Did you know that forty percent—40 percent—of young people want to be their own boss someday? That’s a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs. Millions, in fact.
Truth is, only a fraction of those people ever really start a business. Some get comfortable in a lifestyle that they can’t afford to give up. Others realize just how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and never try. Sometimes life just happens and makes entrepreneurship unattainable.
Of the few that actually try to start a business, many fail. The ones that succeed, though, have a few things in common. You may not need to have all fifteen of these abilities to succeed in business. But be willing to learn them or hire someone who can cover your butt if you want to get out of the rat race and be your own boss someday.
Be a Salesperson
Never underestimate how important it is to be able to sell. It’s at the top of the list on purpose. Even if you never have to sell to clients (unlikely), you will have to sell your ideas to investors, sell your company vision to prospective employees, and sell consumers or customers on your brand. Selling is absolutely critical to your success, so if you have an aversion to it, you’d better get over that fast.
No business is successful on day one. Almost no businesses are successful after year one. If you think entrepreneurship is the ticket to instant riches, you need a reality check. Not only will you have to work hard for a long-term goal, you will probably have to work hard in the face of what seems like certain failure at times.
Discipline isn’t just about working hard, but you do have to do that. Discipline is also about managing your entrepreneurial tendencies. Many natural born entrepreneurs are blessed with a mind that is an idea-generating machine. The good news is that some of those ideas are gold mines. The bad news is that if you continually pursue new ideas, old ideas never get developed to fruition. And I’ve watched one multimillionaire in particular run his business into bankruptcy because every week he was working on something new.
Just leaving the rat race is a huge risk in an of itself. No wonder so few people do it. And if you have a spouse or significant other, realize that they are risking with you—whether they like it or not. Everyone has a need for some level of certainty, so if you can’t find it in your business, plan on finding it elsewhere—maybe for several years at a time.
Note that this is not called “Making Friends”—important, yes, but not the same thing. Building rapport means building respect, a reputation, and hopefully key alliances along the way. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy you’d call your BFF. But he does have the ability to get people to listen and trust him. You will need to build relationships as an entrepreneur, no business is an island.
Be a Leader
While you may be a natural born follower, as a business owner, you will have to be able to lead. That means trusting an inner compass to guide you when there are no outside indications as to what step to take next. It means having people rely on you. And it even means forgoing the road less traveled for bushwhacking your own path.
Nobody thinks that running a business is easy. But generally people underestimate just how hard it can be. There can be times as a business owner that for months on end you will be in a state of stress, worry, anxiety, and discomfort. Being an entrepreneur means being able to live and function in this state for extended periods of time, and being able to find a way to shut it off so that it doesn’t consume your personal life as well as your career.
To be an entrepreneur you need to be inspired. You will likely have to inspire others such as employees and your first customers—who will have to believe in you with no track record. But most of all you will continue to have to inspire yourself, because sometimes your vision is the only thing that can lead you out of one phase of your business and into the next.
Related to discipline is focus—the ability to tune out “noise” that can distract you from your goal. That noise could be people who doubt you, busywork, doing too much “social” networking, or perhaps worst of all, the noise inside of your own head of self-doubt, fear, or unrealistic expectations of yourself. Personally, I’ve only heard about these things, I can’t say I know this from experience.
I am extremely number-challenged. I’m the biggest of big-picture thinkers. So there are times when I am working on a project that I think is going terribly—only to finally force myself to build a spreadsheet or break out the analytics and find that I’m actually doing better than I had thought. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, when I think that I’m kicking ass only to find that the actual return on investment of time, dollars, etc. isn’t where I thought it would be. Truth be told, this is one of the number one reasons people go out of business—they don’t pay enough attention to the cold, hard numbers.
Related to being able to understand the numbers is the ability to look at the numbers in a variety of ways. Sometimes what looks like a dip in traffic/sales/whatever might also be a roadmap to a previously undiscovered opportunity. There are benefits to being a stats-a-holic, which can often times be a key source of consumer insights that larger companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for.
Ask for Help
Quite honestly, I don’t know one entrepreneur that embraces asking for help. We seem to have a natural aversion to it, in fact. It doesn’t make it any less important - in fact, it makes it more important, because it usually means that when an entrepreneur finally does ask for help, they probably needed the help something like two months ago. If you have a natural knack for asking for help, good grief, I hope you aren’t reading this, because you should already be working for yourself!
Every entrepreneur has strengths and weaknesses. A good entrepreneur plays to his or her strengths. A great entrepreneur plays to their strengths and builds a business that can compensate for their weaknesses. That means knowing what you aren’t good at, admitting it, and structuring your workflow so that you don’t get in your own way.
Balance Ego with Humility
You have to have high self-confidence to make it in business. I’d go so far to say that a little bit of a big ego can actually be an asset—it helps to get people talking about you and can help to increase your visibility. But there is a very fine line between a healthy ego and being an egotistical maniac. But bring too much humility to the game, and it comes off as self-doubt. Walking the line between the two will never please everyone, either - sorry, it just comes with the territory.
Most of all, to get out of the rat race, you need persistence. You need to fall on your face and get back up. You need to make big mistakes and learn from them. Sometimes you even need to fail—it may be the only way to succeed. To quote some of my wonderful peers, “Your recovery strategy is what’s important; avoiding mistakes is not.”