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LISI NIESNER  /  Reuters
If you want to become a billionaire, you need to make smart choices and smart investments — a big dose of luck helps, too.
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updated 4/8/2011 7:47:25 AM ET 2011-04-08T11:47:25

Becoming a billionaire seems like a great goal, but it's only a dream for most of us, unfortunately. The thing is, many billionaires didn't start out as such. Some certainly had economic and educational advantages, but even without those, their smart decisions and business choices, plus a few characteristics that can't be overlooked, led them from point A to Point B (billionaire). So what can we learn about our own real-life options for becoming billionaires?

First things first: Find a way to make money. Four of the most oft-methods of money making in the world of billionaires are inventing, investing, innovating and being an entrepreneur. But also remember that how you pursue your billions is just as important as what you do to get them.

Do this: Invent
Inventing is a tough road to take, but if you've got the smarts to successfully create, patent, produce and market a product that people need (and thus, will buy in droves), you can build your future billionaire life on it. Successful inventions aren't necessarily complicated or high-tech items, either. James Dyson invented a better vacuum cleaner, and Gianfranco Zaccai invented a better mop, the Swiffer. Seems like things that help people clean more efficiently might be a good market to pursue.

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Do this: Innovate
Innovation is the fine art of considering a current mainstream market and finding a creative way to improve the current offering. Successful innovators will identify the real needs behind customer demands and will meet them with a smarter, better, more efficient product; with a service that provides more than its competitors; or with a business that works in a way just different enough to stand out from the rest.

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad is a great example of innovation leading to billions. Furniture doesn't seem like a very exciting market, but his approach of providing modular, economical pieces with a modern flair from European designers and manufacturers to a global market has taken him all the way.

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Don't do this: Think you know it all
The moment you think you have nothing left to learn is the moment you kill your potential for becoming a billionaire. Especially if you're interested in building your wealth through inventing or innovating, you have to be curious, open-minded and always learning. Those qualities allow you to look at old things in a new way and to see the potential for change and profit where others see only what already had been done.

Do this: Invest
Warren Buffett, the self-made billionaire, is famous for his frugal ways and for his smart investments. Investing, of course, requires a little seed money and some accurate insight into what investments are smart and what are a waste of money. If you can follow in the footsteps of billionaire investors like Buffett, then this might be the route for you.

Don't do this: Make flashy investments
The latest and greatest is always fun to talk about, and one of the pitfalls of would-be billionaires is to jump in on the "next big thing," which doesn't always turn out to be so big. Investors who make billions from their investments avoid flashy, fun and high-risk picks and instead choose those with long-term potential to provide great returns. Real estate, energy, steel, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and energy are among the smart picks, while high-tech and intriguing but risky options may go either way.

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Do this: Be an entrepreneur
The third option for becoming a billionaire is in the time-honored tradition of entrepreneurial pursuits. Starting a business and taking it to success isn't always easy, but for those with good business sense and the ability to spot start-ups that have potential to be great, entrepreneurship can be the vehicle to great wealth.

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Billionaire entrepreneurs might work in one of two ways: either by coming up with a great idea and taking it all the way, as in the case of Bill Gates and Microsoft. Or you can spot someone else's good idea and invest in it early on, helping to carry it to huge success. Both are viable ways to reach success that can get you into the billions of dollars when it comes to your own net worth.

Don't do this: Quit too soon
Entrepreneurial types who succeed must realize that success rarely comes overnight. One business idea might not pay off, but the next might. Or your company might hit a low point, and you have to make the choice to hang on with it and bring it back or let your dream die and your debt increase. It's not easy to build something from scratch, especially when your something is a fortune of billions. Time is on your side, if you don't rush it.

The bottom line
Of course, luck has something to do with success — it helps to be in the right place at the right time. However, if you don't know what to do when you're there, luck won't help you out much. Smart choices, smart investments and long-term learning and growing will.

Once you hit that first billion, remember you heard it here.

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