Starting a business is a big step, and would-be entrepreneurs must ask themselves difficult questions about their entrepreneurship skills
Many people have fundamental self-limiting beliefs and misunderstandings that prevent them from taking even the first steps.
Before you begin, think carefully about the following items.
- Which of them apply to you?
- Are they holding you back from achieving your dreams?
- What can you do about it?
One of the main barriers that hold us back is strongly held internal beliefs about ourselves and our ability to succeed as entrepreneurs.
These beliefs are almost always based on generalizations or stereotypes about what “real” entrepreneurs are like or what the process of starting a business entails.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions that lead to self-limiting beliefs:
Entrepreneurs Are Born, Not Made
Everyone has an idea in their mind about what a “typical” entrepreneur is like.
What is yours?
- Are they brilliant?
The answer may surprise you.
In his 2003 book The Change Makers, Maury Klein profiled twenty-six of the greatest US entrepreneurs of all time.
Outside of some very superficial characteristics such as “hard worker,” they really don’t have much in common.
- Some succeed in school.
- Some are dropouts.
- Some come from great families and others from broken homes.
- Some are very popular and sociable while others are loners and misfits.
There simply isn’t an overarching “entrepreneurial personality.”
Klein summarized what each of these men has in common as a series of intersections.
“Every man had his own vision, his own style, and his own obsessions. Their common ground seems little more than a series of intersections where their ways of doing business crossed. No single explanation could embrace their roads to success or the routes by which they reached their destination. No formula or set of rules can transform one into a great entrepreneur any more than it could produce a great artist or scientist.”
– MAURY KLEIN
Does this mean that successful entrepreneurs don’t share any common mindsets?
The remainder of this guide explores not only the misconceptions that form the foundation of the self-limiting beliefs that hold would-be entrepreneurs back but also the mindset changes that can help them approach their endeavors in a realistic and successful way.
The talent necessary to successfully launch a venture is the same that’s needed for any other creative endeavor.
Think about learning to play the piano.
A few people are born tone-deaf, and no amount of work will result in their being competent musicians.
A few are blessed with natural talent and can become world-class pianists without the need for extensive formal training.
The vast, vast majority of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Maybe we’ll never play Carnegie Hall, but with enough practice and the right coaching, we can reach some level of competence.
We can’t all be Mark Zuckerberg, but that’s okay. We should be following our dream, not his.
I Don’t Have Any Business Skills
News flash—most entrepreneurs don’t have a business degree, and often their first experience in the business world is when they start their own venture.
Business skills do help make the process an easier one, however, and will be required once you become established.
This means you will have to acquire them yourself, create a team of people with the right skill sets, or hire experts.
The contributions of your founding team are critical, and I cover founding teams at length here.
Business skills aren’t a must-have, but there are two major skills that you will need. The good news is that, though some people are born with a natural aptitude for these skills, anyone can learn them.
Even more good news: learning these skills won’t just help you become a successful entrepreneur. They are the foundation of a healthy and happy life regardless of your career path.
In what is sometimes called “the paradox of leadership,” effective leaders must balance humility and confidence.
These two character attributes are often seen as opposites that are incompatible with one another, but that assessment leaves out a critical component of the equation—self-awareness.
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus sums up the need for humility thusly:
It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
A healthy level of humility and self-awareness helps you to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Life, in general, is a long learning process, and the undertaking of starting your own business even more so.
Humility is an expression of self-awareness that allows us to say, “I do not yet know enough.” Humility is what allows us to be willing to ask for and accept help when needed.
No one does anything significant in life alone. We all need help and support along the way. Successful entrepreneurs know that they don’t have all the answers, and they actively seek out advice and good ideas.
The worst characteristic for an entrepreneur to have is suspicion and paranoia that everyone is out to get them and steal their great ideas. Not only is this behavior unbecoming, but it also reflects another major misconception regarding ideas and opportunities.
