By Mike Kappel, Contributor, Forbes
Thirty years ago, when I was just starting out as an entrepreneur, the only quality I thought I had in common with other entrepreneurs was that we were all nuts! After all, I was walking away from a perfectly good job as a systems programmer at a major company. It paid well, and I had more than proven myself.
But I’d come home at night with an itch for something more. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to make my own schedule and see my own business ideas come to life. So, I quit my job and started a company.
Now, five startups and 30 years later, I can tell you that, in my experience, there are about nine personality traits common to modern entrepreneurs—and not one of the traits is “crazy.”
1. Black sheep
“I’ve always known since I was a little kid that I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I wanted to do my own thing. Even when I opened the store, people would come in and tell me how to run my business and say that I needed to go back to school.”
That’s Sarah Lawrence, the founder of Black Sheep Boutique, talking with my online accounting and payroll software company, Patriot Software, about her entrepreneurial experiences in starting a successful clothing store.
“I just ignored what they had to say. I knew what I was going to do, and I knew how I was going to do it. And I just did it.”
Sarah has lived most of her life contrary to the popular opinion of others. While many of those years she felt like she was paddling upriver, she was actually flowing towards being an entrepreneur.
2. Unafraid of failure
There is no better teacher than failure, and a common trait among entrepreneurs is that they are uncommonly unafraid to “learn”—aka, fail.
Risk takers learn things that those who like to color inside the lines don’t. Notably, they learn how to pick themselves back up when they stumble; a valuable trait for anyone to have, but especially important for entrepreneurs.
Starting and running a small business is tough, and no matter how much research you do beforehand, you’ll eventually come to a point where the only way to see if your business dream will work is to jump in and find out.
3. Happy to work hard
When you start a business, you can proudly tell your buddies that you’re the founder and CEO. That’s the upside. The downside is, you’ll also get to tell them you’re the head of maintenance, accountant, CMO, legal counsel, security chief, HR director, payroll manager, conflict resolution specialist, secretary, and, in some cases, mom or dad.
Running a business is a lot of hard work. However, if you’re working hard at something you love, to carve out the kind of life you want to lead, does it really seem like work?
Entrepreneurs will be forced to stand up for themselves against a lot of bullies. Banks, government officials, rivals, and lawyers will all try to push you around and tell you what you can and cannot do. If you’re afraid of them and their tough talk, you may end up folding up shop and running, or never setting up shop in the first place.
True, an entrepreneur will seek counsel and learn applicable laws and regulations. After all, there is a difference between taking risks and breaking laws. And, there is a difference between bending to the conservative advice of others and fighting for your beliefs.
All of the entrepreneurs that I’ve ever known aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
5. Lifelong learner
Many entrepreneurs do what they know. They feel they can do it better than it’s ever been done before, so they set out to prove to the world they can.
But it’s not the work they know that makes being an entrepreneur difficult. It’s the work they must learn to make the business survive. Stuff like having to learn payroll, navigate IRS business forms, pick up on accounting basics, and HR, and taxes, and on and on it goes, until the weight of all this new, diverse learning can be overwhelming.
Some people hear that they’ll be in charge of all of this, and they run screaming in the other direction. Some hear they’ll be in charge of this, and they can’t wait to give it a try. Entrepreneurs learn a lot of things out of necessity, organize their time well, and find connections between it all.
6. Great communicator
You do not have to give the State of the Union address, but you should be able to give the state of your company in a way that all applicable business parties can understand.
For the sake of full transparency, you should know that this was the hardest thing for me to learn. In fact, if you ask my marketing department, I’m still learning this! When I first started out, I got so nervous about public speaking that, if requested to give a eulogy, I’d rather be the guy in the casket than the one speaking next to it!
But I knew that if my business was going to be a success, I had to be able to explain how my business model worked, inspire others with it, and motivate others to invest their time, money, and sweat into it. It took a very long time for me to grow at this, but I’m now a competent writer, and instead of disappearing into my shell, I can speak to large groups about my current business plans and past business successes.
Even when a speaker says they won’t be taking any questions, I raise my hand. I might even follow them off the stage or out of the building to get the answers I need. I thought this particular trait was unique to me, but after years of networking with entrepreneurs, I realize it’s common. Entrepreneurs are hungry for information and always have questions.
That’s a good thing because there are so many unknowns when you start a business. Many of them can be resolved by searching the sea of entrepreneur stories already out there. Other questions will require subject matter experts to look at a specific situation and make a judgment call. The bottom line is, there will always be more to find out, which suits people who always have more questions quite well.
The age old saying of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” definitely applies when running a small business. If you are good at making friends and influencing people, you’ll have an easier time of it should you choose to be an entrepreneur.
As competitive as business can be, many business people still search each other out to form bonds of mutual need and friendship. If you can make contacts and see how one person’s problem might be another’s solution, you’ll be a natural networker and entrepreneur.
For example, maybe you know that a space is opening up soon in your building, and the landlord is anxious to find a new tenant. So you introduce the landlord to a colleague who is looking to expand his workspace. Your landlord’s problem might be your colleague’s solution—and you are the master networker who put the solution in motion.
This is the big one. It’s the one that makes all the frustration that can come with running a business feel like a walk in the park. You can be every single thing on this list, but if you’re not passionate about what you do, it won’t be enough. You’ll quit, burn out, or walk away.
Starting your own business, being an entrepreneur—they are lifestyle choices. You shouldn’t do it just for the money. There needs to be more than cash to get you through all the challenges and sacrifices. Instead, you should start a business because you are passionate about that specific business—what starting it can do for you, your life, and your family. And, if you are doing what you love, and you are good at it, the money will come in time.