Starting a business can be exciting and scary at the same time. When you hear stories about how many businesses go broke or how many relationships fail due to the pressures of starting a business, you can be forgiven for wondering why anyone would even contemplate it.
Entrepreneurs start businesses for a variety of reasons. They might want to work for themselves and have the freedom to operate the way they choose and how they choose.
Entrepreneurs may just want to be more involved. My wife was a physiotherapist and got to the level where she was a manager and not actually practising. She then considered going out on her own, to be more hands-on (excuse the pun).
Some entrepreneurs’ businesses start as a hobby that becomes lucrative enough for the entrepreneur to give up their day job to work on their new enterprise. Some entrepreneurs start their business to expand on their expertise – an accountant might start a business advisory firm, or a scientist might start a biotech manufacturing business.
However, for whatever reason a person starts a new business, there are several attributes or traits that most successful entrepreneurs have in common.
This a generalisation but most small businesses do not have a plan, or if they do it’s just “because the bank needed it”, and it has long been filed in a drawer never to see the light of day.
French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Tout objectif sans plan n’est qu’un souhait.” (A goal without a plan is just a wish.) Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Major businesses all have business plans; even the ATO requires you to have a plan when you apply for an Australian Business Number.
Successful entrepreneurs have a plan, too because it also helps them stay organised and co-ordinate their efforts. Many entrepreneurs will not develop and follow a plan because they are worried that they may not achieve their plan or goal.
Firstly, I assure them that the goals of their business are their goals and no-one else cares if they achieve them or not. Secondly, not setting a goal is like turning up at the airport without a ticket and not knowing your destination. I ask them, “What will you do?” and “How will you do it?” and “With whom?” and “What do you want out of the trip?”
Thirdly, you are more likely to get close to your goal if you first set one. Remember when you were saving up for a car or a house deposit? I bet you had regular savings goals and stuck to a budget. By knowing how much you needed to put away each week or each month, you were more likely to achieve your goal than if you had no goal or plan at all.
Successful entrepreneurs need to have a vision of what their end goals and success looks like to them. What does the business look like in five or 10 years? They should also be able to articulate their vision to others, including potential investors, shareholders and financiers.
To the outsider, starting a new business is just about making money, but the most successful entrepreneurs are passionate about their product or service. Passion also keeps them going when times get tough – and they will get tough at some stage. Passion keeps them going when making sacrifices such as not spending time with their family and friends or forgoing activities like footy matches or holidays.
Self-belief and perseverance
Many entrepreneurs when starting a business abandon the comfort of a regular pay cheque, and the familiarities of colleagues if they go it alone. Given the high percentage of new business failure, believing in your product or service is essential. Successful entrepreneurs don’t listen to naysayers and will persevere to make their endeavours succeed.
Many years ago, a couple of university career advisers came to the markets dealing room where I was working. They asked about the attributes and qualifications required and assumed everyone would have advanced university qualifications in finance or economics.
I went around the room and told them about the backgrounds of various people – the ex-army captain, milkman, former bank teller, physicist, geologist, lawyer and medical student.
I then described the attributes required for specific roles, and explained that these were more important than qualifications or background. The spot traders had to be able make a decision very quickly and were action-oriented; if they made a mistake, they quickly self-corrected and tried something else.
The key to their triumphs was in the trying. These attributes are all possessed by successful entrepreneurs.
All entrepreneurs are go-getters who believe they can do anything if they put their mind to it, but they often fall into the trap of trying to do everything. Successful entrepreneurs adopt a disciplined, focused approach prioritising what is really important.
Priorities change, too – getting customers is important in the formative days, finding flash offices probably not so much.
Focus is also acknowledging how best to spend your time. A plumber may know how to build a website and a website designer may know how to fix a leaky tap. Should the plumber build a website, or the website designer fix the tap?
Work on their business
The most successful entrepreneurs think and act as business owners, not as practitioners. They are not an IT programmer, they are a business owner; they are not a milliner, they are a business owner. Their focus is not in the doing, but in the how to manage and grow a business.
Unfortunately, people often gravitate to the things they know and are comfortable doing, but running a successful business is a skill in itself. Successful entrepreneurs recognise the difference and work on their business rather than in their business.
Courage and risk taking
Every entrepreneur takes risks – they have courage – and know that a high-stakes gamble often brings the greatest rewards. This is different, however, to being reckless, as successful entrepreneurs evaluate carefully the risk-reward equation. Remember, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft.
Winston Churchill said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” This applies in business as in any other discipline.
Integrity is everything in business. Your personal reputation and your customer or client respect are earned incrementally over a long period, but can be lost in an instance.
To be a successful entrepreneur people need to trust you, be willing to work with you, to give you credit or lend you money, to buy goods or services from you and be willing to help you in difficult times. In addition, integrity must be displayed at the highest levels if it is to cascade downwards through the business.
Accusations of flip-flopping and changing your mind may seem like a terrible insult, but not for a successful entrepreneur. The ability and willingness to change your mind in light of new information or because something isn’t working shows great humility. Successful entrepreneurs not only make mistakes, they admit to them and then they learn from them.
The above list is not exhaustive but, in my opinion, common or core attributes of successful entrepreneurs. I also think that they are attributes most people either have now or could work on, and therefore being a successful entrepreneur is achievable for most people.