Our page What is an Entrepreneur? discusses the nature of entrepreneurship, and explores the stories of some successful entrepreneurs.
All entrepreneurs set their own path, and have their own characteristics. However, this page sets out some of the traits and skills that are generally shared by successful entrepreneurs.
What makes a Successful Entrepreneur?
Most people will tell you that entrepreneurs take risks. But what sets apart successful entrepreneurs? After all, you don’t want to be an unsuccessful entrepreneur, and there are many.
Part of this is how you define success, and our page on What is an Entrepreneur? explores that further.
Key Traits and Skills of Successful Entrepreneurs:
1. Entrepreneurs love what they do
It may sound like a cliché, but you are going to have to work on this idea/product/company very hard, and for a long time. You need to love it and believe in it.
If you don’t love it, you won’t be prepared to put in the effort, and after a while, neither will anyone else.
Successful entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do and believe whole-heartedly in their idea. When they recruit, they recruit others who share that passion.
Find more in our page on Self-Motivation.
2. Entrepreneurs know their strengths (and weaknesses)
Most successful entrepreneurs are very self-aware: they know what they do well, and they know what they don’t.
Knowing your strengths is key to being able to address your weaknesses, whether through developing the skills yourself, or hiring other people who possess them.
A key part of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is taking time for self-reflection. Take a look at our page on Reflective Practice for more about this key skill.
3. Entrepreneurs can develop and communicate a compelling vision
I think if you're an entrepreneur, you've got to dream big and then dream bigger.
Howard Schultz - Chairman and CEO of Starbucks
Developing a compelling vision means having a clear idea of where you want to end up. Successful entrepreneurs can articulate that vision to themselves, and also to others.
That’s not just about having great Communication Skills, although that’s important. It’s also about having an idea, being able to see how to turn it to reality, and then holding onto that vision to guide all your actions.
See our page on Creative Thinking for more about how to develop ideas, and also our page on Strategic Thinking, and on Action Planning for how to translate your vision into reality.
4. Entrepreneurs are prepared to fail, and then get up and try again
A successful entrepreneur can't be afraid of failures or setbacks. An initial setback can be a great opportunity to take a new and more promising approach to any problem, to come back stronger than ever.
John Roos - Former United States Ambassador to Japan
This particular skill, or perhaps more accurately, personal quality, is known as resilience. It’s a key element in Emotional Intelligence and describes how confident you are in being prepared to fail and to treat failure as a learning experience.
If you’re frightened of failing, then you’re unlikely to try anything new, so resilience is an important life skill. It’s also closely linked to self-reliance, another key part of emotional intelligence that describes how much you need others to validate you.
Entrepreneurs often work alone and having a high degree of self-reliance can help to sustain you during difficult times.
5. Entrepreneurs are prepared to learn
Successful entrepreneurs don’t just treat failure as a potential learning experience. They view everything in that way.
They are usually hungry to learn, reading widely both online and off, about topics that interest them, and that are relevant to their business. This means that they become true experts in their field, building up a network of expert contacts.
Since they still accept that there is much more that they can learn, they are always prepared to ask for advice from others and draw on the very best practice to develop their business.
Successful entrepreneurs treat everything as an opportunity.
Every challenge, every problem, every set-back is an opportunity to learn and develop. Like being prepared to fail, this is not necessarily a skill but more an attitude. But it’s one that you can develop by doing things like deciding to learn something new every day, or to read a book on a new subject each week or each month.
See our page on Lifelong Learning for more.
6. Entrepreneurs ‘do’
Entrepreneurs are often action-focused. They don’t find excuses for not doing things; they just get on and do them.
In the early stages of a start-up, this is absolutely necessary because there is nobody else, but most entrepreneurs act in the same way in other aspects of life too.
See our pages on Action Planning, Problem-Solving and Project Management if you find this hard to do, but you may also find it helpful to take a look at our page on Time Management for some ideas about how to prioritise your life.
7. Entrepreneurs have a reasonable amount of financial understanding and they keep an eye on the bottom line
You may not find financial management exciting, but more new businesses fail through cash-flow problems than anything else.
Successful entrepreneurs are concerned about the money coming in – from sales, clients, or perhaps even royalties – and on what’s going out, expenses on stock, staff, and other supplies.
Not only does the income have to be greater than expenditure to survive long-term, but you also need the money coming in at the right time to enable you to pay the bills when they fall due. It is no good having a big client who owes you £5,000 if you have no money in the bank to pay the rent of £500 next week.
Successful entrepreneurs are often charismatic and find it easy to build rapport with others, this can be very helpful when, for example, money is tight and a loan is needed.
See our pages: What is Charisma?, Building Rapport and Persuasion Skills for more.
8. Entrepreneurs are customer-focused and prepared to sell
Steve Jobs never worried about what customers wanted. He simply gave them what he wanted to develop and what he thought was right; but not every company is Apple.
As a general principle, if you ignore your customers, they won’t come back for more. Apple is the exception that proves the rule. Most entrepreneurs have a very clear idea of what their customers want.
Every part of their set-up is focused on developing an idea, a product or service that meets that need, and on selling the benefits to the customers when they are ready to buy.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.
Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.
A Final Word
Of course many successful entrepreneurs do not possess all these traits or skills.
However, it seems likely that the more of them you lack, the less likely you are to be successful as an entrepreneur, or indeed to enjoy the process of trying to become one, which is probably at least as important. But then, being an entrepreneur is not necessarily about doing the sensible thing: sometimes, it’s just about ‘dreaming big’.