How often have you heard someone say, “most small businesses fail within the first year,” or even “99 percent of small businesses fail within the first year?” These are the kinds of dubious facts and figures are thrown out all the time as if it’s timeless wisdom. However, the reality is far less dire. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of small businesses failure is only 20 percent in the first year, 30 percent in their second year and 50 percent after five years.
Now, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to make it as an entrepreneur. But it does highlight the fact that new businesses can absolutely survive their first year and go on to be successful. The keys to a successful small business, however, can be elusive.
To help, Seek Capital interviewed small business owners and entrepreneurs to get their first-hand insight on what attributes separate a successful entrepreneur from the rest of the pack. Find out what small business owners say are the most critical characteristics that entrepreneurs need in order to be successful.
1. Have a Vision
“You need to define and stick to a specific vision,” said Dr. David Lenihan, co-founder of Tiber Health. “There are two reasons why this is important: One, you must be able to communicate the value of this vision to your team in order to keep everyone focused, enthusiastic, and on task, and two, you must be able to clearly and concisely articulate your vision so that you can attract capital and drive investment.”
2. Ability to Work With Different Personalities
“Understanding how to work with different personality styles is critical to be a successful entrepreneur. For example, when it comes to sales positions, I only hire high DI (dominant and inspiring) personalities and when I look for client support I look for SCs (Supportive and Cautious),” said Mark Shandrow, CEO of Asana Recovery. “Not only is it important to put the right personality for the position but also in helping you to avoid conflicts and create synergies within your team.”
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3. Manage High Levels of Stress
“Stress management is what allows you to maintain clarity and avoid making emotional decisions. It is also what prevents you from taking your fears and stresses out on other people are who you need to build your company,” said Jeffrey Deckman, founder of Capability Accelerators. “Mastering stress is key to making sound decisions when the stakes are highest. It also makes you the type of leader people trust, respect and work hard for.”
4. Build a Brand
“These days, personal branding isn’t just for celebrities and it can help entrepreneurs stand out in a competitive market. The most recognizable brands come with a set of traits that most people can identify,” said Adrian Fisher, CEO of PropertySimple. “Think Apple’s clean-line aesthetic and cutting-edge technology or the nostalgia that comes with a can of Coca-Cola classic. A well-crafted personal online presence has helped drive my business forward and land more clients. A consistent social media presence and blogging are good places to start building your own personal brand.”
5. Ability to Tolerate Uncertainty
“Some people can’t imagine being able to function without the guarantee of a paycheck at the end of the month — and those people are clearly not suited to life as an entrepreneur,” said Ben Taylor, founder of HomeWorkingClub.com. “Starting a business can mean looking for funding or spending money to make money — something that is always something of a gamble, and something that only some people have the stomach for.”
6. Desire to Solve Real Problems
“The most successful entrepreneurs are all driven by a desire to solve real problems and create concrete value for their customers. This might seem obvious, but with all the hype there is around fundraising and creating grand visions for global domination, it’s unfortunately often forgotten,” said Jesse Nieminen, co-founder and chairman at Viima. “For example, regardless of some of his shortcomings, Elon Musk is not just an incredible visionary, but also a skilled engineer who is able to break down huge engineering problems (like building reusable rockets) into smaller, more manageable parts and then lead their team in solving these without ever losing sight of the end goal.”
7. Ability to Train Others and Delegate
“The one thing that sets successful entrepreneurs apart is the ability to train others and delegate growth-oriented tasks to them. This is the only way to scale a business; if you are still doing ‘all the things’ in your business year in and year out, you will likely find yourself overworked and underpaid, despite the fact that you own your own business,” said Logan Allec, owner of Money Done Right. “In both of the businesses I’ve started — a CPA business and a blogging business — I’ve seen many of my entrepreneurial-minded peers struggle year after year because they’re still doing the low-level work in their business. Entrepreneurs must always be asking themselves, ‘What is the highest and best use of my time?’ and delegate the rest.”
