The Top Ten Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

From the book: “So you want to be an entrepreneur” by Jon Gillespie-Brown.

There are certain qualities common to many Entrepreneurs. It’s safe to say that most successful Entrepreneurs possess at least some, and probably the majority, of these characteristics. This is not exclusive to entrepreneurship. If you want to be successful in anything you will need a combination of these attributes. You will have to focus on developing the traits that you currently don’t possess if you want to make it.

The thing about being someone extraordinary like you, someone who is pushing boundaries, is that all the usual challenges to a successful outcome become more extreme.

Being an entrepreneur is the severest test of anyone’s “character” and that’s the point. It’s not your skills or your charm or your age/race/color or creed it’s about you and your internal resources.

“Anyone who can face up to decision making can learn to be an entrepreneur and behave entrepreneurially….

Entrepreneurship is a behavior rather than a personality trait. In 30 years I have seen people of most diverse personalities and temperaments perform well in entrepreneurial challenges. Some entrepreneurs are ego-centric and others are painfully correct conformists. Some are fat and some are lean. Some entrepreneurs are worriers and some are relaxed…some have great charm and some have no more personality than a frozen mackerel!”

Peter Drucker


‘Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent.’

Calvin Coolidge

In my opinion, there’s no single quality or trait that’s more important to being a successful entrepreneur. Persistence is what keeps you motivated when things aren’t going the way you thought they would – and they rarely do. The dictionary defines persistence as two words, persistent determination; but I shall increase the list to persistent determination, motivation, and belief.

Determination: Winners implement their ventures with total commitment. They seldom give up, even when confronted by obstacles that seem insurmountable. 

Motivation: You must be willing to keep trying when things go wrong, and accept that, ultimately, it’s up to you to make your dream come true. Motivation enables you to stick with your dream when the going gets rough; it has to come from within you.

Belief: You control your success or failure, and that it is not decided by luck, circumstance, or external events. Successful Entrepreneurs have an enduring belief in themselves that gives them the capacity to recover from serious defeat or disappointment.


‘All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.’

Mark Twain

Together with persistence, you will need to start thinking about your confidence level.   You’ve got to have a good measure of confidence in yourself, but also in other people and in your surroundings. Self-confidence is an essential trait in an Entrepreneur because you’re regularly called upon to perform tasks and make decisions that require great amounts of faith in yourself. You need to have a strong but realistic belief in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals. 

Mark Twain’s seemingly contradictory quote highlights the fact that ‘ignorance‘ actually goes hand-in-hand with confidence for many new Entrepreneurs. They have no fear of the unknown, they just do it. In fact, if they knew what many people did they probably wouldn’t attempt the fantastic feats they do, as so many successful Entrepreneurs have done before them.

Without confidence, it would be very hard to get that first investor to give you a start or to encourage your first staff member to come on board or to sell to the first customer. You will discover that confidence has a bearing on almost all the critical milestones in any ventures’ success.


“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” 

Jonathan Swift

Entrepreneurs have a vision of what the future could be like for them and their businesses. And, more importantly, they have the ability to implement this vision or dream. Most great entrepreneurs have a strong desire to originate an idea or product, to develop something new, to be innovative and to make something happen. They want to imprint their dreams and ideas on a concept in a unique and different way. Often the idea can be pushing a boundary that society or industry has set and it can’t re-invent itself due its long history of operating in a particular way – that’s where a paradigm shift can make you very successful. Richard Branson is a perfect example of someone who is constantly trying to change businesses from music, to airlines to mobile phone and now banking. In each case there was an opportunity to re-invent the business for the benefit of the consumer and as a result he could build a new and flourishing company in an old stagnant market!


‘Hatching an idea is only the beginning of the battle. The foundation for nearly every conspicuous American achievement, organization or institution was laid by the sweat and sacrifice and unconquerable perseverance of some man possessed by an idea he was willing to give his life for, if necessary.  Don’t make the mistake of imagining that an idea, no matter how good, can win its way in the world unless you have grit enough, backbone enough, enthusiasm enough to get behind it and push with all your might.’

Forbes, 1921

This is the part that sets apart those with the dream from those that succeed. It’s great to dream but you then need the ability to execute and turn the idea into reality and on to commercial viability. It’s critical once you believe in an idea that you make the step to some form of action right away in order to start building momentum towards your goals.99% of budding Entrepreneurs fail at this; they talk a good game but do not follow through. Winners decide on a course of action and they implement it as quickly as possible.

Once you do get started, being an Entrepreneur is all about getting things done, usually against the odds. It is about setting goals and exceeding them. Rather than being content with reaching goals, successful Entrepreneurs continue setting new goals to challenge themselves. They don’t procrastinate. They make decisions swiftly and this swiftness is a key factor in their success.


“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

Vince Lombardi 

No ‘ordinary’ amount of action is required to succeed; it requires your total dedication.

