Starting a business is a lot of work. Anyone who tells you it's not is either lying or has never actually started one themselves. The hours are long, sacrifices are great and you are assaulted with new problems and challenges every day with seemingly no end. If you don't have the constitution to weather these things, your business could implode on you faster than it started.
Clearly, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. But how do you know whether it’s for you? You should start by asking yourself what it takes to be a leader because, for the most part, you'll be doing a lot of the work up front by yourself. If you can't lead yourself through startup, chances are you won't likely be able to lead your business and future employees through growth and on to success.
If you enjoy only a few actual hours of real work per day, the rest of the time spent either looking busy or hanging out at the water cooler to catch up on TV talk, a modest but steady paycheck and benefits and are okay with routine day-in and day-out, stop reading here and go back to your cushy desk job.
If you seek a challenge wrought with risk but with tremendous potential reward both financially and morally, read on friend, for you have something of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Want to start a business? 20 questions to ask yourself first.
Successful entrepreneurs, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, share similar qualities with one another. To see how you rank against these distinguished entrepreneurs, do you share at least half of these qualities?
1. Strong leadership qualities
Leaders are born, not made. Do you find yourself being the go-to person most of the time? Do you find people asking your opinion or to help guide or make decisions for them? Have you been in management roles throughout your career? A leader is someone who values the goal over any unpleasantness the work it takes to get there may bring. But a leader is more than just tenacious. A leader has strong communication skills and the ability to amass a team of people toward a common goal in a way that the entire team is motivated and works effectively to get there as a team. A leader earns the trust and respect of his team by demonstrating positive work qualities and confidence, then fostering an environment that proliferates these values through the team. A leader who nobody will follow is not a leader of anything at all.
2. Highly self-motivated
You probably know from knowing even a little bit about some of the most famous business entrepreneurs in history that leaders are typically pretty intense personalities. Nobody makes progress by sitting back and waiting for it to find them. Successful people go out into the world and invoke change through their actions. Typically, leaders enjoy challenges and will work tirelessly to solve problems that confront them. They adapt well to changing situations without unraveling and are typically expert of helping their teams change with them by motivating them toward new goals and opportunities. Often you will learn that successful entrepreneurs are driven by a more complete vision or goal than simply the task at hand and able to think on a more universal level in that regard. They are also often very passionate about their ideas that drive toward these ultimate goals and are notoriously difficult to steer off the course.
3. Strong sense of basic ethics and integrity
Business is sustainable because there is a common, understood code of ethics universally that underpins the very fabric upon which commerce is conducted. While cheaters and thieves may win in the short term, they invariably lose out in the long run. You will find that successful, sustainable business people maintain the highest standards of integrity because, at the end of the day, if you cannot prove yourself a credible business person and nobody will do business with you, you are out of business. With importance in working with clients or leading a team, effective leaders admit to any error made and offer solutions to correct rather than lie about, blame others for, or dwell on the problem itself.
4. Willingness to fail
Successful entrepreneurs are risk takers who have all gotten over one very significant hurdle: they are not afraid of failure. That's not to say that they rush in with reckless abandon. In fact, entrepreneurs are often successful because they are calculating and able to make the best decisions in even the worst of cases. However, they also accept that, even if they make the best decision possible, things don't always go according to plan and may fail anyhow. If you've heard the old adage, "nothing ventured, nothing gained," that's exactly what it's saying: do not be afraid to fail, put it out there and give it your best shot. Again, there's not one successful entrepreneur out there sitting on his couch asking, "what if?"
5. Serial innovators
Entrepreneurs are almost defined by their drive to constantly develop new ideas and improve on existing processes. In fact, that's how most of them got into business in the first place. Successful people welcome change and often depend on it to improve their effectiveness as leaders and ultimately the success of their businesses as many business concepts rely on improving products, services and processes in order to win business.
6. Know what you don't know
While successful entrepreneurs are typically strong personalities overall, the best have learned that there's always a lesson to be learned. They are rarely afraid to ask questions when it means the answers will provide them insight they can then leverage to effect. Successful entrepreneurs are confident, but not egotistical to the point that their bull-headedness is a weakness that continually prohibits them from seeing a bigger picture and ultimately making the best decisions for the business.
7. Competitive spirit
Entrepreneurs enjoy a challenge and they like to win. They would have to since starting a business is pretty much one of the biggest challenges a person can take on in their lifetime. In business it's a constant war with competition to win business and grow market share. It's also a personal challenge to use all of this to focus inward and grow a business from nothing into a powerhouse that either makes a lot of money or is so effective that it is sold or acquired for a profit as well.
8. Understand the value of a strong peer network
In almost every case, entrepreneurs never get to success alone. The best understand it takes a network of contacts, business partners, financial partners, peers and resources to succeed. Effective people nurture these relationships and surround themselves with people who can help make them more effective. Any good leader is only as good as those who support him.
The characteristics that employers look for in employees are the same traits that make for successful workers. Good employees obviously are important in any business, but small businesses often feel the impact of employee behavior — both good and bad — more acutely than larger companies. One bad apple can have a much greater impact on morale in a small organization than in a large one and, conversely, a good employee’s attitude and work ethic can be infectious.
Being Disciplined and Dependable
Reliability is a trait that is — or should be — instilled at an early age, and employees often can overcome deficiencies such as lack of experience simply by showing up on time and performing their assigned duties. Being able to work without a supervisor hovering over your shoulder is a sign of discipline. So is not having to be told not to make personal phone calls, surf the Internet or constantly text and tweet. Closely related traits are work ethic, honesty and integrity. It boils down to an employer being able to count on you to show up, do your job, stay focused, be prepared and not steal — either physically or by stealing company time.
Taking Initiative and Responsibility
Offering solutions to problems in a constructive manner, as well as standing up and taking responsibility for mistakes you’ve made, goes a long way in catching an employer’s attention. Supervisors can't be everywhere at all times, so it is up to you to pay attention and speak up when you identify a problem or a way that a process can be improved. You should also be willing to pitch in when your company is faced with a serious deadline or a coworker has to take an unexpected break. Bosses take notice when you are willing to do more than just your own job as a way of looking out for the company's interests.
A Good Attitude
Even dependable and responsible employees may not have the most cheerful dispositions. A smile alone won’t get the job done, but a positive outlook and a pleasant disposition — combined with fundamentals such as work ethic and discipline — make for a well-rounded employee. Flexibility and enthusiasm also are components of possessing a good attitude. Being a team player, which is another attribute of a successful employee, is difficult if you’re not approachable and if you don’t play well with others. This doesn't mean that you need to be a pushover, but you can learn to be assertive while not demoralizing your coworkers.
Good Communication Skills
Whether writing, speaking or using computers, communication skills are essential in virtually any job. These skills often are the result of upbringing and education but are fundamental to most businesses. Improving these skills is vital to becoming a successful employee. It’s especially important when trying to communicate ideas to improve your company’s performance. Your good ideas won't help anyone, or your career, if you can't deliver them effectively. Think before you speak and take a few minutes to read and proofread your emails before sending them.
About the Author
John Kibilko has been writing professionally since 1979. He landed his first professional job with "The Dearborn Press" while still in college. He has since worked as a journalist for several Wayne County newspapers and in corporate communications. He has covered politics, health care, automotive news and police and sports beats. Kibilko earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Wayne State University.
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
Suggest an Article Correction