I was taking my morning shower the other day. After the shocking realization that my body looks like I swallowed a Thanksgiving Turkey (in its entirety) wore off, I started thinking about what I wanted to write about in my column this month. And even though the focus of this issue is technology (not my strong suit), what came to me is what it really takes for someone to succeed as an entrepreneurial business owner.
I have already written several times that there is a big difference between owning a small business and making a living and building something that grows and has value when you get out of it.
Seven things immediately came to mind that aren’t talked about enough — education, skill/knowledge of how to do or make something, a belief that it is possible to really succeed, willingness to make a total commitment, responsibility/discipline, flexibility/adaptability and knowing how to treat people with empathy.
Here’s what I have to say about those seven points:
- Education. Business education is helpful no matter what anyone tells you. There is a lot to know about accounting, finance, HR, organizational structure, information systems, management, marketing, etc. It’s hard to get all that discipline knowledge without a degree. Sorry to those who are down on college education, but I disagree. It’s valuable.
- Just because you have had an education in business doesn’t mean you know how to make or do something that people want or need. You have to have a skill of some sort. Don’t diminish the importance of this. It’s really crucial.
- A belief that it is possible to really succeed. Knowing you can do your own thing and make a living is one thing. But being able to visualize having a real company that employs people and is growing into something with a life of its own is different. If you cannot see that clearly in your mind, it won’t happen.
- Willingness to make a total commitment. You have to be willing to go “all in” and risk whatever it takes to make your business work. That means signing for debt, putting all your cash into your business even if that means hocking your house or dipping into your retirement fund, working the hours it takes, and not being fearful to commit.
Responsibility/discipline. You have to be responsible and do what is necessary when it’s supposed to be done. That means you pay everyone on time, file your taxes, and are diligent about every action and process that must be done to keep your business growing and profitable — all of the time, not most of the time.
- Flexibility/adaptability. Sometimes things happen that make you want to change course. You need to know when to stick with your plan and when to go off of it. I’m not sure this can be taught. It helps to be tuned into your customers, what is happening in the world around you, and what is happening with your industry. Make sure you do what it takes to keep up with these things.
- Knowing how to treat people with empathy. Again, this may not be able to be taught. At least not in a classroom. But if you don’t know how to treat people well, you’ll lose your customers, suppliers and employees, and no business can survive without all three. You have to be able to put yourselves in the other guy’s shoes.
I’m sure I could come up with 20 qualities on this list, but these seven seem to be forgotten by those who start, buy, operate or invest in other businesses. And they are essential.
Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, and group chair for the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Vistage International. The opinions expressed are those of the author.