Some people wonder how to be an entrepreneur and whether they have what it takes to open a small business. We asked the owners of small businesses and startups to share the top entrepreneur traits that it takes to survive and thrive.
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Here are the entrepreneur traits business leaders find most helped them be successful.
1. Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Nikki Winston, Founder & CEO, The WERKin’ Mommas
To be a small business owner, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I personally came from the corporate world where a fixed salary, pay date and benefits were all the norm. Once you step out on your own, those luxuries go away.
I may have slacked off on a Friday or even took a week off yet I still got paid for it. In entrepreneurship, you eat what you kill, so resilience and thick skin are essential.
2. Ability to Work Alone
Jill Santopietro Panall, Founder, 21Oak HR Consulting, LLC
In terms of whether you have the temperament or personality for a small business, I would say that you have to ask yourself if you’re able to work in isolation.
This business is going to be on your back. If you start out as a solo entrepreneur, you’re going to make all of the decisions and do everything for your business. Even if you start hiring quickly, you’re likely going to be the main decision maker for a while. It can be a lonely road if you’re used to being in a larger company where there’s always “a person for that”.
If you’re someone who has to work by committee or someone who isn’t confident with your decisions, you’re probably going to flounder for a bit. Utilize your resources — your business lawyer, marketing and website people, accountant, human resources consultant and real estate agent — to make connections, help you drive your decision making and not feel so alone until you build your team up around you.
Terence Michael, Founder, 100 Percent Terry Cloth, Inc.
I run several small businesses, studied business in college and, most recently, wrote a book about how to optimize and approach your business. So, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the process and mindset of small business owners.
What it mostly takes, whether starting out or 10 years into it, is some humility, vulnerability and self-awareness. Many business owners go into it due to ambition, pride and vision. It takes someone who is confident and resourceful — absolutely.
However, underneath all of the go-getter qualities, the truly successful and truly happy entrepreneurs are the ones who can ask for help. They find mentors. They fail, over and over again and admit it. They know how to ask questions and reflect on their own shortcomings.
This may seem obvious. But, I bring it up as it’s something I never thought about when I started. It was a mistake. I was too proud to surround myself with better people than me.
4. Mental Toughness
Dr. Oksana Malysheva, CEO & Managing Partner, Sputnik ATX
To be a successful startup founder, you need to be mentally tough. You need to strengthen your mental toughness muscle. Often, startups fail for reasons that are very human: burn out, founder conflict, inability to live with ups and downs and your life as a founder with someone’s paycheck and well being resting on your shoulders.
I’m an entrepreneur, I’m married to an entrepreneur and I counsel other entrepreneurs — but mental toughness is something that almost none of us talk about.
I have thought a lot about mental toughness. As a result, I worked several new habits into my daily routine, such as meditation, writing a gratitude list and working out. These are not complicated changes, but they require a certain amount of discipline. For your own sake, start forming healthy mental habits now.
5. Sales Skills
Kim Fredrich, Founder, Kim Fredrich, LLC
Every business owner needs sales skills. Because if you aren’t making sales, you don’t really have a business.
Too many business owners get caught up in the marketing and operational aspects of their small business and neglect to put the required time and effort into selling. It takes grit, persistence and dogged determination to prospect day after day.
When you’re a brand new small business with few customers, the majority of your time should be spent selling. That can shift to servicing customers whom you’ve successfully sold, but even when you are at full capacity, you still need to allocate and schedule time for selling. No business owner wants to complete all his or her current projects to discover that there is nothing on the horizon.
6. Ability to Delegate
Shyam Krishna Iyer, Founder, SKI Charities
The key trait to succeeding as an entrepreneur is the ability to delegate and allow true employee autonomy with the understanding that long-term progress will be predominantly driven by participants closest to the market.
As a social entrepreneur, I have learned to hire and empower staff and beneficiaries from the community being served. While a founder or CEO may drive early success, I have found successful entrepreneurship to be far more “bottom up” as local-level ownership and buy-in will determine the success of any project or enterprise. Autonomy and control must devolve from the entrepreneur to the field.
