If you have ever toyed with the idea of opening your own business (and who among us hasn’t?) you have probably felt stymied by the specter of the Entrepreneur Personality. Images of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have probably appeared in your path, laughing at how you dared presume that you might join their ranks. Okay, Okay, you think. I’ll stick with the day job.
Not so fast. While self proclaimed experts and business writers clamor to convince anyone who will listen that an entrepreneur must have These Five Traits, These Seven Habits or These Three Qualities, the truth is that almost any personality type can be a successful entrepreneur.
Not every business is a new idea
Part of the blame for the persistent presence of the Entrepreneur Personality lies with the assumption that an entrepreneur is someone who hatches a new creative idea that has never seen the light of day before, develops it, and markets it successfully, changing the world as we knew it in the process. This type of business gets a lot of press; however the majority of thriving businesses, which were founded by individual “entrepreneurs”, have not invented something entirely new that will revolutionize the way people live and function around the world. They simply want to market a product or a service, be it graphic art, financial consulting, food or shoes.
Although a successful business need not market an entirely new service, it does have to fill a real need. A sobering eight out of ten new businesses fail within the first eighteen months. Most of that failure is the result of a lack of due diligence: you may have an idea that you love, or a service that you would love to give; that does not necessarily mean that people will pay for it, or that they are not already paying someone else for the same service, with no good reason to transfer their allegiance to you.
There is room for all types – within reason
Many people believe that a successful entrepreneur must be what was once called a “Type A” personality: a person full of energy and drive, extroverted and committed to getting things done fast. Of course, this personality type is likely to find the entrepreneur lifestyle attractive, as it give rooms for endless investment of time and energy, and is antithetical to the humdrum or repetitive experience of some salaried jobs. However this does not mean that a “Type B” personality cannot succeed at starting up a new business. The impact of personality on professional success has much more to do with the compatibility of the specific business and the founder’s personality.
For example, a financial consultant will do well if s/he is analytical, discreet, and inspires trust. An aspiring restaurateur is more likely to succeed if s/he has a flair for marketing and excellent rapport with all kinds of people. And the developer of a new app who is creative and has an intuitive understanding of consumer needs will have greater chances of success in his/her field.
The myth of the lone ranger
Some people will tell you not to start your own business unless you enjoy working alone. While it is true that there is a lot of independent work when it is just you and your idea, and this kind of situation is a great match for those of us who enjoy working independently, it is not a startup requirement. People who know that they work better with a partner can start their business together with a like minded colleague. And for those who want the companionship but don’t want to share the business, today many new business owners seek out “accountabuddies” – accountability buddies, who meet or speak regularly to hear about and encourage each other’s business progress.
Doing things you don’t like to do
If you start your own business, all the elements of the project fall on you. These include financial management, marketing, and many other industry specific tasks. If you feel unequal to any of the tasks that are requisite for starting a business, you have two options. One is to learn to do some things that are either unfamiliar or are not a natural fit for you; the other is to pay a trusted professional to do those things, while still remaining involved and responsible for them.
The myth of the risk taker
Another fear that stops many potential entrepreneurs from taking the step of starting a business is the financial risk involved. How, they ask themselves, can I justify going out on a limb and starting something new that many not succeed financially for years, and perhaps never? How can I leave a dependable job and salary for a financial bungee jump?
These fears are definitely reasonable, and if you do have a solid and dependable income from a salaried job, leaving it all to start something new can seem crazy. However this kind of thinking is somewhat outdated. These days, people who have a job they can depend on until retirement are a select few. In fact, today most salaried jobs are a financial risk; some because the business many fold, others because you may be fired and replaced, and still others because the business is not financially stable enough to promise a steady salary. Of course, not every salaried job is shaky, and it can be a comfort to know that if your employer is going through a difficult time, it is not your financial responsibility. However being a salaried employee is no longer a ticket to financial surety in the long run.
Also, although some entrepreneurs actually enjoy the risk, they are the minority. Most business founders wish they could avoid the risk factor, but they realize that it is simply part of the process of starting a business, and they learn to live with the uncertainty. For this reason many people start their businesses on the side while still holding down a day job, until they feel confident enough to devote all their time to their startup.
Is entrepreneurship for everyone?
Entrepreneurship is definitely not for everyone. For many people, doing a great job in the context of an established company or organization that takes care of its employees and offers them a framework for professional success without financial risk, is the most satisfying professional road to travel. And if this sounds great to you, don’t be swayed by the sirens of entrepreneurship.
However if starting your own business remains persistently in the back of your mind, and you find yourself attracted to the idea despite the risks involved, don’t give up on it because you have “the wrong personality”. If you are moved to begin something new, chances are that you have precisely the right personality for the business idea germinating in your head. Just make sure to do your due diligence, ensure that there is a market need for your service, and that either you or people you will hire will cover all the important elements of starting a business responsibly and professionally.