Successful entrepreneurs discussing business.
Successful entrepreneurs discussing business.

Business tips for entrepreneurs

MBA

From creating some businesses, such as Google and Uber, to pursuing important causes, such as climate change through technology, entrepreneurs can make a real and lasting impact on the world. However, while becoming an entrepreneur can be rewarding, it’s certainly not easy.

Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. Some have very few formal qualifications, while others benefit from in-depth business education, such as a Master of Business Administration degree. What they all agree on is that business knowledge is key.

To build your own knowledge, consider these business tips for entrepreneurs.

What’s an entrepreneur?

The definition of an entrepreneur is “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”.

Starting your own business can be an exciting endeavour. However, taking the plunge into entrepreneurship in Australia has its challenges—and it’s best to have researched, thought through and planned your potential responses to obstacles before launching your business.

Australia is a great place to become an entrepreneur. In fact, Australians are some of the most entrepreneurial individuals in the world. Motivated to bring our big ideas to life, there are 2.5 million small businesses in Australia.

Business tips from other successful entrepreneurs

There are thousands of books and articles written on how to become a successful entrepreneur. However, sometimes the best tips come from those who have taken the path themselves before and succeeded or have had their lives changed by entrepreneurship.

Here is a collection of business tips for entrepreneurs from some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs themselves.

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson’s name is synonymous with the global Virgin brand. With some 400 companies in the Virgin Group, this English entrepreneur started with a chain of record stores (later known as Virgin Megastores). He grew his business to encompass airlines, trains, mobile phones and, most recently, Virgin Galactic—a space tourism company offering passengers suborbital space travel at US$200,000 per ticket.

As of 2024, Branson’s net worth is listed as $2.6 billion. His charitable works include becoming a founding sponsor of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, a non-profit organisation that helps find missing children and works to stop the exploitation of children.

Branson is happy to admit that there have also been failures along the way. Ventures such as Virgin Cola, Virgin Cars, Virgin Clothing and Virgin Brides were short-lived, showing the world that success isn’t guaranteed even for the most established companies. For today’s budding entrepreneurs, here’s a glimpse into Branson’s daily routine.

1. Start the day early

“I like to wake up early; usually around 5am. I get out of bed and do some exercise – play a game of tennis, go for a walk or a run, jump on my bike, or if there’s enough wind, go for a kitesurf. Then I eat breakfast and spend time with my family. Exercise and family time put me in a great mind frame before getting down to business.”

2. Never stop learning

Invest time in learning what’s going on in the world.

“And when I blog, I make sure I share my thoughts via social media. As someone who started out in business 50 years ago, I can’t begin to tell you how much mobile phones, email and social media have changed the state of play…Social media has opened up the world, and given the public the power to really have a say—it’s a wonderful thing.”

3. Keep a notebook handy at all times to capture those entrepreneurial ideas

“Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing – perhaps with the exception of kitesurfing or swimming—I always have a notebook on hand. My secret ‘life hack’ has also been to write it down! I can’t tell you where I’d be if I hadn’t had a pen on hand to write down my ideas as soon as they came to me.”

Jo Horgan

Jo Horgan, the founder and owner of the highly successful cosmetic group Mecca, was the first woman in history to win the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 Australia Award. Her achievement is an inspiration to all female entrepreneurs.

A former L’Oréal executive, Horgan started Mecca 20 years ago. She opened her first Mecca store in Melbourne’s high-end shopping precinct, Toorak Road, in 1997. Today, under Horgan’s entrepreneurial guidance and business nous, Mecca is an empire that returns more than $570 billion.

Although Mecca has had considerable financial success, it has also had some challenging times, but Horgan says she always chooses to be optimistic, taking the path of “Sunshine Sally” over “Debbie Downer”.

Below are top tips from Horgan’s daily routine.

1. Understand your mission

“I have a clear vision for Mecca. I’m deeply passionate about our purpose and I’m genuinely interested in people and their development. My job is to ensure we have the right people on the journey and then give them enough scope and support to knock it out of the park,” says Horgan.

2. Anticipate and leverage emerging trends for business growth

Horgan watches and embraces new trends, harnessing social media and enlisting beauty vloggers, influencers and models for Mecca’s own online make-up tutorials.

In 2001, having seen the internet emerge as the sales tool of the future, Mecca was one of the first businesses to embrace e-commerce in Australia.

