Having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and met well over a thousand of them in the last 15 years, I’ve noticed several trends which separate the good from the not so good.
I’ve met very few entrepreneurs who are both respected by those around them and deemed successful. Success can mean many things, so for this article, let’s say we’re talking about those in the 20% of UK businesses that are still trading five years after they started out. Let’s be even bolder than that and define successful entrepreneurs as those who’ve been increasingly profitable over a minimum of five years and have built a team who respect them and can innovate and run the company without the significant involvement of the founder(s) in day-to-day business activities. Sounds easy, and sounds like you, right?
Such successful entrepreneurs will probably be on good terms with the public and the press as well as with other key stakeholders: suppliers (including advertisers), investors and customers, where relevant. And in my experience they all have certain characteristics in common. But first, let’s look at the others.
Many entrepreneurs whom I have met, who have not yet become successful against the above description, tend to be one of the following types:
- ‘Go big or go homers’ – these ambition-fuelled beings are often seen lobbying for large and regular injections of cash with minimal tangible progress to show since their last attempted fundraising campaign. They typically do not spend enough time building realistic business forecasts backed by solid focused actions to grow their business in a calculated and sustainable manner. The reality is they treat cash as a quick answer rather than a valuable tool or stepping stone to a greater return.
- ‘Talk a good gamers’ – they can sell ice to eskimos, but that’s about it! These types often lack substance behind their charm, tales of grand success and over-confident persona.
- ‘New idea’ addicts – these entrepreneurs are great at new business ideas, but struggle at sticking to one idea long enough to finish the task and prove it was a good one with any viability. They lack focus and tend to have a new venture every time you spot them in your social media feed or on the networking circuit.
- ‘Know it all’ syndrome – many of these have not run a successful business before, nor gained a qualification relevant to their business nor managed people before. But they believe (or appear to believe) that they are naturals and can do it better than anyone. They tend to not listen to good advice when it smacks them in the face.
- ‘In denial about their idea’ disorder – these entrepreneurs are so excited and bought into their own idea that nothing or no one can tell them otherwise, not even the compelling and factual market research which they haven’t done.
- ‘If it costs I ain’t buying’ complex – such aspiring business owners are great in terms of being conservative and frugal in their spending habits. However, they haven’t realised that many good and useful things in life are not free. It’s good to be frugal, but to accommodate success and its accompanied wealth you must take calculated risks and spend. My rule is this: if it’s likely to bring a greater perceived or forecasted return than the cost, then it needs to be seen as an investment and not a cost – in other words, just do it!
If you have any of these traits: think, beware (of yourself) and seek honest, professional business help!
And now, here are the five positive traits I have seen consistently in the most successful entrepreneurs:
- Humility – if you have this then you know your limits and aren’t afraid to admit it. You are confident but not too confident. You plan ahead and recruit to your weaknesses and seek professional, credible advisors who have been there and done it.
- Calculated risk taking – if this is you, then you see opportunity, weight up the pros and cons, plan how to capitalise on it, and if still positive then you invest with confidence in a future return. You do the market research, credibility checks and piloting before launching in every country globally.
- Time mastery – you place high value on the time of yourself and those around you. You delegate rather than abdicate and are an effective forward planner, maximising output from the time and efforts of yourself and others in a calculated, organised manner.
- Influence – you really value your people. All people. Customers, employees, business partners, suppliers, advisers, investors, friends and family. You inspire and empower those around you with leadership by example. You’re seen as an effective and inclusive communicator. Those who work with you feel that their ideas and views are valued with the potential of clear reward such as progression within the organisation. Your colleagues value your open door policy and skill for rewarding those most loyal supporters.
- Action takers – if you are one of these then you talk a good game and deliver to win the game. As an excellent communicator, you rarely miss good opportunities, and always under-promise to over-deliver, never to disappoint those around you. That’s why they keep working for you, buying from you, giving you supplier discounts, and recommending you. This is my core reason to explain why you are respected and successful.
Looking at all these descriptions, of the good and the not so good, I think perhaps the most important skill any of us can learn is objectivity about ourselves. To learn from those we’ve met, whether we want to emulate them or the opposite, we have to be honest with ourselves about our own personality style and behaviours. If you can look at yourself and realise that you’re suffering from, for instance, ‘know it all’ syndrome, then you can start to move towards a more constructive way of looking at your ideas and your business. (The Johari Window is a very helpful exercise for this.) And my five positive traits are things which we should probably all work on, even if they come naturally.
Recognising your own style is the first step towards becoming one of the truly successful I’ve described – and that doesn’t only apply to your business.
Daryl Woodhouse is a business coach and the founder of Advantage Business Partnerships. He is also the co-author of Creating Business Advantage: Setting Up and Running A Successful Business (SRA Books, 2015) ISBN 978-1-909116-43-6.