Written by Patrick Foster
Entrepreneurs are a diverse lot. Some are young and some are old, some are from successful families and others are from blue collar backgrounds — there is no quintessential entrepreneur.
But having said that, there are several traits that the most successful entrepreneurs share — and they might surprise you.
They readily admit their shortcomings
We’ve all worked with at least one person who can’t admit when they were wrong. The smoking gun is in their hand and everyone can see it, but they still resolutely stick to their guns and deny any wrongdoing.
It might come as some reassurance to you then that these people tend not to make it far in business. Why? Because the most successful entrepreneurs are those that are willing to admit their shortcomings.
And they don’t admit it begrudgingly either. Great entrepreneurs are only too eager to confess to their knowledge gaps. In identifying their weaknesses, they are able to overcome them, paving the way to business success.
Takeaway tip: identify and admit the gaps in your knowledge. Doing this early on in your entrepreneurial journey helps you spot where your business might fall down. It gives you the breathing space to identify a solution before it becomes a problem.
Know when you need help (and where to find it). Freelancer sites such as startup support hubs are all great sources of support and assistance for the solopreneur in need.
They’re good listeners
Imagine a typical great entrepreneur, and you think of them as powerful orators, speaking in paragraphs while people listen on intently. It’s rare to imagine them silent, listening to others speak. When they have all the answers, why would they?
But the most successful entrepreneurs know the value of listening. Taking the time to lend an ear and absorb the knowledge of others is a valuable skill — communication is imperative to success, and listening is a vital part of that.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson himself said of listening: “Listening is one of the most important skills that anyone can have. […] Listening enables us to learn from each other, from the marketplace, and from the mistake that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive.”
Takeaway tip: don’t just listen to those whom you perceive to offer value. Every individual in your business can provide merit given the opportunity. Give everyone in your team open forum to share their thoughts. A regular town hall meeting or online suggestion box doesn’t just provide you with a second opinion, but shows your team that they are valued.
They focus on people — not profits
Entrepreneurs are naturally concerned about sales, and rightly so. Sales mean growth, and without them a startup will crash and burn.
But in business, sales aren’t everything. It’s about relationships. Because people are the oil that keep the gears of your business working. They are your customers, your suppliers, your staff, your support network.
Sales peak and trough, but the people that make up your business from end-to-end have longevity.
Takeaway tip: take the time to nurture sincere, meaningful relationships. Treat every new connection, from clients and suppliers right down to customers and staff, as equally valuable. People are astute and can detect insincerity from a mile off.
They exercise caution (where necessary)…
Think of the typical entrepreneur, and you might picture a dynamic go-getter, demanding project completion immediately. This is a common trait in first-time entrepreneurs, eager to taste success but often at the expense of their enterprise.
But the most successful entrepreneur, while certainly willing to see project completion through, knows that slow and steady wins the race. Good things come to those who wait, and expansion is best performed slowly, but surely.
A good example of this can be seen in Lockpick Entertainment, an indie game studio from Sweden. Despite not having a solid, sustainable product, the startup doggedly continued with their expansion. As a result, Lockpick Entertainment filed for bankruptcy within years.
Takeaway tip: don’t walk before you can run. Don’t invest in more expensive email marketing software unless you have a solid strategy in place, don’t upgrade your online store if you’re not seeing regular sales, and don’t diversify your service unless you can afford to.
…But are willing to take the plunge
Yes, adopting a cautious attitude towards business is a strong trait in an entrepreneur, and one that will steer them through choppy commercial waters with a steady hand. However, it’s equally important to know when to take the plunge and diversify your operations.
It all comes down to having the confidence to not put all your eggs into one basket. Having a single product or client that sells well or pays on time respectively can lull an entrepreneur into a false sense of security.
But expanding and diversifying your product, service, or client base gives you the freedom to continue working to your own agenda, not that of your top product or client.
But it’s not just your customer-facing aspects that you can diversify. Look at your own marketing or sales channels.
Are you deliberately limiting yourself to one or two profitable channels such as Facebook ads or basic online commerce website? Investing in other social networks or upgrading to a multi-channel platform might require a little time and money at first. But diversification fosters growth, and that’s what successful entrepreneurs are always chasing.
Takeaway tip: don’t lean on your best selling product, most profitable client, or even your most profitable sales channel. Having several smaller options that don’t return as much profit (yet) gives you a safety net to fall back on if — or when — things hit the fan. This might require a little initial investment in R&D or software, but it will pay off in the long run.
In the business world, there’s no such thing as the “typical entrepreneur.” They come from all walks of life, with a range of backgrounds, personalities, and skill sets. But look at any of the most successful entrepreneurs, and you’ll find that many of them share the five traits listed above. Do you share them too?