5 habits of ambitious businesses

Published 24th January 2023

As any ambitious business owner will know, there’s no easy formula for success.

The pivotal moment in your business’s growth might come in the form of a big breakthrough or an exciting opportunity, but most of the time achieving your goals is the result of the hard work you do every day – and the habits you build into your routine.

To understand what those habits should be, there’s a lot you can learn from the big tech firms. Here are five things that set the most ambitious businesses apart from the rest.

1. Focusing on your market

One of the first things most new business owners think about is who their customers are.

But sometimes, startup owners will put all that thought in at the beginning, outlining target customers and conducting market research, only to lose focus and become vaguer about who their customers are as time goes on. It’s so easy to get distracted by short-term opportunities.

Some of the most successful businesses have been able to grow rapidly by maintaining a relentless focus on their niche and basing all their decisions around those people.

Fashion shopping app Depop, for example, has a business model built around the interests of its millennial and gen-Z user base, by combining the structure of a social media app with the convenience of an eCommerce or reselling platform – while also appealing to that demographic’s entrepreneurial and eco-conscious values.

2. Investing in marketing

With your target customers in mind, the next step is to reach them with an effective marketing strategy.

Xero is another company that knows its audience, having built a cult following of sorts around its cloud accounting product.
Its software caters to small businesses and that’s apparent across its website, advertising, and content. But Xero has really been able to excel by appealing to the accountants and bookkeepers who are in direct contact with the business owners it wants to reach.

Through a partnership program and live events, Xero has been able to create a movement that’s hard to ignore across the accountancy industry.

3. Being ready to adapt

Most businesses have had to adapt in some way to the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but those that did so quickly were best able to handle the impacts.

There was a time in 2020 when the future of the rental app Airbnb looked uncertain, with bookings plummeting by 72% year-on-year in April. But by recognising early on that significant and permanent change was needed, the company was able to scale back and refocus on its core business of home rentals.

And, going back to our first point on customer focus, it put its users at the centre of this response, making sure to address concerns such as refunds and hygiene.

While the company did also have to reduce its workforce and seek emergency investment, a swift response and strong customer focus were two major factors in ensuring Airbnb made it through.

4. Getting ahead of the competition

Sometimes, the key to success is in taking a step back and looking at what everyone else is doing – then leapfrogging the competition.

When Apple’s iPhone was released in 2007, the technology was certainly cutting-edge, but what was really innovative about it was the concept. For the first time, consumers could have a phone that was also a miniature computer, capable of much more than making calls or sending texts. Other phone manufacturers followed suit after that, giving more prominence to touchscreens and offering more features through apps, but it was that new concept that saw iPhone sales grow rapidly and consistently for eight years after its release.

Other times, a product might stand out because its practical capabilities outshine anything else on the market. To give a more recent example, the increased use of video conferencing software Zoom during the pandemic has turned it into a kind of a by-word for almost any kind of online meetup – most of us are now familiar with Zoom quizzes, Zoom drinks, and so on. Its popularity compared to competitors like Facebook or Google is largely to do with its functionality and performance, which has held up even when the demand has surged.

As a spokesperson for the software told CNN last year, Zoom’s policy even before the crisis was to be able to support “double its average daily peak of usage and have the ability to deploy tens of thousands of additional servers within hours if needed”.

5. Staying determined

It might sound like a cliche, but one thing a lot of successful entrepreneurs have in common is their resilience in the face of rejection.

The idea for Swedish fintech Klarna, for example, was first presented in 2005 at an innovators’ pitch by founder Sebastian Siemiatowski, where he was told it would never work. Recently, the firm became Europe’s most valuable startup, worth $31 billion.

That’s not to say you’re guaranteed the same success simply by being determined enough. But as long as you’ve done your research properly, thought realistically about your plan, and taken constructive feedback on board wherever possible, confidence and persistence can take you a long way.

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