When you hear the word “entrepreneur,” your mind probably jumps to a picture of success. You picture a smartly-dressed woman always on the go, her business a constant buzz surrounding her. She’s a leader. She’s self-reliant. She’s an entrepreneur after all.
But that’s just a picture. The reality of entrepreneurship is much more real. It’s actions and consequences. It’s business-making (or breaking) decisions.
Success in a self-made world is hard. Consider that over 50% of startups in the U.S. fail after five years, and 90% will ultimately fail. This isn’t to discourage you; it’s to show you that success doesn’t “just happen” to you. Success as an entrepreneur is hard work.
You’ll never fit an imaginary picture, and that’s a good thing. So, it’s time to put away myths about what a successful entrepreneur looks like. You need to figure out what success looks like for you.
Let’s demystify “success” by busting five common myths about entrepreneurs.Tweet
Myth 1: Successful entrepreneurs begin with a product or service.
Reality? 42% of unsuccessful startups fail because there is no market demand for their product or service. So, starting with a great idea doesn’t guarantee success.Source: Statista
Instead, the most successful businesses begin with a vision and passion.
Maybe you encountered a problem that nobody had the answer to. Maybe you saw the gaps that nobody could fill. You had a vision to solve that problem or fill that gap. According to Forbes author Stephanie Denning, “Behind every idea is a hypothesis: a belief that an idea will be really valuable to a certain target market.” That’s vision.
On passion, Steve Jobs said it best: “People with passion can change the world.” Notice, he didn’t say “People with a product to sell can change the world.”
In other words, your passion drives your vision drives your product.
Success Tip: Have a clear vision of the product or service that you can provide in your distinctive way. Don’t be a copy-cat. Take a new approach no one else thought of. Scratch an itch no one else can scratch. Make your product or service uniquely yours.
Your passion drives your vision drives your product. #entrepreneurshipTweet
Myth 2: Successful entrepreneurs are always in “work mode.”
We probably know some people like this. Do they seem enriched by their business or controlled by it? Do you want to live like that?
Professional success doesn’t mean you toss your personal life and well-being out the window. In fact, science shows a strong link between entrepreneurship and mental and physical health. Despite the challenges and hard work of starting a business, entrepreneurs on the whole actually report being happier than employees in a steady job.
What’s the secret? I can tell you it’s not switching on “work mode” and taping the switch. Entrepreneurs tend to have a mindset that carries over into their physical and mental health. According to Entrepreneur author Scott Christ, “Successful entrepreneurs wholeheartedly embrace healthy living: They work smarter, not harder.”
A big part of healthy living, he suggests, is habit. Habits drive 40% or more of our daily decisions, according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. Exercise, consistent sleep patterns, and using downtime wisely are ways we can program well-being into our daily life.
Success Tip: Turn the switch off when you need to. If you feel unmotivated or fatigued and are having a slower start to your day, take the morning off. Forcing yourself to work that morning will be worse for yourself and your business than simply allowing yourself to relax and recharge.
Myth 3: Successful entrepreneurs have the focus of a 1000-watt laser.
Focus is a necessary skill, but nobody can live a balanced life without being flexible and able to switch gears when necessary. Don’t get me wrong: strategic planning and many other aspects of running a business require high focus and attention to detail. But the successful folks are those who can manage multiple priorities. They don’t give 100% to a 1% task.
Now, I’m not saying to heavily multitask (read: constantly distracted). In fact, heavy multitaskers experience a 40% drop in productivity. As Sam Altman noted:
“The hard part of running a business is that there are a hundred things that you could be doing, and only five of those matter, and only one of them matters more than all of the rest of them combined.”Sam Altman
Success Tip: Stay focused in the right way. Focus on your vision (big picture), on your plan (achievable micro-goals), and on what’s in front of you right now.Tweet
This is where well-being, focus, flexibility, and grit intersect.
Myth 4: Successful entrepreneurs are natural-born leaders.
We often think of entrepreneurship as leadership at its finest. We might assume entrepreneurs have never been an employee and are naturally suited to being “large and in charge.”
When we think that way, success as a leader can seem like an unachievable goal. But, in reality, most successful entrepreneurs have been employees for someone else. They have first learned to follow.
According to an MIT Sloan study, “entrepreneurs were 125 percent more successful if they were previously employed in a particular sector in which they are starting a business.” A Duke University School of Business survey found that 41% of entrepreneurs saw market opportunities in prior work experience.
What sets the entrepreneur apart, then, is how she absorbs lessons about leadership from her workplace and uses that knowledge in her own business.
Success Tip: Flex your leadership muscles. Gather a team you can trust to help you make, fund, sell, and manage your product or service. Help your team see and share in your vision. Get them excited about it!
You’ll also need to help your team learn and grow. If you are not a natural-born leader, this will be a valuable learning experience for you, too.
Myth 5: Successful entrepreneurs are self-sufficient.
Who doesn’t need a support system? A robot.
The truth is that every one of us need people around us who will support us, root for us, and pick us up when we stumble. Successful entrepreneurs understand the value of community. They know when they need help, and they’re not afraid to ask for it.
It can be especially hard for introverted business owners to put themselves out there. In an interview, Beth Buelow of The Introvert Entrepreneur suggested trying different types of support groups and not giving up on networking when a group isn’t the right fit. Buelow recommended entering networking situations with an attitude of curiosity to overcome fear or uncertainty.
Success Tip: Surround yourself with trustworthy advisors. Entrepreneurs need people who can give objective and honest financial, legal, marketing, and other advice. If you don’t seek advice, you are at risk of creating your own echo chamber.
Bonus Tip! Build or expand your network. Successful entrepreneurs are masters at making connections. Develop a support system of other business owners, industry peers, professionals in other industries, online communities, colleagues, and friends.
By building bridges with others around you, you not only get companionship, but you grow your reputation and gain access to resources an entrepreneur always needs.
Now go achieve success!
It’s time we put away myths about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. In reality, success looks different for each of us. But we do know that the most successful entrepreneurs:
- Begin with a vision and passion
- Prioritize their well-being
- Know how to be both focused and flexible
- Learn leadership from previous employment
- Surround themselves with a support system
Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Have you heard any other myths about entrepreneurship? What has your experience been like?
Author note: This post is based on a project I did as part of an agency’s interview process. Rights still belong to me, though, so don’t worry. 😉