Though hard work is often a factor in success, one’s level of output does not always determine success in their field — and entrepreneurship is no exception.
There are many factors that can contribute to the success of an entrepreneur as they launch, operate, and scale their business. These factors can include the timing of their business launch, how competitive their market is, the reliability of their supply chain, the amount of capital they are able to obtain, and the current economic climate.
In addition to these elements, there are a number of traits successful entrepreneurs have in common that contribute to their business success. Let’s dive into what they are.
Starting and operating a business is no easy feat. Unlike a traditional job where you often have upper-level management driving business objectives and keeping you accountable, being an entrepreneur requires the ability to hold yourself accountable when you don’t have a “boss” to do so.
Those who are able to create and execute plants even without external factors holding them accountable have a competitive edge in business. When an entrepreneur has self-discipline they are able to manage the urge to procrastinate and can take decisive action when needed.
Three-time entrepreneur Bill Aulet recognizes that focus and discipline are critical for startup success, and it’s even the focus of his book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship. He goes so far as to say that, “It is disciplined execution that makes people successful entrepreneurs.” His book outlines a 24-step framework for bringing products to market. The rigorous (but fun) methodology comes from Aulet’s experience building startups, raising capital, and creating value from shareholders.
Though creativity is often associated with artistic output, it is an important trait for all entrepreneurs to have. Creativity doesn’t only apply to visual elements or branding. Entrepreneurs who are able to creatively solve problems and think outside of the box when facing everyday business challenges, they are able to quickly pivot and implement necessary solutions that lead to business growth.
Inspired by a financial guru and the high cost of sweets in her area, Mignon Francois went from “household manager” to founder and CEO. “I got the idea of having a bake sale everyday while listening to a financial guru on the radio. I was a household manager of 6+1 (aka stay at home mom) and I really couldn’t afford the luxury of taking my children out for sweets because everything was expensive and we were struggling. Once I started to get my recipes together I would practice all day.”
Originally, she didn’t even know how to bake, relying on her daughters and grandmother for help. However, her hard work and ingenuity turned a condemned home into a full-blown bakery and a creative endeavor into a ten-million-dollar business.
Entrepreneurs who have a sense of self-awareness that they are able to apply professionally to achieve business success. When an entrepreneur is self-aware they are able to own up to their strengths and weaknesses related to running their business.
With this awareness, they are able to zero in on the tasks and elements of running the business they can excel in and are more willing to delegate the areas they are not as strong in. Another benefit of being self-aware is that it increases one’s ability to give, receive, and apply meaningful feedback.
Gary Vaynerchuk, lifelong entrepreneur and social thought leader, says that self-awareness is a trait he wishes the business world paid more attention to, more so than hustle or smarts.
“Self-awareness at its finest is accepting your shortcomings and accentuating your strengths.” In his blog post on the topic, he says that the moment you decide to do so, “things will change.”
Many entrepreneurs are faced with tasks and challenges they have never faced before. The ability to be resourceful is a mindset that helps entrepreneurs reach lofty goals without a clear way to achieve them.
When entrepreneurs are able to work resourcefully, they can effectively problem-solve and grow and scale their businesses without having all of the answers or resources to do so. Being resourceful requires a can-do attitude and willingness to work creatively to effectively manage a business without having the immediate know-how.
Mark Cuban — entrepreneur and investor — says that entrepreneurs must have a “willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone.” While having access to money and resources can make a difference, a key part of being an entrepreneur is cultivating those resources yourself. “There are no shortcuts, you have to work hard and try to put yourself in a position where, if luck strikes, you can see the opportunity and take advantage of it.”
Having solid processes in place is essential for any successful entrepreneur. In the world of business, a process is a repeatable series of steps that help those working within a business to complete necessary tasks. Processes can apply to various aspects of the business including sales, onboarding new team members, production, and product fulfillment.
