The last 8 years as an entrepreneur have taught me a lot. About myself and about running a business. I have gone from zero income through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship to having success in my business and having financial security. I have also moved up from exhaustion and struggle to higher energy and peace of mind.
How did I get there?
I have been thinking about it a lot lately. This spring has been very emotional time for me. I have felt almost obsessed to figure out, what were the moments that turned it around for me. What have been most important insights that I can learn from all of this (and maybe pass on)…?
And since I was asked to speak at a start up event in Finland last week, I had to finally sit down and make a concrete list.
So here is my ultimate list of what I think are the most important traits to succeed as an entrepreneur.
1. Be a Visionary
First of all: You don’t need to be psychic to be a visionary. But you need to see the future you are aiming at. Your vision is your ultimate goal, and without a goal you won’t get anywhere. Your vision is the concrete picture in your mind of how your service or product will help your clients and the world, how the world around you will look, how, where and with whom will you be working with.
As an entrepreneur you have a lot of details to take care of. It is so easy to get drowned with bills, emails, customers, delegating and all the urgent things at hand. Suddenly you notice, that all your time goes to handling the everyday issues. And if you don’t know exactly where you are headed, you will get too involved with them. You simply won’t have a reason to pull yourself away from them.
You need a vision of your goals to keep you moving forward. You need to see your vision so clearly that you know what you really need to do to get there. What new skills you have to master to get you where you want to go?
But not only does your vision get you there, it will help you to organize you everyday life. Your vision will help you prioritize and focus. It will help you to focus on the most important things to get you to your goal. And by important things I mean studying and developing yourself and your business model. Also it means outsourcing the things (bookkeeping, assistant, graphic designer etc.) that someone else will do better and faster. Skipping the little tasks is not nearly as bad as skipping reaching for your goals, your vision.
2. Be head strong (or stubborn)
To be head strong means sticking with your vision and values. You can also call it being stubborn, why not. It’s not always a bad thing. No matter what the other people say, you believe in your vision. Of course it’s important that you find people who support you in your quest, but don’t get discouraged easily. There will always be people who try to put you and your ideas down, but you have to stay strong. Not everyone is your audience, and even business gurus don’t know all the fields of business.
You are the one who has to believe in your ideas even if no one else does. Sometimes it’s the closest to you that doubt you the most. Sometimes it may be hard to see mommy transforming into a successful business woman. So believe in yourself, then others will believe in you as well.
The strong belief in your business helps you to tolerate uncertainty. As an entrepreneur you can’t always be sure (at least in the beginning) when you will get your next salary. And even if everything falls around you, you run out of money, out of food, petrol and you have only broken clothes, you have to keep believing that you are on your way. And even if you have just failed huge, you still need to believe in your business.
This absolute and strong belief has carried me through many tough times. Even if I had moments of desperation and disbelieve in myself (after trying so hard and still not succeeding) I have always come back to believing that next time I will make it. To be honest, after everything, I am just so really amazed about this myself.
So see it. And believe it. That’s the lesson so far. But what else you need..?
3. You need to have grit
In Finland we are really proud of this. This is part of our national self-esteem. Grit. We call it Sisu. All Finns know what it means. It means that you make your own way through whatever obstacles and hardship with very little resources. Alone. In the swamp. Building your own home from scratch…
We finns can be a little grim.. but at least we have grit!
And you need grit, when you are building your own business. You believe in yourself and you just push, push, push, until you make it.
I love being an entrepreneur. There isn’t many days when I’m not bursting with excitement. But sometimes there are those tough times… when you’re alone with your computer. Dead tired. When nothing seems to work. A big ball in your throat, but you cannot cry. No, because you have to work. Crying doesn’t help. You know what you have to do and you stay up as long as you have to, to make it.
And then you do make it. The ups and downs are huge when you’re an entrepreneur. One moment you’re jumping from excitement and feel like the king of the world and the next you are in the deepest trenches of despair…
So it’s not always just fun, sometimes it’s about mind over body. But not in a good way. You push your body to the limit with your grit and stubbornness. It’s not really good if you go too far. It can ruin your health. It can ruin relationships. So you need to look out for yourself. Even if sometimes you have to push and fight to make your way, you have to make sure you have a chance to recover. Sometimes it may take a long time. Some say, that it takes you as long to recover as it took you to push.
So sometimes its a struggle of survival. And eventually those who have grit, win the battle.
4. Be brave
Bravery goes with everything I’ve said so far but it’s more than that. You may be surprised what I mean by it.
As an entrepreneur you take risks all the time. You may invest a lot of money, but you also invest your own time and sometimes even your soul. The business is your creation, your dream, your passion and you put yourself on the line for it.
So many times you have to go outside of your comfort zone and do things that scare you. For this you need to be brave. You need to be ready to jump head first to challenges and take the risk of it not working out. And you have already done that once you started your own business!
Bravery means also, that you need to believe in your own ideas even if no one else does. You need to be brave to swim against the current and do things your own way. You brake the status quo by building something new in the way that no one else has done before.
As an entrepreneur you create something new all the time. Like an artist. And like an artist, you need to be brave. All creative creations come from inside. You need to be able to take criticism and stand for what you believe in. With all decisions you make as an entrepreneur you need to be brave. Starting from the strategical decisions you make to choosing your audience, your concept and branding. Everyone has an opinion, but your opinion as the owner of your business is what matters the most.
Be brave to speak out your vision and stand for what you believe.
5. Be honest
Honesty to yourself and others – this is about being open minded to new things and the opinions and knowledge of others.
As entrepreneurs we are in a special position to learn something new every day. Mostly about ourselves. Because we put ourselves to the edge all the time, test ourselves and do those brave things I talked about, we grow in amazing speed. The fact that you implement your own ideas and fail, fail and fail again, makes you learn even if you are not trying. That’s why we are so interested in personal growth, it’s because all of us: we do it all the time.
Why am I talking about personal growth in the subject of honesty..? Because you need to be honest with yourself, in order to grow. And you need to grow in order to succeed. If you are not open and ready to admit mistakes, you do not move forward. So stay honest about who you are, don’t put yourself higher than others and be humble to the world. The learning never ends. Never.
Stay honest with what you are doing so that you can keep your feet on the ground.
Honesty is about balancing the previous. Your vision must be honest, you have to know how to get there. You need to understand, why you are being stubborn of head strong about your idea. Why are you pushing with grit, if it’s not working out. If it’s not working even if you try to fix it and fix it, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and see the truth.
So there’s a line with these traits, you don’t want to step over. Stay true to yourself and others, and you will find the way in the business to succeed. Be ready to start from a clean slate, in case it’s not working out. All of this is about growing as a person and as an entrepreneur.
Phuuh, there’s my ultimate list. I have to say this came from somewhere deep. If it sounds same as someone else’s list, great, that means it’s more valid. But it’s mine. These are the things I have found to be true in my own journey as an entrepreneur. And don’t think you don’t possess these traits, you might just not know it yet. When the going gets tough… you will find out.
So be strong, believe in yourself and stay true. See it, and make it happen.