Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. Today I am taking a crack at some entrepreneur questions from Quora and my first question is:
How can I become a successful entrepreneur? I like these questions because we have to define what it is that makes someone successful. I understand that some people will have their own definition and also there’s a societal definition of what success is. A definition I really like is from Earl Nightingale, and his definition of success is someone who is progressively realising a worthy ideal. I don’t mind the worthy goal there, so if you’re progressively realising a worthy goal then that is what will make you successful. If we apply that to the question, then what you need to do in order to become a successful entrepreneur is to set your goal, (what it is that you’re trying to achieve), have a plan for achieving it, whether that be expertise, a business or multiple businesses which are in a particular field of a particular size, and then all you have to do is start progressively working towards that and that will make you a successful entrepreneur. There are some skills which are going to help you achieve that goal but that can be part of your plan. I think that is the best answer for that question.
Does getting an MBA or a degree make someone a better entrepreneur? I don’t think you need qualifications to be an entrepreneur but I do think that you need skills and expertise. And if an MBA or degree or qualification helps you acquire those skills or that expertise, then yes, it will help you become a better entrepreneur. But at the same time, if there are other ways of getting that expertise, then that is just as good an alternative. So, qualifications are not required to be an entrepreneur but skills and expertise are, and if you have a way of getting taught that expertise via a qualification then yes, it will make you a better entrepreneur. It’s a way of becoming a better entrepreneur, not the only way.
What books should entrepreneurs read? I think that it should be an ongoing process to read books if you want to be a successful entrepreneur. I don’t think it should be to the degree that you’re neglecting to implement that information. Some people take it so far that basically, all they’re doing is reading, but I do think that you should spend some time to become better through educating yourself. Some of the best books, in my opinion, are The E-Myth if you want to be an entrepreneur, I think that’s a great book. There’s a chapter on perseverance within Think and Grow Rich which I think is highly worth a read. I would read any book that you can get your hands on from Dan Kennedy if you have an interest in marketing. If you’re doing Google Ads then I have a book called The No-nonsense Google Ads Book which you can find at ethicalmarketingservice.com, but I would stress the importance of you’re never going to be finished so you need to continually learn as an entrepreneur. Things are always changing and so I would make it a habit to do it and not necessarily something that’s once you read a certain number of books then you’re going to be done with reading. I would always be continually looking for new information that you can apply to your business.
What are the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur? There are some commonalities which you could apply or you could notice between certain entrepreneurs. I think that businesses within different industries, they do require different skills. If you’re in a tech business, for example, then the skills that are required are going to be highly technical versus if you’re an entrepreneur in a business that doesn’t have much tech, then that’s not a skill that you’ll need. But in terms of characteristics of entrepreneurs, there are some that I can list one of which I’ve mentioned in previous questions regarding billionaires and that is, they have the ability to act (taking action), when the outcome is unknown. Often people get stuck, they don’t know what to do if you’re not really too sure what the outcome will be and entrepreneurs and billionaires don’t have that problem. They’ll take the action anyway, they will get the outcome, they’ll take it as feedback and then they’ll adjust their approach to get the result they want, that is a characteristic that you can use. Another one is perseverance. There are a lot of people on the internet who talk about failure and it’s very different to actually apply the principles of failure as feedback than it is to talk about it because when you’re trying to do something and you’re constantly getting obstacles thrown in your way and things are going wrong, you really need to apply that knowledge. But if you really take on the principle that is, whenever things are not working for you, you’re one step closer to getting towards whatever outcome that you’re after. Failure is feedback or failing forward, just means that you’re getting things wrong in order to eventually get towards your outcome and it is a part of the process. So, that’s another characteristic that I would apply to the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur. I think being a good communicator is very important and leadership. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur you will most likely be the head of the company or the owner of the company or running it or running multiple businesses, and that means that you’ll be leading people and so leadership, being a great leader, is something that is another skill. I wouldn’t say that those are the only skills, but I think that there is some crossover and those are some of the skills that you need to be a successful entrepreneur.
