10 Characteristics Of A Successful Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. They are young and old; outgoing and shy; number crunchers and wordsmiths.  While they may differ in loads of important ways, successful entrepreneurs share many important characteristics and take the same entrepreneurship steps to success. Are you looking to become an entrepreneur? Have a look at the list below and see if you’ve got some of these too!


  1. Passion
    As you move along the steps to entrepreneurship, there are going to be a LOT of issues, challenges and impediments along the way. If you don’t love what you do and have the passion to persevere and push through, this isn’t for you. If you ask any successful entrepreneur if their path to success was a straight line, it is unlikely that you’ll get any answers in the affirmative. Without passion and the perseverance that comes with it, most entrepreneurs would never get over the obstacles that inevitably arise.
  2. Risk management orientation
    There are lots of ways to start a successful business, but most of the most successful entrepreneurs do a lot of risk management along the way, especially in the early stages. Testing, evaluating, minimizing cash outlays, staying lean, are all ways that successful entrepreneurs move carefully. While it is possible to move fast and be successful, businesses that do are more likely to spring from entities that already exist and have learned important lessons that allow them to pivot into new areas quickly. The majority of successes come when decisions are made carefully along the way, each one propelling the entrepreneur to either Stop, Pivot or Move Forward.
  3. Plan
    One of the reasons that startups fail is that the entrepreneurs/founders haven’t thought through the whole concept. Planning is a key success factor of most successful startups. A business plan, written at the early steps of entrepreneurship, is a great exercise in thinking through many of the things that separate successful businesses from failures. Years ago, these plans were 50 page documents. Today, a business plan is a 1-page Lean Canvas that forces you to think about crucial parts of your business. It is fluid, meaning the content of each section changes as you grow your business
  4. Work ethic
    The steps to entrepreneurship can be exciting and fun, but they can also be stressful and all-consuming and exhausting. Successful entrepreneurs go all in and keep moving forward, even when they just don’t feel like it. The ability to put your head down and just plow through is what separates those that make and those that don’t.
  5. Willingness to ask for advice
    A lot of successful entrepreneurs have mentors, particularly in the early years, where everything is new. While no two businesses are exactly alike, there is certainly enough overlap in many areas that a smart entrepreneur can save him/herself a lot of heartache and hassle by learning from those with previous experience how they managed a similar situation. Reinventing the wheel is just not a valuable use of the busy entrepreneur’s time.
  6. Ability to sell
    There is always something to sell, whether it is yourself, an idea, your product or service or your business. While there are certainly “born salespeople” (we all know a few), selling is something you can learn to do. Develop your own style (soft selling can be just as effective as a hard sell) and learn to sell with confidence. From an elevator pitch to a cold call, the successful entrepreneur is going to have to be selling every step of the way so take a course, talk to those who are good at and practice, practice, practice!
  7. Self-promoter
    No one knows that you and your business exist unless you find a way to get the word out. Most successful entrepreneurs figure out ways to stand out from the crowd. You can do that by focussing on the product/service, the business as a whole, something unique about the situation or by developing a personal reputation as an expert or go-to person in a particular area. You can use traditional marketing tools, a website or social media, write a blog, offer your services to media as an ‘expert’ , set up affiliate and other relationships and a whole bunch of other ways. The important thing is that you need to promote, promote, promote.
  8. Experience
    We always hear about the hot, young successful entrepreneurs who left high school to found a unicorn startup, and the reason we hear about them so much is that they are really unusual. They make a great story. In reality, the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs are a little less wet behind the ears. Their years of experience help them avoid many of the pitfalls that the younger founders encounter. Face it…they’ve seen it all before and know how to respond. They also often start their business in response to something they’ve dealt with in the course of their business lives and many times, are solving an issue that needed to be addressed by the industry they’ve been working in and where they have contacts and experience. The point here is that it’s never too late to be a successful entrepreneur. The energy of youth is definitely a wonderful thing to have as an entrepreneur, but there is a lot to be said for the experience of someone a bit older.
  9. Willingness to Learn
    This one ties into number 5. You need to be ok with asking for advice but also, you need to understand that there are a lot of things you don’t know. Recognize that some things are key to the business and you’ll need at least competence in them. Others, you may be able to outsource with a team member who is really strong in areas that complement yours. If you don’t either learn it yourself, or bring in that expertise, you’re going to have some insurmountable gaps that will doom your company to failure. Sit down with a trusted advisor (maybe that mentor we mentioned earlier) and discuss what things you really need to understand better; which you need to learn to do yourself and which you can outsource. Then make a plan to learn what you need to know. By the way, you might be learning something from someone way younger than you and that has to be ok too.
  10. Attitude
    As the founder and leader of your company, you’re setting an example for the whole company. Your staff, partner, and associates will all look to you to see how you lead. Do you pass the buck? Do you go above and beyond? Do you have consideration for others? Do you have a structured schedule or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Do you give credit to others? Do you have balance in your work/life relationship? Examine your attitude and make sure that you’re setting the example you want others to follow. Culture is hard to set, but even harder to change, so be aware of how you’re being seen, right from the start.

Don’t stress if you don’t think you possess all these characteristics. Most people don’t! Your strength will be in knowing your weaknesses and asking for advice when needed. Now take a closer look at the list. Do you know someone who might strengths that are different from yours? Would they be a good potential business partner? Sometimes 2 heads really are better than one. The only caveat is don’t choose a friend or family member because you don’t want to jeopardize those relationships in the event things don’t work out.

Good luck!

Elisa Palter

About the Author

Elisa Palter

Elisa has co-founded and successfully exited 2 small businesses, written business cases for Harvard Business School, and was part of the team that founded a prestigious Liberal Arts College overseas. She assists select NFP organizations with their messaging and strategy, and coaches women who are looking to become entrepreneurs. Elisa is passionate about entrepreneurship and its ability to empower individuals, particularly women.

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