As discussed in this article, ideas do not have inherent worth.
Confidence is also an expression of self-awareness.
Not to be confused with arrogance, recklessness, or egotism, confidence is the side of self-awareness that allows us to say, “Knowing the challenge in front of me, and knowing my experience, learning, and skills, I think I have a good chance of overcoming this challenge.”
If self-awareness is something that you haven’t thought about before landing on edusulting.com, that’s okay.
Self-awareness—and by extension humility and confidence—are not hardwired character traits. They are aspects of the dialogue you have with yourself and elements of the frame through which you see the world. As with any other skill, self-aware living can be cultivated through intent and practice.
Interpersonal skills such as
- listening, empathy,
- and conflict resolution
often get lumped into the category of “soft skills.”
Soft skills are often seen as less valuable than “hard skills,” or the explicit skill sets required to execute a professional role.
This article is not a debate about the relationship between hard and soft skills, but in the realm of entrepreneurship, traditionally “soft” interpersonal skills become essential hard skills for success.
Dealing with people and making connections is an unavoidable part of being a successful entrepreneur.
Successful entrepreneurs are assiduous networkers and connection-makers. This doesn’t mean that you have to be an extreme extrovert or super salesperson.
What it does mean is that business is done by people, with people, and for people.
Avoiding contact with humans is not a recipe for entrepreneurial success. At times it may feel as though interpersonal skills are impossible to teach someone who doesn’t have a knack for communication.
Either you’re born being comfortable talking to strangers or you simply aren’t, right?
Unlike hard skills such as computer programming or accounting, interpersonal skills are tough to measure and evaluate, but that doesn’t mean that someone who isn’t a strong communicator is doomed to never improve.
I Don’t Have Enough Money to Start a Business
Twenty years ago, this wasn’t just a self-limiting belief—it was a reality for the vast majority of entrepreneurs.
There were tremendous fixed costs in starting a business, such as
- leasing and equipping office space,
- purchasing plant and equipment assets,
- covering material and inventory costs,
- and hiring employees,
- not to mention numerous legal and regulatory hurdles.
In the last two decades or so, these costs have been either eliminated or largely mitigated.
The typical twenty-first-century startup doesn’t require any of the above items. There are many businesses you can literally start right from your laptop while sitting in your local Starbucks.
Depending on the type of business you want to operate, your startup costs can run into a few thousand dollars, spread over time. Your baseline needs will include the following:
Startup costs of a business
- Connectivity – A laptop, cell phone, and good internet connection are a must. (You probably already have these anyway, right?)
- Registration – Incorporation, along with state registration, incurs some basic legal fees. A lawyer is usually not necessary for a startup in the earliest stages, but if you are unsure about your needs or the specifics of your industry, contact a lawyer who specializes in incorporation and business law.
- A Web Presence – A web presence has never been easier to establish or more necessary for modern businesses. Collectively, your web presence refers to your domain name, web hosting, and website. Vendors who offer these services make it easy to establish a web presence for your business even if you have no technical experience.
- A Graphic Identity – The graphic identity of a business is the sum of that business’s visual design elements such as logos, business cards, visual messaging, color palette, and visual themes.
- A Social Presence – Your web presence can be a two-way communication tool, but nothing beats social media for creating a dialogue with your customers. Now more than ever, consumers expect that the brands they do business with will have a social presence. This is true even if your business doesn’t sell a “sexy” product. Social media accounts for businesses are usually free, but they can incur costs in the form of content production, management, and management software that reduces the time requirements that an active social media presence can produce.
Here are some things you think you will need, but probably won’t:
- A phone service or answering service
- A lawyer, accountant,
- marketing agency,
- or other high-priced professional service providers
- A retail storefront,
- inventory, or storage space
Of course, there are many businesses, such as restaurants, retail stores, gyms, etc., that will require significant up-front funding.
In the case of those types of businesses, you need to think carefully about where this money will come from and whether this is the right kind of business for you. This will be discussed at much greater length in the finance section.
