Here’s a tough but true statement: entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. The kind of independence that characterizes entrepreneurship comes with inherent risks— and drawbacks— that keep most people away. The simple, undeniable fact of the matter is that conventional employment is conventional for a reason. Entrepreneurship isn’t something that everyone should strive for, or that’s somehow inherently better than typical jobs and careers. It’s a path that works best for people with certain traits, dispositions, and mindsets. Those people can thrive on the path less travelled. Others, not so much.
Before I go any further, let me be clear: this isn’t meant to discourage anyone. In fact, the point here is to increase the odds of success for anyone reading this. For anyone considering the entrepreneurial path, there are certain factors that have to be acknowledged. The things that make entrepreneurship different can require some serious soul-searching for those who choose it. Perspectives may have to be altered. Plans may have to be modified. Personal preferences may have to be reconsidered. Doing any or all of this can mean the difference between making it and not.
I’m not referring to talent, or skill, or even work ethic. If you’re reading this, the assumption is that you have all three. You’ve got something valuable to offer, and you’re willing to do the work. What separates those who make it on their own and those who don’t has more to do with flexibility. It involves a willingness to adapt, to change, and to accept less-than-ideal realities. It means being able to let go of preconceptions and accept the facts on the ground.
In my experience, there are certain traits that show up consistently in those who don’t make it in independent business. These people aren’t lazy, or untalented, or in any way undeserving of success. They simply have outlooks and attributes that aren’t consistent with the entrepreneurial approach. What works in the conventional workplace won’t work in this game. If you recognize any or several of the following red flags, it’s in your interest to reconsider entrepreneurship.
You may not have to abandon your entrepreneurial ambitions. You may only have to make some alterations in perspective or habits. Either way, it’s always good business to be as honest with yourself as possible.
Sign #1: You Hate Change
If you want to master one thing and do just that, day in and day out, indefinitely, entrepreneurship may not be for you. Those who devote themselves to the absolute perfection of a single ability are valuable, but they’re not cut out for independent business. Entrepreneurship requires constant change, innovation, and evolution. There are constant changes in the market and in customer preferences. No two days, weeks, months or years are ever the same.
The only way to stay competitive is to commit to a never-ending process of innovation and redefinition. Yes, there will always be some consistent basic foundational aspects of your industry. But even the things that stay “the same” over generations will still change within their own contexts. Athletes will always want to work out, but what makes for the most efficient exercise is constantly being reexamined. Home cooks will always want great ingredients, but where they can get them from is always subject to change. Writers want to hone their craft, but usage and grammar are never fixed. Things change in business, and entrepreneurs have to ride the turbulence of those changes.
If you like the idea of doing the same work next year that you’re doing today, that’s fine; traditional employment may be something you’ll find very fulfilling. However, it bodes ill for the entrepreneur. On the other hand, if you’re easily bored by the repetition of given tasks, or feel stagnant without constantly adding to your skill set, entrepreneurship may be just the thing.
Sign #2: Short Term Thinking
One thing successful entrepreneurs do is think in the long term. They’re constantly considering the effects of today’s decisions and actions on next month, six months from now, and years from now. It’s vital to have the patience to plot long-game strategies that only bear fruit over the long haul.
Far too many people get into entrepreneurship because they believe that the right idea or product is all that’s needed. They dream of overnight success that comes after finally producing that “perfect” product the market goes nuts for. The truth is, it’s rarely like that. Even what seems like overnight success is almost always the result of years of patient audience-building and careful marketing.
The sobering truth is that people don’t just invent something and discover one day that they’re rich. They plant seeds. They watch them grow, day by day, and tend to them over time. When success comes, it’s a culmination, not an immediate result.
Sign #3: Oversensitivity to Criticism
Entrepreneurship requires thick skin. One needs to not only take criticism and learn from mistakes, but roll with the punches constantly thrown by an inexhaustible sea of senseless haters. One consequence of success is having to endure criticism both constructive and mean-spirited. Success, by nature, comes with detractors. Always.
There will be genuine, well-intentioned feedback from supportive critics and others who truly want the best for you. There will be suggestions from customers who understandably want the product (and entrepreneur) that best serves them. Regardless of which kind of criticism it is, you have to take it. You have to be dispassionate and objective, and accept that the opinions of others are part of what you have to live with.
Fortunately, criticism can be a great driver of your evolution as a business person. Remember: the product is for the customer, not you. What they want should be your guide. That means that a reflexive, responsive entrepreneur is always open-minded and ready to take criticism seriously.
Sign #4: You Need External Motivation
So often, I’m asked the same question by newer entrepreneurs: how do you stay motivated? While I have a range of answers to that question, the one I’m most often tempted to give is that the question is based on a flawed premise. The best entrepreneurs are, for the most part, self-motivating.
Most successful entrepreneurs have an inherent drive, a hunger for the work that they couldn’t deny if they tried. They may need support, they may need healthy, regular breaks, but they don’t really need motivation from anywhere other than within. They don’t need to be pushed by anyone or anything. They instinctively seek the action. They find joy in the work, and even more joy in making strides. That doesn’t come from anywhere but inside.
Sign #5: Selfishness
“What’s in it for me?” is not a good mantra for an entrepreneur. It may seem counterintuitive, but great business comes more from a place of giving than receiving— especially great independent business. The greatest givers earn the most admiration from the market, and therefore the most business. They’re generous; they give their time and support to their colleagues and value to their audience. Eventually, it all comes back to them.
They earn trust and respect by giving, not constantly seeking profit with every move. Yes, profit is the ultimate goal, but it’s not the goal of every specific interaction. They are net givers and net receivers, always guided by the question “What’s in it for the customer?” Rather than seeking an ROI on every action they take, they make themselves a font of value that people choose to reward.
Being a miser constantly on the lookout for gain isn’t just distasteful, it’s bad business. Consumers can smell greed a mile away, and a mile away is where they’ll stay. Make people appreciate you. Offer solutions rather than holding solutions hostage and demanding money in exchange for them. What you give today will bear a result tomorrow.
This list of anti-successful traits isn’t meant to scare you. It’s a list of things that have to be rectified in order to open the door to success. Here at The $100 MBA, our first goal is always honesty, to strip away the veneer of false promises and unrealistic expectations. We’re all capable of change and growth. Entrepreneurship requires both, every day. To create success, embrace that.