So, you think you’ve got what it takes to work for yourself? Your business idea is in place, you know your team, and you’re busy writing your resignation letter to your current job. Before you leave the office in prideful glory and plunge headfirst into entrepreneurship, you need to judge for yourself if you possess the personality and behavioral traits to survive your first year as an entrepreneur. Not everyone is cut out for the job, and if you seriously lack any of the major characteristics listed below, you may want to reconsider your decision to go into business.
Entrepreneurship is a gamble of the highest stakes – your livelihood. There is no such thing as guaranteed success as you stumble out into the world of business ownership, forging your own path for the first time and hoping the decisions you make are the right ones. This can be downright scary at times. Unlike in traditional employment when you are given guidance and direction from those above you, entrepreneurship puts your neck on the chopping block.
Make a few poor decisions and your entire business could fall like a house of cards. This is when it takes courage to survive. Are you comfortable developing strategies and making decisions that could either bring great prosperity or total financial ruin, or do such choices scare you into a state of panic? If you are going to run your own company, you must acquire the courage to adapt and move forward, even under the most dire of circumstances.
A defining quality of all successful business owners is determination. Like a baby learning to walk, you will stumble, fall, get back up again, and stumble around some more. It is easy to be excited and enthusiastic about your business when things are going well, but what about when serious, threatening problems arise? If you are to succeed, you must stay determined and fight for success to the bitter end.
Notable venture capitalist Paul Graham once wrote that “Disasters are normal in a startup: a founder quits, you discover a patent that covers what you’re doing, your servers keep crashing, you run into an insoluble technical problem, you have to change your name, a deal falls through– these are all par for the course.” If you are someone who gets demoralized easily, you might as well give up now, because none but the most thick-skinned and determined leaders can survive in the pressure cooker of early start-up life.
Every new business needs to establish a corporate attitude — a “way we do things around here,” and this approach to business is set almost entirely by the founder. Will you release quickly and build out future versions based on user input, or complete the full project and release later? What is your tolerance of deadlines taking longer than planned? What is more important, quality of work, or speed of execution?
There is no manual on how to run your exact business, you must figure that out on your own. You need a vision, a guiding attitude by which all company decisions will be made. It is by this vision that you will weigh potentials deals against, decide what to focus on first, and steer your company in the direction you choose. Without a coherent vision for the culture of your company, you’re like a captain lost at sea, just floating wherever the currents and waves pull.
It is impossible to predict all of the problems your organization will encounter in advance. External problems, such as competitors stepping their products up to try to muscle you out of the market, happen at random. Internal problems, such as vital team members leaving in the heat of development, are also hard to see coming.
As you run in these sort of obstacles, your employees will look to you for guidance, and it is here that you must think on your feet and find creative workarounds to set things right again. A keen understanding of your market mixed with some creativity and confidence is a requirement of the job in such times.
Organization & Time Management
In all of your prior work experience, you had likely had other people assigning you tasks and setting deadlines for completion. You had to be organized, but only insofar as you didn’t lose sight of the structure others provided for you. If you blew a deadline, you had to hear about it from a boss and suffer a verbal reprimanding, but unless you were chronically late, it probably wasn’t a total disaster.
In entrepreneurship, its a whole different ball game. Suddenly, you are the one who must assign tasks for yourself, set your own deadlines and manage your time appropriately for successful completion. If you blow your deadline, no one is going to come yelling at you, but your company could blow a crucial deal, or miss a product launch costing you customers and much-needed revenue. In short, your ability to manage your own time and complete the work required of you is vital to the very survival of the organization.
The desk of the founder is no place for the timid. As a small, unestablished company, it’s going to be on you to put together some very uncomfortable and precarious deals to get the wheel turning. The old saying “fake it until you make it,” couldn’t be more accurate in describing the first 6-12 months of a start up.
Phone calls with huge, established companies, presentations to investors, partnership proposals — no matter the deal you’re trying to piece together, you must have the gumption to swallow your fear and pipe up your business enough to gain the respect and interest of massive companies who could’nt care less about your neat little start up. You must remain confident and in control no matter how desperately your business needs the deal. If large companies catch a scent of desperation they will either take you for everything you have, or kill you by ignoring your requests.
For those of you who heard that working for yourself is an easy walk in the park, get that idea out of your head right now. Being an entrepreneur does not mean laying around in your boxers and making a few mouse clicks as the money comes rolling in. If you’re going to start a business, you need to run it like a serious company, which means adhering to a professional lifestyle and setting and example for everyone who works underneath of you.
Why would your employees come in on time and stay until the bitter end of the day if you – the owner – wanders into the office in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt at noon, sticks around until 3:00, and then goes home? This is not the way business is done in the real world. Prepare for 80 hour weeks, early mornings, and very late nights. If you can’t become the solid rock of productivity and professionalism that your company needs at its foundation, you have no business in the corner office.
About the Author: Jessica Bower is a freelance writer for Quicken. Quicken offers personal finance software that makes money management easy. Quicken’s products help people get their spending under control with helpful budgeting tips and a great budget worksheet.