Small businesses can always learn from the mistakes—and successes—of others. Like Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, successful businesses leave behind a trail of crumbs to mark the way. You just have to know how to follow them.
“Success leaves clues. Not only clues for what to do, but also what not to do. People who are serious about succeeding want to be around others who are on the same path--to share war stories, to size up attitudes and responses to challenges, to find out what insights each other has,” notes Lewis Schiff, author of Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons and executive director of Inc. Business Owners Council.
The blueprint for success should be evolving, says Schiff. What worked in the past probably won’t work in the future. "The biggest mistake successful entrepreneurs make is repeating the behaviors that made them successful as they grow from start up to fully-realized venture. When a company grows, the leader has to grow with it. Delegation is one of the toughest challenges for a successful entrepreneur because they are so used to doing everything themselves,” explains Schiff.
As your business grows so should your business philosophy, otherwise it could spell disaster. “Entrepreneurs who fail to grow their start-ups commit different mistakes,” Schiff points out. “These include: failing to follow the money as they develop their business model; failing to ask for more money as they deliver more value; failing to negotiate well; and, worst of all, failing to learn from their failures.”
Entrepreneurs can always learn from those who have gone before them. Successful startups can teach others lessons learned from trial and error. “[Startups] make smart decisions about how to use their resources, such as capital and human talent,” says Schiff. “Successful businesses are ones that live to fight another day and don't run out of crucial resources just as they begin to grow (imagine the busy restaurant in your neighborhood that one day shutters the business--they likely ran out of money just as they were growing).”
There is also another less obvious reason entrepreneurs should examine the path that successful businesses have taken, reveals Schiff. “The final, and least-talked-about reason is that they build thoughtful predictive tools and they follow them carefully,” he says. “This would include very smart budgeting and sales forecasting tools. Businesses that set modest growth goals and achieve them are the ones that tend to be around for decades. Ones that grow too fast and with too much volatility are the ones that crash and burn.”
So think about some of the most successful start-ups and research. Examine not only how they got up and running but how they survived.