What is the dark side of being an entrepreneur? I’m not certain that I understand the definition of the dark side. It just makes me think of Star Wars. I would say that there are some negative aspects to being an entrepreneur or being entrepreneurial, and that is it’s highly stressful at times, it’s very difficult to switch off. The separation – sometimes referred to as work-life balance – so you go in, you do your work, and then when you go home, you’re not working anymore, that doesn’t really exist for entrepreneurs because they’re the person that’s responsible for everything. And so, not only can it be highly stressful but you don’t really get much of a balance at all. If you have cash flow issues within your business then often it can be the case that you’re personally putting money into the company in order to make sure that the business keeps going. I’ve heard plenty of stories about businesses that have needed capital from the directors or the owners, and so if you’re the owner and the business has a bill to pay but it doesn’t have the money to pay it and, let’s say in this example, you can’t borrow, then you’re responsible to pay that out of your own pocket. And coming back to what I said about borrowing money, there are also directors’ guarantees which are often needed, so if you’re borrowing money on behalf of the company, if for some reason the company can’t pay that, then you are obliged to pay it. So, those are some of the challenges of being an entrepreneur. Perhaps you can let me know what you mean by the dark side if I haven’t answered the question.
How hard is it to be an entrepreneur? if you’re working over one hundred-hour weeks, for example, the way to think of it is that you’ve pretty much got three jobs. If you think about how that would be, so most people have one job, some people have two, but you’re actually doing the hours of three people’s jobs. Now, also you can add into that the responsibility that an entrepreneur has for everyone else, so not only do you have three jobs but you’re 100% responsible for everything that goes on in that business. That gives you an idea of how hard it is to be an entrepreneur. And then also some of the things that I’ve previously mentioned which were, you don’t really have much of a work-life balance. You’re always working because you’re not paid for the hours, you’re paid for the success of the business. Often, entrepreneurs have no holidays, or if they do go on holiday, they often take their work with them, and you can often be financially responsible for that business even when the business is losing money.
How do you define an entrepreneur? I did a previous question which was, what’s the difference between a business owner and an entrepreneur? And some people came up with some really good definitions of what an entrepreneur is. I still stick to my original answer which was, a business owner is someone who starts a business or buys a business for that matter, and they have no intention of going into any other business. An example is, I started a business on digital marketing, and if I’m a business owner all I want to do is stay in my digital marketing business. If I’m an entrepreneur, I might have a digital marketing agency but over time I will also go to virtual assistants for businesses, I might also have some courses, I might be doing a podcast, I might also consider IT support as a viable business. Basically, you’re continually solving problems for people regardless of the business that you happened to start originally. And the example that I used for this was Richard Branson because Branson’s been in all sorts of businesses with his brand Virgin, and a lot of them had no relationship to one another. That is how I define an entrepreneur.
How do entrepreneurs think as compared to non-entrepreneurs? What springs to mind with this particular question is attitude to risk. I think most people do have business ideas. I’ve spoken to plenty of people who are not business owners, they’re not entrepreneurs, but they have good ideas. They don’t tend to implement them because of the risk involved. Whereas, if you take an entrepreneur, if they have a business idea, the risk that goes along with that doesn’t tend to stop them. And so, they’re quite willing to take action on a particular idea because whilst they may recognise that there is risk, they’re not going to let that stop them from taking the action. Now, there may be some other ones about perhaps work ethic because if you’re an entrepreneur without work ethic, if you’ve got capital and if you’re willing to delegate, hire people, to do the work that you’re not going to do, then that can be a way around it. But typically, entrepreneurs are willing to work extremely hard in order to achieve the goal that they have set themselves. That being said, I think there are some employees who are extremely hardworking. So, the answer I would go with in this instance is the attitude to risk. The reason why most people stay in employment because of 50% businesses fail within the first year. It’s completely understandable why you wouldn’t want to take that risk, and as I understand it, after the first five years, I think it is, about 90% of businesses have failed. So, it’s not even if you get past the first few years then it becomes easy for you, the risk is very high that it’s not going to work out, and so somewhat it’s logical to be an employee but as an entrepreneur, your attitude to risk isn’t quite the same.
