A unique business idea isn't all you'll need to become an entrepreneur. Learn more about the entrepreneurial characteristics you'll need to succeed

An entrepreneur can be defined as a person who devises, sets up and runs a new business or businesses. Successful, well-known entrepreneurs include Mark Zuckerberg, Lord Alan Sugar, Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson. Famous female entrepreneurs include Karren Brady, Sara Blakely, Arianna Huffington, Huda Kattan and Justine Roberts.

What's the difference between an entrepreneur and a small business owner?

While all entrepreneurs are self-employed, not all self-employed individuals are entrepreneurs - some are better categorised as small business owners.

There are differences between the two. Entrepreneurs typically:

  • devise untested ideas
  • make high-risk decisions that have a potentially significant long-term impact
  • delegate management to experts, meaning that the company can easily continue to function without the entrepreneur's input if and when they move on
  • aim to generate buyer interest in their business.

In contrast, small business owners typically:

  • solve existing and sometimes obvious local problems
  • make low-risk decisions that ensure short-term security
  • manage their employees closely, meaning that the company may struggle to function without the small business owner's input
  • have little or no intention of ever selling their business.

How do entrepreneurs think of new ideas?

Entrepreneurs' ideas often grow from their qualifications, skills, interests, or personal circumstances, and are usually formed in response to an unmissable market opportunity.

However, while all entrepreneurs require an inventive mind to identify trends and possibilities, not all entrepreneurs create completely new products. Similarly, a product's inventor may work alongside an entrepreneurial individual who can help to market their product and create a successful business.

If entrepreneurship appeals to you but inspiration is yet to strike, start by conducting some market research in your area of interest. Try to identify any gaps - is there space for a new product or a need for a new service? Networking can also provide inspiration. Join relevant industry organisations and attend events to meet like-mined people and engage with industry leaders.

What are the main characteristics of an entrepreneur?

While five skills to succeed in business (creativity, knowledge, leadership, organisation and self-belief) are further discussed in is self-employment right for you?, you'll need a specific set of skills to be a successful entrepreneur.

You'll need to be:

  • Decisive - Entrepreneurs are confident self-starters with the resilience to overcome any problems and the belief that they'll learn from any mistakes they make.
  • Innovative - Always looking to create better products or services, entrepreneurs continually strive to reinvent their business.
  • Flexible - Most entrepreneurs initially assume multiple functions within their business, in areas including sales, recruitment and product development.
  • Passionate - A genuine love for their product or service, not to mention their customers, is essential.
  • Resourceful - A successful entrepreneur knows how to work with what they've got and utilise the resources they have. They also know how to create opportunities.
  • Results-orientated - Continually seeking to raise the bar, entrepreneurs don't simply achieve their targets.
  • Risk-taking - Prepared to take calculated risks, but never reckless ones, entrepreneurs characteristically sacrifice short-term income to maximise long-term gain.
  • Persistent - Not every idea or business venture will be a success, but the best entrepreneurs have the resilience to pick themselves up after a failure and the perseverance and tenacity to keep going.
  • Visionary - Entrepreneurs don't simply dream big. Their actions turn ideas into reality, and they're savvy enough to identify future business opportunities.

As well as possessing these entrepreneurial skills, you'll also need to be wise enough to ensure that any shortcomings you possess are compensated for. This usually requires recruiting other individuals and the ability to attract external support.

How do entrepreneurs finance new ventures?

Even the smallest enterprise requires huge effort and dedication. Entrepreneurs often work extremely long hours initially, spending as much time on their plans as possible.

As described in how to start a business, funding possibilities for start-up businesses do exist. However, in order to get this support you'll need to first complete plenty of market research and write a successful business plan. Indeed, the majority of entrepreneurs self-fund most of their initial costs, usually through their savings.

However, entrepreneurs can take several financial shortcuts. For example, many ventures begin at home rather than in business premises - and cash flow can become a big problem once the organisation outgrows the home working environment. At this point, expenditure may well temporarily outweigh income.

How do I become an entrepreneur?

If you have an original idea and the business mind to get your venture off the ground, formal qualifications aren't necessary. However, if you'd like to learn more about entrepreneurship there are several courses on offer.

For example, the University of Southampton offers a BSc Business Entrepreneurship course, while De Montfort University runs a BA in Business Entrepreneurship and Innovation. A number of Masters courses are available, covering a range of specialisms. For instance, MSc International Business with Entrepreneurship at the University of Huddersfield and Communication Technology and Entrepreneurship at Cardiff University. Search postgraduate entrepreneurship courses.

Short courses are also available with providers such as FutureLearn, The Open University, London School of Economics and University of the Arts London.

While entrepreneurship courses expand your knowledge as well as your networks, they can only take you so far. To become a successful entrepreneur, you'll also need to:

  • Solve a problem - try not to be over ambitious, you don't need to solve multiple problems. If you identify a lucrative gap in the market, solving one problem will be enough to get your business off the ground.
  • Get the basics right - while a brilliant idea is a great start, it's not enough on its own. Make sure that you've done your research and have a solid business plan.
  • Hire the right team - while an entrepreneur comes up with a unique idea, they rarely pull them off alone. To grow your business, you'll need to hire talented, experienced individuals who know your sector and the market it caters for inside out. Make sure their drive and passion match your own.
  • Deal with rejection - you'll need to be resilient and tenacious when it comes to dealing with rejection. Securing investors takes time and effort so don't be discouraged if you hear the word 'no'. If you believe your idea is a good one, determination is key. If your pitch to secure funding is unsuccessful at first, gather feedback and improve it.
  • Find a mentor - venturing into the world of entrepreneurship and self-employment can be a daunting prospect, especially if you've never done it before. Do some research and reach out to an experienced entrepreneur (ideally one who works in your sector) to ask if they'd be happy to show you the ropes. Having someone you can call or email to ask for advice will prove invaluable.

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