Do I have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? This question is one that almost everyone thinking about starting a business asks themselves at some stage. So here’s a ten point checklist to help decide if entrepreneurship is for you.

“What does it take to make it as an entrepreneur? What skills do successful entrepreneurs have that others don’t? And more to the point, do I have them?”

If you have a business that you’d like to start, but have been holding yourself back because you’re not sure if you’ve got what it takes, rest assured that you are certainly not alone.

Self doubt and fear are a natural part of the survival instinct that kicks in whenever we go to do something outside of our comfort zone, so whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s something that many great entrepreneurs have had to deal with on their own road to success, and something that many other entrepreneurs around you are also dealing with right now. But these same survival instincts, designed to help keep us “safe”, are often also the very same ones that hold us back – that stop us from stepping up and into our potential and moving ahead.

Self knowledge and a frank assessment of our own personal make up can make all the difference when faced with the unknown, so we’ve compiled a checklist of the top ten entrepreneurial characteristics we’ve seen time and time again, as a result of talking with, researching and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years.

From successful artisans such as Flox and Leilani and Anastasia Rickard, to tech startup founders like Will Chomley and Rod Drury, and serial entrepreneurs like Tim Gallagher and Tony Falkenstein, here are the top ten personal characteristics that will determine whether you’re cut out for entrepreneurship.

#1 – Desire

“First you fuel the desire, then the desire will fuel you.” – Napoleon Hill

Desire. While the rest of this list is in no particular order, there’s a good reason we’ve listed this first. And that’s because without it none of the others really matter. You can have all of the other traits but without desire you’re not going to do anything with them.

And we’re not talking about just a, “Oh yeah, it would be kind of nice to do XYZ entrepreneurial thing,” kind of desire. What we’re talking about here is a deep, burning (almost ferocious!) desire to solve some problem, create something great, or to just live life on your terms.

Without a burning desire – a powerful and emotional reason why you absolutely must do what you do – there’s a high chance you’re not going to be able to get through the countless challenges, roadblocks and setbacks you will encounter along the way.

#2 – Belief

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re probably right.” – Henry Ford

Now belief is an interesting one. On the one hand, many entrepreneurs will say they never believed their product or business would be so successful when they first started out.

In stark contrast, some entrepreneurs say they had 100% belief that their product or business would be an absolute winner right from the outset.

So it doesn’t seem to be an outright belief in your business or product that is a prerequisite, rather a belief in yourself. A belief that even if you’re not sure how, you will find some way to make it work, to overcome all obstacles and to achieve the success you’re looking for.

This makes sense because in many instances the entrepreneur is pioneering a completely new product, business model or industry where there simply are no precedents and no way to know whether something will work until it’s tried.

This is a massive topic, rooted deep in the study of psychology and the human psyche. Our subconscious paradigms and self image are at the heart of it – what we believe about the world, about others and most importantly about ourselves. Your internal belief system will either help you triumph in the face of adversity or will sabotage you every step of the way.

It’s a good idea to get really honest about which one you have before you get into business.

#3 – Ability to learn quickly

“You must empty your cup to fill your mind” – Chinese proverb

One of the things you realise when you first start a business, is just how little you actually know. And that most of what you thought you knew turns out to be wrong. As an employee you are paid to become a specialist in just one thing eg widget making, accounting, sales, team management, coding. The better you are at that thing, the more you are worth to your company.

But when you first go into business, unless you’re well funded and can hit the ground running with a full team of professionals with all the bases covered, it’s probably just going to be you, or just you and a co-founder or two.

This means there are going to be knowledge and skill gaps all over the place. Sure you can (and should where possible) get professional advice, outsource certain aspects, or hire contractors. But you are still going to need to do a lot of the “heavy lifting” yourself and this requires finding, sorting and assimilating a hell of a lot of information, fast.

#4 – Work ethic

“The harder I work the luckier I get.” – Unknown

There should be no surprises with this one. If you think your boss is a hard taskmaster, be prepared to work at least twice as hard if you want to build your own business.

