I’ve owned my business for over twenty-five years and I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to survive and, perhaps even, thrive as a business owner.

Oh, I have lots left to learn and even struggle with doing some of things I have learned, even though I know better, but I’ve also acquired a few traits and developed a few habits that I believe serve me well.

Some of these habits don’t come naturally to many folks, but one thing I will give us business owners, we’re an adaptable lot. Sure, maybe we can be stubborn and even slow to change, but change we will in the name of the beast we serve.

Below are seven habits I’ve seen show up in most of the successful business owners I know.

success habits

Get up early

So, let’s start with a tough on right off. Successful business owners get a tremendous amount of focused work done from about 5am to 7am. Now, this may or may not be client work. It’s just as likely to be journaling, meditating or planning the week, but it’s how they get a jump on the coming storm of the day.

I started this habit myself in an attempt to get a few things knocked out before my children got up and it stuck even after they moved on. For me it seems like the only quite time that exists in the day.

Focus on important first

This one is so hard because Twitter and Facebook and email just don’t want you to do this. Successful business owners ignore distractions and focus on the highest payoff work first. This may include doing the grunt work they don’t really want to do, but, say, the IRS has deemed important for some silly reason.

This a mental win as much as a physical to do list win. There’s something really freeing about realizing you’ve conquered the toughest thing you have to do that day by 9am! On the days I actually do this I get so much more done in total because I don’t fuss around trying to figure out how to put off what I know I should do.

Obsess over value

A lot people preach the idea of obsessing over the customer, but I’ve found that real success comes from obsessing over value – valuable products, processes, communication, follow-up, service, content, connection and context.

When you obsess about delivering value, measuring value and increasing value in everything you do, you start to realize that everything matters and there are no small things – and there’s no better way to serve your customers than that.

This is a subtle thing – the best way to serve your customers is to obsess over value.[Tweet “the best way to serve your customers is to obsess over value”]

Take care of the plant

Running a business is physically demanding and mentally stressful. Yes, it’s also a pretty awesome ride, but only if you maintain the stamina to put in long, high energy days.

The most successful business owners I’ve worked with take time to recharge, reenergize and refuel through things like exercise, healthy eating,  and rest. Once you’ve been doing this for a while you start to realize that the time you invest in these kinds of things pays some pretty hefty dividends in terms of productivity.

This is pretty easy one to develop bad habits around too, so finding ways to create accountability is essential.

Fill the gaps

Successful business owners seem to always be asking what’s missing. This can develop into a distraction, but when you stay really, really close to your customer you can start to recognize gaps in what you have, how you communicate and what they want. There are few better ways to succeed in business than to find a need and fill it – all the better when that need exists in people who already trust you to serve them.

The key is to understand your customer’s world and journey to get the information, products and services they seek.

Get out of the office

These days you can run your entire business without actually interacting with other human beings, but human beings need to interact in order to live.

If you’re to grow, feel, learn, and understand you’ve got to get out of the office. Go to a conference, grab coffee with a customer, mingle with people who are weird (your definition.) It’s how you find strategic partners, new perspectives and opportunities to learn and grow.

Love to learn, learn to teach

Some of the most successful business owners are really great at selling, but they don’t sell so much as passionately teach. Here’s the funny thing though, many don’t actually like to teach. Just ask someone who works for a small business owner. They are rarely very good at teaching employees how and why to do things, but they are generally insatiable learners who realize they need to figure out how to teach and tell stories in order to succeed.

So, what traits have you developed, willing or otherwise, that serve you?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Brilliant tips John. I found that this – “Successful business owners seem to always be asking what’s missing.” really struck a chord with me. It makes perfect sense to me – if something is not working then we need to ask why, what am I not doing/offering. That is a fundamental key to success in my opinion!

    • Thanks Kostas – I agree – I think my greatest trait sometimes is I’m so darn curious about why or how something works – it keeps you thinking about how to do things better.

  • Thanks for the continuing insightful content. These 7 Essential Habits are not only applicable to business owners, but to all successful people. In today’s economy, we are all business owners of “Me, Inc.”.

    • Totally agree Greg – I work mostly with business owners so I tend to write to them as well, but these apply to anyone trying to make a difference!

  • Great post as always, John. With two boys under 2 years old I’m finding more and more value (and necessity) with getting up early. I also love education-based marketing. It allows me to continue to grow and make sales without feeling like I’m always selling, so “learn to learn, learn to teach” is a perfect tip to remember.

  • Love this! Another way of saying it is “Do the hardest work first.” This is advice given to my daughters about their schoolwork as well. Makes sense.

    • Brian Tracy has a book titled – Eat the Green Frog that basically says imagine waking up and eating a frog for breakfast and knowing there couldn’t be anything harder to do all day

  • Vicki Cato

    You have helped me prioritize my writing time. I never thought of myself as a teacher but I can work at it. Great post.

    • Great Vicki – I think we all teach something and teaching sells!

  • Humberto González Lara

    Extremely important is what John calls obsess over value. I don´t know if up to now this concept seems to be too inside within “cloud of the marketers” or if it is well known in the current world. Anyway what matters here is not “talking about… but living as”. I think people will look for something more than only words. As a result , “I offer value therefore I exist” could be the only sustainable commandment in competition.

    • Yes Humberto I believe you are explaining a common phrase – Actions speak louder than words!

  • Kevin Cheng

    “Take care of the plant – your health”

    As you say, so easy to develop bad habits around. I’m right in the midst of starting an online training business and I’ve been working until 4 to 6 am for what seems like forever (yes, just about an allnighter, and I do it regularly), and accumulating a huge sleep deficit. I keep thinking, “this has to stop”, but it’s so hard because there’s SO MUCH you need to do when you’re a one-person shop, as I am. All your 7 habits are so true and essential, so thanks for posting! It’s just that this one – particularly sleep – seems to be SO easy to push aside in the nonstop roller coaster of work.

  • Love the tips. The “Get up early” one is so simple and so true for me. “Get to bed early” might actually be better since being awake when you get up early is predicated on that. It is easy to forget that there is always tomorrow – the work will still be there.

  • Tanya H. Miller

    A great article, and I love the “Take care of the plant” which I have found that not all business owners do…but in order to stay creative I have found taking care of myself physically and mentally to be incredibly important. I also practice getting up early because it’s the only way I can squeeze in a good run on a regular basis. Getting up early gives me time to decide how I want my day to flow, rather than just letting the events of the day determine my focus. Again, great tips!