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Do You Have
What It Takes?

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Do you have what it takes to succeed in a small business environment? Starting a small business can be an intimidating process. There is a lot of risk involved. A thorough and honest self-evaluation should be your very first step in the business start-up process. It makes little sense to spend the considerable time and resources required to launch a new business if you lack the fundamental elements of success.

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Of course, success attributes are difficult to define because they are not consistent across all business owners. What is a strength to one person is a weakness to another. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to prove a true correlation between any one characteristic and business success.

There is, however, one key attribute that must be considered an absolute prerequisite for any business start-up. This attribute characterizes almost every successful business owner and is central to the success of a new enterprise. Interestingly, the most important attribute for success has more to do with attitude than with aptitude. It is a burning desire to succeed in your new venture.

It is this burning desire to succeed which will sustain you through the difficulties, the discomfort, the discouragement and the deprivation which will surely come to you as you launch your new business.

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Evaluating Your Desire to Succeed

How does one evaluate something so abstract as a burning desire to succeed? Consider asking yourself the following questions. This is where honesty comes into play. To ensure a truly objective assessment you may want to involve a spouse or other family member or a close friend.

  • Can you truly say that you have a burning desire to succeed in your new venture?
  • Is this desire deep seated - or is it superficial and fleeting?
  • Is it a focused desire or are you continually distracted by some new adventure?
  • Has your desire become a passion and an obsession?
  • Is it a desire you are willing to make great sacrifices for?
  • What is your ultimate motivation for launching this new enterprise?
  • Is this motivation sufficient to sustain you through a potentially grueling business start-up?
Small Business Success Factors

Once you are convinced that you do have a sufficient desire to succeed and that this desire is of an enduring nature, you should turn your attention to a more extensive self-evaluation. There are a host of other attributes that may to one degree or another determine your ultimate success in business. Of course, it is certainly not necessary (or likely) that you possess all of these attributes. However, the degree to which you do possess them may influence your success. Consider the following ten attributes and evaluate yourself with respect to each of them.

1)   Resourcefulness

Some of the most successful and productive business owners and managers have an amazing ability to create impressive results with very little in the way of resources. At the heart of resourcefulness is creativity. Resourcefulness by definition requires that something valuable - or at least something useful - be created from a seemingly inadequate pool of resources.

If you feel continually constrained from accomplishing great things because of a perceived lack of tools or resources, then you need to be more creative in stretching and molding the resources that are available to you to the ends you desire. Truly resourceful people are able to create ingenious things with an unusually limited resource base. These people epitomize the wealth creators of this generation.

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2)   Willingness to fail

History is replete with examples of individuals who became wildly successful - but not until the third or fourth try. If you are one who is easily discouraged or who takes failure personally, you may want to think carefully about what is at stake here.

3)   Frugality

One of the most common reasons for business failure is the cash flow dilemma which occurs at the outset of a business start-up - and periodically thereafter. In short, bills must be paid as they are incurred whereas income is often delayed by a slow sales cycle, 30-day credit terms, slow paying clients, and a myriad of other reasons.

Unfortunately, many starry-eyed entrepreneurs exacerbate the problem by spending extravagantly on office space, furnishings, equipment and services precisely at the time when the business can least afford them.

A frugal approach to your business start-up will make as much difference to your early (and long-term) business success as any other factor. If you have a propensity to spend and consume lavishly, you would be well advised to conduct a very careful and detailed cash flow analysis prior to kicking off your business. You may be surprised to see exactly how much start-up capital such an operation will require.

4)   Vision of where you want to go with your new venture

One of the marks of a true leader is the ability to conceive and communicate a vision to an organization in a way that inspires, challenges and motivates. It is this vision of where and what you want your organization to be that puts you on a common and proactive path toward a pre-defined end. A lack of vision or an unclear vision will result in ill-defined objectives and a haphazard and reactionary approach to business.

A shared vision provides an important context for the day to day activities of your organization. It imbues these activities with a sense of meaning and gives your organization a sense of direction. It defines your destination at the beginning of your journey so that a proper road map can be designed to get you there. The road map in this case will be a detailed business plan. A business plan without an objective is like a journey without a destination. It is impossible to create an effective road map - or business plan if you do not have a fairly definite sense of where you want to end up. Your ultimate objective should be embedded in your vision for the new enterprise.

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5)   Ability to motivate others

If you are like most of us, you feel a little uncertain about your ability to influence and motivate others. Yet the game of business is very much about cultivating relationships and influencing people. Unfortunately, charisma and natural leadership abilities don't seem to be spread very evenly across the population. Fortunately, you do not have to be charismatic to be influential.

