Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Are you meant to work for others or work for yourself?
If working for other people makes you feel like you lose a little bit of yourself each day, you may be certain that entrepreneurship is your true path. If you’re still vacillating between these two options, it might help to consider what qualities make someone cut out for starting and running a business. While it may seem to offer more freedom and independence, it is by no means the path of least resistance.
Successful business owners work long hours, often deferring their own paychecks to fairly compensate their employees, and spend years refining their business concept until it turns a profit. Uncertainty, doubt, fear and anxiety are often steady companions, and the sad reality is that one-third of businesses fail within the first year; half of businesses, within five years; and two-thirds, within ten years.
When asked what single quality stands out as the most important entrepreneurial trait, many experts cite determination – that steely-eyed commitment to a vision to which they are committed that keeps their hands on the wheel steady as they confront unforeseen obstacles, ignore naysayers and stay true to their course despite the odds. Almost paradoxically, others claim that a certain flexibility serves entrepreneurs who demonstrate the ability to maneuver with agility through uncertain markets and changing technologies and demographics and anticipate and adjust to trends.
Though seemingly opposite traits, it could be true that both determination and flexibility are shared traits among successful business owners. It seems strangely logical that the ability to both follow through despite the odds yet adapt as needed could, in the right person, prove complementary. These shared traits could conspire to make this person less risk adverse, another characteristic commonly attributed to entrepreneurs, since they have proven to themselves over time that they could endure any situation if they were both determined yet flexible enough to persevere.
When you ask yourself whether you have what it takes to start a business, I want you to be realistic, but I also want you to conceive of the possibility that whatever deficits you possess could easily to supported by another professional, either as an employee or freelancer. The question isn’t whether you can fill any role that a business might expect of you – it’s whether you’re willing to stretch yourself to consider that you could learn things seemingly outside your wheelhouse. This imaginative plasticity, I believe, is the biggest predictor of entrepreneurial success and satisfaction.
When I talk about imaginative plasticity, I don’t mean your ability to daydream (although that is a sign of high creativity). I’m talking about your ability to learn and imagine ideas that others find hard to conceive. It is hard to measure, I’ll give you that, but we usually recognize it in others when we see it. I’m not saying you have to be as visionary as Steve Jobs or Nikola Tesla, but I have observed that a certain willingness to envision possibilities in the face of uncertainty is notably apparent in the personalities of successful entrepreneurs. (Listen to any episode of the How I Built This podcast if you don’t believe me, and I think you’ll see what I mean.)
Tasks that you find dreadful – bookkeeping, waiting on customers, de-bugging software glitches – can all be easily outsourced, but some responsibilities cannot be delegated. Among these are the ability to lead and craft a vision that others will follow, a willingness to strategize and make decisions, the curiosity to learn new things and the capacity to practice and prioritize self care to avoid burnout.
I wanted to present post as a handy list to which you could refer and check the boxes to see if I list the qualities you possess. While the Entrepreneurial Assessment Quiz I created for my coaching clients scratches the surface of your entrepreneurial leanings, I think that considering whether you have the drive to start a business lies in a deeper place. You have to be really clear that you are committed to entrepreneurship and that no other option will lead to the life you really want and clearly understand that the road ahead will have potholes, frustratingly windy paths, confusing intersections and, at times, incoherent signs with spray-painted skull heads and indecipherable graffiti.
I am by no means down on entrepreneurship. I will be the first to tell you (shout from the rooftops even) that it offers rich rewards, including freedom, creativity, collaborative opportunities, self-discovery, autonomy, adventure, and, in time, the potential to make a decent living. But it’s a bit like that thing someone once said about the truth – it will set you free, but first it will kick your ass.
To help put you in touch with your more in-depth thoughts on entrepreneurship, answer the questions below.
How do you feel about risk? What is the riskiest thing you have done?
When you think about times you have taken risks, do you regret the results or feel good about them?
Do you believe yourself to be an intuitive individual? Why or why not?
Name 3 long-term projects that you have been a part of, either in a work, volunteer or academic setting. Write about your role in each project. What did you do? How much did you enjoy your role? When did you feel like you were the most engaged?
Among the role(s) in which you were the most engaged, was it because your role required or asked you to take your own initiative and feel things out or was it because what was expected of you so clearly laid out? Which did you enjoy more – envisioning what the final project would look like or working and collaborating with others?
What traits do you notice in the entrepreneurial people you know personally or admire from afar? Which of these traits do you admire most? Do you possess them? If not, can you think of ways in which you could acquire them?
Do you find more satisfaction in thinking about the future or in working on things in the present?
When you work for other people do you often find yourself thinking, “This project/company/product/system would be SO much better if we did it like (insert one of your brilliant ideas)”? Write about a time that happened in your most recent or current work experience?
Do you tend to be optimistic yet pragmatic? Do you tend to see possibilities when solving complicated problems? What is an example of this in your work or personal life history?
How persistent are you? Are you willing to network, either in person or through social media or work to perfect your SEO to attract clients and customers through your website and other web presences? If you plan to operate a client-facing brick-and-mortar business, do you think you’ll reach out to your business neighbors and neighborhood residents? Does that part of it excite you or make you feel shy? If it’s not your thing, are you willing to hire people who would be “ambassadors” for your business?
How do you find ways to improve processes in your work? Does this bring you satisfaction? If so, how? Does it frustrate you when you have no say in improving processes in your workplace?
YES to seven or more = ENTREPRENEUR
You are born to be an entrepreneur and unlikely to enjoy working for others unless they give you a lot of latitude.
YES to five to six = ENTREPRENEURIAL POTENTIAL
You have the potential to grow into an entrepreneurial role or pursue a profession that is a hybrid of entrepreneurship and working for someone else, like real estate.
YES to four or fewer = EMPLOYEE
You are more likely to enjoy working for someone else, but you can still watch Shark Tank!