Small Business Trends Radio

Ten Characteristics Of A Successful Entrepreneur

Below is the transcript of a Small Business Trends Radio Show episode featuring Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege, Hosts of Livin’ The Dream Radio, which was broadcast on December 12, 2006. Sybil and Leo discuss the critical characteristics of the “entrepreneurial mindset” and help you to discover them within yourself.

You can also listen to the show via the audio player at the bottom of the page.

Getting Into The Entrepreneurial Mindset

Ten Characteristics Of A Successful EntrepreneurAnita Campbell: Many people starting a business mistakenly believe the key to success is outside of them. Getting in when the economy is good or just as consumer demand is building, or when some other external condition occurs.

My guests today, however, suggest that the answer really lies inside of us and it is called The Entrepreneurial Mindset. Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege, Co Founders of The Entrepreneur’s Source are my guests today. They will be helping you discover the true entrepreneur within yourself.

Welcome to the show Leo and Sybil! It’s great to have you here.

Leo Wisniewski: Thank you very much.

Sybil Ege: Hi Anita, this is Sybil.

Anita Campbell: Hi!

Sybil Ege: We are very happy to be here.

Anita Campbell: This idea of the Entrepreneurial Mindset, what does it mean to have a mindset like an entrepreneur?

Leo Wisniewski: Well Anita, this is Leo. How this started is exactly how you had mentioned it starting the show. When we work with clients, a lot of times they come to us looking for some factors outside of them, some kind of a silver bullet answer to making their business successful. In working with clients for a number of years, we’ve realized that the opposite is really true.

You certainly need to pay attention to some of those outside factors. A lot of what we have seen, in differentiating successful from, maybe some folks who are not successful, is the folks who understand the internal factors that make you successful. That is the entrepreneurial mindset.

Anita Campbell: If you would, elaborate just a little bit more. What does it mean to actually think like an entrepreneur or have this mindset of an entrepreneur? How do entrepreneurs think compared with other people, say employees?

Sybil Ege: Maybe we should give you some examples. An employee who is dealing with risk versus an entrepreneur that is dealing with risk, will deal with it very differently.

Employees are nervous, perhaps, about their job security. They tend to avoid risk and they tend not to do anything that is going to upset the apple cart. On the other hand, the entrepreneur knows that risk is important if they are going to grow so they will have to experiment and try different things.
They will take calculated risks but they will do far more exploration and they will be willing to be wrong sometimes.

Anita Campbell: Other than just a risk profile, are there other things that differentiate between the entrepreneur and someone who, maybe, is employed by the entrepreneur?

Leo Wisniewski: I would say that risk is the start of it. We wrote in an article about the entrepreneurial mindset, there are two pieces on it, and it’s OK to make mistakes. The follow up steps to that are two things. You need to have confidence that in the end you are going to be successful. You have to have confidence.

One of the things that will give you confidence is the ability to be agile or as we mentioned resourceful. As something comes up that is unexpected, you understand it in proper perspective. You don’t think it is the end of the world and what you do is you will learn from it.

Some people call it “failing faster.” You understand what worked, what didn’t. You make the appropriate adjustments and then you try again.

One of the myths out there about entrepreneurs is that these are wild renegades that are running loose and rush forward and take wild risks. What we have seen is the smart entrepreneurs are ones that take risks in small step increments. If it works – great, they will take it in larger steps. If it doesn’t – they will make adjustments. If it doesn’t work, the risk to their business is manageable. It is small.

Sybil Ege: I’d also add that I think entrepreneurs are very receptive to change. You think about the very small business that has to be very agile and turn on a dime versus corporate America. Some of those companies are very large elephants. It takes them a while to turn things around. Change is welcomed and not shunned. That is a very different mindset.

Anita Campbell: Leo, I would like to go back to something you just said. It was a great sound bite. It is called “failing faster.”

Leo Wisniewski: Right.

Anita Campbell: In essence, if I understand that sound bite, and what you meant by it, you are saying that entrepreneurs actually want to embrace failure because they are going to learn faster as a result of failing at some aspect, but then internalizing the lessons from that.

