12 Essential Habits for Startup Success

Navigating the treacherous waters of entrepreneurship can wreak havoc on even the most astute-minded individuals. Without the right habits, startup success can be fleeting. Rather than taking a step forward, it can seem like we’re perpetually walking backwards. Worry, anxiety, stress, and fear creep in and it’s all downhill from there.

Clearly, it’s far from easy running a business, especially a startup business.

From all the demands that pull us in every which direction — from marketing, to sales, customer service, employee management, accounting, and beyond — it’s enough to send us into a tailspin. The immense amount of pressure on any individual can be taxing to say the least.

And as a serial entrepreneur myself, I can tell you firsthand it’s downright difficult to succeed in business without the right tools.

What does that mean exactly? Well there’s an enormous tradeoff that exists when you’re in business for yourself. There are certain demands on your time that often aren’t easy to fulfill. Certain things that might seem easy at the outset, end up taking an enormous amount of effort, and thus taking your energy and focus away from generating revenues.

For example, when you have a customer service crisis, if it isn’t handled properly, not only can it damage your reputation, but it can all but destroy your business, especially if that customer decides to go out and post their poor experience all over the Web. But that’s just one of the potential downfalls to running a startup business when you employ the wrong habits.

So what does it take to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace? What are some of the most essential habits that will all but guarantee you’re startup’s success over time? While there are likely dozens of great habits for running a startup, there are 12 essential habits that will help guide your business towards long-term success.

These aren’t quick fixes. These are habits that need to be fostered and built over time, wielded for months and years with conviction before they bear fruit.


#1 — Wake up early

One crucial habit that can help to guarantee startup success is waking up early. In the morning, our minds are fresh. We have clarity. We’re not bogged down by a lot of the stress that accumulates throughout the course of the day. We can focus our efforts on our goals and move our vision to succeed forward.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but the habit of waking up early, when executed for enough time, does produce extraordinary results. The difficulty? Waking up early is hard, especially if you’re not a morning person. So how do you go about doing it?

Building any habit takes consistent effort. One great method is to use the micro-changes approach. To wake up early, set your alarm clock back 15 minutes the first week. Wake up at least 15 minutes early for 7 days straight. Then, the following week, set the clock back another 15 minutes.

The goal? Wake up at least 2 hours early and do it over the course of the next 8 weeks. While it might sound like overkill, I can assure you that this approach is going to produce far better results than trying to achieve this habit overnight. It doesn’t quite work so well that way.

Why take this approach? It bends and stretches the mind slowly, like an elastic, rather than pulling too hard and making it snap. Often, when we try to go from zero to hero too fast, we fail and end up giving up. But any habit can be built up slowly over time.

#2 — Set long-term goals on paper

The habit of setting goals on paper is important to help manifest your dreams. There’s something about seeing your dreams materialized on paper before you that helps to spur you in their direction. The same thing doesn’t happen when goals are kept arbitrarily in your mind. Even if you wholeheartedly believe in them, when they remain solely in the mind, they’re less real.

But this isn’t just about writing out the goals on paper; this is about effectively setting your goals. They need to be specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic, and time-based. This is also called SMARTER goal setting. Rather than passively setting goals arbitrarily in your mind, if you want your startup to succeed, you need to engage in active goal setting with something akin to the SMARTER method.

Once you’ve set your long-term goals, you need to evaluate your progress. Otherwise, how else would you know just how far you’ve come, where you are, and how much left you have to go? As you assess your progress, you can also use the information and resultant dataset to readjust your approach. See what’s working and scale it out. If something isn’t working, you can make some changes.

Long-term goals are hard to achieve, especially when we’re talking about getting startups off the ground, funded, and even acquired or taken public. There’s a huge mountain to climb there. But it’s attainable as long as you constantly set and take action towards those long-term goals.


#3 — Plan, plan, plan

Planing adds fuel to the fire of our goals. And when we’re talking about startup success, there’s nothing more important than constantly planning. There are so many things that require our attention, that without planning, there’s virtually no way to see our goals to fruition. An airplane needs a plan to get from Point A to Point B. So does a car that’s on a road trip. And so does an entrepreneur looking to achieve startup success.

Plan, plan, plan. Then, plan some more. You can never plan too much. Write your plans out on paper or digitally. Don’t keep them in your mind. There’s no way to succeed if you do that. Once again, things remain arbitrary when they stay in the mind. When they’re on paper, they become far more real. It’s a simple act that can make a tremendous difference.

Take your long-term goals and create a plan for their fulfillment. How will you get from where you are today, to ultimately achieving those goals? What’s your plan? What steps will you take? You don’t need to know what you’ll do every day, but you do need a general sense of direction. Without that, you can kiss the chances for success goodbye.


#4 — Follow the 80/20-Rule

The 80/20-Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that 80% of the results comes from 20% of the efforts. And since time is so valuable, whenever we’re able to identify the efforts that are producing the biggest results, all we need to do from that point on is to scale things out.

For example, when we’re talking about sales, the same principle holds true where 80% of the revenue will come from 20% of the customers. If you’re in sales, you’ve likely experienced this before. But this principle even extends further than that. Within the initial 20% of customers producing 80% of sales lies another 20% producing 80% of sales within that group.

Sounds confusing? It simply means that 4% of your customers are producing the bulk of your revenues. Why is this so important? Because it signals the importance of scaling out your marketing to reach this group. It also means that if you’re able to allocate the 20% of your efforts that are producing 80% of your results, you should scale that as well.

The problem? When you’re immersed in your business, it’s hard to work on your business. It’s not that simple to identify the fundamentals that are making a business tick and driving sales. However, if you can, and you can properly scale those efforts, the world truly is your oyster.


