Ask any person on the street what sort of traits make a successful entrepreneur and you’ll get answers like: Workaholic. Demanding. Perfectionist. Ruthless.
The mythical figure of a successful entrepreneur is that of a laser-focused workaholic who has never taken advice or a helping hand from anyone. She hasn’t made it home for family dinner in months because surely, she couldn’t trust—or afford—to farm out any aspect of her business. She’s rundown and strapped for cash but tells herself this is what it’s like to own a business and leans further into her dogged, relentless pursuit of success.
Sounds like fun, right?
Well, it’s wrong. The idea that entrepreneurship is grueling, joyless, and cold-blooded is a misconception. Not to say it’s easy. Only about 50% of small businesses survive past the five-year mark. But it doesn’t have to be quite as relentless as it’s made out to be.
Myths About Successful Entrepreneurs: Busted
Most of the ideas we have about what makes an entrepreneur successful are merely clichés constructed around the notion that entrepreneurs all have the same personality traits—extroverted, Type A go-getters, like the fast-growing startups working around the clock that are paraded across the media. Novice and seasoned entrepreneurs alike can reject harmful stereotypes in favor of healthy, growth-oriented methods that will improve their business practices and their bottom lines.
Here are 5 prevailing myths about entrepreneurs and what successful, thriving entrepreneurs are doing instead.
- Entrepreneurs have to work 24/7 if they expect to get ahead.
One of the most common myths surrounding entrepreneurship is the idea that you have to be a workaholic to succeed. You know the stereotype—the business mogul that’s always juggling phone calls, scrolling through thousands of emails, navigating a schedule filled with endless meetings. It’s a cliché, and like most clichés, it’s only partially true.
Operating a business requires a huge amount of dedication and sacrifice. But at the end of the day, you still have to remember that you’re human. Ignoring your mental and physical wellbeing actually decreases your output and puts yourself in jeopardy of burnout. In fact, evidence shows that entrepreneurs are most at risk for burnout due to the high-pressure stakes and commitment involved in operating a business.
Successful entrepreneurs who take a holistic approach to life and business know that it’s critical to prioritize their needs and understand that taking time for themselves is as important as any other part of running a business. Eating foods that fuel you, regulating sleep, and taking time to relax and blow off some steam is crucial in keeping your business—and yourself—functioning.
So, what’s actually going to get you ahead? Diligent self-care that improves your quality of life and bottom line, or burning the candle at both ends, putting both you and your company’s health at risk?
- Entrepreneurs commit to one master path and never stray from it.
Let’s face it—entrepreneurs have a bit of a reputation for being “Type A” control freaks obsessed with their vision. It may sound harsh, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having a plan is essential for guiding business trajectory, and people are drawn to those who are confident and self-assured in their ambitions. But you also need to be flexible. After all, as Lao-Tze said, “the green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”
While strategic planning is a key component to long-term success, entrepreneurs must also give themselves permission to adjust to the changing environment and their own changing desires. It’s not only possible to cultivate and consider multiple priorities (or multiple paths) without sacrificing success—it’s necessary.
Mastering the skill of strategic flexibility is critical for entrepreneurs to be successful. You need to be able to look at your projects and identify which are forwarding your mission, which are stalling your mission, and which you should add to boost your mission (or safeguard the future). Knowing exactly where you stand and what needs to be changed can make all the difference in whether or not your business survives.
There will always be an option to stay the course, and there will always be new opportunities. The key is being able to identify what will add the most value to your company. Remaining flexible and nimble is key.
- Entrepreneurs are leaders by nature; they would never work for someone else.
It’s a popular preconception that some people are just innately born with the charisma, skill, and business savvy to become entrepreneurs. While science suggests there possibly is an “entrepreneurial gene,” the truth of the matter is that while some personality traits might aid in becoming an entrepreneur, the real key to successfully owning and operating a business is earning it through the blood, sweat and tears of experience.
Statistics show that 75% of entrepreneurs have previous work experience at traditional jobs, and 96% of entrepreneurs find that experience proves to be valuable in operating their own business. Even more beneficial is having experience in the industry that you seek to start your business in. Entrepreneurs that do so are shown to be 125% more successful than average.
While there’s no “one way” to get into entrepreneurship, it’s never too late to get started and you’re certainly never too old. All those years working for someone else provides a breadth of experience that can be turned into a huge competitive advantage. So, if you started your work career as a follower and not a leader? Embrace and leverage it.
