There are myriad books and discussions debating the traits and skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. What are rarely considered, however, are the weird, different and strange elements that people running prosperous companies embody.
Of all the elements you wouldn't expect, here are an essential six. We could call them themes or elements or what-have-you, but they apply to almost all successful entrepreneurs.
1. Not knowing is essential
Experience and knowledge are important to running a business, but naivety can be your best friend when starting out.
Most successful entrepreneurs would never have taken their first steps had they known just how long and hard the journey would be. Building a successful business takes a level of not knowing what's involved when starting.
This element is exclusive to first-time entrepreneurs and allows them a level of mental freedom that can never be relived during latter ventures. Don't take "not knowing" how to start or run a business as a negative held against you. Instead, know this is your one chance to be new to and about the whole process.
Taking calculated risks is essential to creating a new business. If you're constantly imagining the worst before it happens, you risk becoming paralyzed by fear and never making any progress.
2. Stay small, and do big things
Knowing that your business is improving the lives of others can bring your motivation to new heights and the success of your business along with it. Whatever the size of your customer base -- 10 or 10,000 -- making a difference for those customers will give you a huge boost in the happiness you get from what you're doing.
For many entrepreneurs, the realization that they're changing the world, even for a few people, is a major turning point.
As Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing told me in a recent interview for my podcast, when he realized that people’s lives were changed in a significant way because of the services he provided, he felt that was the moment he knew all his hard work was worth it.
It’s not about always building billion-dollar businesses. It’s about changing the lives of the people your business touches.
3. Check your email while still in bed
We assume that successful people follow all the well-worn productivity advice commonly doled out by business consultants, coaches and gurus.
In my experience interviewing more than 100 entrepreneurs, the opposite is true. All successful entrepreneurs have a unique daily routine that works for them, based on their own way of working and living. Beyond that, each of them is confident that they know themselves best, and they set up their days accordingly.
The fact is that, although we've all read and heard we should never check our email first thing in the morning, we all do anyway -- yes, the successful and the not-yet-successful. The act of checking your email is not what keeps you from building a great business, it's the act of checking your email while believing that you shouldn't be.
To be successful, you need to trust yourself and find what works for you -- no matter what the advice of the day tells you to do. Give yourself permission to check your email first thing in the morning.
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Find what works for you, know that what works will change and then do it confidently.
4. Uncertainty is certain
We're all born with a different tolerance for uncertainty, but it's a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. No matter your current tolerance level, you can overcome these feelings with practice. Your business depends on it, so take the time and effort required.
Uncertainty will excite you and make you jump out of bed in the morning to see what's going to happen next. Uncertainty is the forward movement that puts you in the path of other people on the same trajectory toward doing cool things. Uncertainty is required because we don't always know what we need to do next, and this is OK.
If not knowing for certain what the outcome will be stops you in your tracks, you'll not be able to take the necessary risks to build a successful business. We can’t always know what's going to happen, but we have to keep taking steps into the unknown to find out.
5. Not knowing is good
If every misstep plummets you into self-doubt, you have to change the way you look at being wrong.
Success rarely happens in a straight line. Taking wrong turns and making mistakes is something that's bound to happen to everyone. So when it does, be prepared to own it completely, shake it off and move on.
Taking ownership of whatever goes wrong in your business is essential to the process of learning and growing. Once you've accepted your part of what happened, don’t let it become a statement about your own worth or ability. Move on confidently knowing that you can and will do better next time because of what you learned from the experience of being wrong.
6. Work in months
Nothing worth accomplishing happens overnight, and expecting success too soon can burn you out and keep you from your goals. This has been the demise of many would-be entrepreneurs that could’ve gone on to build world-changing businesses.
With the launch of a new product, blog or podcast, many have the false notion that if it's not wildly successful right away, it wasn't a viable idea. When the initial launch isn't the lottery win they were hoping for, they give up and move on to other things. This isn't to say that the launch was a failure -- it's a testament to the need to think longer-term.
Shiny objects can't get in your way when you know for a fact that there's no such thing as instant anything.
To find success and build the businesses that will change your and your customers' lives, you need to plan ahead and work in monthly increments. You then eliminate the temptation to quit too soon and failing to work through the dip.
The harder the dip is to work through, the more rewarding it is on the other side.