There’s always a slim chance you won’t have to of course – that you really will be able to find a business that earns you hundreds of thousands of dollars with little to no effort. But for the majority of business owners, long hours, constant problem solving, and huge amounts of physical, mental and emotional energy are the norm. At least in the early days anyway – say five to 10 years minimum.

If the thought of this scares you, entrepreneurship may well not be for you.

#5 – Accountability

“The fish stinks first from the head.” – Turkish saying

One of the most confronting aspects of entrepreneurship is how “in the spotlight” it puts you as a founder. If you cannot deal with the idea of being ultimately accountable for the performance of your product, your team, your business – even for things you had no direct say or involvement in – you may want to think again.

At the end of the day, as founder, your business is a reflection of you. You started it, you had the chance to make it into anything you wanted, and you either succeeded in doing that or you failed. In the case of the latter, the temptation to point the finger, to make excuses, to apportion the blame to anyone and everyone other than yourself is too great for many people to resist.

The problem of course is that by avoiding accountability we are also delaying valuable learning experiences, vital for helping us become better entrepreneurs in the future.

#6 – Tolerance for risk

“Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” – General George S Patton

This goes without saying really. In business there is simply no guarantee of success. There are so many variables that even if you’re following the latest “best practise” and doing everything by the “textbook” there is no certainty that you will make it.

Yes if you can hang in there long enough, it does get easier with practise and experience. You will get better at assessing risks, mitigating risks and tolerating risk.

But there will always be many things completely outside your control (Earthquake anyone? GFC anyone? Staff housing crisis anyone?) and if you’re not comfortable with that you may want to reconsider your decision to start a business.

#7 – Able to take criticism

“The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” – Unknown

Entrepreneurs are known for being thick skinned and with good reason. No one is perfect. No business is perfect. Despite your best intentions and best laid plans, you will make mistakes and things won’t always go smoothly. Deserved or not, sooner or later you will draw criticism from your customers, your staff, your shareholders, your competition and sometimes even the media.

No matter what you do, say or create, it is human nature that others will have an opinion on it, be it spoken or unspoken. Even just making the decision to quit your job or start a business can draw fire from well meaning loved ones.

Are you able to deal with this and forge ahead anyway? Or will you let it derail you from your dreams, goals and vision?

#8 – Action oriented

“The best time to plant a tree, was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.” – Chinese saying

The successful entrepreneurs we’ve spoken to all have a propensity for action. That is, rather than sit around waiting for the perfect time, the perfect data, the perfect marketing plan, the perfect “X”, they realise there is no such thing as perfect, and they push ahead anyway.

If you have problems with procrastination, entrepreneurship probably isn’t going to suit you. Unlike employment there’s no annoying boss to chase you up on that job, or this action point, or this customer, or last month’s forecast. Besides, if you’re not action oriented there’s a high chance you simply won’t get started in the first place!

#9 – Integrity

“One of the truest tests of integrity is it’s blunt refusal to be compromised.” – Chinua Achebe

Will you do the right thing even when no one is looking? Will you do your utmost at all times to do what you say you will do? Will you own your stuff ups and do your best to put things right when things don’t go according to plan? Will you seek to do only good and add increase and value to all you come into contact with?

If yes, you’re all good. The world will be happy to have more entrepreneurs like you.

#10 – Perseverance

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese saying

Perseverance is a combination of persistence and tenacity and is at the heart of mastery for any new skill, pursuit or discipline.

Persistence describes the single-mindedness with which the entrepreneurs we have met, go about their goals. Tenacity describes their determination to keep coming back at a problem or challenge, from a range of different angles and different approaches until they finally crack it.

Enough said.

How many of these qualities do you possess?

So there you have it. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but the more of these traits you have, the higher the likelihood that you have what it takes to become yet another #nzentrepreneur success story.

And just as important as the things that did make this list, we hope you’ve noticed some of the things you may have expected to see, not on it.

Hopefully you can recognise at least half of these traits in yourself and are well on your way to developing the rest.

If this is the case, the real question you should be asking is not “What if I try but aren’t good enough?” but “What if I am good enough, but never try?”


Richard Liew is founder and editor at #nzentrepreneur

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