April 2015

Top Ten Traits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs

Author: Kent Thune

So you want to be your own boss? Many successful entrepreneurs got their start with much more than money and a good idea. In fact, the size of the bank account and the brilliance of the idea matter less than these common attributes and pieces of advice to those interested in finding their own path to success in the business world.

1. Do what you love: Identify what business is right for you and give yourself permission to explore. When asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs said, “I’’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.” Passion is everything. Entrepreneurs believe that if they are not doing what they love, they are not living. But isn’t this more than just passion? Isn’t it truth? To paraphrase Aristotle, do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

2. Plan ahead: Have a vision and keep moving toward it. Not every successful entrepreneur is a planner by nature, but the vast majority began with a business plan. The initial plan can be anywhere from one page to multi-section booklet made with the help of an online business plan template or even a professional business planner. A business plan will help you gain clarity, focus and confidence. As you write down your goals, strategies, and action steps, your business becomes real and more ideas will often arise from the process. What are you building? What problem(s) will you solve? What is your action plan to get from where you are now to the fulfillment of your vision? Most important, how much money will you need to get your business started? Most businesses fail because of a lack of capital.

3. Risk is a necessary component of success: Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, advises, “Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical.” No one ever discovered new land without losing sight of the shore. The great existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “The greatest risk is not taking any risk.” No one ever accomplished anything while sitting still, waiting for things to happen, and successful entrepreneurs know this.

4. Money is not the primary goal: For entrepreneurs, financial success is a natural byproduct of acting authentically. Money is only a measure for success; it is never the sole purpose of any venture, rarely on page one of the business plan. In different words, self-made millionaires got to be that way because their goal was to follow their dreams; and they pursued them relentlessly, not because they wanted to be wealthy by financial means. They sought the richness of authenticity.

5. Failure is not an option (and if you fail, keep going): Entrepreneurs don’t have a Plan B. When asked “What if you fail?” most entrepreneurs, after a curious pause, are most likely to answer, “I never really thought about failure.” And they would be telling the truth! But nearly 90 percent of business startups fail. However, a large number of these so-called failures keep trying and eventually succeed. Michael Jordon once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game’s winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.”

6. Know the difference between price and value: Legendary investor Warren Buffett once said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Know the difference. The ultimate goal of every successful business venture is not to make money but to create value. No successful business owner ever said, “My customers won’t pay a higher price for this product.” Instead, they said, “I can show the client that their purchase is an investment in their own happiness or well-being.”

7. It’s all about the customer: Placing the customer/client’s needs first is a cornerstone of success in every business. The business is not about the products or services sold or the prices that are charged for the goods and services. The business is not about the competition and how to beat them. The successful business is all about the customers or clients, period. These are the people who will ultimately decide if a business will fail or succeed. Keep everything customer-focused, including policies, prices, payment options, operating hours, presentations, marketing campaigns, warranties, and the website. In fewer words, know your target customer or client and their needs inside and out before thinking of any of the above.

8. Never stop, but be willing to change course: The entrepreneur is not only an inventor and innovator of products or services but also a re-inventor and re-innovator of himself. No matter the business type or clientele being served, the commercial environment, customer demands, and economic forces are constantly shifting. So the entrepreneur adjusts and keeps moving forward. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. capture this wisdom: “If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

9. Be a shameless self-promoter (without being too obnoxious): Businesses in the real world do not commonly have “build-it-and-they-will-come” plans or stories. One of the greatest myths about personal or business success is that the idea, product or service will get discovered and be embraced by the masses that will beat a path to your door or website to buy what you are selling. But how can this happen if no one knows who you are, what you sell and why they should be buying? Self-promotion is one of the most beneficial, yet most underutilized, marketing tools that the majority of new and would-be business owners have at their immediate disposal. Get your friends, family, fans, and social networks involved, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

10. Have a balance (take time off): It’s difficult for most business owners not to take a hands-on approach. In the early phases of business ownership, working 60 to 80 hours per week is often a necessity. But the temptation to continue this schedule often continues beyond necessity for many entrepreneurs. There is no manager or boss saying it’s time to go home. And when working from home, it can be difficult to draw a line between personal and professional life. Establish a regular work schedule that includes time to stretch your legs, time to take lunch breaks, plus the much-needed vacations. When possible, it’s important to delegate authority and responsibility to your hired hands. Make time to take a step back, see what you’ve built, relax for a while and maintain a healthy life/work balance, just as you maintain your business. 

Kent Thune is a Hilton Head Island entrepreneur who owns an independent, fee-only investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or follow him on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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