When people dream of being an entrepreneur, they may see themselves as owning and being the boss of a successful and profitable business which offers them the freedom to work how and when they want. Unfortunately, this isn't reality (if it were, everyone would be an entrepreneur).
The truth is that most of us are not cut out to be entrepreneurs, for while it can be incredibly rewarding, it involves an enormous amount of work and takes a lot of grit, determination, and tenacity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that about 20% of new businesses fail in their first year, and about 50% fail in their fifth year. Despite these odds, thousands of new businesses launch every year - some will be extremely successful, some will be able to sustain themselves, and others will fold.
So then, what does it take to run a successful business? When you take a look at the entrepreneurs that run successful businesses, there are a handful of traits that these individuals all have in common. Let's take a look at a few of them:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vision as “the ability to see: sight or eyesight, something that you imagine, a picture that you see in your mind, something that you see or dream”. When it comes to being an entrepreneur, vision provides the drive and the courage to explore, to push, to perform, and to have the determination to keep going and eventually succeed. Successful entrepreneurs can articulate the purpose and goals of their business and describe the who, what, where, when and why.
Vision also creates the culture and framework within an organization which is a key component when facing the inevitable ups and downs, and when tenacity and resilience is needed from the founder, the co-founder and the immediate team. Successful entrepreneurs also need to be able to hold onto their vision by not only remaining fully engrossed with their business, but by also surrounding themselves with individuals that will empower them to grow and to push themselves outside of their comfort zone.
Entrepreneurs are individuals who have put their lives and their family's lives on the line to pursue a business idea that has about a 50% chance of succeeding over five years. Taking this path is incredibly challenging and competitive, and requires both determination and motivation. This determination and motivation comes from a drive, deep within, to succeed.
Each entrepreneur's drive is unique to themselves - it could be a drive to make money, to help others, to have autonomy, to create a team of like-minded individuals for a cause, to be competitive, to leave a legacy, or to simply take a risk. However, drive without passion isn't enough to have a successful business.
Undoubtedly, entrepreneurship involves having both vision and drive. However, without a true passion and love for what they do and who they serve, entrepreneurs will find it very difficult to overcome the challenges of starting and running a successful business.
Passion is what pulls entrepreneurs towards a mission, and is what creates the drive they need to have in order to succeed with their business. When an entrepreneur is really passionate about what they do, throwing in the towel and quitting isn’t an option, even when the stress becomes overwhelming and the challenges seem insurmountable.
Passion is what provides entrepreneurs with an alternative and futuristic view of the world, what drives them forward relentlessly, and what is needed to inspire and solidify each employee's commitment to the company.
Starting any business requires an entrepreneur to have the confidence to take their first step. But confidence needs to take on an even deeper meaning for entrepreneurs. Exuding a solid and quiet confidence (not to be confused with arrogance or egotism) as an entrepreneur is a very powerful character trait. It establishes feelings of trust and respect amongst employees and investors, and is a determining factor in being able to successfully negotiate and close deals. It can also be tapped into during difficult and challenging times when it is needed the most.
It is easy to have confidence when doing things one is good at or comfortable doing. However, entrepreneurs can only innovate and improve when they open themselves up to uncertainty, accept that things are not always going to be set in stone, and understand that there is always a place for learning and growth. At the end of the day, building confidence as an entrepreneur is something that can be worked on everyday through learning what's best for the business, by taking ownership of the things that can be controlled, and through taking calculated risks.
Humility & Empathy
Nobody likes dealing with egomaniacs - there's nothing more off-putting than people who view themselves as being better than others. Entrepreneurs need to make a conscious effort to keep their feet on the ground during even the most successful accomplishments.
Humility is often mistaken for low self-esteem, however humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking less about yourself. Practicing humility involves being perceptive, self-aware, kind, and empathetic. Entrepreneurs that make it a daily practice to embrace these traits - and are honest about both their strengths and limitations - will reap rewards in the long run.
The golden rule is simple - always treat people the way you want to be treated. The most successful entrepreneurs are able to give credit where credit is due, ask for help where help is needed, admit when they are wrong, and listen to constructive criticism. This makes for a more honest, compassionate and giving person, and ultimately makes for a respected and trusted leader.
Entrepreneurs can reach higher levels of success by keeping an open mind, by being willing to consider different viewpoints, and by giving new processes a try. Welcoming new ideas and perspectives can ultimately help business owners find better solutions to problems and be open and available to more opportunities that may benefit them in the long run. Being open-minded goes hand-in-hand with being humble, as being able to see past personal ingrained beliefs and letting go of one's ego can allow an entrepreneur to pivot quickly and take advantage of opportunities that may not have been part of an original plan.
Many entrepreneurs have room for improvement when it comes to being open-minded, as overcoming the need to be in control can be hard to do. Admitting to not knowing it all can procure a somewhat vulnerable feeling. However, developing an open mind can result in a strong sense of self without being confined by personal beliefs or the ideologies of others.
An effective entrepreneur and leader needs to be able to make a decision quickly yet effectively. An entrepreneur taking too long to make a decision due to their fear of making a wrong decision is a huge negative for any organization. Not making a decision is a decision in itself. Uncertainty, procrastination, and indecisiveness can only create anxiety and insecurity within an organization.
A leader is better off saying 'yes' or 'no' more often than 'maybe', even though some decisions won't end up being the right ones. Being decisive does not mean being impulsive or careless - it means being able to consider all pertinent facts relating to the decision-making process without over-analyzing or delaying a decision unnecessarily.
What entrepreneurs do need to spend time on is figuring out their long-term vision. A clear vision of the future will make all the smaller day-to-day decisions that much easier, as each smaller decision is either moving the company in the right direction or will end up being an important lesson to learn in order to achieve the vision. A clear long-term vision will also serve as a guide and a filter - with this foundation, many questions will answer themselves, which is faster than time spent engaged in an exhaustive mental debate.
The world of entrepreneurship is guaranteed to have downfalls and obstacles along the way. The defining characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is their level of optimism and how they turn these downfalls into something positive.
“All of my best successes came on the heels of a failure, so I’ve learned to look at each belly flop as the beginning of something good,” said Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and Shark on Shark Tank. “If you just hang in there, you’ll find that something is right around the corner. It’s that belief that keeps me motivated. I’ve learned not to feel sorry for myself, ever. Just five minutes of feeling sorry for yourself takes your power away and makes you unable to see the next opportunity.”
Optimism helps entrepreneurs deal with problems more effectively by focusing on the solutions rather than dwelling on issues. Optimism supports creative thinking and the generation of new ideas, produces a tendency to act, boosts confidence and persistence, and makes it easier to bounce back after failure.