3. Stay hungry for growth

“We still act like we are, to quote Hamilton, young, scrappy and hungry. We’re very entrepreneurial, we move fast and we do believe that everything is possible,” Horgan says of Mecca.

4. Keep your rituals

“I love the solitude of an early morning, so I get up at 5am and meditate, then I either go for a walk or do yoga.”

Bill Gates

An exemplar of modern entrepreneurship, Bill Gates needs little introduction. The iconic entrepreneur and co-founder of Microsoft Corporation held the Forbes title of the richest person in the world for all but four years between 1995 and 2018. Gates is worth a staggering US$130 billion (A$195.5 billion).

Gates stepped down as chairman of Microsoft in 2014 and has devoted almost all of his time since to philanthropic pursuits, primarily the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, established with his former wife in 2000.

To reach the highest echelons of entrepreneurial achievement, Gates credits following a daily routine and embracing some simple but effective approaches to life and work. Entrepreneurs and small business owners can learn from these.

Personal finance site GOBankingRates recently published a list of 13 habits and experiences that have helped make Gates the successful entrepreneur he is. Below is a selection of the best.

1. Thirst for knowledge

Like Branson and many other successful entrepreneurs, Gates has a lifelong thirst for knowledge.

Gates studied computers but dabbled in many other subjects that interested him. “Academic life was fascinating,” he said during a speech. “I used to sit in on lots of classes I hadn’t even signed up for.” This thirst for knowledge and his willingness to always improve and learn contributed to the growth of his eventual business.

Throughout his life, Gates has also sought knowledge through his love of reading. He even has his own blog where he recommends books to his followers.

2. Choose a great business partner

Gates credits Microsoft’s early success to his partnership with Paul Allen and the many lessons they learned along the way.

Gates has made countless brilliant business decisions in his lifetime, many of which have involved the people he chooses to work with. “I’d say my best business decisions really have to do with picking people,” Gates said in a 1998 interview. “Deciding to go into partnership with Paul Allen is probably at the top of the list.”

3. Stay committed to your dream

“The experience and insight Paul Allen and I gained here gave us the confidence to start a company based on this wild idea that nobody else agreed with — that computer chips were going to become so powerful that computers and software would become a tool that would be on every desk and in every home,” Gates said in a 2005 speech at his alma mater.

Alan Kohler

Alan Kohler isn’t a famous entrepreneur himself, but he certainly knows a lot of them through his work as a podcaster, an interviewer and a financial journalist for over 50 years. In that time, he’s followed stockbrokers from the open outcry era on exchange trading floors to the digital age of quiet online systems via multiscreen platforms.

Familiar to ABC-TV News audiences across Australia from his regular program, ‘The Kohler Report’, he’s also been analysing businesses for investors since 2005 when he founded the ‘Eureka Report’.

Here’s his advice for entrepreneurs.

1. Leaders need to be attuned to contemporary issues

“Various aspects of Environmental, Social and Governance are becoming so important: climate change, environment, social, dealing with the community and governance—in particular dealing with minorities,” says Kohler.

Business leaders must have the ability to incorporate contemporary corporate responsibility and sustainable development goals in their business decision-making.

“I think those are now very important issues that I think a lot of business leaders have some difficulty with and they need to be on it.”

While ESG issues also impact staff on many levels, it’s important to be aware of the evolving and flexible nature of the workplace and its impact on employees.

“A lot of people are now going to work from home—all the time or partly from home, partly from the office.

“I think that is going to bring a lot of challenges for leaders because you need to maintain a business culture while not necessarily having everyone in the office,” says Kohler.

2. Skills needed to be a leader

One of Kohler’s tips for entrepreneurs is to have a certain set of skills for success. There’s no doubt that the skills needed to be a leader today are quite different from the skills of business leaders of the last decade—or even the last five years.

“Having people further apart, making sure that there’s a safe workplace, ESG issues—I think all of those things are tremendously important now, but they're new,” said Kohler.

“They’re new skills that business leaders have to develop.”

What exactly are leadership skills?

  • Change management
    “I think that when we talk about change management, we usually mean when somebody has to come into a company and change it a lot—a big once-off change. As a leader, your job is to take staff with you through a journey of change at a particular point in time,” said Kohler.
  • Adaptability
    We used to define adaptability in individual terms, as our ability to respond to changing conditions that affected us personally—but then the pandemic hit. “I do think that COVID-19 has been a bit of a wakeup call for business leaders to be more adaptable—to show that they can’t assume that things will not change, that you never know what’s around the corner,” said Kohler.
  • Understanding the economic environment
    Kohler explains that it’s essential for business leaders to understand economics in two ways—microeconomics and macroeconomics. “It’s important for a business leader to understand the economic environment in which they’re operating. You don’t want to be in a situation where when I go on the TV news at night and talk about what’s going on in the economy, your eyes glaze over,” Kohler said.

