Entrepreneurship is not just about ideas and market opportunities. Business is about people too, and at the outset it is mostly about you as an entrepreneur. You need to make sure that you have the temperament to run your own business and the expertise and understanding required for the type of business you have in mind.
Entrepreneurs are frequently characterized as people who are bursting with new ideas, highly enthusiastic, hyperactive, and insatiably curious. But the more you try to create a clear picture of the typical small business founder, the fuzzier that picture becomes. In reality, the most reliable indicator that a person is likely to start a business is that they have a parent or sibling who runs a business – such people are highly likely to start a businesses themselves.
That being said, commentators generally accept some fairly broad entrepreneurial characteristics as desirable, if not mandatory. Check whether you recognize yourself in the following list of entrepreneurial traits.
- Accepting of uncertainty: An essential characteristic of someone starting a business is a willingness to make decisions and to take risks. This does not mean gambling on hunches. It means carefully calculating the odds and deciding which risks to take and when to take them.
Managers in big business tend to seek to minimize risk by delaying decisions until they know every possible fact. They feel that working without all the facts is not prudent or desirable. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, know that by the time the fog of uncertainty has completely lifted, too many people are able to spot the opportunity clearly. In fact, an entrepreneur is usually only interested in decisions that involve accepting a degree of uncertainty.
- Driven to succeed: Entrepreneurs need to be results oriented. Successful people set themselves goals and get pleasure out of trying to achieve them as quickly as possible and then move on to the next goal. This restlessness is very characteristic.
- Hardworking: Don’t confuse hard work with long hours. At times an owner-manager has to put in 18-hour days, but that should not be the norm. Even if you do work long hours, as long as you enjoy them, that’s fine. Enthusiasts can be very productive. Workaholics, on the other hand, have a negative, addictive, driven quality where outputs (results) are less important than inputs. This type of hard work is counterproductive. Real hard work means sticking at a task, however difficult, until you complete it. It means hitting deadlines even when you are dead-beat. It means doing some things you don’t much enjoy so you can work your way through to the activities that you enjoy most.
- Healthy: Apart from being able to put in long days, successful small business owners and entrepreneurs need to be on the spot to manage the firm every day. Entrepreneurs are the essential lubricant that keeps the wheels of small business turning. They have to plug any gaps when other people are ill or because they can’t afford to employ anyone else for that particular job. They cannot afford the luxury of sick leave. Even a week or so’s holiday is something of a luxury in the early years of a business’s life.
- Innovative: Most people recognize innovation as the most distinctive trait of entrepreneurs. They tend to tackle the unknown; they do things in new and difficult ways; they weave old ideas into new patterns. But they go beyond innovation itself and carry their concept to market rather than remain in an ivory tower.
- Self-disciplined: Owner-managers need strong personal discipline to keep themselves and the business on the schedule the plan calls for. This is the drumbeat that sets the timing for everything in the company. Get that wrong and you send incorrect signals to every part of the business, both inside and out.
One of the most common pitfalls for novice businesspeople is failing to recognize the difference between cash and profit. Cash can make people feel wealthy and if it results in a relaxed attitude to corporate status symbols such as cars and luxury office fittings, then failure is just around the corner.
- Well rounded: Small business founders are rarely geniuses. Some people in their business nearly always have more competence in one field than they could ever aspire to. But the founders have a wide range of ability and a willingness to turn their hand to anything that has to be done to make the venture succeed.
TIP: If you want to start a restaurant and have never worked in catering, get a job in one. That’s the best way to find out if you like a particular type of work. You may find that a restaurant looks very different from behind the chair as opposed to on it. Some small businesses are inherently repetitive, with activities that follow a predictable pattern. If that suits you, fine, but if not then perhaps you need to consider a business venture with a shifting range of tasks.
Totally committed: You as an entrepreneur must have complete faith in your business idea. That’s the only way in which you can convince all the doubters you are bound to meet along the route. But blind faith is not enough. You have to back your commitment up with a sound business strategy.
Everything in business seems to take longer than you think. Premises take ages to find and even longer to kit out and be ready for use. If you start up before you are ready, customers may well be disappointed and rush around sharing their displeasure.
Make a chart showing the key tasks that you have to carry out before you can start up your small business in the left-hand column, with the timescale in days, weeks, or months, as appropriate to your business, across the top of the chart. In the right-hand column show who is responsible for each task.
Draw a bar between the start and finish date for each key task, showing how long the task should take. Some of the tasks will overlap others and some will depend on the successful completion of earlier tasks. For example, you can’t install the oven in a restaurant until you have found the premises and signed the lease. You can, however, research oven suppliers and negotiate the price and delivery. Use the chart to monitor progress and take corrective action as you go.