Based on the popularity of There Is Never a Bad Time to Start Up a Company and The Benefits of Starting a Business During a Recession posts, I thought I’d do a follow-up on what it personally takes to be an entrepreneur or social entrepreneur. The topic also happens to be fresh in my mind because I just taught about it in my entrepreneurship class at The New School.
What does it take to be entrepreneurial?
Entrepreneurs are gutsy. It takes guts to go after what you want and make decisions amid uncertainty and conflicting advice. Remaining confident when friends and family don’t understand your vision for the business is difficult, so you have to have confidence in your abilities and chances for success.
Entrepreneurs are resourceful. You must be adept at doing more with less. In fact, resource constraints should lead you to be downright clever. A small staff and budget force you to focus on the most high-impact, low-cost initiatives.
Entrepreneurs are creative problem solvers. Small businesses that are complacent and uncreative risk being left in the dust by their competition. As a creative person, you are naturally curious, inquisitive, bright, and highly flexible, all of which work to your advantage as an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are agile and flexible. What typically separates you as an entrepreneur from corporate executives is that you quickly adapt business practices, change course, or even pursue an entirely new direction if needed. Because of this agility, innovation takes fewer resources and is easier to implement. Entrepreneurs are unafraid to experiment and improvise, accepting failure as part of learning.
Entrepreneurs have a fire in the belly. You have a burning desire to succeed and despite setbacks and obstacles relentlessly pursue your goals. Bosses aren’t needed to tell you what must be done; you have the ability to motivate yourself. You aren’t afraid to work hard, in fact, you thrive on it.
Entrepreneurs are risk tolerant, can deal with uncertainty, and are resilient. A good entrepreneur like you realizes that overcoming loss and failure is inherent in becoming successful. Taking calculated risks is what you do best and you are unafraid to own the consequences. Entrepreneurs don’t give up; you pick up the pieces and move on.
Entrepreneurs are willing to sacrifice. You need to be prepared to live on less than your corporate counterparts. Wear the same clothes over and over again. Eat in. Hold off on redecorating. Not take that fabulous vacation you desperately want and need.
Entrepreneurs have technical expertise. You have experience in your industry and if you don’t, you go out and get it. Knowing people in the industry is as important as keeping up through reading, watching, and listening to the media. Entrepreneurs have an intellectual curiosity to keep learning as much as possible.
Social impact entrepreneurs make a difference. A social entrepreneur is driven by a social or environmental mission, a desire to find innovative ways to solve problems such as illiteracy, poverty, substance abuse and climate change. Naturally you’re idealist, altruistic and have a strong ethical fiber.
Entrepreneurs have luck on their side. Never underestimate the importance of having a little luck. However, remember what Oprah says, “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”
Not all entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs are born that way; sometimes you’re made. When being entrepreneurial isn’t innate, go out and get the know-how you need. First, you’ll need to be introspective to determine if you need to develop or supplement a trait. Second, you’ll need to know where to get the know-how you need.
Only you (or may be someone who knows you very well) can do step 1, but here are some ways to get the know-how you need in step 2. Support comes in many shapes and sizes and from many different sources. Good resources are to use mentors and role models, talk to peers, network to meet people, join a peer advisory group such as Mastermind or a Roundtable (interacting with and learning from other for-profit and nonprofit leaders who face similar leadership and business problems) and read, listen, and watch business information.
I’m not going to lie to you, there are some must have qualities – tolerating risk and being able to sacrifice are among them. This Wall Street Journal article has a good list of questions to ask yourself to determine if you have the stuff of an entrepreneur or social entrepreneur.
How do you stack up?