General tips for entrepreneurs

One area that isn’t talked about as often as it should by other entrepreneurs is the importance of being a great leader. Understanding how to be a great leader for your venture is one of the most crucial business tips for entrepreneurs. Here’s how to do just that.

1. Be self-aware

Self-awareness is the ability to understand our own behaviour, yet not all of us can recognise our own failings. The greater a leader’s ability to understand their own behaviour, the stronger their ability to listen to and influence others, show empathy, work collaboratively and demonstrate emotional intelligence.

In summary, improved emotional self-awareness helps leaders recognise and better understand emotions in the workplace as they arise, meet them with the appropriate response and display genuine empathy.

2. Inspire your team

When we think of history’s most inspirational leaders, we think of Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, among others. In the modern business world, Sheryl Sandberg stands out, while Oprah Winfrey comes to mind in media and entertainment, and Branson does, too, in both business and media. What do they all have in common? The ability to inspire others.

As an inspirational leader, you should feel passionate about the vision and mission of the venture you’ve started. To be a well-rounded leader, you need to share that mission clearly, concisely and in a way that inspires people to work toward similar goals.

Gone are the days of expecting staff to follow you just because you say so. Instead, successful leaders set a good example, act as role models and pitch in when needed.

One of the most practical ways to sharpen your inspirational skills is to work alongside your staff from time to time, showing the team you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty. Why not operate the customer service line for a few hours, write a blog article, or post on your company’s social media pages? To fully understand the people you lead and how you should lead them, you need to do the work they do.

Passion, purpose, listening and meaning help make a leader inspirational. Exhibiting these qualities and characteristics is a must if you wish to inspire the best work from your employees.

3. Communicate

Strong communication skills are the key attributes of an effective leader. There’s no point in having a vision of what needs to be done if you can’t convey that succinctly and with inspiration to your team.

Such is the importance of communication in leadership, Gates said if he were down to his last dollar, he’d spend it on communication with his stakeholders.

It’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street. Equally important as communicating your point is listening to someone else’s.

Known as active listening, the process of focusing on what your staff is saying, taking the time to have one-on-one conversations and regularly paraphrasing what the speaker is saying not only displays respect but also builds trust and nurtures the relationship.

One of the most important traits of strong leadership is the ability to build authentic relationships. This develops trust and earns respect.

Don’t forget that body language communicates just as much, if not more, than the words you’re speaking. A positive response from your team is more likely if your eye contact, gestures and posture match what you’re saying.

Clear communication is a vital tool in a strong business leader’s arsenal. Learning or improving communication skills will help reach new levels of leadership excellence.

4. Professional development and continuous learning

Learning new skills is important for every member of the workplace, but especially leaders.

Continuous learning is a key strategy for crafting a sustainable career and you don’t need to have a manager role or a large team reporting to you to be considered a leader. Everyone can benefit from leadership training, even in everyday life.

Start your learning journey to becoming an effective leader by identifying your strengths and weaknesses, including any areas you’d like to improve. For example, maybe you’re a great written communicator but struggle with public speaking.

On the other hand, you might be a strong team leader but find it challenging to manage conflict. Tackling skill gaps with leadership training can help round out your leadership abilities and grow your confidence.

Seeking constructive feedback is critical to improving performance. It increases self-awareness, and provides guidance and encouragement. As a leader, it’s important to not only give constructive feedback but also to receive it.

Become the leader and entrepreneur you know you can be

Becoming an entrepreneur is an exciting decision, but not one to be taken lightly. It’s important to seek advice from others who’ve succeeded and also to upskill in general business topics.

One way to do that is to complete a flexible, online MBA.

With VU Online, you can earn a globally ranked Tier 1 MBA and learn from industry experts. Join thousands of students who have gained the skills and insights to successfully reach their personal career goals with VU Online, including successful business ownership and entrepreneurship.

Ready to take the next step? Reach out to our Student Enrolment Advisors on 1300 682 051 or email futurestudy@online.vu.edu.au.