“What’s the most important thing I need to know?”

Whether I’m working with one of the businesses I mentor, speaking at events, perusing my inbox or answering questions on a panel, this is the question that arises more than any other. While there is no magic formula to success, there are some key factors that every young entrepreneur should know.

1. Remember the “you.” Don’t lose yourself by trying to act how you think a CEO or business owner should act. Instead, be authentic to who you are and what you believe in, and enjoy being the leader. True leaders not only have a vision – they also possess the guts to pursue it. You must grow as your business and organizations grow, but never forget the core values you possess right now.

2. Trust your gut. Your instincts got you to where you are now, and while you certainly want and cherish occasional input from those you trust, don’t be afraid to make decisions based on what you feel is right.

3. Find “elephants” (big customers). I always wondered why someone would focus on getting a hundred small customers when for the same effort (if they know how to do it correctly), they could get a few really big customers that could each buy 10 to 100 times as much as the hundred small ones. This thinking applies to every single industry, from retail stores to online businesses, from applications to pizza parlors – even B2Bs. Focus your business on the big customers. Here are a few tips to start your sales force down the big customer path:

  • Position your company for the big customer. Ask yourself what it is about your product or service that appeals to the big customer. Most likely you will have to reposition or shape your offering to directly meet those needs. For example, if you sell retail, ask how big companies can use your product. Maybe corporate or executive gifts. If you have a specialty baking shop, can a big company send out a huge volume as holiday gifts? If you sell B2B, how can your product be shaped to meet global needs of a huge customer?
  • Learn the language. Every large company has its own language. Learn what they call the different buildings and the name of the local sandwich shop. What do they call their contracts? How about their cafeteria and conference rooms, not to mention initiatives that are applicable to you? Learn and use everything you can so that you assimilate into their culture. This information is all around you. Just ask, look around and listen.
  • Embrace bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a reality of larger companies. Once you accept it, get in there with a small sale at first and then work from the inside out, helping your buyer by helping them within his or her own company. Ask how you can help, then meet with as many different departments as possible.
  • Find your champion. You need someone to represent you in the room when you aren’t there. Whenever you sell the big customer, make sure to leave them with five simple bullet points highlighting the things you want them to know about your product. This way they will remember the key aspects without having to dig through the pile of materials – which, by the way, they won’t do.

4. Think BIG. It amazes me how often I have to push young entrepreneurs to think really big. Many that are starting out are happy just to get some traction. Don’t be. Once you have that traction, it’s time to build big. Look at your business in two ways: 1) How can I sell new stuff to the same people and 2) How can I sell the same stuff to new people?

Focus in on which option or options will lead to huge growth and build your strategy around that. The rest will pick up from there.

Giveaway – 1 Hour Phone Call

Steve Kaplan grew a target marketing company from startup to $250 million in sales with offices in 14 countries before selling it as part of a public company for $2.1 billion. He has owned over 30 businesses – 26 of which have been sold – and is now offering a free one-hour consultation to one of our Under30CEO blog readers!

To enter, leave a comment below explaining why you’d like a personal consultation with him. One winner will be chosen at random on April 23rd.

Good luck! For more information about Steve Kaplan visit his website: www.stevekaplanlive.com. You can also say hi to Steve on Twitter and Facebook.