The definition of an entrepreneur is open to debate. Some take a broad definition, applying the label to basically anyone who owns a business. Personally I think the real definition of an entrepreneur is someone who sees an opportunity in a given market to either meet a need that hasn’t been met before or to do something better than the existing competitors, and takes advantage of that opportunity to start a business. An entrepreneurial business, in my mind, involves a considerable amount of risk, and requires the entrepreneur to use their initiative to essentially create something from nothing.
I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs in the past, from true visionaries to those who really weren’t cut out for the entrepreneurial life, and I’ve realized that there are three particular skills great entrepreneurs possess – vision, communication and perseverance. Those three skills can be improved with experience but cannot be taught; to a large degree they are innate in all great entrepreneurs. If an entrepreneur possesses these skills, then all others – finance, supply chain & logistics, HR, marketing, etc – can be effectively handled by their trusted advisors.
To be able to conceive, articulate and realise a vision is the essense of entrepreneurialism. It’s this skill, more than any other, which sets entrepreneurs apart from other people.
A great entrepreneur will make you think ‘wow’ when they speak about their vision. They will have the ability to see things that other people can’t; to challenge conventional wisdom; to find improvements and solutions to problems people didn’t know existed. Their passion, zeal and clarity of thought will be astonishing, and their ideas will be incredibly compelling. When speaking to a true entrepreneur, you will find yourself becoming excited at the possibilities they are articulating – that’s the skill of vision.
When your life is all about creating and trying new things, you will almost always experience difficulties and often failure. To be ultimately successful, an entrepreneur must be able to overcome these difficulties, to see them for what they are – a learning experience on the road to eventual success.
It takes a special kind of skill to be able to push through difficult times, to see them for what they are and to keep your eyes on the end goal – it’s called perseverance, and it’s a quality that all great entrepreneurs have. Richard Branson in this article discusses failure and perseverance in the context of his own life, and how important it is for an entrepreneur to be able to get up, dust themselves off and try again. He should know – despite being known as one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, 14 of his businesses have actually failed.
Entrepreneurial businesses are never one-man operations. People – staff, customers, and suppliers – are critical to the success of an entrepreneurial venture, and a great entrepreneur will be adept in the art of effectively communicating with them all.
In the context of entrepreneurship, communication is about getting people to believe in you and your business and be excited at the possibilities of being involved. Great charisma and persuasiveness are required to generate and maintain this excitement.
Internally, a great entrepreneur will create a ‘cult’ around the business, resulting in an environment of strong commitment and shared desire for success. Staff will prioritise and make sacrifices for the business, suppliers will give excellent service and preferential treatment, and everyone will push hard to ensure they are contributing to the wellbeing of the business.
Externally, the focus will be on the marketing messages sent to potential customers. A great entrepreneur will be expert at formulating these messages, creating a strong buzz around their product or service and skilfully convincing their market that their product or service is worth purchasing.
So what of other skills – finance, accounting, supply chain & logistics, HR, marketing and many others? A great entrepreneur will realise that no one can be good at everything, and that it is prudent to engage trusted advisors to assist with these technical aspects of business. Over time the entrepreneur will develop a broad understanding of these concepts, but it is a poor use of the entrepreneur’s time to take care of these matters themselves.