To me, entrepreneurship is about creating opportunity and value from nothing. Trusting employees and empowering participants toward success shared by all is the definition of this.
7. Willingness to Ask for Help
Sandy Weaver, CEO & Program Director, Center for Workplace Happiness
When I started a business in 2008, I had just been downsized from my favorite job ever. On the day it happened, I was in shock. The next day. I was numb. By the third day, I was determined never to be in that position again. I looked back on the times in life when success had happened and realized that I created all of that success by following my vision and heart. It seemed like the next logical step to follow my heart to a new vision of life.
It takes a willingness to ask for help, willingness to learn and willingness to surround yourself with people who are good at doing the things you aren’t good at or hate to do. For me, that was paperwork — a business attorney, accountant and payroll company were the first people I reached out to for help. Small business owners wear a lot of hats. It’s useful to know which hats to hire for and which ones to wear. Wear the ones you love and your business will thrive.
8. Learning Agility
Veronica Kirin, Entrepreneur Coach, Veronica Kirin
I am a serial entrepreneur who has owned a couple of small businesses as well as startups and nonprofits. I now coach other entrepreneurs to develop and scale their businesses.
A very important trait for a small business owner is the ability to research, find what you need and learn constantly. Business is inherently a hypothesis that one is testing continually. If the owner is too tied to the original idea or doesn’t know how to find the information necessary to learn and grow the business, then the business will ultimately flounder. Even the most innovative and fastest-growing businesses started with a plan that was tested and changed as the business grew.
Ryan Wilson, CEO & Co-founder, The Gathering Spot
Being an entrepreneur is like running full speed at a wall that you can see. It takes a full suspension of disbelief in order to be successful. You also have to have total amnesia about the mistakes you’ve made in order to continue to move forward.
I knew that I was a person that didn’t have a problem taking calculated risks. I’m persistent and stay relatively neutral. I don’t get too up or too down, and I believe being even-keeled is a necessary personality trait. You can’t hold on to your mistakes — always continue to move forward.
Ryan Turner, Co-owner, 3PRIME, LLC
You have to have a passion for what you do. A business exists to serve customers, so your passion is what earns you your first customers and inspires your team to increase and retain your customers. You have to want to spend the time. I think this is, in part, an effect of passion for your work in that you want to spend the time if you enjoy what you do.
You have to have faith that this investment of time and passion will pay off for you. It may not right away and even when it does, you will experience hardship and stress. Your faith in yourself and your team will carry you through these situations.
11. Goal Orientation
Zack West, Director of Marketing, Novomotus, Inc.
We work with many small businesses and are a small business ourself, and among those that are successful, I note that they are goal-oriented.
No matter the industry, there will be times when any small business owners feel as if they’ve been [suffering] for no good reason. Maybe a contract falls through, maybe they’re getting sued or maybe business is simply slower than projections.
Having a clear-cut set of goals to work toward can help get through these — as well as many other times of uncertainty — by helping teams and owners stay focused.
Allen Michael, Founder & Editor, TheStickVacuums.com
The word I always use is self-assurance. I actually believe this is very closely linked to tenacity but, in the end, I choose self-assurance.
When I first started my business, everyone was very supportive. I was very excited. However, as the months went by, the excitement wore off. I was working night and day, without anything to show for it. Yet. I knew that the business was worth working toward, and I believed very strongly in my abilities to succeed. I knew that I might not have everything figured out, but that I would work hard and learn and grow constantly, succeeding eventually.
However, the only way I carried on to ultimately succeeding was having that self-assurance. Because there were many times when I had reason to doubt or did doubt that I could be successful.
Having a confidence in yourself, even one that might be a bit over-inflated, is critical in my opinion. It gives you the ability in those hard moments to persevere. If I were to oversimplify it, it’s the ability to say “I got this!” in your hardest moment and then carry on.
