10 Secrets of Successful Entrepreneurs

Running a one-person business is a creative, flexible and challenging way to become your own boss and chart your own future. It is about creating a life, as it is about making a living. It takes courage, determination and foresight to decide to become an entrepreneur. From the relatively safe cocoon of the corporate world, where paychecks arrive regularly, you will be venturing into the unchartered territories of business.

Is there a way to determine whether you can be a successful entrepreneur, or you are better off to work for somebody else? Alas, there is no formula for success. However, most successful entrepreneurs share these ten characteristics. Check if you possess any one of them:

1. Think success. To attain the kind of success that you want, you need to dream big. Every success story starts with big dreams. You need to have big dreams for yourself – which you want to be somebody rich, famous or fulfilled. You need to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. But it doesn’t stop in dreaming alone. You should actively visualize success in your mind that you can almost feel it, touch it or it is within your reach. Play this image back at every opportunity. What does it feel to triple your current income? How will your life change? What will your business look like if you achieved the million-dollar mark?

Successful entrepreneurs possess an attitude of openness and faith that you can have what you want if you can simply envision it as the first step on the path of action to acquiring it. Management gurus have taught us the power of visualization – seeing yourself in your mind as having accomplished your dreams. If you want to be a successful writer, envision yourself signing books for a throng of people who have lined up to have your autograph. If you want to be rich, picture yourself in luxurious surroundings holding a fat bank account. And the process of envisioning success for you should be a constant activity! You need to think that you are successful (or will be one) every single waking hour.

A personal development coach shared me her secret to help her continuously visualize her goals for the moment: when climbing stairs, recite your goal with every step you take. So if you want more money, say “I will have money” in every step of the stairs. This technique will reinforce your goal and keep it fresh in your consciousness.

2. Be passionate with what you do. You start a business to change any or all part of your life. To attain this change, you need to develop or uncover an intense, personal passion to change the way things are and to live life to the fullest. Success comes easily if you love what you do. Why? Because we are more relentless in our pursuit of goals about things that we love. If you hate your job right now, do you think you will ever be successful at it? Not in a million years! You may plod along, even become competent at the tasks, but you will never be a great success at it. You will achieve peak performance and do what you have to do to succeed only if you are doing something that interests you or something that you care about.

Entrepreneurs who succeed do not mind the fact that they are putting in 15 or 18 hours a day to their business because they absolutely love what they do. Success in business is all about patience and hard work, which can only be attained if you are passionate and crazy with your tasks and activities.

3. Focus on your strengths. Let’s face it; you cannot be everything to everybody. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. To be effective, you need to identify your strengths and concentrate on it. You will become more successful if you are able to channel your efforts to areas that you do best. In business, for example, if you know you have good marketing instincts, then harness this strength and make full use of it. Seek help or assistance in areas that you may be poor at, such as accounting or bookkeeping. To transform your weakness to strength, consider taking hands-on learning or formal training.

4. Never consider the possibility of failure. Ayn Rand, in her novel The Fountainhead, wrote, “It is not in the nature of man – nor of any living entity, to start out by giving up.” As an entrepreneur, you need to fully believe in your goals, and that you can do it. Think that what you are doing will contribute to the betterment of your environment and your personal self. You should have a strong faith in your idea, your capabilities and yourself. You must believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have the ability to recognize and fulfill them. The more you can develop faith in your ability to achieve your goals, the more rapidly you can attain it. However, your confidence should be balanced with calculated risks that you need to take to achieve greater rewards. Successful entrepreneurs are those who analyze and minimize risk in the pursuit of profit. As they always say, “no guts, no glory.”

5. Plan accordingly. You have a vision, and you have enough faith in yourself to believe that you can achieve your vision. But do you know how to get to your vision? To achieve your vision, you need to have concrete goals that will provide the stepping-stone towards your ultimate vision. Put your goals in writing; not doing so just makes them as intangible fantasies. You need to plan each day in such a way that your every action contributes to the attainment of your vision. Do you foresee yourself as the next Martha Stewart of hand-made home furnishings? Perhaps today, you need to see an artist to help you conceptualize the new line of hand-made linens that you hope to launch. Intense goal orientation is the characteristic of every successful entrepreneur. They have a vision, and they know how to get there. Your ability to set goals and make plans for your accomplishment is the skill required to succeed. Plan, plan and plan – because without which failure is guaranteed.

