Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. It takes a heterogeneous mix of confidence, risk tolerance, self-discipline, determination and competitiveness to start a business and see it through to success.
Entrepreneurs can come from myriad backgrounds and financial and personal support structures, but I most admire entrepreneurs who are self-made. They weren’t handed a business or a trust fund; they took an idea — or their talent for a trade or specialized profession — and set forth to build something. When you don’t come from money and don’t have a fallback plan, the risk, work ethos and single-mindedness needed to be a successful entrepreneur create a business-builder without equal.
That said, I’ve created a list of seven common themes that are true for every self-made entrepreneur.
1. There are only three things you need to start a business — a small amount of capital, a strong work ethic and persistence.
In a perfect world, it would be free to start a business. But it does cost money to file for an EIN and be recognized as a business entity on the state and federal level. You will also likely need capital for upfront infrastructure costs like Web development and accounting software. But aside from this, which should be fairly easily self-financed or put on a zero-interest 12 month credit card, all you really need is a serious dose of self-confidence and a never-say-die attitude. You will want to quit and you will feel like a failure. But success lies beyond these feelings of fear and anxiety. Always remember, failure only exists when you stop trying.
2. To be self-made means to rise from the ground floor. Even the most successful self-made entrepreneurs once walked in your shoes.
Every successful entrepreneur who ever lived started with nothing more than an idea. Remember this when you’re down and feel like the end is near. Use it as motivation to explore new ways of doing things, forge new partnerships or do something crazy. Self-made entrepreneurs are built to tolerate and withstand great risk. Hundreds if not thousands of people have already walked in your shoes. Channel this idea. Success lies ahead.
3. It’s very rare to be first-to-market at anything. We will all have competitors and few ideas are truly original.
“There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” –Barbara Grizutti Harrison
Everyone wants to be innovative — to come up with an idea that will change the world, disrupt an industry or set you apart as an “entrepreneurial genius.” But the truth is that few ideas a unique or new. Some of the most successful tech businesses, for example, are just iterative improvements on successful ventures that have come before.
Don’t get caught up market saturation or competition. No matter what you do in life, you will face stiff competition. Use your closest competition. Evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and improve your business positioning, brand message, and pricing and marketing strategy to get an edge.
At the end of the day, customers are a fickle bunch. If your business does it better, faster, cheaper or smarter than your rivals, you’re bound to find success.
4. Doubt will haunt you until you’ve reached “success.” Learn to get used to it.
Whether they let on or not, all entrepreneurs have high levels of anxiety about their business — even if they’re on the pathway to success. Running and building a business of any size in any industry requires a huge amount of responsibility and attention to detail. And things will go wrong. Frequently. You’ll second guess yourself (sometimes on a daily basis) and you’ll always fear you’re on the edge of failure. The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you’ll learn to cope.
5. The first big milestones were equally challenging for all of your competitors.
Getting your first sale will be a big day. But there will be many days that pass as you ramp up your business and prepare to bring home the bacon. If you launch your business and have a slow start, worry not.
Very few businesses charge out of the gate at full speed. Growing a business can be a slow and painful process and you will need patience and persistence to weather your early setbacks. Remember, every great businessman had to start from somewhere. And for most, that somewhere was the same place you’re starting from now.
6. The emotional and financial pressures you feel have been felt by every entrepreneur before you.
Just as you will have to get used to living with doubt and fear of failure, you will also need to adapt to the daily, weekly, and monthly financial pressures of being your own boss. As an entrepreneur, you have chosen to break away from the security of a bi-weekly paycheck for the chance at something more. Fortunately, you can find solace in the fact that every self-made man or woman who came before you had the same emotional and financial pressures bearing down on them. If they could do it, so can you.
7. In a fledgling business, learn to rely on no one but yourself for 90 percent of the work.
If you’re an independent-minded person, there is a good chance you’re used to doing most of the work yourself. As an entrepreneur, being a master-of-all-trades is in the first line of the job description. Working as part of a team is a valuable skill and one you’ll surely need as your business grows and you begin to scale, but in the early stages of every business you’ll need to rely on yourself for 90-100 percent of the work. While you’ll be burning the midnight oil most days of the week (and weekend), the satisfaction you will feel after finding success will be without equal.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Image credit: CC by piotr