Now Is Not the Right Time
An internet search will provide you with the “scientific” answer to the question “what is the best age at which to start a business?”
The answer is 39.
I have no idea how that age was arrived at, but the internet believes it, so it must be true!
The fact is, there is no right time.
- Younger people like me have less experience in business and in life, but also fewer family and professional obligations holding them back.
- Older folks have wisdom, networks, and experience, but also may have a lot of other demands on their time.
The fact is, there is no “best” time.
Any time you choose to jump in is going to lead to a lot of hard work and demands on your time.
If you know that you’re passionate about your venture, and your strategic analysis leads you to believe the opportunity is there, go for it!
This doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind, quit your job, and hope for the best.
Careful planning is in order, and you’re going to have to cover all of your other obligations as well. The topic of work-life balance will be explored in greater detail, but suffice it to say it will be a strain for the foreseeable future. You probably won’t be able to quit your day job right away, which means you’ll have to deal with two jobs.
You’ll have to do a lot of juggling to keep all the balls in the air.
What If I Fail?
A fear of failure is natural for many first-time entrepreneurs, but successful entrepreneurs think about failure in an entirely different way.
Part of this perspective shift comes from the inherent optimism that all entrepreneurs share, but a mindset that embraces failure is a realistic and holistic look at what it means to find success starting your own business.
It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. It doesn’t matter how many times you almost get it right. No one is going to know or care about your failures, and neither should you. All you have to do is learn from them and those around you because all that matters in business is that you get it right once.Mark Cuban
The best way to understand failure in the context of your own business is to operate under the assumption that you will fail.
Failure in some capacity is guaranteed when entering uncharted territory.
If failure is guaranteed, then that means the way you handle failure becomes the most important element of your entrepreneurial success.
Pick any successful business today that started out as a startup.
The founding team of that business met numerous failures, but today the business is alive and well.
Where would that business be today if those founders had seen failure as a dead end?
Failure is an inevitability of the testing and experimentation process. For entrepreneurs who are starting out, a large portion of what they do is experimentation. If an entrepreneur doesn’t experiment with a new way of doing things, how can the business grow?
In this way, failure is not a dead end, but an indicator that growth and learning are taking place.
To sum it up…
The way in which a person views failure is a mindset, not a personality trait.
Personality traits can be difficult to change, but you are in complete control over your own mindset.
Don’t be paralyzed by a fear of what people will think.
Failures are the learning tools through which we reach success.
Within the entrepreneurial world, failure is the means by which businesses find their way. Harnessing this concept as a driver of innovation and growth can seem difficult at first, but it can be developed through key activities.
- Change your mindset – Welcome failure as a learning opportunity, and try to fail fast so as to not waste time chasing a poor business model. The faster you can put inevitable failures behind you, the faster you will be along the path toward success.
- Be ready to pivot rapidly – Failing just for the sake of failing won’t get you anywhere. When you reach the realization that the current course isn’t working, be ready to pivot. Understanding failure as a learning tool means that flexibility is important. Don’t cling to an original idea, especially in the face of evidence that it isn’t the best course of action. It’s better to “fail fast” than continue on a course that’s not working.
- Experiment constantly – Constantly experiment with new ideas and initiatives but realize that many aren’t going to work out. Try to inject a healthy dose of natural curiosity about new ideas into the way you think about your business, and the good ones will morph into opportunities.
In practice, this set of activities changes the path to success from the straight line that many people envision to the branching and divergent path that is a more accurate representation of the journey to success that you will encounter.
Risk and the Entrepreneurial Mindset
Starting your own venture obviously carries a considerable amount of risk.
Embracing failure and aiming to fail fast does not mean being reckless with risk.
Instead, it means understanding and accepting risk as an inherent quality related to starting your own business and managing that risk by improving your odds.
Think of risk in these ways:
Entrepreneurs interpret the risk vs. reward calculation differently.