Is that an accurate description of that phrase?

Leo Wisniewski: That’s exactly right. And unfortunately a lot of times in school you will equate making a mistake with something that is bad and not good. What differentiates the entrepreneur is that they reframe mistakes. They reframe it to understand it’s a life lesson.

What’s critical is it could be devastating if you take a huge risk. That’s the other part of what we try to help people understand. You want to take small incremental steps so that you are more willing to take that leap. When you do, if it doesn’t work out – it’s OK. You are not risking your whole business. You are risking a little bit, learning from it, and adjusting.

Anita Campbell: Interesting. Well Sybil, I understand that a lot of people have preconceived ideas of what it takes to actually be an entrepreneur. Now, you have alluded a little bit to this. If you had to list the top three attributes that most people think you have to have in order to be a success in your business, what would those three things that they think they need, be?

Sybil Ege: Well, I think that they believe:

  • They need to have a particular educational background, for example.
  • They also believe they have to have actual experience in the business, in that industry in particular.
  • And that they need lots of money.

We think that all three of these are a little bit bogus.

Take the first one. I will give you a great example that educational background is not necessary. Look at Bill Gates. He never even finished college.

If you think about previous experience in business, that’s not really true. There are certain types of businesses such as franchising – that’s something that we are very familiar with — you get into a franchise and a franchisor will teach you everything you need to know. You need to bring certain soft skills but you don’t need to understand the details of the industry because that can be taught to you.

Money is another thing. You don’t need thousands and thousands or millions of dollars to start a business. I think Michael Dell started his business as a college student and look at him now. You just have to have some imagination.

And, I think, get outside of your comfort zone and look at opportunities that you have never been exposed to before. That will help you see beyond the limitations that you perceive about getting into business.

Anita Campbell: Very good. Well, we have been talking about the issues and we’ve got about two minutes before we go to a break. I wonder if you could just take a little bit of time and explain what it is that you actually do and how you came upon all this great information that you are giving us today.

Leo Wisniewski: Well, both Sybil and I are business owners in a franchised company called, The Entrepreneur Source. We are a national company. The company has been around for about 22 years. There are 300-plus consultants like us that are across the country. What we do is we specialize in helping folks explore different options for their career.

Most of our clients have never owned a business before. They’re interested in making a change in their career and to be honest, for most folks, they don’t know exactly what they want to get into. That’s really what we specialize in. We provide education about different options they can consider … to really start out from the beginning, to not just look at one direction, look at multiple directions and then guide them through each step of the process.

We provide education. We provide coaching, and, most importantly, I think what differentiates Sybil and I specifically, is both of us own multiple businesses. Both of us bring in real life concrete experience as to what it is like in the trenches, to have your own business.

Anita Campbell: The voice of experience. Speaking of experience, I understand that you also are radio veterans.

Sybil Ege: That’s right. We started our own radio show at the beginning of 2006. Our show is called, “Living The Dream”. It was something that we thought would be a great idea just to expand our marketing capabilities and it has taken on a life of its own. I’m sure you understand how that is, Anita.

Anita Campbell: It is. It sounds like a great resource. Well, stay with us for more with Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege, Co founders of The Entrepreneurial Source. We are talking about what it truly takes to get into the entrepreneurial mindset and the attributes of successful entrepreneurs. So stay with us for a lot more. We will be right back. I’m Anita Campbell.

[commercial break]

Anita Campbell: Well, we are here with Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege and we are discussing what it truly takes to get into the entrepreneurial mindset and the attributes that entrepreneurs have.

Leo and Sybil, you mentioned that you work with a lot of entrepreneurial “wanna-be’s” — people who want to get into a business for the first time. I’m sure you must see concerns that come up over and over — probably people coming to you with the same preconceived ideas. Is that right?

Sybil Ege: Oh, absolutely. There is really a litany of concerns that we hear expressed. For example:

“I’m afraid I am going to go broke;”or

“I am going to go bankrupt if I get into this business;”or

“I don’t have the right skills;”

“I need to be in the same industry that I had been in previously;”and

“I need to be involved with a brand or product that is already out there in the market and has a proven track record.”