6. Work hard! Every successful entrepreneur works hard, hard and hard. No one achieves success just by sitting and staring at the wall every single day. Brian Tracy puts it out this way, “You work eight hours per day for survival; everything over eight hours per day is for success.” Ask any successful businessperson and they will tell you immediately that they had to work more than 60 hours per week at the start of their businesses. Be prepared to say goodbye to after-office drinks every day, or a regular weekend get-away trip. If you are in a start-up phase, you will have to breathe, eat and drink your business until it can stand on its own. Working hard will be easy if you have a vision, clear goals, and are passionate with what you do.

7. Constantly Look for Ways to Network. In business, you are judged by the company you keep – from your management team, board of directors, and strategic partners. Businesses always need assistance, more so small businesses. Maybe the lady you met in a trade association meeting can help you secure funding, or the gentleman at a conference can provide you with management advise. It is important to form alliances with people who can help you, and whom you can help in return. To succeed in business, you need to possess good networking skills and always be alert to opportunities to expand your contacts.

8. Willingness to Learn. You do not need to be a MBA degree holder or PhD graduate to succeed in your own business. In fact, there are a lot of entrepreneurs who did not even finish secondary education. Studies show that most self-made millionaires have average intelligence. Nonetheless, these people reached their full potentials achieved their financial and personal goals in business because they are willing to learn. To succeed, you must be willing to ask questions, remain curious, interested and open to new knowledge. This willingness to learn becomes more crucial given the rapid changes in technologies and ways of doing business.

9. Persevere and have faith. No one said that the road to success is easy. Despite your good intentions and hard work, sometimes you will fail. Some successful entrepreneurs suffered setbacks and resounding defeats, even bankruptcy, yet managed to quickly stand up to make it big in their fields. Your courage to persist in the face of adversity and ability to bounce back after a temporary disappointment will assure your success. You must learn to pick yourself up and start all over again. Your persistence is the measure of the belief in yourself. Remember, if you persevere, nothing can stop you.

10. Discipline yourself. Thomas Huxley once said, “Do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you like it or not.” Self-discipline is the key to success. The strength of will to force yourself to pay the price of success – doing what others don’t like to do, going the extra mile, fighting and winning the lonely battle with yourself.

Can the Determination That Drives Great Athletes Be Taught to Entrepreneurs?

Is the determination that drives great athletes similar to the determination that drives successful entrepreneurs… and can core values like determination be taught? There is no doubt that great athletes are born with natural abilities but I’m not talking about natural ability or even the skills learned from good coaching. I’m talking about core values like their unbounded determination to win, that differentiates a great athlete and separates great athletes from merely good athletes. Values like determination, risk taking, and the ability to overcome obstacles that move great athletes ahead of the competition. Many athletes develop skills and become good at their game but lack the drive needed to make them great… just as in business, where there are good managers who seem to lack the drive that could turn them into successful entrepreneurs. An athlete’s desire to win can be seen in the determination they bring to their game. In most of the motivational sports stories we hear it’s hard to tell where the athletes skills end and their determination to win begins. To understand how an entrepreneur might apply these same values we need to separate the athlete’s technical skills and natural ability from the core values that drive him.

We’ve all heard stories about athletes who overcome great obstacles to achieve their goal. Unfortunately, when you hear these stories you only hear about a small part of the athletes life. That is the reason these stories often leave you feeling that something is missing… sports stories tend to be “cliff hangers” that don’t tell you what happened to the athlete later in life. You hear how the athlete accomplishes their immediate goal but you’re left to wonder what will become of his life once he moves beyond the sports arena. The implied ending in most sports stories is that the athlete will go on to achieve other great things in life but we know that is not always the case. Because the story is limited to his success on the court, you can’t tell whether his success was due solely to his athletic skills or to the determination that drove him. To gain insight into the role values like determination played we have to see what happens to his life after his athletes skills fade. Will his determination to succeed bring him new accomplishments in other areas? We know that some athletes go on to find great second careers in business while others, sadly, never find further success in life and some even fall to crime once their athletic careers end. What are the core values that continue to drive some athletes forward and enables them to succeed later in life? These are the values we want entrepreneurs to learn.

And while we are missing the end of most sports stories, we may also be missing the beginning. Where did the athlete learn the values that brought his success? Like all of his teammates he may have started learning skills in youth sports and may have had the benefit of dedicated coaches in school. But what gave him that “fire in the belly” that others didn’t have? Why is that determination there for one person but not for another? Are these the same values that drive some people to escape poor environments and overcome their circumstances while others succumb to their environment? Somewhere in the athletes life he chose to follow a path to success and learned the values he would need to achieve greatness. We hear about an athletes determination but rarely hear the part of the story that tells us where he learned the core values that drive him. If we can see how he learned values like determination, we might learn how to teach these values to others. To gain useful insight we need to understand where the athlete learned the values that drove his success and then examine how he was able to apply those same values over and over to bring about serial success both in and out of sports. Perhaps that would also explain why most entrepreneurs become serial entrepreneurs.

