The same skills that work for you in a day job aren’t always the same skills that work for you in running your own business. Being independent is hard, even when you have an in-demand product or service. It’s a lot to take on — and if you don’t have the right mental qualities, you’re doomed to failure before you pen the first line of your business plan. There’s a reason most people don’t want to take on the responsibility of self-employment, and one of those reasons is because it’s a hard, lonely road.
Being one of the people who’s been there and done that, more than once, here are what I see as the five core competencies you’ll need to survive entrepreneurship. Some of these can be found at Entrepreneur.com, but most come from personal experience.
Accept Personal Responsibility
The great thing about corporate and government jobs is being able to diffuse the blame when things go wrong, and to leave the really hard tasks to someone else. When you’re running your own show, there’s no place to hide, and no one to pick up the unpleasant tasks, though sometimes you can hire them out. Either way, the crosshairs of responsibility are always going to settle back on you when something goes wrong. It’s actually a little bit depressing knowing that every time reports of something going wrong do surface that it’s going to fall on you to fix. You learn very quickly that the cure for that depression is decisive action, and dealing with situations right away instead of letting them linger. Over time you’ll get really good at dealing with things, and that’s a skill that will serve you well in all areas of your life.
Learn from Your Mistakes
There will be mistakes and you will make many of them. Going along with personal responsibility is accepting that you’re a human being, prone to making mistakes, and learning to limit the ability of mistakes to impact your self worth. If you let mistakes chip away at your confidence, your entrepreneurial experience will be both brief and unpleasant. If you stick with it, even your mistakes will get smarter and more sophisticated over time. You’ll look back at some of your early dumb mistakes and laugh.
Stop Learning, Stop Earning
Becoming an entrepreneur requires an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and a talent for picking up new skills. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but you have to understand the basics in a wide number of fields like contracts, compliance with regulations, accounting, software, advertising, psychology, and employee relations. You have to love learning and studying, or you won’t do it. The good news is the longer you study, the faster you’ll become a quick learner.
Seek Advice from People Smarter Than You
You’ll never get anywhere in life or business if you have all the answers. Websites like LinkedIn are fine as far as they go, but there’s just no substitute for meeting and talking to people face to face. Developing a large personal network will serve you well in business, as will cultivating friendships in the local business community. Deliberately seek out people smarter and more successful than you. There’s going to be a certain amount of rejection, so be prepared for that as well.
Get Used to Being Uncomfortable
During the early stages of a new business, it seems like there are dragons popping up every day trying to take a bite out of your profits. Eventually you’ll get to be a pretty good dragon slayer, but you never get over scanning the skies, looking for that next threat. There’s a certain kind of paranoia that goes along with owning a business. There’s always some disaster on the horizon; a major client that leaves, unexpected expenses, a new competitor, the threat of a lawsuit — and the bigger your business becomes the more sophisticated and expensive those threats become. I’d love to tell you the day will dawn when you can kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labors, but that would be a big, fat lie. The truth is you’ll never be completely relaxed, a part of you will always be on guard and on the lookout for dragons.
Now you have an idea why the majority of people will never run their own business, and don’t want to have their own company. It’s a hard road to be sure. The payoff comes if you make it, even though you’ll never be completely at ease; there’s a great sense of accomplishment that goes along with being successful. You’ll also be in a job that’s layoff proof — and you’ll really like the boss.