- Entrepreneurs are entirely self-reliant.
For many, the term ‘entrepreneur’ evokes a singular person with a singular idea who executes on their plan solely by themselves. But ask any seasoned business owner and they’ll be quick to affirm that a business can’t run well (or at all) without the support of a strong team.
You see, you can do anything—but not everything.
Yet a common theme with some entrepreneurs is to try to do it all. For whatever reason, you think you have to be “the one”, and that mindset is detrimental to your company’s growth.
This is usually sourced from three issues: Fear of losing control, perception of “I can do it better,” or low confidence in your team.
And the temptation to turn inward and rely on yourself doesn’t just stop with the team, either. Business owners often fall into the trap of isolating themselves from other business owners who could otherwise be providing knowledge, resources, and support, thus shortening the learning curve.
Wise business owners know the value of advisors in offering perspective and helping to navigate growing pains. They also understand the value of building relationships with other professionals in their industry, in their community, and in general. Networking doesn’t just create camaraderie; it helps build your reputation and gives you access to resources and connections that can be valuable in the future. Operating on an island only makes things harder, lonelier, and serves to distance you from success.
There is sage advice in the proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Entrepreneurs know exactly what they’re selling from the get-go.
There’s a misconceived notion that the average entrepreneur wakes up one day with an amazing idea for a product or a service. They then immediately transform that idea into a successful business. (Although it does happen from time to time like when Sara Blakely invented Spanx. If only it were that easy—the cold, hard truth of it is, most of us aren’t Sara!)
The reality is that most entrepreneurs start with a vision. They may have a general idea of the kind of product or service they want to offer, but very rarely do these ideas start as full-fledged business plans. Even if an entrepreneur has previous business experience, starting your own company is a learning process that takes you on the most thrilling roller coaster ride of your life.
And as with the inherent nature of roller coasters, there will certainly be ups and downs as the business develops. The important thing is—and this is a critical piece in whether your business flourishes or falters—a continuous feedback loop needs to be created and listened to so the product or service can evolve to meet customer needs. On top of that, the way the business itself operates will change as it grows and as technology continues to revolutionize our daily experience. The only constant is the vision. Being able to tap into that vision and the passion surrounding it, while adapting to customers’ current and future needs, is the key to succeeding.
So many people fall prey to all the noise surrounding entrepreneurship. They get caught up in the illusion of who they think they should be, or who the world thinks they’re supposed to be, or the assumption that “this is the way it has to be.”
But a savvy business owner rejects the conventional entrepreneurial stereotype she’s been sold and instead focuses on what works. She knows it’s not about being a cliché or fitting into a mold; being a successful entrepreneur is about being authentic, curious, resourceful, and adaptable.
In my work, I’ve found that entrepreneurs benefit greatly from meeting with other like-minded business owners who understand what it takes to stand steady in the storm of entrepreneurship. Attending roundtables, conferences, or other events for entrepreneurs provides an opportunity to make connections, get inspired, receive advice, and ultimately contribute not only to the development of your business, but to your personal growth as well.
Of course, there’s no predetermined pathway to success. Although some character traits may be statistically prominent in today’s top leaders, you’ve ultimately got to trust your gut and do it your way. After all, by the very fact that you believed in yourself enough to start a business, you’re already halfway there.
Erin Joy is a third-generation entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Black Dress Circle and has made it her life’s mission to provide business owners with the resources, services, and support they need to be successful in business and life.
Since 2011, her business has been focused on business consulting and coaching and facilitating Black Dress Circles® (monthly, facilitated, results-driven roundtables for female entrepreneurs). Erin is a sought-after speaker and thought leader. She has spoken at the Midwest Women Business Owners’ Conference, the St. Louis Business Journal Women’s Conference, and the Missouri Athletic Club’s Women of Distinction Luncheon, and the American Businesswomen’s Alliance, National Women’s Leadership Conference and Women Future Conference. She has been featured in USA Today, St. Louis Business Journal, Entrepreneur Quarterly, St. Louis Post Dispatch, St. Louis Magazine, The Women’s Journal, Sophisticated Living, Great Day St. Louis, St. Louis FOX2, KTRS 550am, and Biz Women Rock Podcast, and Something Extra podcast to name a few.