What should all first-time entrepreneurs know before starting their very first business? There are lots of ways that I could answer this question, but the one which I tend to always go with is, you have to know how you are going to acquire your client. Sometimes it is the case that people will go into business but they won’t know how to get the client, and I’ve spoken to people, many, many clients, who start their website thinking that if they have their website then they will get clients. But the analogy is opening a shop but having it in the countryside somewhere. Basically, no-one’s going to find your shop unless you decide to drive them there. In this instance, if you create a website, no-one’s going to find your website unless you are able to acquire clients or send clients to that website who then will be your customer. And so, the one thing which I would stress the most for first-time entrepreneurs is, how are you going to get clients for your business? Now, the delivery of that product or service is always important and it almost goes without saying that you need to be able to deliver on what you are selling, but the skill which most entrepreneurs, most businesses, struggle with is actually acquiring the client in the first place. And if you can acquire that client, if you can get clients at will, then you can work on all the rest of the things. So, you can make your product better, you can make the delivery of it better, you can improve it, you can work on your team, you can work on hiring the right people, but all of that other stuff is not really needed until you get your sale until you get the client who’s willing to give you that money. So, that’s the one thing that I would say entrepreneurs need to know before starting their very first business.
Why do you want to become an entrepreneur? I never really set out to be an entrepreneur. There was a skill that I had which was at the time search engine marketing, and I was willing to take the risk of maybe I will leave my job and maybe I’ll fail and I won’t be able to succeed in business but I was willing to find out. And the reason why I wanted to find out was because there’s an element of freedom in being an entrepreneur, that’s one of the benefits. There’s a phrase which says, the great thing about being a business owner is that you’re your own boss, and the awful thing about being a business owner is that you’re your own boss, meaning that depending on who you are you could be really, really lenient with yourself or extremely hard on yourself. And the other reason was because I had a problem with authority. I didn’t want to be told what to do, I just wanted to do it. And I didn’t really care about being labelled as an entrepreneur but those things were important to me, so I was willing to take the risk.
What stops us from becoming an entrepreneur? At the risk of it being a bit of a cliché, I think it’s true to say that most people are stopped from becoming an entrepreneur because of fear. If you knew in advance that it was going to work out for you, you were going to start your business, you were going to become an entrepreneur, start multiple businesses and it was all going to work out fine, then there wouldn’t be anything stopping you. The reason why most people don’t become an entrepreneur is because they don’t know whether it’s going to work out and they don’t like the idea of failure. I’ve said before, it is a logical position to take because most businesses fail, and so if you’re not willing to take that risk then it’s logical to be an employee. If you are willing to take that risk and you’re willing to persevere even though it might be painful, even though you might struggle, then most people will go ahead and they’ll take that risk. But in summary, the answer to that question, what stops most people from becoming an entrepreneur, is fear of failure and also their existing responsibilities that they have. Because if it is the case that you have responsibilities and you’re not willing to, let’s say, default on them, let’s say you’ve got a mortgage and you’re not willing to take the risk that maybe your income disappears and you can’t keep up payments on your mortgage, you’re not willing to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. I think that in some instances it’s perfectly logical to not want to become an entrepreneur because of the risk involved.
What is the single biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when starting up? This is somewhat similar to the question – what should all first-time entrepreneurs know before starting their very first business? – because my answer is essentially the same. The biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make is not having an emphasis or not knowing how to do sales and marketing because that’s going to give the business the revenue it needs. Now, you can outsource that activity but you’re going to need capital to do that. If you have capital maybe you don’t need to know how to do it yourself because you can pay someone to. If you don’t have capital and you don’t know how to do sales and marketing, then I would imagine in that instance most people will not make a successful business if they don’t have money to keep them going or hire people and they don’t know how to get clients. For me, that’s a bit of a recipe for failure.
Is it worth it to be an entrepreneur? I think this comes back to what your reason why is. As I’ve said before, a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche is, the person who has the right why can bear any how. So, really what you’re asking is, is my reason why worth it? And the reason why will vary from person to person. But if your reason why is to, let’s say, put your children through private school which will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, what you’ll be asking is, is it worth it to put my children through private school? Now, if you happen to think that that is a very worthy endeavour, then you’ve answered your own question because you’re saying it is worth it because all of that hard work is going to give me the goal I want. In my instance, my reason why is to create as many jobs as I possibly can and for every person that has a job who otherwise wouldn’t have done, for every job that’s created, it’s an easy yes for me, so yes, it is 100% worth it.
