Entrepreneurs come from a range of age groups and backgrounds, but not everyone has what it takes to be – or would even enjoy being – their own boss. Most successful business founders possess at least most of the following 10 traits – and the most successful possess them all.
So how do you score on the 10 essential attributes of being a successful entrepreneur.
It’s simplistic to conclude that money is the prime motivator driving entrepreneurs. Top-performing entrepreneurs are also passionate about their products or services.
More specifically, they have a committed belief that their business idea – whether it’s a problem-solver or a money saver – will bring important benefits to customers.
Passion is what keeps you going when times get tough – as they inevitably will. When you’re working long hours on too little sleep, when things go wrong – this is when the passion for what you do will keep you positive and motivated.
With up to 80% of new businesses failing within the first five years, most entrepreneurs will face setbacks that test their commitment. Developing a new concept inevitably involves a testing period of trial and error, redrafting plans in the light of feedback from customers and suppliers.
It is all too easy to become despondent as hopes are dashed, time is lost and money evaporates. However, those with the tenacity to stay the course will learn lessons from failures and become the next, misleadingly dubbed ‘overnight success’.
With so much to do and so little time, there is always a temptation to try and do everything. A true entrepreneur should adopt a disciplined, focused approach by prioritising what is really important to the business.
While every business has its own particular priorities, some things are always important. For example, every business needs customers, and winning their custom should generally take precedence in the business’s formative days.
Often, the real skill is continuously redefining your priorities as the business grows.
You might be good at solving specific problems in a particular discipline – but do you have an eye on the bigger picture – a broader vision? The true entrepreneur has a notion of where he or she wants the business to be in five, 10, 15 years time and what their defining USP should be.
They can communicate their innovative concept to shareholders and potential investors. Visionary entrepreneurs are always looking to the future, anticipating niche opportunities which competitors have overlooked.
An entrepreneur’s vision can be distilled into words through a mission statement. Seeking to encapsulate the business’s defining values and purpose, a mission statement that is clear, compelling and inspiring offers a decent clue that the entrepreneur who drafted it possesses the hard-to-define quality of vision.
Ikea’s driving mission, for instance, is that “we save money for a better everyday life.” Sony, meanwhile, aims “to be a company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity.”
Self-belief is perhaps one of the most common attributes associated with entrepreneurs. And they need it: starting a business means abandoning the comfort of a regular salary and the camaraderie of colleagues to go it alone and risk financial stability.
And all this when, as we said earlier, a huge proportion of start-ups fail. Self-belief is nigh on essential for entrepreneurs.
Where others may see only an insurmountable challenge, an entrepreneur often sees an exciting opportunity and their gut instinct tells them it’s achievable. Often near-fanatical about the benefits of their product or service, their enthusiasm is infectious and can turn staff and customers into committed brand champions.
First, the caveat: there are countless stories of unscrupulous entrepreneurs who thrive – at least for a time.
Nevertheless, integrity in business goes a long way. Most entrepreneurs recognise that customer respect is earned incrementally over years of trading and can be lost in an instant.
They appreciate the difference between cost-efficiency and cutting corners. And wise entrepreneurs realise that integrity must be evident at the very highest levels if it is to cascade downwards throughout their business.
Seasoned entrepreneurs know that any number of unforeseeable developments can undermine the relevance of products and services, which is why your final market offering will often look rather different to the initial blueprint. A true entrepreneur can think on his or her feet and revise – even abandon – plans, no matter how much time and resource has gone into developing them, if the circumstances demand it.
In a business context, courage means not being frightened to take risks. This often involves pursuing targets which others have eschewed, because they know that a high-stakes gamble often brings the greatest rewards.
Provided the risk-return equation is carefully evaluated, it needn’t be a reckless gamble.
As British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill once observed: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” And this is a truism that applies to business as much as any discipline.
As soon as they hire employees, entrepreneurs must show strong, decisive leadership.
For employees, a job means a salary, a CV enhancer and a stepping stone to better things. For the business owner, making the right calls can make the difference between great wealth and bankruptcy.
Being decisive means committing to the course of action that seems best for the business in light of available evidence. It means politely overruling the contrary opinions of colleagues – no matter how much it upsets them.
The business owner stands to lose the most if the decision proves unwise. They bear responsibility for the big calls and, ultimately, the business’s success or failure.
But decisiveness doesn’t mean ignoring the counsel of others or making hasty or rash decisions. And it doesn’t mean sticking to a course of action pig-headedly as circumstances change.
The accusation of ‘flip-flopping’ is among the worst political insults. But it shouldn’t be; changing your mind in light of new evidence or because things aren’t working out shows humility.
There is nothing wrong with admitting mistakes; successful entrepreneurs not only admit to them, they learn from them too.