How do you grow as a businessman? Are there any shortcuts?

During the last year I’ve grown, but I’ve also had a prime seat to watch others grow. I’ve seen patterns in how successful businessmen approach things differently.

My highly unscientific finding is that to grow as a businessman, one needs to grow in at least these 3 areas:

  1. Learn the essential traits
  2. Learn to learn better
  3. Learn to manage resources better

You’ll grow your character, you’ll learn how to shave off time from trying out the wrong things and you’ll learn how not to fail. It’s a full package.

1. Learn the essential traits

Think about a stereotypical businessman character - a fast-thinking, innovative fellow with a thick skin. He’s the guy who doesn’t ask for permission, he asks for forgiveness.

Like Neil Patel explains, people can actively train the traits needed. However, these traits are something that you’ll slowly learn while running your own business.

When I started, I thought that I could never be a great businesswoman. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I used to cry a bit when I lost a customer, had a new competitor or when I didn’t know how to fix things.

Since, I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to the things I used to worry about. Every time I survived, I built a little more character. Today I’m totally fine with all of those things as they are my everyday life.

The only base trait I truly needed was the resilience to stand up again after the small bumps on the road.

There’s also a pitfall here. These skills and traits will give you the walk and the talk of a businessman, but they don’t make you automatically successful. Just more experienced.

When I pick who to listen to, I try to choose people who actually are where I want to go.

2. Learn to learn better

Successful businessmen know that they don’t have enough time to learn things slowly.

So when given these 3 ways to learn…

  1. Do-it-yourself
  2. Imitate peers
  3. Learn from an expert

… The best guys always prefer the option 3.

That’s why business mentors are so important. That’s why Quora and Clarity are so popular. And that’s why the best guys aren’t intimidated to hire people who are even better. Even when you can learn anything, it’s not worth it and you can’t be best in everything.

I hire people smarter than I am

How did I learn this? At home I was taught that the way 1, doing-it-yourself, is superior. That belief limited my growth for years.

…Then I started to mentor businessmen with their SaaS metrics.

I had a privilege to watch one talented and successful businessman work. He seemed to stay on top of his business just naturally, but he wanted to learn how to use the numbers too.

So he hired me to read his metrics dashboard with him, once every month.

He was brave enough to say it aloud: “The numbers don’t speak to me”.

The thing is - everyone feels like that at the beginning! Besides, FirstOfficer groups the metrics for best pattern recognition, so there’s a lot of stuff in each chart and that steepens the learning curve.

He learned super-fast and leveled up his already great businessman skills even more. As we talked about his business, I realized he used the same approach everywhere: whenever he felt any lack of skills, he found the best possible people to help him.

When I read Kathy Sierra’s wonderful new Badass book last week, I got a confirmation that this behavior will indeed have a correlation to your success.

…talking of which… I could use a business mentor myself!

3. Learn to manage resources better

Your first hurdle was to build the product and get initial traction. After that, what accounts for a big part of your success is how you manage and allocate your resources.

In practice this means doing the right thing, finding ways to get the resources you need and leveraging what you already have.

This is a review on startup failure reasons, where I've marked the resource-related reasons with a red dot:

Why startups fail

After the product-market-fit is there, resource-management problems are the biggest reason why 98% of businesses die in the first five years.

This is also what differentiates a job and a business. Many startups build a job instead of a business. They can’t manage resources effectively enough to make a self-sustaining system. In my rough calculations, I reserve 10K of revenue to support one human resource.

Whether your resources are in time, money or people, mastering them is what actually makes you the money… which is the thing we often use to measure business success.

In a stable state, what you put in must be less than what you get out. Unless you are targeting only for an acquisition.

Managing resources also means taking calculated risks. You make investments knowing that some of them will pay off and some of them you’ll need to write off. You accept the losses because you know that’s the way to win.

Less risk usually means less growth and there’s a full scale where you can move. You can choose how much risk you take. The more experienced a businessman you are, the more reliably you estimate the risk right.

What counts at the end of the day

Becoming a great businessman is a skill that you can learn, like any other skill.

What counts is having the resilience to learn, braveness to recognize your current level and courage to ask for help. That way you don’t end up risking too much and destroy your chances to keep on learning.

I’m committed to help people learn to manage their finances better and I’m grateful for all the people online who are contributing on the areas where I lack.

Jaana Kulmala