I recently did the research for the biography of Dr. George Tinsley. His sports story is tremendous and his desire to win is clear in everything he achieved on the basketball court while setting records as an NCAA champion. His life story is equally tremendous. After his sports career, he was able to overcome many obstacles to also achieve greatness as a businessman and serial entrepreneur. Because the pattern of his serial success were so apparent his biography quickly started to take on new meaning as I was able to examine the values that became the drivers throughout his life. His story became far more than his sports accomplishments. It was about the values that helped him achieve success both on and off the court. It became clear he would have found a path to success with or without sports. By looking at his entire life it was possible to see that the values that led to his success in sports had also led to his success in business as a serial entrepreneur.

What I found by looking beyond his basketball career was that the values that brought his athletic success were the same values that led to his entrepreneurial success and which had been his guides to achieve every goal he set in life. He had learned those core values as a child growing up in the inner city, even before he graduated from elementary school. His adoptive mother, while poor and physically challenged had told him never to let anyone or anything stand in his way, that he could achieve whatever he set his mind to. She taught him that he was responsible for his own actions and what happened in his life. This didn’t mean not to accept help from others but not to be dependent on others for his success. She taught him to set goals and not to make excuses for failing. She taught him that, if he was determined enough, he could find a way to overcome any obstacle. George Tinsley’s life is proof that these values can be taught and his life is an example of what can happen when one applies entrepreneurial values like determination, hard work, and overcoming obstacles no matter what the challenges are in their life. His story has a beginning and an ending that, when followed, will give others a path to success. He learned to apply these values over and over no matter what his goal was.

When someone hears George Tinsley’s story they are not tempted to say he succeeded because of his natural abilities as an athlete. His sports story only explains one part of his life. Only the constant application of the entrepreneurial values over and over throughout life can explain his serial success. George Tinsley speaks with many student groups about entrepreneurism and the “Obstacles to Opportunities” they will face in life and teaches them how they can succeed. They may come to hear an NCAA champion speak but they learn by hearing his full life story.

Top Eleven 2011 Trends for Entrepreneurs

As we launch into the new year, here are the top 11 trends that entrepreneurs need to be aware of, think about, and for which we should all prepare:

1. Economy will still Struggle: This is the biggest question on everyone’s mind. If experts in public relations and marketing were coaching me to write this blog to be popular, they would tell me to speak positively about the economic trends for 2011. But I just don’t see it on a macroeconomic level, and I refuse to sugarcoat things for the sake of writing a popular blog post. I know of some entrepreneurs who are thriving and some who are struggling or who have already shut their doors. But most are treading water. And this will be the same news come the end of 2011. I’m saying it, even though you probably wanted to hear something differently.

In his post Yet More Evidence of Hunkering Down Among Small Business, Jeff Cornwall expresses concern that if entrepreneurs aren’t positioning their enterprises to expand, a full economic recovery seems distant at best. But there are plenty of strong niches and unique opportunities that will continue to thrive at the hands of adept entrepreneurs.

2. Working Capital will be King: Yes, the saying usually says that cash is king. But tough economic times have taught many entrepreneurs that their working capital is sacred, primarily because it is the key to immediate and short-term cash. Those who make it more efficient (see Working Capital – Less is Often More) will out-perform their competitors. Those who protect it from being used on capital expenditures, excessive owner compensation, and other outflows not helpful to generating immediate and near-term gross profit, will find the empowerment it brings to succeed regardless of almost any external or economic pressure.

3. Results-Driven Marketing will be one of the biggest Difference-Makers of the Year: What happened to measuring marketing performance? Many entrepreneurs are so infatuated with marketing that they have become soft in measuring the results it generates. Some have justified spending more in marketing as a strategy to overcome the recession, and most of them are out of business now, having bled their working capital dry without a tool to measure if it was actually paying off. Marketing metrics will come back into fashion, and cost per lead and cost per customer acquisition will be numbers that successful businesses drive as low as effectively possible. John Donal Leavy has a lot more to say on this topic here: Outcome-Based Marketing in 2011.

