Leadership

The 9 Best Real-World Strategies Every Entrepreneur Should Know

I sometimes troll popular business websites. Don’t ask me why I do it to myself. It drives me nuts to see all the mind-numbingly generic fluff that passes for business advice these days.

It’s as if some evil genius sat down at the drawing board and said, “How do I get half the population to think they’re experts and the other half to read everything they write?” So he made cheap computers, smartphones, Web 2.0, WordPress, blogs and social media. Voila. Here we are.

Let's try something different. Let me show you what real-world business strategies look like. You know, ideas that get you thinking in new ways that actually help you differentiate and beat the competition. That’s right: if you want to be successful you have to think. You have to differentiate. And you have to beat the competition.

Now let’s get down to business.

Create a cult-like culture of religious zealots. Letting people bring dogs to the office is not a corporate culture. Neither is a waterslide on the premises or Friday beer blasts. The Green Bay Packers. Harley-Davidson. Apple. Trader Joe’s. Zappos. They’re all like religious cults. Getting your people to believe they can accomplish something insanely great and create an amazing customer experience, that’s corporate culture.

Study what works and doesn’t work. We learn from experience. We also learn from the experience of others. That’s how all successful executives and business leaders got that way. If you have to read anything, read about real successes and failures in the real business world. Try Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis or Business Adventures by John Brooks. It’s Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’s favorite business book for a reason.

Related: Learning to Adapt Is the Key to Success

Go where your competitors aren’t. How did China-based Huawei take 7% market share from Samsung in the hypercompetitive smartphone market? By focusing on Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Apple in retail. Amazon, eBay and Alibaba online. The Uber app. They all used new sales channels or existing ones in innovative ways.

Plan for success and develop competitive barriers. Come up with a plan, put all you’ve got behind it, then figure out what can go wrong, including coming up with a strategy to keep bigger and better funded competitors from beating you at your own game. If you’re successful, that’s exactly what will happen. If you’re not, it doesn’t really matter, now does it? That’s why you always plan for success.  

Create a larger-than-life buzz. There once was a startup that made microprocessors. Yawn. Then they painted a bulls-eye on industry giant Intel. They actually had a tombstone in the lobby with “RIP” beneath the trademark Intel Inside swirl. Now that was news. Everyone loves a David versus Goliath story. If you’re creative you can generate buzz on a shoestring budget, but it does help to deliver a competitive product.

Related: The Secret to Outstanding Customer Service

Learn to say “yes” a lot. You never want to lose a good growth opportunity, give up momentum, or minimize the challenges of scaling a business. And you can never have too much money in the bank. When Box filed to go public, co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie was asked why VCs own two thirds of the company and he had just 4 percent. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “I’d rather own 4 percent of $2 billion than 40 percent of nothing.”

Listen to your customers ... and yourself. Don’t know what problem to solve or product to develop? Ask your customers. They won’t know what they want because it doesn’t exist yet, but they will tell you what they want to do but can’t. And they have nothing to gain by blowing smoke up your you-know-what, the way some of your own lieutenants might. Also trust your gut – your own focus group of one. You just might be right.

Learn how business works. Finance, income statements, balance sheets, operations, sales channels – yes, I know how boring and uninspiring that all sounds. But guess what? It will keep you from falling into any one of about 9,000 different hellish pitfalls that swallow most entrepreneurs and business owners whole because they have no idea how business works.

Target your biggest competitors. List the leaders in your market, analyze your products and capabilities relative to theirs, and devise a plan to use your relative strengths while exploiting their weaknesses to take market share from them. The goal is to beat them, to topple them and take your rightful place at the top. That’s how little companies become big companies, by competing to win. 

Look, anyone can start a business. Anyone can be an entrepreneur. Anyone can call himself a CEO. It only matters if you can make and sell something that customers like or want enough to buy it from you instead of the other guy. And that’s just the beginning. What’s the end game? Keep moving forward and enjoy the ride.

Related: So You Want to Be a Blogger? Think Twice.