Before getting started on the road to founding a business, there is one question that every potential entrepreneur needs to ask the mirror: “Am I entrepreneur material?”
Because if you are not, the ride can be a rather painful one.
While there is no simple way of gauging whether you are or not, there are certain traits and characteristics that those who make a successful go at it tend to have in common. So to help you answer that rather direct question of whether you have it or not, I’ve broken the task down into eight individual questions.
Of course you don’t have to tick every box to make it as an entrepreneur – or even any of them, really. Like I said, there is no one way to gauge this. But I’d reckon that if you are leaning towards the correct answers on most of the below, you are at a distinct advantage when it comes to succeeding as a company owner in the business world.
Question 1: Do you prefer to work alone or with others?
If you answered the former, you might well be “self-employed freelancer” material, but it’s possible that entrepreneurship isn’t for you. Yes, there is a lot of solo work that goes into getting a business up and running, but in the long term it is only teamwork which is going to push your idea to the next level. One of my favourite quotes on the power of teamwork is an extremely simple, short, and straightforward one from management expert and author Ken Blanchard: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
Question 2: Do you lose sleep over work-related problems?
Now you may expect the successful entrepreneur to answer “no” here, right? Of course they don’t lose sleep over the pressures of work – after all they have thick skin and broad shoulders and are cool as ice, right?
Let’s be clear: sure the true entrepreneur is tough as nails and (ideally) a fairly calm type in front of others, but the fact is that sleepless nights are par for the course when it comes to running your own business. While it’s incredibly important for entrepreneurs to get some downtime and relax, if you are the type that clocks off and doesn’t spare a single thought for the office until the following day, then I’m afraid to say the fully immersive world of entrepreneurship probably isn’t for you.
And here’s my “why” on this one. The individual who sleeps like a baby throughout all the hard times is demonstrating a passiveness towards the main problems and challenges – challenges that can in fact only be worked out with a fair bit of thought investment and even a bit of mental anguish going into the issue. In other words, the true entrepreneur will think about a problem or challenge over and over until they find a satisfactory solution. Then they can sleep again.
Now there are exceptions to the rule here. Some remain extremely calm inside and out while giving full and total thought to all issues in order to find the right solution, never really getting flustered or nervous about things. But those are rare types indeed, and to them I take my hat off.
Question 3: Do you believe in putting your people first or the company?
I suppose it could be said that this is a bit of a trick question. In actual fact, the answer is very clear: take care of your company and you take care of the people. What your company employees need more than anything else is a successful business that offers security. Focus too much on the interests of your personnel and you may risk losing the company altogether – in which case you’re not taking care of anyone.
An example: Let’s say you find yourself in the middle of an economic downturn, and you are the type of company owner who tries to take care of everybody. And so you don’t let anyone go despite not having enough work for them all. And you keep paying those full wages. And you wait. And you wait some more. And then you realise that you’re so far in the hole that you have to let go of even more employees than you would have originally had to if you had reacted sooner, and your company is literally in shambles at this point.
While you may have been well intentioned, and I really like you for being so nice, the results are now even more catastrophic for the people you were trying to protect, and you have in fact let everyone down by letting your company down.
Question 4: Do the tough decisions affect you?
I’m not really looking for a straight yes or no answer here – there are many shades of grey to this particular question. The ideal answer would be, “Yes, they affect me but only for a short time”. If that’s how you answered, then congratulations because you probably have the desired level of steel and empathy to saddle the enormous burdens that come with the territory of being an entrepreneur.
If, however, you answered either, “Yes, they affect me for a long time after making them”, or “No, they do not affect me at all”, then you may lack the balance required to build a business.
That word “balance” is key here. The successful entrepreneur understands the enormity of decisions such as firing an employee or contractor, terminating a relationship with a bad client, shutting down a foreign office because performance is just not there, and so on; but they are able to make them in the best interests of the business and then move on to the next challenge without too much dwelling time.
Question 5: Are you happy to work evenings and weekends?
There are two possible answers here: “No, I don’t mind” or “I do mind, but I’m going to do it anyway.” If you answered any other way, then the world of entrepreneurship – and the late nights and long weeks that come with it – is not going to be a great fit for you.
Now there are other factors here, I know. Depending on your personal circumstances, the decision on whether to work all the hours under the sun to get the job done may not be yours to make alone.
It could be you have a partner who is anything but understanding when it comes to putting in long hours for the sake of your business, for example, and in such a case I can only say one thing: You have a tough decision to make.
Just know that being an entrepreneur is not a nine-to-five gig. Not for the first few years, anyway. It involves early mornings, late finishes, weekends, and very little time off. Can you honestly commit to that? It all depends on how bad you want it, which in turn defines whether you are true entrepreneurial material or not.
Question 6: Are you tough on others?
This one is incredibly straightforward. The answer here really should be, “Tough but fair”, and all to the end of bringing the best possible results.
Once again this comes down to balance. You need to be fair when discussing business objectives and goals, and you need to be a great listener. Your people are your greatest assets, and you must know that you are all putting in a good amount of hours towards the same goal. So what they have to say and the hard work they put in matters a great deal, and you have to respect that.
But you need to also know when the output can be improved on (take that “tough” look at things). If you are “Steve Jobs perfectionist level” and you don’t know how to channel it, though, you risk being “tough but unfair”. So while being a perfectionist is fine and you should indeed push and push your people till they get it to the level you want, the big challenge for the entrepreneur here is how to translate tough into fair without watering down the results.
Question 7: Do you scream and shout when things go wrong?
If we’re being honest, we all do it sometimes. But for the entrepreneur who really wants to go somewhere, the key is to keep emotions in check most of the time. At least don’t expect to scream and shout all the time and expect to get results.
There is a mistaken – and somewhat outdated – belief that going all guns blazing, screaming, shouting and ramping up pressure on employees will increase performance and cut down on mistakes due to fear of the consequences.
This, as the Harvard Business Review found out in a recent study, couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, all this type of behaviour does is increase stress levels among staff – which often results in reduced performance, a higher propensity for error and potentially even absenteeism.
Question 8: Do you take care of yourself physically?
You must answer “Yes. Yes I do. I must.”
And there are several excellent reasons why you must answer this way. For starters, exercise helps you to live a longer and more active life – and when you are the engine room of your own business, that can only be a good thing. Next up, being an entrepreneur takes energy, stamina, resilience and determination – all traits that can be honed at the gym.
Finally, exercise is incredibly good for the brain. A study by the University of British Columbia recently found that regular exercise appears to increase the size of the brain’s hippocampus – the area associated with memory and learning. And I can’t think of a business in the land that wouldn’t benefit from a leader who keeps on learning.
But it’s more than just exercise: good nutrition, proper sleep, stress management, and other key lifestyle choices will all help you, the entrepreneur, increase your chance of succeeding.
Am I entrepreneur material?
Let me repeat: there is no perfect formula for entrepreneurial success. So if you were off on most of the above questions, don’t take this to mean you should give up on your dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Much of the above can be learned, and in fact just “being an entrepreneur” often forces you to learn them. You get it on the job, as it were.
But I believe that to have most of those boxes above checked off certainly puts you at an advantage going in, and so you should take a good deal of comfort in that fact if you answered them “correctly.” The entrepreneur who aims to be successful needs to want it real bad, and if you think about it, those eight points I made above are all measures of just how bad someone wants it.