Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

Some people aspire to climb the corporate ladder taking on bigger scopes of responsibility, headcount, budget, or territory. Some people aspire to have a greater balance between their professional and personal lives – success defined less by income and promotion and more so by reduced stress and time to do other things more frequently. And some people want to go their own way – they want to build, evangelize, operate, and own their own business.

Perhaps you’re the next Zuck with a billion dollar idea that will catch wildfire, but probably not. Most entrepreneurs reach a vocational inflection point where they want to leverage the accumulated collection of their expertise into a new venture. Maybe it’s an industry disruptor based on technology or maybe it’s a service approach that outperforms existing competitors through speed or execution. No matter what your new business is about, there are a few golden rules every successful entrepreneur follows regardless if they are starting a small business or building the next Wall Street unicorn. They include:

1. Belief. If you don’t have an unwavering belief that your product or solution is different, nobody else will care. Nobody wants to hear about your “me too” model. You can enter a mature industry but something MUST be different if you’re going to get a footing. When you’re in the early days, possibly alone, nothing will be more powerful than your own belief in what you’re doing. If you have that underlying belief then you have a foundation for everything else.

2. It’s not going. That big deal you’re on the brink of closing? Sorry, but it’s not going to close. That partnership you just signed? Nope, it’s not going to produce any sustaining revenue. And the hotshot you just hired to run/build/sell your widgets? Turns out that she is not as strong as she appears. The point is to expect setbacks; nothing is as good as it often appears. The upside is that even your bleakest hour isn’t that bad either, but you have to keep grinding. Don’t let up. Stay a little paranoid about your threats.

3. Selectively invest. Yes, it would be cool to have a conference room view of the Hudson or top to bottom glass separating office spaces, but it’s much cooler to have money in the bank. It doesn’t matter if you’ve received big institutional funding or are bootstrapping your company. You want to build up reserves of capital (and enthusiasm) for when setbacks occur. Invest in your absolutes such as culture and vision and people, but go easy on the nice to haves.

4. Be careful of shiny objects. Entrepreneurs are inherently scrappy. They grind and work incredibly hard, and are proud of their fight. They also tend to chase shiny diversions well off the path of the business plan. Sometimes wonderful unintended opportunities present themselves, but much more often chasing what looks like a shiny quarter turns out to be a rock. A lame rock, which takes time to uncover and takes the operator off the designed path. Where we elect to spend our time is within our control, so be smart about it and stay on course.

5. Know your why. Document your goals, strategize how you’ll get there, document your plan in detail, and build contingencies. But “why” are you doing this? What is your purpose in this venture? Why is this important to society or industry? Why is it important to you? And who does your venture impact in a personal and meaningful way? Never ever lose sight of these answers.

What other keys to entrepreneurial success do you put into practice?