No one who is starting their own business believes that their actions aren’t risky compared to choosing another path.
What they do believe, however, is that the reward justifies the increased levels of assumed risk.
The entrepreneurial mindset changes a person’s perception of risk.
When failure is seen as a steppingstone and the path to success is understood to be nonlinear, an individual’s perception of risk changes dramatically.
Compare that mindset with someone who sees failure as a dead end, or any path to success that is not a straight line as invalid.
Calculating risk based on a massive reward, perceiving risk through the lens of failure as an opportunity, and being comfortable with risk all differentiate an entrepreneur from a speculator or a gambler.
In this way, risk can be seen less as static odds and more as a condition that can be influenced.
The Role of Luck
Many entrepreneurs scoff at the notion of luck, preferring rugged slogans like
- “I make my own luck,”
- “The harder I work, the luckier I get,”
- or “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
Despite this self-made motif, self-reflective entrepreneurs will often readily acknowledge that luck has had a profound role in their success.
I will say this about luck—you’re much more likely to find it if you’re out there trying to make things happen rather than passively waiting for fortune to smile down upon you.
That being said, if you scratch a little below the surface of any entrepreneurial success story, chances are you will find some sort of chance meeting, lucky break, great timing, etc., that just can’t be explained as anything else but luck.
Sometimes it’s hard to sift out the “luck” because successful entrepreneurs and the adoring financial press that follow them have no incentive to admit to any sort of good fortune, and every reason to imply that every good thing that happened to them was the result of their intelligence, hard work, and careful planning.
My approach when it comes to luck
Like many nascent entrepreneurs, you probably like to read stories about successful entrepreneurs as a form of motivation, but the stories you read are often hopelessly skewed and self-serving.
They are, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “just-so stories.”
The phrase stems from Kipling’s famous book of children’s tales by the same name.
I am not the first person to trust Wikipedia; however, the entry for just-so stories sums them up quite nicely.
They are “an unverifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals.”
Such tales are common in folklore and mythology.
Just-so stories are the effectuation version of narratives—they start with the end result and work their way backward rather than truly examining the root cause of the phenomenon.
Entrepreneurs are this generation’s folk heroes and myths, and we like to believe they have superhuman skills and abilities.
We view them as the ultimate self-made men and women.
However, that’s often just not the case.
- Mark Zuckerberg was the product of an affluent household and an Ivy League pedigree.
- Bill Gates’ story follows much of the same narrative.
- Warren Buffett’s father was a member of Congress, and he has a degree from Columbia.
- Jeff Bezos went to Princeton
These are not exactly Horatio Alger’s stories.
This isn’t to say they aren’t admirable people—it’s just that their success stories are more nuanced than is generally acknowledged.
The best way to deal with the prevalence of luck is to not worry about it, because you can’t control it anyway.
Worrying about things outside your control is a surefire path to stress and anxiety, neither of which are conducive to success.
It’s also not very mindful.
Many self-limiting beliefs that hold would-be entrepreneurs back are based on misconceptions.
The common idea of a “typical” entrepreneur is also usually based on a misconception.
There is no single path that will guarantee success.
Successful entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds and take diverse paths to reach their success.
A lack of “business skills” does not disqualify someone from being an entrepreneur—many famously successful entrepreneurs started their businesses with a lack of formal training (but having a business background certainly helps!)
Two key skills to develop are self-awareness and interpersonal skills.
Startup costs are much lower than they once were.
Some businesses can be started with low financial commitments or commitments that are spread over time, and with little more than a laptop and an internet connection.
There is no “right” time to start a business.
Younger entrepreneurs have freedom of time but lack experience and a developed network. Conversely, entrepreneurs who are older tend to have more experience and developed networks but more time constraints.
Failure is by no means the end of an entrepreneur’s journey. It is important to reframe your conception of failure as a learning tool and an indicator of progress and experimentation rather than a brick wall.