Why Most "Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Entrepreneur" Articles Are a Waste of Time

Go to most business-related sites and chances are you'll find a post or two about the qualities of a successful entrepreneur; you may even find a test to take.

But are these lists really accurate or worthwhile?

Take Lists of "Must-Have" Entrepreneurial Qualities & Entrepreneur Tests with a Grain of Salt

Many groups, including business researchers and analysts, not just business bloggers and online magazines, have tried to define the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur. (Here is a study from the Kauffman Foundation, and here's a book about it). But all these attempts to come up with an entrepreneurial prototype by which statistically significant predictions can be made regarding an individual's entrepreneurial tendencies (and eventual success or failure), may be a bit misguided.

After all, the choice to start a business is highly personal one, and the reasons for pressing on as well as the circumstances surrounding the initiative can be as varied as the potential business opportunities themselves. While certain "must- have" qualities may make the process easier, they are, at the same time, not the definitive determinant of someone's entrepreneurial abilities. In fact, I would bet that most of the successful entrepreneurs out there probably did not stop to take an entrepreneur test, nor did they really pay much attention to such "Do you have what it takes..." articles- unless they were using them as an affirmation.

Moreover, it is certainly possible to "fail" the entrepreneurial standard set by one of these articles, tests or studies, yet still be successful. How many people out there never planned on starting their own business, yet they did and succeeded? On the other hand, how many people read these kinds of articles or took a test or two, confidently checking off each quality, and yet they failed dismally? I've mentioned in several of my posts that according to the SBA, half of all new small businesses will not make it past five years.

That said, here are five typical entrepreneurial qualities that entrepreneurs "must have" to be successful... but not all the time:

1. Innovator- Many are quick to point out that some of the most successful entrepreneurs are brilliant innovators, they seek out ways to improve that which is already being done or do that which was previously impossible. They are pioneers in their field. I won't argue with that, but at the same time, there are many people who have become successful just by doing what everyone else is doing, and either they made their product or service appear different, they added something non-innovative that increased their product or service's value, or they possessed some other quality that made them stand out.

2. Competitive- This is a popular addition to many entrepreneurial qualities lists. Successful entrepreneurs are driven to beat out the competition. While it's certainly important to be aware of your competition and what they are doing/offering, a competitive personality is not always a plus. Often, collaboration is the key to success- whether you're collaborating with partners, co-workers, or other businesses.

3. Creative- I wish I could ask all the successful entrepreneurs out there how many of them feel that they are creative. Many entrepreneurs are decidedly not the creative type, no matter how hard they try. But, they may have other qualities or skills that can help them as individuals and business owners to be successful.

4. Self-starter- This is another popular entrepreneurial quality: successful entrepreneurs take initiative, they are proactive, not waiting for others to tell them when or how they should go about their business. While this may be true for some people and situations, in many cases it may be inappropriate to just jump into a venture without consultation or consent (if you're married, for example, it's a good idea to ask your spouse what he/she thinks, or you may not be married for very long.) Often, it may be advisable to enter into a business backed by a partnership, mentor, or some kind of professional consultation.

5. Risk Taker- This quality is also highly regarded as an entrepreneurial must-have. In fact, one entrepreneur test on a well-known news site suggests that impulsiveness is a strong entrepreneurial tendency. While some situations may call for an "act first, think later" attitude, this can easily land a nascent entrepreneur in some hot water. In some cases, such as when there is no personal equity to rely on and the individual is living pay check to pay check, the risk level may need to be reduced to almost nothing

Now that I've sought to reduce the implied emphasis and influence some entrepreneurial qualities may have on business success, you may be wondering "so how do I know if I should be an entrepreneur?" I've stated numerous times, that not everyone is meant to start their own business and anyone interested in doing so needs to primarily consider their own circumstances in life.

anatomy of an entrepreneur
anatomy of an entrepreneur

I will, however, offer three qualities, that will make you successful in life, not just business. If you are lacking in these areas, starting and running your own business successfully may be very hard:

  • Passion and drive- Passion leads to drive. To be successful in business there has to be some aspect of running your own company that you are passionate about. Often, it will feel like an itch that you just can't get rid of. Whether you're passionate about what you are doing or making money, it almost doesn't matter. But, it's a key ingredient of success.
  • The ability to recognize mistakes and learn from them- There are very few (if any) successful entrepreneurs out there who have not made some pretty major business mistakes. Success is often dependent on knowing where you are going of and taking the necessary steps to minimize the damage, analyzing what went wrong, and changing so that the same mistake is avoided in the future.
  • Communication skills- If you don't know how to effectively and respectfully communicate ideas then running a business will be difficult. Moreover, if you are socially challenged (or phobic), then either bring in others to help you, or chose a business with minimal social interaction.

Bottom line: entrepreneurship is not an exact science; there are very few rules. If you feel like you've caught the entrepreneurial bug, then you don't need to consult some business blog or research paper. Instead, do the appropiate research, take a look at your life, and follow your heart.