What qualities make a successful entrepreneur?Oh, how I struggle to answer this question…I get asked this (a lot)…whenever some researcher discovers my story and resume and sees that I’ve built 3 successful businesses – all in an original business model:
- Never working more than 5 hours a day
- Never hiring anyone else
- And working only from a home office
They find the whole idea so rare and fascinating that inevitably they pop the question…hoping that in my answer will be the ‘secret’ to entrepreneurial success.
But you know, being a serial entrepreneur isn’t actually rare at all…
Although, I will admit, being your own boss is quite exhilarating and addictive.
And, once you sell your business for ‘an offer you can’t refuse’, it’s only a matter of time before, as a successful entrepreneur, you get another winning idea and create the next business.
Perhaps it seems rare because it’s so hard to get accurate statistics on single-person businesses (the census calls them nonemployer businesses). As it turns out, the majority of smaller business owners don’t bother to register or incorporate them with their state, mostly because it sounds so complicated.
But it’s not at all…
As I show in my courses, it’s a remarkably simple and essential step to take on the path to success.
Even so, it’s estimated that there are 24 million registered such businesses in the U.S. and 83 million worldwide with collective receipts of over $10 trillion.
I don’t know about you, but I would be hard pressed to find common qualities between 83 million entrepreneurs (I find it hard to find common qualities even between my two siblings and I).
I can, however, think of at least 4 qualities that give a distinct advantage to any great entrepreneur, each one equally significant on his or her path to success.
#1 Integrity is the foundation to any business that was ever worthwhile.
Does your product really do what you say it does? Can your customers really trust you and your company? Does your service provide a clearly defined customer benefit?
I learned this importance when, as a teenager, I observed the different way my mother and father approached customers. My father’s mindset was all about ‘What is in it for me?’ or ‘What can I get away with here?’ He started and failed at over a dozen businesses during my childhood.
My mother, on the other hand, worked behind the counter of a delicatessen in the market town of Ruthin, North Wales. Her mindset was all about the customer’s interests. She took the time to get to know them and learn their likes and dislikes. She was genuinely interested and when someone came into the shop with a party or dinner event in mind, she would go out of way to help them plan it all out.
She got nothing for this effort. It was not her shop and she was on a fixed, minimum wage. To her, it was just the right thing to do. She used to lecture me and my siblings to ‘Just do the right thing, no matter what it costs or takes. Then you will never go wrong and never be short of friends.’ I used to help out in the shop from time to time and it was always chockablock.
#2 Treat every person equally and like they are a million-dollar customer, because one day they may actually be that or lead you to someone who is.
Those who you treat well in the beginning will be with you throughout your journey to success and could possibly be part of the reason you get there. Aside from any success, everyone deserves the right to be treated equally. I’m a big fan of Rudyard Kipling’s poems and writing (although not his jingoism) and his idea of treating Kings and Paupers the same way.
This is also something my mum instilled in me from an early age when I used to sit in the back of the delicatessen observing her. I was a confident but somewhat introverted child and, because we were a poor family reliant on my mother’s meagre wage and welfare support, I was easily intimidated by those with money and power. I watched how she treated the town mayor, bank manager, and the street cleaner with exactly the same degrees of grace and respect.
This really influenced me in my business endeavors. I treat the investor and the customer equally, but I also go out of my way to build the same rapport with every stakeholder – from the guy on the production line who packs the product to the VP of marketing at our contract commerce vendor.
My mother used to say, ‘Stand up tall (not so easy as she was 5 feet nothing), look everyone in the eye and in that moment we are all equal, all one.’
Whoever you communicate with, in that moment, they become your most important customer, whether they’re packing a box or signing a million-dollar contract. Treating them like a million dollars will never harm you as an entrepreneur, either. That street cleaner my mum befriended (and gave free samples to when she thought no one was looking), took extra pride in keeping the sidewalk outside the shop immaculate. Years later, he became one of the shop’s biggest customers when he was hired as the town’s livestock auction messenger. One of his tasks was to fetch lunches for all the farmers who attended the twice-weekly auction. Where else could he have gone but to the shop where the kind saleslady worked?
#3 Know your purpose.
Do you care more for your customer’s satisfaction than making a sale? In fact, it’s much more than customer satisfaction, it’s customer delight. Does everything you aim to do truly delight your customers? Does it impact his or her life in a positive way? If it does, then you have a purpose and can enjoy success without even trying too hard.
I believe success comes naturally to entrepreneurs who strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
My father never approached business this way. One time he started a tire depot. I was there when one of his workers huddled close to him and whispered a little too loudly, ‘Guess what, Harry, a kid just came in needing a new tire. I convinced him all 4 needed replacement.’ He rubbed his palms gleefully, like Scrooge might have, then leant out of the office to see who the sucker was. It was me.
#4 Embrace everyone as equals.
Looks a lot like #2, doesn’t it? It isn’t the same, but it is related. The first one is how you treat people…this one is how you see them.
Originally, I was going to call this ‘Have Humility.’ But then I realized I don’t think the word ‘humble’ – the source of humility – is exactly right, because in using it we have to consider its opposite. Saying ‘humble’ almost hints that someone thinks they are better but can bend the knee at the throne when it counts.
When I watched my mum interacting, I saw equality. She simply saw everyone the same way and just wanted to help… to make a difference. She had a great sense of humor, too, and that is always a useful tool for leveling the playing field. I would rather use a different word than ‘humble’ or ‘humility’, because it’s not about suppressing an emotion…but rather, simply embracing anyone and everyone as equals.
Julian Lennon (John Lennon’s son with his first wife, Cynthia) and 3 nationally known TV sitcom stars were at his mother’s funeral in a lost village around a 12th century church. Not a single paparazzi in sight. But there, also, was the street sweeper, the coalman (coal was delivered by lorry then), and all the local farmers and miners… all with a favorite story to tell. All equal in one moment.
When it comes to business, I think the ability to walk in your customer’s shoes is very important. Yet, it amazes me how easily high-ranking business people forget that the customer always comes first and that, without the customer, they could not possibly succeed. They may even think that communicating with the customer is beneath them, or it’s the responsibility of their employees.
Companies go awry when the leader stops listening, and I saw it happen at the delicatessen when the owner handed the keys to her daughter who really didn’t want them. By then my mother, who was also fighting cancer, was too ill to work. I had a teenage crush on the daughter so still visited the shop as often as my courage would permit. She had no interest in the customers, behaved as if they were beneath her, and treated all the local farmers and vendors like minions. Before long the shop was closed for good.
As a teenager, I was keen to escape where we lived because of employment and other limitations, and I think that made me more observational than normal for someone that age. I loved my parents equally, but my heightened awareness allowed me to watch, listen, and learn. To this day I am as grateful to the lessons I learned watching my fathers struggles as my mother’s success with her gregarious nature.
As I’m writing this article, it reminds me that, as an entrepreneur, this heightened awareness has also been prevalent. In my regular career before I started my first venture, I made a point to get to know all the different functions in the company that employed me. I tried to observe their main issues and what practices brought the best results. I think this gave me a lot of self-confidence when it came time to be my own boss.
In summary, if you were to collate these qualities into one overall mantra, it would be:
Make a positive difference, have fun doing it, and share in the rewards.
It’s the mantra I’ve used in all my businesses and it’s served me well.
Please feel free to adopt it…Cheers, Trev
A version of this blog post has also been published on Medium.com