When most people think of an entrepreneur, they envision someone who has already made it. The stories of rags to riches entrepreneurial wile seem like the stuff of fiction when placed against the harsh, cold reality of mortgage repayments, monthly bills and taking care of your family and yourself. It's almost as if it takes some sort of superhuman trait to become one of the very few whose business has made it. It all starts with the basics such as operating capital, securing a strong team who shares your vision, convincing clients to take you on and making sure everything in you have is protected under some sort of business insurance. Most of the psychological lessons you can learn as you go along but what about those intrinsic factors which make you a cut above the rest?
From the Wright Brothers to Steve Jobs, the world has always been full of visionaries who see something and pursue it even when it seems as if their dreams directly defy reality. And that's only a small aspect of the entrepreneurial mindset. If you think you have it in you to make it in the world of business, take our small test and see how many of the traits listed you possess. Who knows, we might just end up using your products or services in the next few years.
"I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."
– Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers
Think of starting a business as running an ultramarathon. You might think you've trained hard enough for the full 80 kilometres but end up only running 20. Why is that?
What usually happens is that people are not willing to push through a varying number of different types of obstacles for years on end. You must understand that, for a while, you will have to do a lot of the groundwork yourself, from sourcing employees to defining what your brand marketing and identity are and losing money once or twice. You must be able to bounce back from the point that most athletes term 'hitting the wall'. What this means is that you start wobbling and your resolve is shaken. Basically, hitting the wall is akin to introducing doubt and fear into your psyche. Can I run any further even though I've never done this before? Have I worked this hard just to give up in the middle?
It's that small voice of doubt that fills you with negativity. You must have strategies in place for when this moment happens. In terms of business, it could be you lost quite a bit of money on one of your business's expansion ideas or maybe you lose a client. Most people get overwhelmed by the ground they still have to cover or the fact that competition from similar businesses is starting to stifle creativity or cloud a vision. You need to have your motivation, vision and direction not only in your head but also in your heart so that if anyone was to shake you awake right now and ask you what it is you do as a business, you could still give a reasonable and succinct reply. It doesn't have to be that extreme but as Mike Colwell, who runs Plains Angels, a US-based investor forum explains, "Entrepreneurship is dealing with repeated failures. It happens many times each week."
"If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it."
– Elon Musk founder and CEO of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and chairman of SolarCity.
If you've never been an employee you're better off than most people in the world. And if you ask half of them, they'll tell you that there are moments when you don't want to wake up and go into work. Imagine how you feel as the boss?
The pressure is always mounting whether your business is doing well or not. Whether your immediate goal is to grow your business into a franchise or simply ensure that your employees are capable enough to handle a new service offering, you have to withstand the pressure. It's your baby. There's no running away from it
Most people think that successful entrepreneurs are driven by money but most of them will tell you that they're fuelled by a passion for their service or product, because it solves a problem or makes life easier for a certain number of people. Most entrepreneurs believe that they are in some way changing the world. This is what sustains them during the hard times.
For example, John Roulac, who started a company specialising in hemp products, remembers a time when the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) nearly forced him into bankruptcy by classifying hemp (which is a derivative of the marijuana plant) in the same illegal category as heroin.
"It was either go out of business, keep going or go to jail," he says. "It could be bankruptcy or humiliation."
Roulac ended up suing the DEA and with the support of other natural-products manufacturers, he won the lawsuit two years later. His belief in the power of his mission and the passion he had manifested through his vision helped him prevail. This is usually referred to as the 'double down' tactic in risk management. It's double the risk because Roulac stood a chance of losing his business, humiliating himself and also having all the legal fees to pay thereafter.
"The brave may not live forever – but the cautious do not live at all."
– Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group
The barebones definition of risk-taking is the ability to deal with uncertainty and potential failure. You need to manage your fear so successfully that the fruition of all your plans and actions seem inevitable. Even though no human being can know the future, your vision for it must see you through the challenges.
As Joe Robinson of Entrepreneur.com adds, "This is where the ultimate entrepreneurial test takes place, on the mental battlefield. You can go with the fear and quit, or push through it. […] While many would feel powerless in the face of such adversity, the entrepreneur looks at the situation and knows he has some control over the outcome."
"Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe"
– Oprah Winfrey,
To have vision is akin to walking onto a site with only rubble, sand and grass and imagining a whole swathe of buildings servicing different people in a myriad of ways. You need to be able to spot the opportunities which are presenting themselves to you whether implicitly or explicitly and seize them. To continue the analogy, you need to be able to see the building in your mind even before anyone else has done a single architectural drawing or named the price of the worksite. Entrepreneurs are usually at the forefront of innovation and emerging fields because they see a position which is unoccupied but which shows a lot of potential for the future – they then step in and grow it. Eldad Matityahu, the founder of Net Optics explains the need for entrepreneurial vision:
"Entrepreneurs often face naysayers because we see the future before it plays out. You have to be several steps ahead of the market."
Along with vision comes the ability to believe in yourself. The self-confidence necessary to deflect all those naysayers is a great part of why you succeed or fail. As motivational speaker Les Brown puts it:
"The graveyard is the richest place on Earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream."
Once you realise that no amount of derisive or even well-intentioned naysaying can kill you, your ideas or your ambition you will have fortified yourself against the crowds of people who may call you crazy for following your instincts. Think of all of the innovations over the past 100 years which never would have existed had some of those people listened to the naysayers. All told, people were 'never supposed to fly' – yet we have planes. People across the ocean would 'never communicate faster than a letter' – yet we have e-mail and instant chat services. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Close to all the things which were once thought of as impossible exist now and currently serve as foundations for new and varied innovations. You can't know what will succeed unless you look ahead, recognise a pattern and tell yourself that whatever idea you have will succeed.
"If you're not stubborn, you'll give up on experiments too soon. And if you're not flexible, you'll pound your head against the wall and you won't see a different solution to a problem you're trying to solve."
– Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com
Charles Darwin espoused survival of the fittest among organic life but this applies to business too. One must be able to adapt with the market from the get-go. Your final product or service will likely not look like anything that you started with in your business plan or when you started your initial phase of operations. You need to be able to get honest with yourself and realise what is and what isn't working. Cut out all of the things which are not only inefficient but which could be holding your business back from being what you want it to be, and adding whatever ideas you receive from customers or employees which work. Being fluid also allows you to break the so-called rules.
You may come up with unconventional ways of solving problems that other businesses were stuck trying to solve.
If you tick all or at least four of these, that is:
Knowing full well that you could learn the other traits which you're missing, you should ascertain where you stand. If you genuinely want to become an entrepreneur then it becomes essential to adopt their core traits. Your business will thank you in the form of good and steady profits, your customers will reward you with their loyalty and you will grow as an entrepreneur.
If you feel like you're ready to develop into the sort of person for whom all of these traits come naturally, then maybe it's about time that you start your own business. Perhaps you've been sitting on a certain idea for weeks or months on end which you've been scared or too busy to implement. Hopefully, you are now more inspired to use the qualities you already have at your disposal, or which you could have in the near future, to reach your goals and fulfil your vison.