4 Traits it Takes to Succeed as an Entrepreneur
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
If I could boil all 4 of them into 1 word it would be TENACITY.
The mascot? Well the first one that comes to mind is the cockroach but that's pretty disgusting. So instead let's choose a mountain goat. Much like an entrepreneur mountain goats have evolved to their environment developing hooves that can grip snow, ice, and slippery rock faces.
They can breath easily in the thin high altitude air (an environment that would have many others panicking and gasping for breath) and can jump 12 feet to easily change course when obstacles occur.
Twenty percent of new businesses fail within the first year, 45% fail during the first 5 years, and 65% during the first 10 years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now I've only had my doors open for 2 years so I can't yet claim to have the secret to beat the odds, but I think I understand some of what separates the people who try it and quit and the people who do whatever it takes to make it work.
1) It feels like a calling
I've been fiercely independent since before I was was born. My mom likes to say the first sign was my arrival 3 weeks after my due date. It's no wonder that I didn't thrive in big company environments. For starters I'm really bad at following a plan I don't agree with. It's not that I can't do it, or that I was wildly unhappy all the time, but there was always something that just didn't feel like it fit.
When I started to work with small businesses on their marketing I felt something slip into place in my life. I felt like the experiences I'd had to that point had perfectly prepared me to to do this new job. While I could make more than 3 times what I do now by going back to a corporate marketing job, I feel repulsed by the idea. Not because big companies are evil, but because I can't imagine giving up this feeling of doing what I was meant to do.
I think you need this level of deep conviction to weather the challenges that entrepreneurs face. There is a certain amount of blind faith that you are endowed with when you are doing what you feel called to do. This is what allows you not to panic and quit when you lose a big client, watch enviously as people go on trips that you can no longer afford, and are sometimes faced with expenses that you just don't know how you will manage to cover. There is a voice inside that says calmly, "Take a deep breath. I know you can't see a clear solution to your problem right now, but it's certainly out there and it will come to you."
And so far for me, it always has.
2) You're deeply invested in learning
One of the biggest changes as I started to work for smaller and smaller companies was that the responsibility was increasingly on me to seek out knowledge vs. having it presented to me, and that is never more true than when you are the sole employee of your own company. You don't don't have a finance expert you can consult about cost of goods sold. You can't talk to HR about benefit options and your 401k. There are no lunch and learns put on by your agency to teach you about the newest developments in the Instagram algorithm.
This can be really overwhelming, AND the key I've found to working through this is building go-to resources like a mofo. When you have a wide and robust network of other entrepreneurs in other fields you have someone to call when an issues arises. You don't have to do the research about the best online course to take to increase your Instatgram following, but instead can get a reco from someone else who has done the research.
To build my network I've really leveraged my BNI membership by setting up 1 on 1 meetings with people I resonate with inside and outside my chapter. I've also made some close friendships with other entrepreneurs who have wide networks and can always point me in the right direction to connect with someone who can help with a problem I'm having.
Also finding a couple of online experts in your field who you can follow through newsletters, social media, and podcasts is essential. It sometimes takes some trial and error to find those who really resonate with you.
My favs are:
Amy Porterfield for all things list building and email marketing
Jenna Kutcher to understand building a community, having an authentic voice on instagram, and website/blog SEO best practices.
Brendan Burchard for how to create a compelling online course
Badass Careers for all things positioning and loads of general knowledge
Of course youtube tutorials for so many other inquiries
I've also really enjoyed Udemy when a more in depth knowledge is needed (although do your homework to find good instructors since pretty much anyone can post a course there).
3) You are gifted at surrounding yourself with like minded people
This is an absolute must and again the way to do so is by networking. I go deeper into this in my post 'The People You Surround Yourself with Will Determine Who You Become', but basically you need to develop some type of community you can turn to who can totally relate to the struggles your facing, and give you solid guidance. If you try to go this route alone, and don't have people you can be vulnerable with, I don't think you'll succeed. Ideally these people are also entrepreneurs, but they don't always have to be. They do need to be people who you feel comfortable telling your ugly truths to, and who can give you sage advice.
This is also helpful because it normalizes and validates your day to day life. If you are surrounded by people who all work for someone else, you're going to start to feel like you're a giant weirdo (or at least I do). I end up going down the very non-virtuous thought spiral that I'm only struggling with certain things because there is something wrong with me. We all need empathy from people who truly get us. If you're a mom you can not have all childless friends. If you're single, having all married or coupled up friends can be really tough. I think you get the picture...
4) When faced with adversity you don't let panic take over
There are going to be some times where something really bad happens. You are naturally going to panic a bit (ok sometimes a lot), BUT the crucial step is being able to quiet the panic monster in a timely fashion. I find journaling to be a vital way to do this or tapping into my aforementioned network.
When COVID hit I was terrified. I do not have a robust savings account to tap into and did not have a huge pipeline of new business prospects at that time. Obviously many aspects of my job other than taking photo and video footage can be done remotely so that wasn't an issue, but one of the first things most people cut in the budget is marketing.
So I got a job with SHIPT. There was certainly a learning curve here, and at the beginning I was not making much per hour, but when I really mastered the double shop and picked the right store and region to shop in I was sometimes making $30-$40 an hour.
I also started setting up one on one meetings with anyone who was willing, mostly from BNI, so I could get some new prospects. I went to other chapters and set up time with anyone who seemed like they could be a good resource. Sometimes it just takes getting out of our comfort zone and being willing to ask to meet with someone. I find the almost never say no when asked the right way.
Recently SHIPT opportunities have really dwindled and my roommate was starting to talk about wanting to purchase a townhome (and I had a myriad of unexpected expenses come up) and I once again felt the panic sweats.
So I started thinking what I could do. I could try to get some project based work from online platforms like Fiver. I could become another type of delivery driver. I could get a part time job.
I went to work investigating my options and the seemed easiest at least for now was to become a delivery driver for a pizza chain. It was flexible, it would pay about $20-30 an hour and I could quit without qualms when the business picked back up. Some people might look at this and secretly wonder if I feel ashamed for having to do this, but I can 100% say I do not. Having this job will allow me to continue to run my own business and feel financially secure. Plus, having some work to do that is relatively easy is a nice relief from so much of the other brain intensive work I do (and I get to catch up on podcasts). I don't feel like I failed at all, but instead found a way to succeed.
I could have looked at this situation and decided that the time had come to accept that running my own company just wasn't going to work. But instead I took a bit of time to throw a pity party and mourn then picked myself up and went into brainstorming mode.
If you are willing to do whatever it takes to make something work I think you're more likely to eventually see it succeed. Just one woman's opinion.
I'm curious to hear from other entrepreneurs out there both those who have succeeded and failed. What other things should be on this list?