6 Key Traits for Entrepreneurship

By at 7 October, 2019, 7:46 pm

by Raymond J. Keating-

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a “trait” as “a distinguishing quality or characteristic, typically one belonging to a person.” So, what are the key traits one needs in order to be an entrepreneur?

Of course, a great deal of ink has been spilled – as they used to say in pre-internet days – over this question. So, here’s my addition to the list of key traits needed to be an entrepreneur. My take is based on watching and talking with entrepreneurs over the years, studying the economics of entrepreneurship, teaching innovation and entrepreneurship, and being an entrepreneur myself.

1. Creativity. Entrepreneurship requires some minimal level of creativity. The entrepreneur must be creative in terms of seeing an opportunity where others have not, whether that be in terms of offering a new good or service, improving an existing product, or identifying a market not being served; creating new processes or efficiencies; and/or finding ways to start up a business, survive tough times and/or accessing paths for growth. All of this requires some basic creativity.

2. Courage(?) Over Fearfulness. When it comes to starting up and/or operating your own business, there’s a great deal coming at you – sometimes fast and without warning. Assorted risks, uncertainties and challenges will generate some degree of fear. For those who tend toward being fearful, entrepreneurship will a tough ride. Fearfulness often leads to paralysis, and that’s deadly in the marketplace.

In contrast, people like to say that courage is required to be an entrepreneur. That’s true, although the word “courage” tends to get over used these days (I’ve been guilty of this in my own writing at times), and I have a bias toward limiting the use of the word “courage” for times when individuals put their lives on the line, face grave ills or family problems, etc. Having said that, for entrepreneurship, I prefer to replace the word “courage” with terms like “action-oriented” and “problem solving.” Entrepreneurs cannot afford to be paralyzed or to procrastinate in the face of risks, uncertainties and challenges. Instead, an entrepreneur needs to have a bias toward action, as well as possessing the mindset of being a problem solver, whether that be solving a problem in the market with a new or improved product, or taking actions or making changes required to keep the business moving forward. Entrepreneurs need to have action overcome fear.

3. Goal-Oriented. What’s the point? That is, what are you looking to achieve as an entrepreneur? No matter what the answer is – from changing an entire industry, creating a new industry, being your own boss, or running a part-time business that helps pay the bills or simply generates enjoyment for yourself – every entrepreneur needs a goal or set of goals. The goal-oriented entrepreneur is better able to get and stay focused, and to make sure that everything being done is pointed to this aim or desired result.

4. Deadline-Oriented. How many times have you heard someone say, “Yeah, I’ve got an idea for a business, and I’ll get around to it someday”? It’s easy to just say stuff, and then let time slip by without doing anything. One of the most critical things I learned as a newspaper columnist was the importance of deadlines. Indeed, it didn’t take too long into my 20-plus years as a newspaper columnist to become deadline-oriented, and that has been essential to my economist career and to my entrepreneurial ventures. Deadlines have been essential in moving from planning to action in terms of new endeavors. And when I stay deadline-oriented, my productivity increases. In contrast, when I fail to set hard deadlines, well, it’s easy to let things slip; productivity falters and the chances for failure rise. Another trait people like to assign to entrepreneurs is being “disciplined,” and that’s absolutely correct. But I would argue that being deadline-oriented is foundational to being disciplined.

5. Flexibility. The marketplace is anything but stagnant. Rather, it’s dynamic and ever-changing. Entrepreneurs need to be flexible in order to make adjustments and changes. Think of all the factors that can and will change, and therefore, will affect your business, including technology, consumer tastes, competitors, the economy, government policies, pricing, and so on. Flexibility is needed to adjust to all of these, and countless other, influences.

6. Honesty. Finally, honesty matters for an entrepreneur. First, who wants to work for or do business with someone who is dishonest? Not many. So, it’s rather simple, be honest and follow the Golden Rule.

Second, honesty also is required for entrepreneurs when evaluating their own abilities, skills, products and business. It’s very easy for entrepreneurs to slip into thinking that they can do it all. But that’s not realistic, and such notions don’t help the business. Entrepreneurs have to possess a certain brutal honestly with themselves. They have to answer some tough questions. For example, what am I good at, what am I lousy at, and where do I need help? Where do I need to improve, such as in my ability to communicate? How can my product be improved? Is the market I expected actually there for my product? Do I need to change my good or service in some way? And even, is this working at all; should I try something else? Have I properly figured out how to reach customers?

So, these are my contributions to the entrepreneurial traits discussion. I would add that while there are traits that would be nice for entrepreneurs to have, but perhaps are not necessary, this is my must-haves list for entrepreneurs, whether an entrepreneur is looking to overturn an industry or seeking to earn some extra money and have fun via a part-time venture.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

News and Media Releases