What makes entrepreneurs go the distance?

Building your own business is not a sprint, but a marathon, with hills, headwinds, heat and dust. Those who succeed are not necessarily the fastest or the strongest. The successful ones are those who are able to endure.

Anton Roelofse, regional general manager of Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), has over many years seen hundreds of entrepreneurs set out on their own business marathon. He has come to recognise nine characteristics that make some them resilient enough to go the distance:

1. They possess a strong internal locus of control

Resilient entrepreneurs are disciplined individuals whose working hours, pace, workload and output are not controlled by something imposed upon them from the outside, such as an employment contract, peer pressure, a boss or the clock on the wall.

They set their own standards and targets, and they set them high. The “boss” who makes sure that they get the job gets done is their own psyche, and more often than not, it is a very demanding boss.

2. They tend to diversify and expand

Single-outlet, single-product and single-client businesses are very vulnerable to setbacks. The loss of an important contract, the opening up of a competitor across the road, or the sudden flooding of the market with a cheap competing product can be fatal.

In contrast, the more entrepreneurial type of business owner who constantly looks for new markets, product lines and clients usually has more than one income stream to fall back on when misfortune strikes.

3. They have strong social connections

Resilient entrepreneurs constantly cultivate their networks of clients, suppliers, peers, friends and family, not only to promote their business and to support them emotionally, but also to learn, to keep in touch with changes in the market, and to find new opportunities.

4. They see themselves as survivors, not victims

Setbacks are a certainty for any business, and when they strike, the resilient entrepreneur gets up, dusts himself off and moves forward. They have little time for self-pity, and while they may be quick to apportion blame, the focus is on the action needed to get going again.

5. They learn from setbacks

Like everyone else, resilient entrepreneurs do their best to avoid setbacks, but when they come, they tend to handle it with an unusually open mind. If any time is spent ruminating on the plan that didn’t work out, their thoughts would revolve around what in their business – and in themselves – needs to improve in order to avoid a repeat.

Also, the new set of circumstances following a setback is viewed entrepreneurially – what new business opportunities does it present? Is this a chance to change direction and find new markets and income streams?

6. They are frugal

Flashy high-flyers usually don’t last long in the world of owner-managed businesses. Resilient entrepreneurs tend to adopt low-key lifestyles. They save and cut costs where they can, but they do so sensibly without choking the growth of their business.

7. They are cash-flow conscious

The frugality of resilient entrepreneurs is linked to their tendency to keep the cash flow through their business top of mind. They are no bean counters, but they are aware of who owes them money, when they can expect it to come in, how much they owe and to whom and how far they are off their break-even sales target.

8. They see the big picture

It is easy for anyone running a business to get lost and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, systems, tasks and crises that shout out for the attention of the business owner. And when a setback strikes, the close focus of the entrepreneur on the immediate crisis can make it seem bigger than it really is.

In contrast, a resilient entrepreneur has the ability to see the bigger picture amid all the chaos of running a business. They have a clear picture of where the business will be in a year’s time, or even three, five or ten years’ time. It helps them to prioritise, to keep the ship sailing in more or less the right direction, and also to remain emotionally resilient against temporary setbacks.

9. They pay attention to detail

Paradoxically, entrepreneurs who survive also have the ability to focus on the minutiae of the day-to-day running of the business, even as they keep a constant eye on their long-term goal. They check and recheck prices, costing, supplier arrangements, contracts, insurance premiums, staff performance, production systems and all of the innumerable things that could stand in the way of reaching the finish line.

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