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Throughout my career as a communications professional, I have helped dozens of entrepreneurs build their brands — from small startups that grew into large enterprises, to serial entrepreneurs who repeatedly brought successful new businesses to market. In those 20-plus years, I’ve noticed four common traits that led to their successes:
1. They embrace the power of fear.
One of the most common reasons people do not pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations is fear — mostly of failure, but sometimes of other things: What if investors don’t buy into my idea? What if the market doesn’t respond as I expect? What if we can’t scale to meet demand? What if someone out-innovates or out-competes me and I miss my window?
Even for those wired for entrepreneurship, leaving the comfort of a stable job to go it alone is a daunting prospect. And the numbers are clear: The vast majority of new businesses fail to thrive. The most successful entrepreneurs I know embody what has now become a viral quote: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” They are prepared to hear “no” more often than “yes,” they recognize failure and rejection as an inevitable part of every entrepreneur’s journey, and they embrace and integrate feedback as they evolve.
2. They build strong networks.
Instead of viewing networking as a necessary but not enjoyable part of life, successful entrepreneurs consider it integral to their success. Whether they are actively seeking the counsel of like-minded peers, constructive feedback from mentors or hoping to entice a potential customer or investor, entrepreneurs are always looking for new connections.
Sustaining those connections is another matter entirely. My advice is to follow some old-fashioned values: Invest the time, show the appropriate respect and demonstrate gratitude to those who offer counsel, guidance and input. It is also worth remembering that it is not all about networking up. Pay it forward — share your knowledge and time with interns and graduates hungry for opportunity.
3. They know what they want and take decisive action.
A vision without a plan is just a dream. One of the key things that set successful entrepreneurs apart is not just their vision, but their plan to bring it to life. A common trait among entrepreneurs I have worked with is the high bar they set to hold themselves accountable.
They often have a daily practice to reflect on and assess their progress. They surround themselves with a strong team that pushes them to stay focused. And they will all tell you that the path to success is rarely linear. Sometimes there are obstacles on the road that require us to reassess our vision or the path we are on to achieve it. A successful entrepreneur must have the ability to pivot as needed.
4. They maintain a work-life balance.
Social Media tends to glorify the always-on entrepreneur — they’re up at 4 a.m., they’re permanently attached to their phones, and they’re delivering around the clock. The problem is — and what Instagram doesn’t show — is that they are frazzled and exhausted.
In reality, that pace of life quickly saps your creativity, drains your capacity for attention and clouds your thinking. None of these are factors for success. The best entrepreneurs recognize the importance of taking time to disconnect from the day-to-day grind and re-energize their mind, body and spirit. In the long run, their businesses do better because of it.
The above may not seem like dramatic revelations. But in some ways, that is the point. Being a successful entrepreneur can often be about prioritizing and doing the basics brilliantly, in addition to having an amazing vision. But the mundaneness of the former is often overlooked in favor of the glamour of the latter. Successful entrepreneurs know it’s about having both.
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