This blog entry was written to support the Ambition AXA Awards 2011…
I’m often asked what makes a successful entrepreneur. I recently posed that question to some of Young Enterprise’s most successful alumnae – people who have taken part in our programmes at school and then gone on to start their own companies or become successful business leaders in large corporations. They all seem to agree on the same set of characteristics. To a great extent these are straightforward ‘BGOs’ – blinding glimpses of the obvious – but I think they’re worth sharing.
It all comes down to belief… Belief in yourself, belief in your ideas, belief in other people and belief in taking action.
Believe in yourself
This is something the British really aren’t very good at. We have a bit of a phobia about success, whether it’s in ourselves or others. From a very early age, we’re reminded that ‘pride comes before a fall’. But if you look at the most successful people around, all of them have something in common. They’re positive – about themselves, about the challenges they face and about the people around them. This positivity doesn’t have to be brash. It can be understated in an appropriately British way, but to make things happen and be successful, you do need to believe in yourself and what you want to do.
If you have a belief in yourself, then you will communicate that self-belief to others.
Believe in your ideas
In 1937, George and Ira Gershwin wrote, “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
When they said that man could fly… Who’s got the last laugh now?”
Have a listen to the song. The lyrics alone are worth a listen.
Your idea may be about the creation of something new; or it might be applying something well-known in a new and innovative way. It might be about spotting a niche in the market or creating an entirely new one. It really doesn’t matter. The important thing is to believe in it and to hold on to that belief.
It is worth checking out your idea with others. Does it excite them? Do they see a need for it? Do they share your enthusiasm? But recognise that new ideas often have to be put into practice before people properly appreciate them. Too often, ideas stay in the test phase for ever and people fail to take the leap of faith to move from ideas to action. True entrepreneurs follow their hunches.
Successful entrepreneurs, however, also do reality checks along the way. There is no point in creating a brilliant idea that has no financial viability. You can’t change the world without balancing the books. So, keep your belief in the idea, follow your hunch, but develop a sensible business plan for it – make sure that you can actually make money out of it.
Believe in others
You may be one of those extraordinary individuals who gets out of bed in the morning with a thousand new ideas, has a real flair with numbers, can make things out of nothing and has the gift of the gab. Most people aren’t like that. They may be the ideas generators, or the numbers wizard, or the manufacturer, or the marketeer, but usually not all four at once.
At school, we tend to focus on individual success in class. Using other people’s expertise and experience is often called ‘cheating’. But successful entrepreneurs – and they are often the ideas generators – are really good at gathering teams of people around them who are better at the other stuff. It is the well led team that succeeds. So work out what you do need help with – and go out and find that help.
And, to support your team, find yourself someone who’s already been successful, to mentor you through the process. You will be surprised how willing people will be to offer their expertise to help you succeed.
Believe in action
So, believe in what you’re doing; believe in yourself and that you can persuade others about your idea too. Work out what it’s going to cost to make things happen – and how you will meet those costs. Get a great team around you to ensure that you have all the skills you’ll need to make things happen.
But then, do it. Don’t put it off. Start something.
Most ideas never make it off the drawing board. Not because they’re not great ideas. Not because they don’t have a strong likelihood of business success. Just because no-one ever actually turns the idea into reality.
Positive action has to go along with positive thinking. It is the true cornerstone of success. Positive thinking is like looking at homework and saying ‘homework done, homework done, homework done.’ What does that do to the homework? Nothing. It’s the actions that you take that make the difference.
So, move to production or implementation of your idea fast. Some ideas won’t catch on and they will fail. But some will succeed. And by moving swiftly towards action, having taken a calculated risk, you get to market and success, whilst others are still dreaming.