemed to fear? That special insight helped you anticipate problems and overall know what to expect. As in school, tapping the help of fellow entrepreneurs when you're starting up can offer similarly vital lessons. After all, isn’t it better to learn from others' mistakes?

It's also helpful to consider best practices. What do customers similar to yours already love? If a company’s awesome growth is making headlines, what strategies are working for them? If you are absolutely disgusted by an action, what might you have done differently? Every business has been a startup. Emulate their successes, not their failures.

Related: How to Turn Criticism into the Ultimate Startup Motivator

It might seem counter-intuitive at first glance, but sometimes following the pack is the best way to lead.

How has following in others' footsteps helped you in business? Let us know in the comments below.

**Apply Now** Are you an enthusiastic college- or graduate-student entrepreneur, eager to share your on-campus experiences? Apply to be a YoungEntrepreneur.com College Treps columnist.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Nathan Grotticelli is a student at Binghamton University and founder of University Nightlife, a nightlife events app. He is interested in growth hacking and social entrepreneurship and wishes to share the lessons and tribulations that go along with founding a startup.

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