Jackie Ortez, Owner, Healing & Guidance by Jackie
It takes a fire inside of you that you aren’t afraid to follow blindly into the unknown territory that doesn’t provide the security of a full-time job. Self-compassion is important too because if you can’t be your biggest cheerleader, no one can. It is the best feeling in the world to do it, but is also very scary, so a good head and balance of emotions are good as well.
There was always this feeling in me that I was born to be my own boss, so it was pretty much in me from the start.
My whole life I’ve been selling little things here and there — cupcakes, items at a flea market, anything to be able to provide for myself without asking for money. The turning point was when I went through a really rough period where I lost my job twice in 16 months and a whole bunch of other unfortunate events happened. I had the decision to either get a full-time job and take the chance of being laid off again or starting my own business. It was at that moment I realized if I could get through the rough 16 months, I had the grit to start my own thing on my own terms.
Jim Woodhead, Founder, A for Agency
It takes quite a few things to be honest and different traits come in to play at different times. When it’s full on and you’re stressed and not seen the family during daylight hours, then it needs courage and the ability to communicate effectively with the people around you.
One of the best skills you can have is great communication. Everyone gets on better when you are able to talk to them and share properly with them. Everyone will want a slice of your time — family, friends, employees, clients — so, by being a great communicator, you will be able to keep everything moving in the direction you want better.
15. Acceptance of Failure & Setbacks
Thomas R. Harris, Co-owner, Lead Winds
One of the biggest traits that small business owners and owners of startups need to have is an acceptance of failure and setbacks. When you start and run a business, there are many setbacks and failures. A product may not sell as fast as you thought. The marketing plan didn’t work. It may cost more money than you initially planned. It’s going to happen. One has to accept these setbacks and learn from them. If you can’t, you won’t do well as a business owner.
Saj Devshi, Founder, Loopa Psychology Revision
You need perseverance and belief in yourself. I had been rejected for so many promotions and job interviews previously. Each failure can chip away at your self-esteem and belief in yourself easily, and this is why I started my own small business. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba went through exactly the same thing. He was rejected so many times, even from KFC. It can be easy to feel disheartened and make people question their own sense of worth.
The thing I’ve found is mavericks or people who are free-thinkers don’t fit into everyone else’s preconceived ideas, and this is why they take a bruising and no one believes in their ideas. This, in turn, is exactly why they are eventually successful too because they tend to bring something new to the market. They end up making a huge success of themselves eventually when they get their foot in.
Small business owners become big business owners because of their perseverance and, eventually, when they get even a little bit of success, it validates their beliefs that what they are doing is on the right track, so they keep pushing.
17. Healthy Approach to Risk
Brian Cairns, Founder, Cairns Consulting, LLC
After working with numerous small businesses, I’ve found that successful owners have three key skills: self-confidence, determination and healthy approach to risk — meaning understanding risk, planning for it and not letting uncertainty rule your life.
At some point, when running a small business, every owner wonders if they have the right personality. I don’t think it’s one size fits all. I think it takes some success to come to accept that you have the “right” personality to be a small business owner. I’ve seen many personality types that are different from mine be successful. But, for me, it was my healthy approach to risk and my determination to make it through some difficult times that gave the self-confidence that I could be successful.
Richard Woods, President, Albany Woodworks
I have been running my small businesses for 40-plus years. Each day is a new adventure filled with unexpected issues and surprises. As a result, I feel the following is vital to being a successful small business owner.
An ability to step back and get perspective, whether it is to step back and recognize if the problem today will really matter in a week or to step back and have a good chuckle at a situation. A small business owner has to have perspective. If you don’t, the business and all the stress that comes with it can swamp someone.
Some days are fantastic and some are going to be the roughest days you have ever experienced. You need to be able to recognize that it is all part of the ride and that tomorrow is another day.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls
Here is what I think it takes to be a successful small business owner: Resilience
You get knocked around often, so you have to be able to keep getting back up and trying again with enthusiasm and energy.