When business owners have a process-oriented mindset, they are able to work smarter, not harder. Implementing processes in various areas of the business can prevent waste, allowing business owners to scale and grow their businesses. Additionally, when business owners have repeatable processes in place, they are able to easily train new team members to fulfill important aspects of the business without sacrificing time or quality.
Masaaki Imai, management consultant and founder of the Kaizen Institute Consulting Group, says this about processes and systems: “The message of the Kaizen strategy is that not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company.”
He is, of course, referring to a principle called Kaizen that champions the guiding philosophy of “continual improvement” often applied in lean business and productivity processes. Kaizen’s impact can be found in the snowball effect that incremental changes to process can make, and it has been practiced throughout the world — most notably at Toyota as part of the Toyota Way Fieldbook and at Trader Joe’s as one of the company’s core values.
Empathy is an essential trait for entrepreneurs. Whether a business owner manages a large team of employees or works directly with their customers as a high-performing solopreneur, they must be able to connect with others on a genuine level.
Successful entrepreneurs are able to put themselves in others’ shoes, considering the perspectives of their employees and customers as they navigate key business decisions. In business, empathy can look like anticipating your customer’s needs, empowering your team members to take time off to recharge when they need it, and giving both employees and customers space to voice their opinions and concerns.
Business owners who have the soft skills necessary to connect with others, they may experience benefits such as increased customer loyalty, more customer referrals, and increased employee productivity.
Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, considers empathy such an important core value that he modified the organization’s Culture Code to include it. “Not too long ago, I found a bug in our Culture Code that needed fixing. We use the acronym HEART to describe qualities we value in our coworkers. For years, these qualities were: Humble, Effective, Adaptable, Remarkable, and Transparent. But something wasn’t right. HEART did not clearly capture one of the values that I think is fundamental and part of our core at HubSpot. That value is: empathy.”
According to research from Wroclaw University, the top three communication skills for leaders are effective listening, getting a message across clearly and vividly, and providing feedback in a supportive manner.
These skills can put entrepreneurs at a competitive advantage. When a business owner is able to effectively listen to their customer, they are able to implement customer feedback that can help them improve their offerings. Additionally, when business leaders exhibit these skills with their own employees and team members, they are able to build trust which can improve productivity and business performance.
Communication is a big part of Simon Sinek’s message to business leaders. In fact, Sinek’s TED talk Start With Why covers the topic and is one of the most popular to date. “Communication is not about speaking what we think. Communication is about ensuring others hear what we mean.” According to Sinek, this is a vital part of leadership.
Simply put, when you’re your own boss you have to be able to keep yourself motivated to work effectively and consistently. Entrepreneurs must be able to work through creative ruts and points of feeling uninspired to keep their businesses going. This starts with knowing what drives you to keep going and drawing upon necessary inspiration when motivation is low.
A great example of this is entrepreneur Noëlle Santos, who didn’t intend to open a book store — she worked in HR for an IT firm — but was shaken by the news that the Barnes & Noble she frequented was closing.
The joy of reading was important to her, so she had to do something. “I was disgusted knowing that there was just one bookstore at the time. So that petition galvanized the property owners and Barnes & Noble and the politicians, they came to an agreement that they would extend the lease two years. So in my mind, I was like, ‘Okay, that means I have two years to open a bookstore.’ I took responsibility for it.”
Dedicated to her mission, she even worked at other bookstores for free over the course of two and a half years to learn the industry. From there, Santos fundraised and energized a community behind The Lit. Bar, bringing a bookstore back to the Bronx. The lesson here being that grit has to be inspired by something.
If you have an idea you want to bring to life and share with others, you have to have the confidence to see it through. Whether you are introducing a new product to market, or are seeking outside funding for your business, you must be able to speak to what you offer clearly and confidently. Successful entrepreneurs stand behind their ideas without letting concern over what others may think get in the way.
