The term entrepreneurship signifies the process by which new business ventures emerge, launch, and flourish. These new endeavors are led by entrepreneurs who tend to be ambitious, competitive, singularly focused, and attracted to big plans and groundbreaking ideas.
Thanks to Hollywoodized stories of Elizabeth Holmes, Elon Musk, Adam Neumann, and others like them, Americans are familiar with the entrepreneurial character. Given the outsized attention to bad actors, we may even carry some negative associations with these folks. Don't all entrepreneurs eventually end up disgraced and/or in jail?
Well, no. In reality, the vast majority of individuals drawn to entrepreneurship operate within legal boundaries and fly well below the radar. They may not succeed—about half of all new ventures fail within the first five years—but they all pursue dreams and hope to change the world through innovation and creativity. They neither soar high enough nor sink low enough to inspire a miniseries, but they're mostly fine with that.
History is full of hard-working entrepreneurs who went about their business with little fanfare, but it's important to remember that not everyone is cut out for this type of work. In reviewing the skills every entrepreneur needs to succeed, consider how these fit with your existing skill set.
Using digital information to provide insights about customer behavior, market trends, and overall business behavior can set one entrepreneur's business apart from others–especially when that data is leveraged effectively. Today's companies produce massive quantities of data thanks to digitized sales, financial management tools, digital marketing platforms, and customer surveys. While many entrepreneurs focus on collecting this data, those who excel typically also take time to analyze results and make informed decisions based on findings.
Whether conversing with a venture capitalist, mentor, new client, or potential hire, entrepreneurs must possess clear and strong communication skills. Great entrepreneurs know how to tailor their messages to individual audiences, whether speaking one-on-one to an investor or writing a company-wide memo. Developing effective communication skills early on can help business owners convey their objectives, plans, and desired outcomes succinctly and clearly.
Successful entrepreneurs see opportunities where others do not. Great entrepreneurs harness their creative thinking skills and curiosity to identify customer needs and develop innovative business ideas that set them apart from other professionals. Maintaining a spirit of curiosity during early-stage concept development can be difficult, as business owners are frequently pulled in many different directions.
Decision paralysis can kill a fledgling startup in an instant, creating a situation where fear takes the place of calculated risk. Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham changed the course of history when she decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, but that decision came with a mix of fierce uncertainty and conviction. Transformative entrepreneurs understand that risk is part of the game but also possess the presence of mind and industry knowledge needed to make tough decisions confidently.
The most successful entrepreneurs mastered budgeting and money management long before deciding to open their own business; this can mean the difference between failure and success. Business owners who need investors to bring their idea to fruition are also expected to provide concrete information on growth projections, cost of goods sold, return on investment, and cash flow. All that requires solid finance skills.
Some entrepreneurs hope to be the next Bill Gates and revolutionize technology; others want to start a small business focused on selling plants. Regardless of your aspirations, leadership plays a pivotal role in entrepreneurship. Aside from providing direction and certainty in everyday scenarios, entrepreneurs with leadership skills also have a clear vision of where they want to go and how to bring others along with them. Leaders come in all personality types, but they all have one thing in common: focus.
Management skills encompass many different areas: time, finances, employees, sales, customer expectations, and quality control, to name a few. Entrepreneurs with a talent for management understand that no one will follow their lead without clear delegation, demonstrated empathy, decisiveness, and transparency. Entrepreneurs have enough on their plates without micromanaging the work of others; instead, transformative leaders work to empower those they manage.
No business can survive without effective marketing strategies, and entrepreneurs must develop these important skills early on if they want their venture to survive. Marketing can include setting price points, developing strategies, deciding on distribution channels, and promoting the product to potential customers. Even after a startup gets established enough to bring on marketing professionals, successful entrepreneurs keep a close eye on marketing plans and continue to act as brand ambassadors.
Networking within established and new professional channels alike helps new business owners develop relevant contacts, seek out investors, build a client base, and find qualified employees. Thanks to services such as LinkedIn and online communities within professional associations, networking has become easier in the 21st century. Even established, successful entrepreneurs continue building contacts throughout their careers. You never know when a new connection will prove valuable.
Any list of essential entrepreneurial skills would not be complete without including planning. Great entrepreneurs understand the perils of getting bogged down in everyday tasks rather than staying future-focused; failure to do so can lead to unpreparedness and, ultimately, failure. That said, planning is only as successful as the actions taken from it. Taking time to consider where you want your company to go and how to get there is paramount to success.
Running a successful business requires constant problem-solving, both internally and externally. As a business owner, employees and customers look to you to address challenges and make the business run smoothly. Whether an internal communications problem creates issues around time management or a prototype of your product fails to meet expectations, finding ways to solve these problems effectively and efficiently through creative thinking can help your business stand out.
Ask any successful entrepreneur to tell you a story about failure; they will likely have several. Starting a business requires a unique level of grit and resilience, especially when it comes to making investors, consumers, and even employees believe in your idea. You will likely encounter obstacles along the way, but staying true to your vision during every phase of development and growth can help set yourself apart from startups that fail.
Sales plays a pivotal role in entrepreneurship; the most successful company founders know what it takes to get others excited about their ideas and ready to invest or purchase their products. The idea of sales can feel like a turnoff to some would-be entrepreneurs, but it's important to consider the differences between selling a product or service for someone else versus selling something you developed.
Strategic thinking requires entrepreneurs to always keep one eye on opportunities for creating value and increasing market shares without letting current initiatives suffer. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod in 2001, he and his team were not satisfied to let that be enough. Instead, Jobs and Apple continued looking for ways to improve on their initial release and solidify their place in digital music players. No matter how innovative your latest product or service may be, you should already be thinking five steps ahead about how to continue improving and innovating.
Many demands fill an entrepreneur's time, making it vital that they know how to manage the hours in a day wisely. Organization plays directly into effective time management, with great entrepreneurs creating systems to ensure they invest their effort into tasks requiring their expertise and decision-making skills. Some entrepreneurs also create objectives based on times of day to ensure different types of tasks receive the appropriate level of attention.
Entrepreneurship can be learned in many settings, both formal and informal. Not all entrepreneurs need a degree—or even an education—to succeed. Even so, knowledge is power.
Many would-be entrepreneurs dive headlong into the process with little to no formal entrepreneurial education, preferring to take a sink-or-swim approach. Experience can play a central role in entrepreneurial success, as those who take this approach must mature in their skill sets while keeping their concept afloat.
Several schools now offer MBAs with entrepreneurship concentrations for future entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Some schools even provide an MBA in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship for those interested in developing entrepreneurial ideas within established organizations.
The majority of these programs require students to complete the same core requirements included an traditional MBAs, but also incorporate a few classes focused on entrepreneurship. MBAs provide great general business knowledge, but some students may find that more focused coursework serves them better than an MBA when it comes to creating a startup.
For many, individual courses offer the type of focused instruction that fits within an entrepreneur's busy schedule and lean budget. Rather than completing an entire MBA, learners who choose this option can take targeted classes focused on building the essential skills they need most. Many schools now offer online courses, making it even easier to gather knowledge and put it directly into action.
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