What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

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By Professor Kiran Trehan, Professor of Leadership and Enterprise Development
Department of Management, University of Birmingham

Entrepreneurship is a highly personal journey with many ups and downs; you will shape your business and your business will shape you.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the key to economic growth. With TV reality shows like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den potentially inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs, we ask what it takes to start and run your own business.

Nature or nurture?

Starting and running a business is tough, yet most entrepreneurs continue to go-it alone. Entrepreneurship involves a process of continual learning and development, not only about the world of business but also about you, the individual.

Many people argue that we can equip young people with the necessary skills to engage in entrepreneurship, whilst others suggest that some of the necessary skills are ‘inborn’ and can’t be taught. One thing is for sure in the journey of starting a business, that around every corner there will be new surprises and you will be faced with difficult decisions that could make or break the success of your venture. Before starting out on your journey, it is worth considering the motives and values for starting a business.

Morals and values in business

Entrepreneurship is a highly personal journey with many ups and downs; you will shape your business and your business will shape you. Everybody wants their business to grow, but we often don’t stop to ask what that growth might mean. It’s tough to ask yourself if you are ready to take that next step, because the most important decision for any entrepreneur is choosing what sort of business he or she wants, yet most entrepreneurs give little thought to this aspect. This is a crucial oversight. Knowing what kind of business you want will impact upon all future business decisions, for example, is it a high growth firm, a lifestyle choice, or a social enterprise? Is the intention to sell after a few years to venture capitalists?

The individualistic nature of entrepreneurship means that entrepreneurs may not fit the characteristics of a ‘perfect’ entrepreneur – an individual driven by profits and growth alone as sometimes caricatured by reality TV. This may discourage some individuals from entering entrepreneurship if they feel a constant pressure to achieve high growth and profits. It also has implications for those who advise and support entrepreneurial start-ups.

Top tips for new entrepreneurs

  1. Know why you want to start a business – what are your motives and end goals?
  2. Make sure your personal and business goals are aligned.
  3. Know your market and what makes you stand out from the crowd.
  4. Be prepared to take full responsibility for your actions and the decisions you make.
  5. The road to success is a rocky one and there will be challenging times ahead to succeed. You need to be able to embrace change and difficulties.
  6. Know where you can get help from before you need it.

Rosie Ginday, founder and director of Miss Macaroon, also highlights that emotions and passion are just as important as business acumen and resilience!

  • Find support – surround yourself with people who believe in what you’re doing but can challenge you. Mentors and other entrepreneurs are a great source of energy and motivation when you’ve had a set back.
  • Keep tweaking the concept – don’t stick rigidly to your original idea. Make it, test it, listen to your customers and keep constantly improving. Whether the improvement is your product or service or the way you talk about it, keep innovating.
  • Connect with your passion – really understand what is driving you to create your business and stay connected to this. You’ll need this to fuel you when you’re facing barriers.

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