4. Capital Expenditures will be up: Most businesses have held off on necessary capital expenditures in 2010 for two reasons. First, they were concerned they would not get the expanded Section 179 tax deduction for 100% of their purchases, and, second, they were concerned about over-spending in a tough economy. With the Section 179 deduction increase extended through 2011 and a still-shaky economy, most entrepreneurs are deferring that pent-up demand to 2011. Don’t be fooled by it, because capital expenditures will likely drop again in 2012. You can read more about this in an article I wrote for American Express OPEN Forum-Five Finance Trends Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know.

5. Going Green will no longer be a trend-it will be an Expectation: A little ahead of this trend, in my opinion, the folks at Willoughby Design wrote: Going Green is not a Temporary Craze-It’s an Expectation. If you haven’t accepted this fact, your competitors will gain more traction and sustainability than you. Period.

6. Fixed Fee and Flat Rate will win more business: Whatever it is you sell, have a fixed price for it. If your customers feels, in any way, that their cost for your product or services is variable, it will decrease your chances of getting the business. Figure out how to price your products and services and deliver what your customers need. The argument that every customers’ needs are different is becoming obsolete, and so are those who base their entire business model on it. Here is just one example from an attorney who wrote about how Customers Love Flat Fee Billing Based on Defined Deliverables.

7. Mobile, Cloud, and Social Technology will continue to converge: As these three technologies mature, they will continue to converge and become the future of how we think about and use technology. You can read just one of many opinions on this here: Convergence of Mobile, Cloud, and Social.

8. Entrepreneurial Borrowing will move further away from Traditional Sources: It will get harder and less attractive to get traditional loans from banks. Increasing an Entrepreneur’s opportunities to adequately fund his or her business is a topic of heated debate, but few seem to really get it. You can read more about these challenges at altconsulting.org, and you can also expect more innovation in getting entrepreneurs access to the funds they need in 2011.

9. Compliance Enforcement will Increase: The IRS has $300 million more to spend in enforcement programs in 2011, and many state and local tax and other compliance agencies are spending more in enforcement as well. Plan for it, and then you’ll be ready when it comes. It’s becoming more likely that it will.

10. Social Security Temporary Tax Cut is a sign of things to come: One provision of the Tax Relief Act of 2010 left me scratching my head. Everyone knows the social security system is underfunded and will be bankrupt in a few decades unless the program is overhauled. So why did Congress reduce the amount paid into the fund by two percentage points, or up to $2,136 per worker? It just doesn’t make sense, unless the long-term plan is to wipe-out the cap, currently set at $106,800, altogether, to match the same way the medicare tax is currently treated.

11. Hiring will focus on value-add, regardless of position or responsibility: Most studies and surveys say that hiring will be stagnant among entrepreneurial companies in 2011. But those who do hire will focus on the value each new employee and position will bring to the company. They will be Improving Your Business Hiring Practices and only hire when an employee is the only way to advance towards their goals and objectives.

Hopefully these trends and tips will help all of us turn 2011 into a year of prosperity and growth. To see the report card of my 2010 predictions, visit Report Card for Top 10 2010 Trend for Entrepreneurs.

How Entrepreneurs Can Use an MWDBE Certification to Enter New Markets

The benefit of being and MWDBE is that various state and other governmental authorities mandate that MWDBE certified firms must receive a certain percentage, usually between 25%-40% of any prime contract that is funded by the government. For example, in New York State MWDBE Construction Management firms usually get 35% on average for some very large and lucrative public works construction projects. But as in all markets, where there is a big demand or, this case opportunity, there is also much more supply, that is, competitors.

But what if a firm looked at smaller niche markets. Markets where, while there is still opportunity, ie. government funding jobs and contracts, but a very limited range of qualified competitors. My experience concentrates on the AEC market, that is Architecture, Engineering and Construction. But there are many other markets that MWDBE firms can enter, both with the AEC industry and others as well, think education, health care, housing.

If a entrepreneur who is qualified for an MWDBE certification were to do some good research, she/he could probably find small niche markets within which millions of dollars is being spent by the government, a portion of that money is probably mandated to go to an MWDBE. Naturally, this would be somewhat limited to the person’s chosen profession, but even ambulance service contracts, in certain states, are mandated to be apportioned to MWDBE firms.

This represents a safety net available for these firms or start ups, so as to facilitate the entry into new markets. Once established in the market, then a firm can decide if it wants to expand away from the state mandated revenue pool, and become primes themselves.

The legislation behind the MWDBE regulations was put there for a purpose, to help a certain sector of the population build businesses that did government work. A smart entrepreneur could find a very lucrative business in a haystack, if they’re smart enough.