In an article on women entrepreneurs in tech, Monica Eaton-Cardone emphasizes the importance of confidence, even in the face of failure. “We fail our way to success. It means you had the courage to try and there’s no way you can get to success without confronting failures.” To Eaton-Cardone, failure isn’t an obstacle for confidence, especially when it’s so important for entrepreneurs to market themselves. Instead failure can become strength.
She encountered such failure herself on her journey to revolutionize solutions in payment processing, and such obstacles nearly caused her business to crumble. On her website, she says, “Instead of folding up shop, I decided to dig myself out of this pit … I built an entire program based on every trial and error lesson I had learned — and it worked. Before long, the very same banks that had tried to shut down my business were calling and asking for my assistance.”
To have a sustainable business and see long-term success, entrepreneurs must be willing to pivot when necessary. Whether it is reformulating a product to make it better, or revising a business strategy to remain competitive, entrepreneurs who are too rigid and afraid to embrace change are at a disadvantage.
When an entrepreneur is flexible in their approach, they are able to take advantage of new opportunities as they come which can pay off in the long run. Business owners who are slow to adapt to change can miss out on valuable opportunities to innovate and adapt to their customer’s needs.
The lesson of flexibility is one that entrepreneur Hyungsoo Kim learned during the development of Eone’s first product, a tactile wristwatch for the visually impaired. The first iteration of the watch relied on braille, didn’t have a strong visually aesthetic appeal, and wasn’t functional for non-visually impaired individuals.
During a focus group meeting, Kim and his team found out that their customers wanted a product that would be attractive and inclusive even for those who didn’t have a visual impairment. This was something the design team hadn’t considered, and they had to go back to the drawing board.
“After that meeting, our concept prototype literally went into the trash bin. We were building something that we thought they wanted based out of common misconceptions and stereotypes.”
However, this lesson influenced their brand and its values. “We changed our name to Eone which is short for Everyone.” Read more about their pivot here.
The ability to take a calculated risk is one of the most valuable skills an entrepreneur can have. When business owners are willing to take risks, they are able to learn valuable lessons in business that can help their company in the long run.
Taking risks also helps businesses find new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, which is especially helpful in saturated markets. In the event the risk doesn’t have the intended result, the entrepreneur can still apply the valuable lessons learned to future business decisions.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates is credited with the quote, “To win big, you sometimes have to take big risks.” Gates certainly took risks throughout the history of Microsoft, but perhaps his most notable risk was leaving Harvard during his sophomore year in 1975 to found the company. His vision was “a computer on every desk and in every home,” which was something no one could have conceived of at the time. The risk he took to make that vision a reality paid off, and Microsoft is worth more than a Harvard degree.
Last but certainly not least, successful entrepreneurs must have a sense of resiliency. While running a business, it is common for entrepreneurs to face closed doors and to be told “no” often from potential customers and those they are seeking funding from.
Many entrepreneurs may find themselves starting multiple businesses if their initial idea doesn’t take off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half of small businesses fail within the first four years. Some successful business owners may find their first few business ideas weren’t sustainable in the long run but can apply those learnings to new businesses. Whether an entrepreneur isn’t granted a sale or opportunity or has to start at square one, being resilient and inventive in the face of challenges is a must.
Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code, encountered adversity along her career path as a Black woman in electrical engineering and biotechnology. It was when her daughter shared her interests in math and science that Bryant became a champion for STEM education for young girls of color. She founded her organization, Black Girls Code, and was originally met with opposition. In an interview with Shondaland, Bryant details how “People did not want to fund something called Black Girls Code (BGC) — they would try to get us to change our name. Even the few organizations that were doing something similar didn’t take us seriously.”
These roadblocks didn’t stop her, and she funded the organization with her own 401k. With perseverance and resilience, the organization gained steam and became a voice for social activism.
These traits along with a vision for what you want to accomplish are paramount to your success as an entrepreneur. Once you internalize your drive, you can then begin putting goals to paper and build out concrete action items to realize them.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.