By Solomon Thimothy, founder of OneIMS and Clickx

You might remember curved grading from high school or college. Rather than grading students based on how many answers they got correct, their final score was raised relative to the rest of the class. 

If you’re like me, that curve might have helped you out more than once. It turned a few would-be C’s and B’s into A’s. 

Unfortunately, this kind of rewarding behavior can become a trap. We get used to being rewarded for great work we didn’t actually accomplish. When we get to the “real world,” we quickly realize life doesn’t have a curve.

The same is true about business. There isn’t a kind professor who just wants to see their students succeed. If you’re not going to put in the work to get the results you want, they’re not going to be handed to you. 

Failure happens pretty often in the business world. Some entrepreneurs become too comfortable delivering middle-of-the-road results and hope that they’ll be rewarded for their efforts. 

In business, you need to be at the top of the class if you want to succeed. You need to put in the work, know your material and be prepared to study hard to get the results you want. Here’s how you can do that. 

1. Do your research.

Success always begins with laying the right foundation. Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or you’ve been in business for decades, research should be your first step in any process, project or product. 

Think of research like attending class. In school, if you wanted to get an A in the class, you needed to attend the lecture. You needed to talk with the experts (your professors) to know what was on the test and what information you needed to study. 

In business, start out with doing the appropriate research. Know your industry. Talk with experts. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Attend webinars. Learn as much as you can about the space you’re working in. 

2. Go the extra step.

Just showing up to class usually isn’t enough to get to the top of the class. The same is true in business. If you want to succeed, you need to put in the work to go that extra step. 

To build a successful business, always do what you think you should accomplish -- and then take it one step further. Look for that extra step that sets you above your competitors. 

That “next level” can come in many different forms, but the more you look for opportunities, the more they’ll present themselves. For example, rather than just attending a conference, see if you can lead a breakout session or deliver a keynote. 

3. Think outside the box.

Learning is more than just regurgitating information. While you might be able to pass a test by remembering facts, you’re not going to get that prized A grade. 

If you follow the status quo and repeat what others have done in the past, you might be able to start a business. However, your success will be limited. 

In order to create a truly successful business, you need to get creative. Thinking outside the box allows you to apply your research in new or unique ways to solve unique problems others haven’t solved in the past. It shows that you’re not just capable of understanding and spitting back information, but that you can apply it to new situations. 

4. Teach someone else.

When studying for a test, studying in groups or tutoring other students was a great way to learn something new or retain information. Surprisingly, the same is true for becoming an entrepreneur. 

Even if you’re just getting started, mentorship opportunities can help you build a great business. As you connect with other individuals and share what you know, you can create a network that helps elevate your business. 

Business -- and life -- isn’t graded on a curve. When you’re willing to put in the work, that’s OK. If you do the appropriate research, always look for that extra step, think creatively and share your knowledge, you can get an A grade in entrepreneurship.

Solomon Thimothy is the founder of OneIMS, a growth agency, as well as Clickx, a digital marketing analytics platform for agencies and businesses.