Entrepreneurship. It’s a coveted career by many, and has become a buzzword in these modern, digital times. We’re even starting to see a wealth of people billing themselves as “serial entrepreneurs,” who have launched multiple businesses and contributed sometimes-staggering innovation to the world – think social media whizzes or those who push the frontiers of medicine. As a business student, there’s a good chance entrepreneurship is at the top of your goal list, but beware: it’s a hard road.
As of 2015, there were 27 million entrepreneurs in the United States alone, but not all of these businesses will succeed. In fact, more than 90 percent of startups fail. This happens for a variety of reasons, such as the product being uninteresting or unnecessary to the market, the business becomes unsustainable due to poor management or grows too slowly to meet its own needs, or its founders don’t know how to bounce back from setbacks challenges setbacks.
So the question is, how do you become one of the successful? Well, it’s important to realize from the outset that the entrepreneurial nut isn’t always an easy one to crack. Not only are you likely to face challenges in the very beginning – capital, market barriers, disagreements – many entrepreneurs forget that challenges can arise at any point along the way.
Luckily, with the right combination of traits, you can set yourself up for a much greater likelihood of success both at the outset and down the road. Here are 10 of the most important.
The importance of long-term vision cannot be overstated. Again, many startups fail not in the beginning, but several years down the road. This is due to any number of reasons, such as their initial capital running out with nothing to replace it, disagreements among management, the bottom dropping out of the market on their product and having no new products in store, and so on. If you want to succeed in the dog-eat-dog entrepreneurial space, you must ensure your offerings are always relevant, even before the storm hits.
With social media, blogs, YouTube channels and podcasts swirling around us, it’s easy to form the impression that everybody but you is successful – and to wonder why. But what you must remember and remind yourself of every day is this: People only put the best versions of themselves on display. You do not see the sweat, blood, tears or dirty dishes that lie behind these facades, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’re the only one who has to work hard. Let go of that idea and put your nose to the grindstone.
What, you thought entrepreneurship would be easy? Nope. In fact, most entrepreneurs will face significantly challenges at some point in the life of their startup. Even Facebook, a behemoth with an iron grip on social media and even, arguably, the Internet itself, faced huge challenges in the beginning (think the Winkelvoss twins’ multiple suits).
Your challenges likely won’t involve lawsuits. More likely, yours will revolve around getting enough capital, hiring the right people, finding a market for your products or services and then marketing them, and even paying yourself. Most businesses don’t even start to see a profit until several years after starting up. Keep in mind that challenges are normal, and they shouldn’t dissuade you from moving forward.
No matter what field you’re in, you will need the ability to engage with people on a personable, friendly level. Selling products to bigger companies? You need to be able to read them and address their concerns. Forming business partnerships with other startups? Same. Hiring people? Well, if you want them to support your company for years to come, you need to have a feel for who they are and how they can help you – but more importantly, you need to know how you can help them. In fact, this is a crucial skill for anyone in your organization, and anyone outside of it.
One of the skills that will help you develop a comfort and fluency in dealing with people, even if that isn’t a natural strong suit, is introspection. When something goes wrong, ask yourself why it went wrong and what your role was. If you face an unexpected business challenge, take a hard look at what actions you might have taken to avoid it, and learn from those lessons. And when you receive less-than-positive feedback from an investor, a client or customer online, a business partner or anyone else, resist the urge to become defensive and instead address their point: internally at first, but eventually, to them as well.
This might be a no-brainer, but perhaps surprisingly, a lot of entrepreneurs fall short of the mark. You might assume that anyone willing to step out into the business world on their own automatically possesses motivation in spades, but that’s not always the case. Many people like the idea of being an entrepreneur, starting a business or selling a product, but don’t actually have the motivation to see it through every day. Before you launch, make sure you are really, truly and internally motivated by the concept itself, not just the rewards you think it will bring.
Self-reliance is a huge skill. Being an entrepreneur inherently means going it alone, or with a relatively limited set of resources. You may be working with a few other people, and you may even have a good supply of startup capital, but this still means you can’t fall back on the resources of a large company. You will likely have to wear many hats in the beginning (if not all the hats). Performing the roles of idea-person, designer, developer, PR department, marketing expert, social media manager and more will likely be exhausting and even frightening, and you just have to push through. You must rely on you, or you are far less likely to succeed.
In related fashion, you have to learn to be resourceful at all costs. When faced with a challenge – even a small one, such as needing a website – you have a few options: ignore the challenge, pay someone else to handle it or do it yourself. Ignoring a necessary item on the business to-do list is a bad idea, of course, and paying someone else is often not feasible. So the question becomes: Where can you turn? How can you learn? How will you ensure that once you meet the challenge, it does not crop up again? Creative solutions may be involved, so buckle up.
Again, you are going to be spending a lot of time in the company of others as an entrepreneur, so you better know how to talk to them. If this is a struggle for you, consider taking a class or reading the classic book How to Win Friends & Influence People. Your skills will improve quickly if you spend time working on them.
Another modern buzzword is “personal branding,” which to many just sounds like a hollow conceit meant to convey your awesomeness to the world. This, however, is backwards. A good personal brand doesn’t tell people what’s great about you; it tells them how you can help, and how, by working with you, they can reach their own level of greatness. Make sure your brand, from website to social profiles to even your voicemail reflects this ability.
Now, possessing these skills doesn’t guarantee that your business venture will be successful. Unforeseen challenges do crop up, and sometimes you will simply be unable to meet them due to circumstances beyond your control. The comforting news, however, is that if you take the time to work on these traits – and make no mistake, building them is a matter of practice – you can substantially lessen the chances that you will end up among the 90 percent. Now go forth and conquer.