Category Archives: Risk

What it Takes to be a Successful Entrepreneur

Do you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? Are we all born with the innate ability to be a successful entrepreneur or does entrepreneurial success only belong to those with certain inherent gifts?

While there is no need to re-hash the classic debate on nature vs. nurture I would submit that while certain people may be more predisposed to having entrepreneurial success due to personality, character, life experiences, etc. there are some things that anyone and everyone can do to increase the likelihood of finding success as an entrepreneur.

Here are some of the things that I came up with and please do chime in via the comments below on anything that you would like to add to (or remove from) the list:

#1 A Willingness to Learn

A willingness to learn might even better be termed as a “hunger for learning” because let’s face it – if you start your own business then even if you have a board of advisors (which most small businesses do not have anyway) there will be a lot of things that you will just have to learn on your own. There is no calling your boss for instructions on how to complete a certain task or accomplish a certain goal because YOU are the boss! If you don’t have a healthy appetite for just figuring certain things out as you go along and a willingness to constantly be learning new things then you will likely struggle as an entrepreneur.

#2 A Proper View of Risk

Note that I specifically did not title this “A Love of Risk” or something that maybe is stereotypical when non entrepreneurs describe entrepreneurs. I am of the opinion that, when done a certain way, entrepreneurship is actually less risky then employment. There are many risks inherent to starting a business but there are also many risks inherent in NOT starting a business and relying on an employer for your livelihood.

Regardless, an entrepreneur does deal with different kinds of risk on a daily basis and a cool head, smart decision making skills, and long term planning chops are all positive characteristics of an entrepreneur.

A successful entrepreneur usually has a firm grasp of both personal and business financial principles. Many entrepreneurs, with otherwise great talent and business acumen, have cut short their chance at making their company a success by rushing out to get a business credit card or bank line of credit, not developing a budget, and spending a ton of money on non-essentials; rather than focusing on keeping costs low and growing their business.

#3 A Vision for the Future

While it is perfectly acceptable (and quite common) for most employees to simply plod along and complete their daily tasks without so much as a thought for the day following, this kind of attitude in an entrepreneur often has disastrous consequences. A successful entrepreneur is usually quite adroit at seeing the big picture and focusing on the organization as a whole rather than simply the day to day operations of what the business does. “The E-Myth Revisited” is the classic book that delves deeply into the closely related concept that a successful entrepreneur spends the majority of their time working on their business rather than in their business.

What Other Qualities of a Successful Entrepreneur Would YOU Add?

Are successful entrepreneurs born or made?

What are some additional qualities that you would say are key to being a successful entrepreneur?

How are the qualities important for entrepreneurial success different than say, becoming a successful attorney, accountant, etc?

Author Bio: Joel Ohman is a Certified Financial Planner™ and serial entrepreneur. He is the founder of a number of different financial websites for helping consumers learn about health insurance, car insurance, and other financial topics. He is a first time writer at Saying What You Mean.

Joel Ohman, Guest Blogger

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All Linchpins are Liars

According to Seth Godin, Linchpins are those indispensable geniuses who stand out from the crowd by taking on the essential jobs that would otherwise languish in a pit of neglect under the limpid banner of “but that’s not my job.” In his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Mr. Godin informs us that just showing up is no longer enough. We must be remarkable in order to succeed.

We don’t have to have some cosmic endowment, extreme talent, or off-the-charts intelligence to be Linchpins. The formula is straightforward. It can be applied by all. In order to be a Linchpin, make the choice to:

  • Be remarkable and generous
  • Create art
  • Make Judgment calls
  • Connect people and ideas

Just saying this to people is a lot like holding a plant by its stem dangling the roots in midair and yelling “Grow!” Fertile soil, plenty of water and some sunshine would certainly increase the plant’s odds of complying with the command. In addition to the courage and desire to make good things happen, Godin tells us that Linchpins need a fertile environment fortified with freedom, responsibility and respect.

If these elements are not indigenous to your current work ecosystem, then to be a Linchpin you will need to influence the power structure to grant you these ingredients and trust you to flourish in the environment in which you have been unleashed.

Enter the Liars

Wedged between Purple Cow and Linchpin, Mr. Godin wrote a book entitled All Marketers Are Liars. The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. In this tome, he states, “I believe marketing is the most powerful force available to people who want to make change.” Linchpins want to affect change so they must therefore learn to be good marketers. And if all marketers are liars, then all Linchpins should be liars too.

Actually, what Mr. Godin teaches us is that it’s not really the marketers who are liars. It is the consumers. Good marketers tell stories that resonate with a particular group’s worldview. This group of buyers then tell themselves a lie—that they NEED the product or service. The story the marketers tell becomes the lie upon which the buyer happily bases his purchase.

Linchpins must tell a compelling story that makes their buyers want to believe they NEED the Linchpin. Here are a few pearls of wisdom from the mind of Godin about how to craft the story of indispensability:

Worldviews and Local Lingo

Every person perceives a situation through the filter of their worldview. This worldview cannot be changed. Instead, a strong marketer frames their story to fit the worldview of a particular audience. A Linchpin needs to use this advice to set herself up to be heard. Instead of wasting energy trying to change the worldviews of the powers that be in your organization, frame your story within the context of already held values and beliefs. Get the attention of the people who matter by acknowledging their biases and telling your tale in their lingo.