The ability to influence is a skill that can be developed over time. The key to your success in this area will be to take the time to understand what motivates the people you wish to influence. Customers, employees, suppliers and investors will all have different objectives. If you come to understand their individual concerns and motivations, you will be able to formulate interactions and agreements in ways that are mutually beneficial.

This is the essence of the win-win psychology. Someone who continually takes advantage of others is not likely to be successful in the long run. In business as in other areas of life, the golden rule rules.

6)   Risk tolerance

As mentioned earlier, starting a new business can be a risky proposition. The good news is that much of this risk can be mitigated through proper preparation. And a good portion of the risk that cannot be eliminated can be managed through careful planning.

Nonetheless, a new business venture is not for the faint of heart. There are simply too many variables to ensure a safe landing 100% of the time. Downturns in the economy, industry consolidation, the bankruptcy of key customers and other unforeseen perils lay in wait to take their toll on even the best-laid business plans.

While an unhealthy appetite for risk can lead to reckless decisions a certain level of risk tolerance is important. It will save you a lot of sleepless nights. A good way to deal with a low level of risk tolerance is to identify those risks that can be reasonably managed and then do what you can to minimize them. If you find yourself staying up late at night contemplating the myriad risks over which you have no direct control, then you may want to avoid the business arena - for it is fraught with unmanageable risk - but then so is life.

7)   Self-motivation

If you are looking at business ownership as an escape from the monotony and drudgery of your present job you may want to question your motives. As a new business owner, you will probably not have the luxury of clerical help or the assistance of a large staff. This means that you will wear many hats. You will be responsible for everything from sales calls and billing to filing paperwork and emptying the trash. Business ownership is anything but an escape. It can be very demanding.

If you are not a self-starter you may choose to neglect many of the tasks that bore you. With no one looking over your shoulder this will be quite easy to do. If you allow this to happen, your business will quickly become disorganized. If left unchecked, you will see your business slip out of control over time. This will lead to a sense of despondency and a feeling of hopelessness.

Everyone has occasional lapses of motivation. The best way to deal with this problem is to set some very specific and demanding goals regarding your activity level. Then reward yourself for meeting your goals. For example, you may set a goal to contact 25 new prospective customers per day. Then, after successfully achieving this goal for an entire week you may choose to reward yourself by taking Friday afternoon off. Be creative - the important thing is to continually set goals and then find ways to motivate yourself to achieve them.

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8)   Self-confidence

Self-confidence emanates from a positive self-regard. Implicit in the concept of self-confidence is a belief in oneself, a belief in one's vision and a belief in one's ability to fulfill that vision.

It is amazing the effect that a modest amount of self-confidence can have on an activity or enterprise. It is interesting to note that a very self-confident person will often succeed out of sheer determination - feeling in his heart of hearts that he knows what he is doing - even when he clearly does not. Most of this person's learning comes through trial and error. A self-confident leader often simply charges forward - certain of his ability to overcome obstacles as they present themselves.

Of course self-confidence must be tempered by rationality. Irrational exuberance can often be a recipe for disaster. However, it is self-confidence that most often results in action and it is the lack of self-confidence that too frequently yields inaction. And of course action - even misguided action - is more likely to produce results than inaction, however well intended.

9)   Persistence

The ability to stick with something and see it through to a conclusion should be considered a key attribute for someone intent on launching a new business. Unfortunately it tends to be lacking in many would-be entrepreneurs. The personality that finds excitement in the prospect of a new venture is often the same personality that lacks the resolve to see an enterprise through to maturity. This attribute can be cultivated, but it requires a commitment to commitment itself - something that is not easy to acquire for someone who has a long history of flighty behavior.

10)   Emotional support network

A support network of family and friends can be critical to your ability to maintain energy and enthusiasm toward your new business venture. Resentment or negativism on the part of a spouse or friend can be demoralizing and debilitating. Positive support and reinforcement, on the other hand, can mean the difference between giving up and carrying on when times become difficult.

Many entrepreneurs join business associations and entrepreneur groups in an effort to find empathetic ears and experienced opinions. The camaraderie and interaction that comes from such affiliations can be beneficial and therapeutic to a new entrepreneur.

Capital Considerations

You will notice that I did not include financial capacity as an initial consideration in the decision to pursue or not pursue a new business opportunity. Of course, finances will play a critical role in your ultimate success. I have chosen to set this issue aside for the moment. Financial considerations will be treated in some detail later on.

For now, you may make the assumption that if you are sufficiently frugal, resourceful, and creative - and if you are willing to sacrifice to make your dream a reality, financial capacity should not be a barrier to your success. Access to capital may determine the way in which you start your business and perhaps the rate at which you are able to grow, but a lack of capital should not keep you from pursuing your dream.

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