What are your suggestions to young entrepreneurs? My suggestions are to invest either time or money in themselves. There’s a quote which says something along the lines of when you invest in yourself that pays the highest return and for every time you learn something and for every time you get better as an individual, you’ll do better. You’ll be able to use that most likely. There’s a quote which says, in order to do better you need to be better. If you continually invest in yourself then it’ll do a couple of things. It will get you better results within your business and it will make you proud of who you become. And there is also a phrase which says something along the lines of, people aren’t happy with what they get, they’re happy with who they become. So, that is my advice to young entrepreneurs.
I want to be a wealthy entrepreneur and make an impact in the world. What should I do? You should define what wealthy means, meaning how will you know when you’re wealthy? So, is it a certain amount of money? Is it a certain amount of net worth in a particular business? And so basically, you’ll then know whether you’re a wealthy entrepreneur or not because most likely there tends to be something which people do where they don’t know whether they’re successful or not, and it’s always this thing which escapes you. If you set out to earn a certain amount of money or have a certain amount of savings or have a business which is worth a certain amount of money, then you can say I am now a wealthy entrepreneur. In terms of making an impact, that’s very subjective. My way of making an impact is through the creation of jobs and that’s very fulfilling to me. When you get super-wealthy, like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, they tend to be highly interested in philanthropy. So, do you want to give away billions of pounds or dollars to charity in order to make an impact in the world? If that’s the case, then you just again need to know well, how much do you want to give away and who do you want to give it to, which charities do you want to give it to? If that’s something that you’re interested in, then I would read the book The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer because it talks about what kind of impact that you can make through charitable giving and the reasons why you should.
What should be the mindset of a first-time entrepreneur? I could spend a long time talking about mindset, so I will give you a few points that you could potentially use. First is, no excuses. When you become an entrepreneur there isn’t anyone that you could make excuses to. When I was an employee, I didn’t typically want to make a lot of excuses, but an example of the no-excuses mentality or mindset is sick leave. As an employee, I had taken sick leave before but as an entrepreneur, if I decide to take sick leave, there’s no one to cover for me. If I’m trying to achieve a certain outcome and I decide to, let’s say, just take the day off, let’s say I want to just shut off my email, shut off my computer, and I’m just not going to answer someone or I’m not going to get the job done that I need. Well, the chances of you doing that, if you do decide to take that mentality, I’m sure you could do it once or twice and perhaps there won’t be any significant problems with doing that but eventually, that’s going to catch up to you. Let’s say you lose a client over it and let’s say you are trying to deliver on a particular project and you just decide that well, I’m not feeling very well so I just won’t bother doing it. What that means is that you’re not going to achieve what you want to achieve, and so really you need to have a no-excuses mentality, which means there is nothing that you can say where it’s going to be okay for you to say well, I just won’t do that then or I’ll let some obstacle get in my way. Basically, you have to say I’m going to continue until I get the outcome I want and it really doesn’t matter what happens, it doesn’t matter what gets in my way, I’m going to find a way around it. There is no valid excuse that you can make. You always need to be continually learning because things are changing so quickly at the moment. So, if you’re doing the same thing that you were five years ago, then most likely you’ve fallen behind the curve and it’s up to you to stay current. No-one’s going to come along and help you, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re continually learning and falling behind because your competition is going to be trying to take customers. They’re going to be trying to outperform you. They’re going to be doing everything they can as often as they can to try and beat you. And so, you have to be continually learning to be the best possible version of yourself that you can be.
What should entrepreneurs never do? Never is a long time. One thing that springs to mind is there is a principle which I would apply to this question, and that is the more you ignore a business problem the bigger it gets. So, I wouldn’t necessarily say never, but quite often you shouldn’t avoid a problem. The longer you avoid a problem the bigger it gets, and the more you confront a problem or attempt to deal with a problem then the smaller it gets. And so, the more you, kind of, have that voice in the back of your mind where it’s that’s not as good as it could be or that could be better, you really need to get on those problems and continually solve problems for your business because if you don’t deal with it now then it’s going to be worse later on down the line.