This dedication will be a combination of stamina, passion and commitment. A high level of stamina is essential in allowing you to meet the intense demands of running a business along with single-mindedness that will drive you until you reach your goal.

Winners give everything to their business right from its conception, sometimes at considerable cost to their relationships with their friends and families. They work tirelessly and with a tremendous amount of passion. Passion is particularly important for Entrepreneurs because, although rewarding, the process of starting and building a new firm is demanding. Twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks are not uncommon when an Entrepreneur is striving to get a business off the ground.

Of course this dedication must stem from a place of love or it is simply unsustainable. Entrepreneurs must love what they do. It is that love that drives them and gives them the energy to be totally dedicated when the going gets tough.


All the strength and force of man comes from his faith in things unseen. He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions.” 

James Freeman Clarke

Most successful people in general as well as Entrepreneurs have had to take a leap of faith in their venture at some point to avoid defeat. They have to go the extra mile when all else seems lost. A well known and powerful little poem best illustrates this point:

“If you think you are beaten, you are;

If you think you dare not, you don’t;

If you’d like to win, but think you can’t it’s almost a cinch you won’t;

Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man;

But soon or late the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.”

Walter D. Wintle

As an Entrepreneur, there will be many times when you will have to have to demonstrate faith in your idea, your colleagues, your family and yourself. But you will need to go beyond the logical acceptance of the need for faith to actually finding it – it is not a tangible thing. Faith requires that you reflect and consider your position and then continue against all the logical evidence because you believe in your dream.

Do not confuse belief with faith:

“Faith is not belief. Belief is passive. Faith is active”

Edith Hamilton


“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” 

Dwight David Eisenhower

This may seem a less obvious trait in the list but I believe it’s one of the most powerful ways to succeed in the long term.

As the life of an Entrepreneur is a long term game it pays to live your life by strong principles and not to compromise these in order to achieve your goals. “You get what you give” is one of my touchstone phrases and a great mantra to live your life by.

You will have many opportunities take shortcuts along the road to entrepreneurial success but it rarely pays to do so, those that are honest and treat others with respect and fairness will be the ultimate winners. Experience has taught me that people will follow a person with true integrity into the wilderness and beyond, whereas a leader without morals will soon be alone when the money runs out.


“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” 

Bruce Lee

A truly successful Entrepreneur is totally flexible in the achievement of their outcome. They are receptive to change, can adjust perceptions, goals or action based on an assessment of new information.

One of the great benefits of a small or early stage business is the ability to change rapidly, often much faster than the competition. You may have to change your basic idea based on customer feedback. You may have to rethink the way you deliver a product; your go to market strategy; your sales method or one of the many of the other factors that affect success. The people involved in the journey with you will also need to change and adapt with you, the Entrepreneur.

Coupled with adaptability is versatility. You will need to be capable of dealing effectively with many subjects or tasks at the same time along with being able to assume different roles and switch back and forth as required.


“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”

Orison Swett Marden

As an entrepreneur, you will need to be able to face your fears and take action. You will have to overcome countless odds and believe me; it will pay to have nerves of steel. So many people fail when they are required to show their metal. In order to succeed you need to be able to find the internal resources to make the tough decisions along the road.  

Successful Entrepreneurs will often have had to give up their jobs to embark on a new venture. Deciding to risk the unknown, at the expense of a regular salary and benefits such as health insurance, pension plans and paid vacations takes immense courage.

In addition, the prospective entrepreneur frequently has to face friends, family, and maybe a spouse who do not always understand or support his or her desire for self-employment, with all its risk and uncertainty, and its drain on their time, energy, and resources.  With sustained courage and conviction, you’ll be surprised at how often things work out even better than you had ever expected them to.


“Certainly a leader needs a clear vision of the organization and where it is going, but a vision is of little value unless it is shared in a way so as to generate enthusiasm and commitment. Leadership and communication are inseparable.”

Claude Taylor

All of the traits we have discussed in this session would be pretty redundant without the ability to get your message across to all the relevant parties. If you cannot inspire, enthuse, motivate and excite people about your dreams then they will be much harder to achieve.

Excellent communication skills are critical in enabling you to interact well with people of varying personalities and values, many of whom will not necessarily share your passion or motivation. You will need to communicate yourself out of the many roadblocks you will meet along the way, from financing and legal to recruitment to simply helping people ‘get’ your idea. It all requires your ability to communicate effectively.

As such you must also be a consummate sales person. You must be able to use words and explain concepts effectively and persuasively, both verbally and in writing. You also need the ability to present proposals clearly to influence bankers or investors to supply money. Your communication skills will also be called upon in your dealings with employees, to help them understand the exact nature of their job and the results you expect, and also to encourage customers to buy from you.

The candidates most likely to be successful entrepreneurs will have some or all ten of the traits discussed – how do you measure up?

You are not expected to possess a complete and polished set from the outset but, can you see yourself in these characteristics or do you think you could learn them?

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