I had an interesting discussion this week with one of my clients. She’s been in business for six months and is ready to quit. (I have permission to share her story.)
“I give up. Starting a business is so much harder than I thought it would be, so much more time-consuming. I was hoping to be making a profit by now! There are so many things to do and I’m totally overwhelmed. People don’t seem to want to buy my products and I feel totally rejected. I don’t think I have the personality to be self-employed.”
Hmmmm…interesting. Are there really personality traits that separate born-entrepreneurs from people who can’t hack it?
I’d say yes. I’ve been self-employed in one way or another since 1981. I’ve known many self-employed people, and have been coaching and consulting them for years. And over the past 25 years, I see a pattern in successful entrepreneurs versus those who pack up and exit their business.
Here’s my must-have list of personality traits for the successfully self-employed (in no particular order):
- Sense of humor.
- Willingness to do the dirty work (the tasks that you hate to do).
- Willingness to learn new skills.
- A deep desire to be independent.
- Willingness to take acceptable and calculated risk.
- An ability to deal well with people.
- A passion for what you do or sell.
- Resourceful and creative.
- Willingness to ask for help.
- Willing to do the personality “foundational work” to help yourself and your business.
Notice that I didn’t list any business skills here. You can always learn the business skills you need, or hire someone to do the work for you who does have the business skills you lack. This list is about who you are and what habits you have. Changing your basic personality style will take effort. That’s why #14 is so important: are you willing to do the groundwork, the personality foundational work, to set the stage for your success?
Don’t get me wrong: being self employed is the best lifestyle I know. It has a huge range of rewards, from flexibility to independence to self-responsibility. I’m completely in love with being self employed and wouldn’t exchange it for a corporate job for a million dollars! (Okay, truthfully, if you want to offer me a million dollars a year in salary, I’m willing to entertain a discussion.)
But self employment is hard work, plain and simple. After carefully studying and working with people who start their own businesses, my best estimate is that it takes at least a year to make a serious profit, and often it’s more like two years. I have yet to see a “quick fix” for small business marketing that will land a lot of cash in your pocket in 30 days. If your business structure and administrative process are not firmly in place, you’ll crash and burn eventually. If your business strategy and plan are not fine-tuned, you’ll spend an extraordinary amount of time running in circles trying to find the right customer and the right product or service to sell them.
So why do people look for (and purchase) products and services that promise a quick fix to their ailing small business? In the question lays the answer: they want a quick fix to the pain. Don’t we all?
Running your own small business is a marathon, not a sprint. Stop trying to sprint your way to your first million without a firm foundation under you. Remember, marathoners train all year long for just one marathon; they don’t wait until the month before to begin preparing.
Things to consider:
- Make sure you have the personality to be self employed.
- Make sure you have enough money to finance your dreams, and a good financial plan that tells you when you’ll actually start making a profit.
- Invest money and time in sound, effective marketing strategies and do them every month, rain or shine.
- Have a written business plan and a business strategy, even if it’s only three pages long.
- Test your marketing ideas, your product ideas and your service ideas to make sure you’ve got everything on target.
Being self employed takes a particular type of courage. You have to be willing to take action with no guarantees of success. You have to be willing to put all your heart and soul into your enterprise, and you have to be willing to face and overcome the roadblocks that get in your way. You have to be willing to dream big dreams, and have the guts to learn new things that you never knew how to do before.
On top of all that, you need the type of courage that shouts, “I must do this or I won’t have lived my life purpose.” It takes strength, focus and responsibility to succeed or fail on your own merits, and to be willing to ask for help or education when you need it.
Do you have the courage to face your fears and keep walking towards your dream anyway? Do you have the strength and dignity to act consistently and responsibly towards your business, on a daily basis, without whimpering in self-defeating behaviors and excuses? Do you have the guts to set a big goal, create reasonable action plans that stretch and challenge you, and move forward on those tasks knowing that you have no guarantee of success?
Every self employed person feels fear at one time or another. The next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m afraid,” reply with a knowing smile and say to yourself, “Join the crowd.” Then, summon up that well of courage and take responsibility to create the life and business you’ve dreamed of.
Because, if you don’t have that type of courage, you probably shouldn’t be self employed in the first place. Being self employed is about challenging yourself and the world. It’s not about taking the easy way; it’s about taking the only way that will give you a sense of self-fulfillment and success.
And finally, have a marathoner’s attitude: the finish line does exist, just over the next hill. Believe that you will make it to the finish line, as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other and maintain a positive attitude.