Is 40 too old to become an entrepreneur? No. There’s a story about when KFC was created – if you’re interested in those types of stories you should look it up – and if I’m not mistaken, I think KFC was created by a guy at the age of 65. And if you look at the success of that business and when most people are retiring right now, a lot of the great businesses are started at the end quote/unquote of people’s careers. So, 40 is not too old to become an entrepreneur. I would not focus so much on age and I would focus more on skills and also perseverance.
What are common misconceptions of being an entrepreneur? There is a misconception on the internet of what an entrepreneur is, and it’s normally being presented by someone who’s trying to sell a course. So, the course will say, are you trying to be an entrepreneur? I’ve got this course and this free training, or whatever, and my business idea means that you don’t have to have any skills, you don’t have to have any qualifications, you don’t have to hire any staff, all you do is something very easy and then your business will be seven figures. And obviously, they try and pitch it – they try and convince a little bit better than that but that’s the gist of it. Basically, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be able to work extremely hard and there’s no getting around that. An example of someone who works extremely hard is Elon Musk. So, one of the most successful entrepreneurs that there is right now, he’s CEO of two big companies and he’s working extremely hard. And if you think that you can be an entrepreneur and not work extremely hard, then I think that will eventually catch up with you because all it means is that someone else who’s in that industry also who is willing to work extremely hard will eventually overtake you.
How can an introvert become an entrepreneur? I don’t know this to be certain but I believe it to be true which is, a lot of the entrepreneurs are introverts. I would put a definition on introvert and extrovert here because I want to make sure that we’re on the same page about what it is that we’re talking about. The definitions that resonated with me around introvert and extrovert is, an extrovert is energised by socialising and being in large groups of people, and an introvert that’s draining for them. So, introverts like time on their own. It means that they get to recharge their batteries. And an extrovert really does like to be around other people that energises them. And from what I understand, most of the successful entrepreneurs are introverts, and I think the type of entrepreneur these days has come from tech companies. And you can do an awful lot of work on your own on a computer, so Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, they’re introverts and they’re programmers. So, you can do an awful lot of work on your own and therefore there are a lot of people at the moment who are entrepreneurs who are introverted. To summarise the question, there are plenty of instances of introverts being entrepreneurs, but I would play to your strengths. I wouldn’t go into a business which is a people business. There are some businesses which require a lot of person-to-person contact or networking, and if you’re an introvert you’re not going to be that suited to that. And the opposite also applies, so if you’re an extrovert you don’t want to be going into a business which requires you to spend a lot of time on your own.
Why doesn’t everyone become an entrepreneur? I think the easiest way to answer that question is just to cite the statistics again. So, in the first year 50% of businesses fail, and then something along the lines of after five to seven years 90% of those businesses have failed. So, the vast majority of businesses do fail. Whilst I don’t think that it is 100% true that all people look for is security, I do think that there is an element of consistency that people look for. And if you’re an entrepreneur then you can have ups and downs within one month let alone five to seven years. So, that is the reason why everyone doesn’t become an entrepreneur. It’s not for everyone and I don’t think it should be for everyone. I think people have priorities. You should choose what you want to be based on what your priorities are.
What is the best advice for struggling entrepreneurs? I think it’s important to know whether you’re in a business which is within an industry, which is expanding or it’s contracting. There are some things individually that I think you should do but at the same time if you’re in a dying industry then basically there’s very little you can do about that. I would know whether you’re in an industry which is expanding or contracting. I would always be looking to innovate. There’s a phrase which says, where will my business be in ten years? You see if you can make that within the next six months, so you’re always innovating. I would focus on systemising as much as you can do, and The E Myth is a good book for that. And I would also focus on sales and marketing as much as you can because as I have said, without a client you don’t have the revenue for your business.
I hope that’s been of value to you and you can apply some of the information shared. If you do need some help with your business you can visit us at ethicalmarketingservice.com and I’ll speak to you soon.