Over the last few years, I’ve had quite a few people ask me “How did you decide to start your own business?” or “What are the critical skills for someone to start their own business?” Something I have learned over the last five years with Atrómitos, and as an entrepreneur, is that there are many paths to any destination, there is no one “way.” With that said, there are some indispensable attributes for anyone looking to embark on the wild and crazy (and profoundly fulfilling) ride of starting one’s own business. So, this week, in recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week, I thought I’d put my thoughts on paper and share with others.
It Starts with an Idea (Know Yourself – and your business)
For myself, my motivation in starting my own business was pretty simple: I wanted to build something. I’d spent my career helping others create and build things: federal legislation and policy, projects and initiatives, and lines of business. That was all incredibly valuable and educative, but it came with its own limitations. At the end of the day, I wanted to build my own thing.
Now, I will let you in on a secret, knowing that I wanted to build ‘my own thing’ – and then identifying what that thing would be took time and reflection – two years in fact. Some people think they must have a big, original, unique idea to start a business. Fortunately, this is far from the truth. In my case, I stuck with what I knew: health and human services consulting. My idea was to do it better. I evaluated all the things I didn’t like about the consulting environment I’d worked in, either as a consultant or as a client, and identified certain things that I wanted to do differently. Sometimes it’s not about doing something new, but about doing something better. At the end of the day – understanding my own motivation and having a big idea behind it (one which was informed by my practical experience and expertise) gave me both the necessary big sky vision and the practical roadmap necessary to chart my course.
It Requires Grit
Ideas are great – but when it comes down to it, they are also “easy.” Execution is everything. And that requires grit.
What is Grit? Merriam-Webster defines grit as a firmness of mind or spirit, an unyielding courage in the face of hardship. GoStrengths provides a longer technical definition:
Grit is a personality trait possessed by individuals who demonstrate passion and perseverance toward a goal despite being confronted by significant obstacles and distractions. Those who possess grit are able to self-regulate and postpone their need for positive reinforcement while working diligently on a task.
Starting, running, and keeping a business going and growing is not easy. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how capable you are, how much money you have. It doesn’t matter if your idea is the most brilliant of all time. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must have grit. I can’t tell you how many times in the last 5+ years I have found myself sitting at my desk, head in hands, thinking “Why do I keep doing this? I don’t have to. I can go anywhere and get a job.” The answer: I genuinely cannot imagine myself doing anything else. And so, I take a deep breath and confront the challenge(s) in front of me. Because no matter how big the challenge, I know my team and I will find the solution.
You Must Make Decisions
There is a whole lot of uncertainty when it comes to founding and running one’s own business. And it can be nerve-wracking navigating so many unknowns from the known unknowns to the total blank spaces. But you do have to be (or get) comfortable with risk. And that means making timely decisions with imperfect information. You are rarely going to have all the information that you want before deciding. You are still going to have to decide.
I cannot emphasize this enough. As an entrepreneur, you must make decisions. It’s not about making the right decision. It’s about making the best decision based on the information you have in a timely manner. In fact, to be an entrepreneur, the very first thing you will do is decide to be one. Embrace the plunge and that slightly roily feeling in your stomach that comes with deciding to jump. Then figure out everything else as you go along.
You Need an Ecosystem that Supports You
I began my own business in no small part because I knew that to do the kind of work I wanted to do, and to have the impact that I wanted to have (in a field that I care deeply about), I had need to create a different work environment for myself. But that doesn’t mean that I did it alone; no one does. Indeed, the biggest assets that I draw upon are the team that I’ve built at Atrómitos and the supporting network of partners, colleagues, and clients.
Earlier in this article, I stressed that it takes grit and perseverance to succeed as an entrepreneur. Understanding why you are doing something and caring deeply about that goal is important, but you also need to have a personal and professional ecosystem that supports and sustains you. Recognize that you can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all on your own. Ask for help.
But don’t stop there. As entrepreneurs, we are also responsible for shaping and building the ecosystem of support we need to thrive and grow our business. The groups we are a part of, the networks we join, and the colleagues we rely on all depend on each other to speak up for what we need, question what doesn’t make sense, and refuse to accept what isn’t helpful. Offer your expertise and assistance where you can. It becomes a virtuous cycle.
I have learned that it is the relationships and the connections that we make that fuel us, individually and as an organization. Persistence is possible when you know you have a cadre of supporters in the wing cheering you on. Similarly, persistence is self-sustaining when you see why your mission (or product) really matters to someone.
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