Sir Richard Branson has given his five "rough guidelines for creating a successful business".

"After five decades in business, I’m often asked if there is a shortcut to success. Unfortunately there isn’t — or if there is, I haven’t found it yet. Creating a successful and profitable business takes time, since you build your reputation as customers learn to trust and rely on you, one by one," Branson wrote on the Virgin website.

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"Also, there’s no guarantee that spending a huge amount of money on marketing will slingshot your business forward. If you spend your time looking for shortcuts, you will find one — right out of business."

"If you genuinely love and believe in what you do, others will take notice and share your enthusiasm."

Richard Branson last month launched his space tourism business Virgin Gallactic as a publicly traded company. Virgin Gallactic Holdings debuted on the New York Stock Market, where Branson said there were no set rules to succeed in business but he had "embraced some rough guidelines that can be very helpful".

  1. Create a useful product or service
  2. The most important point, Branson stresses, is not to go into business purely for financial reasons. "Running a company involves long hours and hard decisions; if you don’t have a better reason than money to keep going, your business will more than likely fail, as many new businesses do," Branson said.

    Branson said the business should be "something of use that is going to benefit society as a whole". "If you do something you truly care about, you will be in a much better position to find customers, connect with them, and keep them coming back," he said.

    Once decided on the product or service, concentrate on making it different from the competition.

    "Do your research, find a gap or an area ripe for innovation, and position your business in a way that sets it apart," Branson said.

  3. Make your message easily understood
  4. Branson said that customers identify with a product's core values. "Ask yourself, why did I start my business? Be honest – this will help you establish an authentic value and voice. Then break your message into something simple."

    "At Virgin, we stand for great customer service, good value and innovative alternatives to our competitors’ offerings. Most importantly, we view business as a force for good. Knowing who we are and what we stand for ensures that we don’t waste time or money on messaging that doesn’t represent us or resonate with our customers," Branson said.

  5. Sell yourself
  6. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. "My mentor, Sir Freddie Laker, a man who had started a company to challenge British Airways on their home turf, gave me some invaluable advice when I was starting up Virgin Atlantic," said Branson. "Knowing that we couldn’t match the more established airlines in terms of marketing budget, he encouraged me to drive the publicity myself."

    “Use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive.”

    Branson clearly took that advice and has never forgotten it.

    "While I’ve always been interested in sports and physical challenges, that might not be the route for you. Find your tone, know your brand, do things your own way, and create waves. The free advertising will follow," he said.

  7. Take advantage of social media
  8. "Tools like Twitter and Facebook are wonderful ways to get your message out to a wide audience. Social media is not only more cost-efficient than advertising, but it also offers great opportunities for innovative engagement with your customers. Use it to your advantage," said Branson.

    "Remember that there is a difference between selling and marketing. In my experience, selling a product through social media doesn’t always work – it’s better to simply communicate with your customers in an authentic way and have fun. As you build an online profile that people can identify with and trust, you’ll find that they will soon become customers."

    Branson added that the feedback you receive on social media can be invaluable, especially when your business is new. He urges new business owners to listen to your customers’ comments to gain an understanding of what they are doing right and wrong.

  9. Enjoy the ride
  10. "If you genuinely love and believe in what you do, others will take notice and share your enthusiasm," Branson said. If the business owners interest wanes, change.

    "Switch from operations to management, move on, expand into new territories, anything that interests you. To find success, you need to be fully committed or your work will show it," Branson said.

    For more tips on starting a business, contact Virgin StartUp.

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