#5 — Manage your time effectively

Effective time managers always seem to have time. The pun is intentional. The biggest problem? Many of us squander our time. But, startups won’t run themselves. They require enormous amounts of effort by a dedicated group of individuals. In the beginning, that group usually consists of one person — you.

Time is life’s greatest equalizer. We all have the same amount of time in a given day. Not one person has more than the other. The differentiator is how we use the time we do have. Do we squander it? Or, do we use it effectively?

Take up a system of time management that will allow you to maximize the time you do have rather than waste it away. The best one that I would recommend is the Quadrant System and you can read about it here.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to ensure to cut out as many of the time-wasting activities in your life (Quadrant 4) while engaging as much as you can in long-term-goal-related activities (Quadrant 2). Do this for enough time, and you’ll taste startup success, eventually.


#6 — Get the blood pumping

Our physiology has a great impact on our mental, emotional, and even spiritual states just as the inverse holds true as well. So, what we do with our bodies will greatly impact our minds and vice versa. If you want mental clarity, you have to treat the body right by exercising at least once daily.

Spend 20 or 30 minutes at the first part of your morning engaged in lightly-strenous exercise. Whether you go for a brisk walk, a light jog, or workout on a cardio machine in your home or at a gym, you absolutely must do something to keep yourself in peak physical condition.

Running a business, especially a startup, is very taxing. It takes a toll on the mind, but also on the body, the emotions, and the soul. And, when things aren’t really going our way, stress, anxiety, worry and fear can play a big number on us.

This is best done first thing in the morning. It gets the blood pumping and the oxygen flowing to all the cells in the body. It creates clarity of mind, promotes physical wellness, and elevates the spirit.


#7 — Daily inspiration through music or videos

It’s really hard running a startup. I’ve been through the ringer a number of times, and each time it was taxing to say the least. Some days, I just didn’t want to push forward. Either I wasn’t feeling inspired, or for one reason or another, I lacked the motivation.

It’s in those times when I was spiritually low, when I would turn to a source of inspiration through music or video. Reading also works, but it’s not as effective when you need a quick pick-me-up. For that reason, I decided to make daily inspiration into a habit.

There are a number of resources, thanks to the Web, that you can tap into on a daily basis to get inspired. There are motivational and inspirational videos on YouTube you can watch, TED Talks you can catch up on, or music that can get you going. Pick something and build it into your routine.


#8 — Add value to the world

As an entrepreneur, you must constantly be seeking ways to add value to the world. You have to run with the old adage that states you must do the most amount of work for the least initial return rather than attempting to do the least amount of work for the most initial return.

This is also the same fundamental principle that’s the major driving force behind search engine optimization. There’s simply no way, especially in this highly-competitive environment we call the Web, to make any traction without adding a huge amount of value.

While some people might discount this or even scoff at that the fact that this could be considered a habit, it very much is. The more you seek to add value in the world, the more habitual it becomes, and the more you can guarantee your long-term success.


#9 — Contribute and help others

As an entrepreneur running a startup, there’s a very strong feeling that’s often suffocating, which we like to refer to as scarcity. The problem with scarcity is that it helps to contribute to a state of lack. And when we live in a state of lack, it’s hard for us attract abundance.

In life, like attracts like. An abundant mind and spirit will lead to abundance in every manner of of the word. While it’s hard to quantify this, it’s most certainly one of life’s given truths. It’s at the root of gratitude and an integral part of the Law of Attraction.

When you contribute to others, you send a very powerful signal to your mind that states you have more than enough. That abundant mind helps to transform every other decision and even the outcome of your life by helping you attract more good things.

Find a way you can contribute to others every single day and make it a habit. This isn’t about donating money. This is about giving up something of yourself such as your time, your expertise, or just a helping hand to someone in need.


#10 — Track every last cent of your expenses

Penny wise pound foolish, you know the saying, right? Still, when we ignore the small things in life, we tend to let our finances get away with us. Benjamin Franklin once said “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”

Now, as an entrepreneur, it’s your bottom line that can most swiftly lead to your demise. As soon as you go into the red, which may or might not take that long, it’s hard to recover. To avoid that, you have to track every last expense.

Grab a notebook or download an app. Whatever it takes. Then, log everything last red cent you spend, personally and professionally. You’ll be glad you did this at the end of the year when it comes high time to file your taxes.

When you track things with a high degree of meticulousness, you can spot trends far easier. This also helps you identify certain activities or expenses that might be draining your finances, such as bad habits. Because, when it comes down to it, every last red cent really does matter when you’re trying to get your startup off the ground.


#11 — Save and invest wisely

A clear objective when running any business is to save and invest wisely. However, it’s also something that’s easily forgotten, especially when the stress mounts and finances are tight. But you should always pay yourself first, a saying you’ve undoubtedly heard before.

Once again, this is an act that that sends a strong signal to the mind, one that indicates abundance rather than lack. Plus, saving and investing will lead to opportunities that can be exploited when there’s extra cash on hand.

Make a rule for yourself. Take 10%, 15%, 20%, or even 30% off every dollar you make and save it. Open up a business investment account and invest that money wisely. No matter what happens, always save the same amount of money and don’t cut corners.


#12 — Engage in smart networking

Networking is a major part of business success. Engaging in smart networking involves doing things for others without looking for something in return. While this might sound contradictory to some, the best networkers in the world live and die by this rule.

Why is that? This comes back to the foundational understanding that value is everything. Your value in this world comes down to what you can offer to others. No matter how successful you are, the more you help others, the more you’ll find a benefit in the long term.

Again, this isn’t a quick-fix habit. Anytime you look to the short term for quick gains, you’ll find yourself falter and fail. Look to the long term. Seek out opportunities to help others in your networking interactions and you’ll come to find a world of benefits that await you down the road.