8. Be Self-Aware
“One of the most important qualities a successful entrepreneur needs is self-awareness. This is a keystone quality that enables all the others that lead to success. Many times, entrepreneurs get caught up in trying to do it all and are unaware of their own blind spots,” said Alex Kaschuta, marketing and growth manager at Fundsquire. “The business owner who understands their own strengths and weaknesses will be able to capitalize on other people’s talents to reach their goals and won’t micromanage every aspect of their business, focusing on the parts that they’re naturally best at.”
9. Follow a System
“Following a system is the most important thing to success in any business. You have to have a pattern or path to keep you on track. We have a proven system for success within our insurance agency to keep new and old agents on track. Don’t reinvent the wheel,” said Katherine Adams, founder of Creative Legacy Group. “You have to be able to duplicate yourself to be successful. I want my agents to be stronger and better than me. In order to make that happen, there must be a system for them to follow that has proven results.”
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10. Focus on Relationship Building
“Genuinely engaging with your prospective audience and customer-base and building strategic partnerships with other entrepreneurs go a long way when building a successful business,” said Amber Vilhauer, marketing and sales strategist at NGNG Enterprises. “For example, I use video throughout my business to connect and share as much information as I can with my audience. By doing this I’m building a great base relationship through which they get to know me and my company’s services well before ever getting on a call. This attracts the right type of customer, in turn saving time on sales closes and drastically improving my efficiency and productivity.”
“It’s a trait most people are either born with or they’re not. Someone who is self-motivated and truly determined will start a project out of their own curiosity or desire, and see it 110 percent through, even if no one is watching,” said Emanuel Fisher, owner and president of Echo Valley Roofing. “And, as an entrepreneur, especially in the beginning phases, no one will be paying much attention to you — so you need to be willing to put in the work without getting praise from others. Grit, integrity and drive are all natural personality traits that will carry an entrepreneur to the next level of business.”
12. Ability to Accept Failure
“What sets entrepreneurs apart from the rest is the ability to accept failure. It can take a lot of time invested — and many failures — before you’re going to be successful. Having that combination of perseverance and the ability to pick up and keep moving forward is something that is ingrained in entrepreneurs,” said Anthony Casa, chairman at the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts. “They are in a constant situation where they are hyper-focused on improving customer experience and relationships, so it’s important that they remain open-minded in order to change focus on those two key elements.”
13. Stay in the Moment
“Sometimes, when people start businesses, they get so caught up in following their business plan that they fail to stay in the moment. When you stay in the moment every step of the way with your business, you will know when things need to shift and appreciate all of the successes and lessons you get in the process,” said Paul Farmer, vice president of marketing at Woodtex. “In the flexibility, you are less attached to the outcome of each individual thing you try and focus more on the overall goal. Being present helps you to shed that attachment and go with the flow of the business. Practice staying in the moment by meditating for five minutes each morning. It will help clear your mind and get you centered before you start the day.”
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14. Think Strategically
“One attribute I think the most successful entrepreneurs share is not only having an idea for where they see their companies headed, but also providing a clear, actionable strategy to get there. Too often, many CEOs and entrepreneurs will share grandiose visions of how their company can go forward, and then have absolutely no clue on how to get there,” said Shaan Patel, founder and CEO of Prep Expert. “For the employees tasked with actually executing it, it’s easy to get frustrated with trying to piecemeal an actionable plan together while the boss keeps his or her head in the clouds. That’s why I provide my team with both vision and a step-by-step strategy with everyone’s roles clearly defined. By showing I’ve thought everything through, my team understands how invested I am in the idea’s success, and their own accomplishment by actually leading the way for them to execute.”
15. Be Customer-Service Minded
“In my experience, being customer-service minded is one of the most important character traits an entrepreneur can have. Without customers, there is no business. And customers are willing to forgive a thousand other lapses if they see that you genuinely care about serving them well,” said David Leonhardt, president of THGM Writers. “The logical extension of this is that another critical skill is being able to identify staff who also treat the customers like kings and queens. We provide ghostwriting services, and while our writers have to be superb at writing, I value most the ones who really know how to treat the clients well. I have severed ties with good writers who don’t, it’s that important.”
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