20. Be Obsessive
Jason Lavis, Marketing Director, Natural Resource Professionals Limited
An entrepreneur needs to be obsessive and compulsive about his or her venture. It’s common for small business owners to work for below minimum wage, take no holiday or sick days and work far too many hours. In fact, if someone else made them do this, they could go to court and get a significant payout.
When we consider the possibility of bankruptcy, mental health issues and strained personal relationships, “obsessive” would almost be an understatement. The key is to lift off before you run out of runway.
In my younger years, I’ve done low-paid, soul-destroying jobs, knowing that I’m helping others be successful. I climbed the ladder in a few different industries but always got frustrated with glass ceilings and feeling that I could make better founder decisions.
Now I’m getting the chance to see if I can prove myself worthy of my aspirations. For me, I had no choice but to pursue entrepreneurship, it wasn’t a decision that I weighed up carefully, it was a burning desire.
Sid Soil, Owner, DOCUdavit
I’m the owner of DOCUdavit, a Toronto-based document scanning and storage solution that services doctors, lawyers and corporations throughout Canada. Being a small business and startup owner is hard work and, sometimes, not a great fit for everyone. I’ve been a business owner for the past 10 years and, other than a strong backbone and perseverance, there are a few traits all small business owners should have:
Be self-aware: Small business owners should be aware of their flaws and abilities and leverage these qualities. They must know themselves well enough to constantly exploit their strengths while also knowing and accepting weaknesses. A successful small business owner regularly strives to cut back on work that doesn’t directly make use of special skills and talents.
Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT & Author, HeidiMcBain.com
You have to have a passion for what you do professionally, but also an enjoyment of the process of building a business.
There will be lots of ups and downs, so focus on what you’re learning throughout the process vs. only focusing on where you want to be in the future. You have to be very self-motivated and open to meeting new people and discovering new opportunities.
Be personable, friendly and genuinely curious about other people and their businesses. You can learn something new and amazing from each and every person you meet in this process.
Brian McAlister, Owner, King & Fifth Supply Co.
My name is Brian, owner of King & Fifth Supply Co and my company specializes in stylish headwear for men. We are projecting sales of $500,000 for the year and will do so with a team of myself, one full-time brand director and one part-time warehouse worker. I think the two things that have helped me succeed are sacrifice and handling defeat.
With sacrifice, I can say it’s very tough as an entrepreneur because you do have to give up so much to accomplish your dream. Even after nine years in business, I still have to do it. I look at many of my friends who have comfortable careers and leave their work at the desk. As an entrepreneur, you absolutely 100 percent have to sacrifice your personal time in order to make it.
Vicky Llerena, CEO, Social Vibes Media
I am transparent on my own experiences as a female entrepreneur. I share my failures because these are living proof of my manifestations.
One advice for young female entrepreneurs: remove the words “young” and “female.”
Do not feel guilty or ashamed of being a badass hustler — you’ll be forced to compromise mother time, family time and relationship time for a period. Remember, this is just a phase.
Do not be discouraged by negative comments when people tell you what women should do. Rather, surround yourself with friends and family who support your vision.
25. The Will to Keep Going
Dylan Gallagher, Owner & Tour Guide, Orange Sky Adventures
I own a tour company in San Francisco called Orange Sky Adventures. What does it take to be a business owner? Belief, heart, several all-nighters and, most importantly, the will to not give up, no matter what happens. Combine that with a smile and a caring attitude and you’re in.
Never, ever under any circumstances give up. Everyone, directly and indirectly, will be against you. Your parents will say it won’t work. Your mentors will pressure you to change the business model and customers will say “no” over and over again. But, you need to believe in yourself, your training, your expertise, and never give up.
The Bottom Line
There’s no one personality style or trait needed to open a small business. In fact, a recent survey by Constant Contact showed that small business owners tend to be hardworking and committed. Its survey showed 38 percent describing themselves as “hard-working,” 22 percent as “committed” and 13 percent as “passionate.”
You can use a business plan to translate that passion and commitment into business results. LivePlan’s fill-in-the-blanks samples make it easy. It offers a free trial, and provide a 60-day money-back guarantee.