Facts Fail

The facts will fail you. Feelings will help your story fly. All decisions are made by people and people make decisions based on emotion. Tell the story of how your indispensability makes their world that much more secure or the organization that much more successful. Once people have decided to adopt and retell your story, reward them with the facts. Charts, graphs, and statistics are the gift of evidence your supporters will need to confirm they’ve made a wise choice to back you.

Intent is Obvious

Be authentic. Although marketers are liars, they are not really liars. The story marketers tell must still be authentic. A Linchpin is indispensable because she does what she says she’s going to do. There is no way to mask your true intent. Taking on an extra assignment to impress your boss and then turning your back on the responsibility when you think no one is looking is not art it’s selfish opportunism. Tell a story that earns you the right to step up and stand out because taking the risk is the right thing to do for the organization. If your reward lies so far around the bend that you can’t see it from the starting line, then chances are you’re running the race for all the right reasons.

The Truth

Seth Godin points out that in today’s world of abundance, we need little but want much. That’s why the marketer and consumer are co-conspirators in the lie. The story reverses reality so that we believe what we want is actually something we really need. For the truly remarkable Linchpin, the story isn’t a lie. The organization in which they work really does need their passion, genius, art, and ideas. Companies thrive when groups of Linchpins are free to reach their full potential.

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Leadership, Risk, and the Need for Shoulder Pads

During his interview at the NFL pre-season game between the Patriots and the Red Skins, quarterback Jason Campbell jasoncampbellbriefly explained how he’s learned to deal with the direct pressure the quarterback and the head coach receive when things aren’t going well. He spoke of staying focused despite all the negativity. Campbell’s comments made me think about the need for and effects of risk-taking on a leader’s life.

Risk is a carnival ride that can swing a leader on a pendulum’s path from the exhilaration of reward down through the gut-wrenching sweep to reproach.

When times are good, it’s all about being carried off the field held high on the shoulders of an appreciative team—doused in champagne as the boisterous noise bounces off the lockers and fills the room with a cacophony of happiness. When times are not so good, the unfortunate flipside is the relentless click of cameras in an otherwise quiet room at the press conference announcing the canceled contract—enduring the jeers and insults of angry fans, and the lonesome concern as the unknown future lays ahead.

Sometimes the drama in the business world can be just as hyperbolized as it is in the sports arena. I’ve never seen an executive doused with champagne, but I have seen company leaders accept awards as grateful employees stand to their feet cheering wildly. On the other side of the coin, the press is filled with coverage of fallen CEOs and scorned Board Members. Ultimately, no matter how public the deification or the demise, there comes that moment where the leader is left alone to either smile or scowl.

The majority of leadership triumphs and tragedies are played out every day in simpler ways and smaller venues. A manager and her team share shrimp teriyaki at the local Benihana in celebration of the project completed on-time and within budget. A toast at the local bar to honor the sales person who landed the big account. A director quietly empties out his desk following the third straight quarter of missed projections. A woman flushes with hurt and anger as she accidentally over hears her co-workers mocking her outspoken ideas for improving departmental productivity.

When people think about influence and leadership, they imagine the glory, the power, and the devoted followers. Rarely do people take the time to consider the vulnerability of leadership. Calculated or foolish, risk is risk. A risk pays off or it doesn’t meet expectations. Either way, it is the leader that made the go-no/go decision who is held accountable for the outcome. Stepping up to leadership requires strong character, applicable skills, credibility, trust, and a quality set of emotional “shoulder pads.”

Even with body armor though, sometimes the pain of failure still gets through. For example, in the Patriots-Redskins tombradygame, Tom Brady’s arm was twisted when he was tackled resulting in a sore shoulder. In most non-sports related cases, leaders aren’t physically sacked by opponents (we hope); but being proverbially pinned to the wall comes with its own level of discomfort. How well a person absorbs the blow of failure and rebounds speaks volumes about his or her worth as a leader. People are always watching and assessing. Everybody loves a winner. But winning often masks true character. Over the long run, people follow winners who also lose well. Effective leaders who take educated risks that pay off more often than not develop loyal followers not necessarily because of the leader’s win-ratio but rather because of how the leader handles the loses. The real winners, the people truly worth following, are the people who:

  • Handle disappointment with dignity
  • Hold themselves and others equally accountable
  • Acknowledge and share lessons learned
  • Come back stronger the next time

Though the upside to winning is attractive, it is the unsung reality of the downside to risk that either consciously or unconsciously holds people back from getting in the game. There is safety in watching from the stands or from a cozy chair in the den. Sports spectators have strong opinions. Yet most armchair quarterbacks don’t actually expect the head coach of their favorite team to call them up and ask for advice on the next set of downs. However in business, it’s common for people who have consistently shied away from leadership responsibility to be puzzled and dismayed that their suggestions aren’t taken seriously or that they aren’t as influential as they’d like to be. It’s unrealistic to expect a team to defend you on the line of scrimmage when you’re not willing to risk taking the snap. When it comes to leading, you have to be willing to persevere through the good and the bad. As you build your personal influence and take on more leadership responsibility, wear your shoulder pads.

React to the wins and the losses with equal amounts of humility and professionalism so that either way people feel good about following you.

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