A lot of things like that are just obstacles that they almost lay in front of themselves as reasons why they shouldn’t continue. Our job is to help them understand whether those are real or imagined problems.

Anita Campbell: Well, let’s take those and break those down just a little bit if you would.

Sybil Ege: OK.

Anita Campbell: You said, first of all, that people say “I’m afraid I’ll go broke” or “I’ll go bankrupt.” Well, I can relate to that. I think anybody who has been in business can. How do you help people overcome that? I mean what would you actually counsel to people who say “I’m scared of going bankrupt?”

Sybil Ege: OK, I will take that. You have to really plan very carefully if you are going to get into a business. You cannot just say, “I am going to throw in a few dollars and start my business tomorrow.” You have to develop a serious business plan.

You may even need to get funding from an outside source. So, as you compile your financial picture and you do your homework to find out what are all of the costs for everything that you can anticipate in the first three years, at least, of your business; you should have a good sense of whether or not it is going to be a good thing for you to try.

Banks aren’t going to give you the money if you are short on funds, if you don’t have that good solid business plan. Leo, would you like to add something about franchising?

Leo Wisniewski: Well, the things that I was thinking about, one of the things that we have in our consulting practice as well as the show is, a lot of what we do, everything is based on three key premises when you are doing your research.

The first is to find trusted advisers. Don’t try to do it yourself.

The second is to know yourself, which is why and how we developed the Entrepreneurial Mindset. It is not only external factors. Know what you are good at and know the areas where you need help.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, is do your homework so that you can separate these concerns between myths that turn out not to be true and things that are truly the case. These are areas of risks or concerns that you need to develop a mitigation strategy for, that you can figure out how you are going to manage that risk if it happens in your business.

Anita Campbell: If you are dealing with a lot of corporate employees or people from the corporate world who want to go into business, I am sure that their earning capacity is also an issue that comes up, isn’t it?

Sybil Ege: Very much so. There is a tendency for them to feel that it is critical for them to make the same kind of income that they made previously. They need to learn, for example, there are certain advantages they have as a business owner. There are ways to get the same thing for your life or your lifestyle without the same income and it is all very legal.

Anita Campbell: You are talking about tax advantages?

Sybil Ege: Yes, exactly.

Anita Campbell: OK, that’s a very interesting point. I know also that people like to think they have to go into a business without any competition either and competition is all around us, isn’t it?

Leo Wisniewski: Sometimes competition is an indication of a good situation. Typically, there is a lot of demand for that product or service.

Anita Campbell: Yes, very good point. Well, we have another break but we have a very long segment coming up after this break.

We will be back with more from Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege, co founders of The Entrepreneurial Source. We are talking about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. We will be right back. I am Anita Campbell.

[commercial break]

Anita Campbell: Welcome back. We are here with Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege. We are talking about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, truly, and how to look inside yourself and find those attributes that are going to make you stronger.

Well, Leo, Sybil, I’ve got to pop the big question. OK. No, I am not proposing marriage here. Here’s the big question: What do you feel makes an entrepreneur a business success?

Leo Wisniewski: Well, I can take that one. I think, it’s … the reason why I think it is a challenge for folks to get their arms around this, is because I think it is multifaceted. There isn’t — I speak for both of us — one single attribute that makes it a silver bullet.

It really is a combination of things. I think it starts with enthusiasm. Some people call it a passion. Some people call it a love for a particular business. It can be any business. I think Sybil and I share the perspective that what works out best is an enthusiasm, a persistence to be successful in business in general. As opposed to a particular industry or product or service.

Being a little more flexible works well, and so the flexibility, the ability to be open minded and adjust, I think is important. Related to that is the willingness to learn from mistakes and actively seek coaching. That’s a lot of what we do to help clients, even after they are in business. We help them through some of their mistakes or some of their challenges. It’s going to happen.

So it starts with enthusiasm.

It continues on with persistence and willingness to work hard even when it’s tough. I think you need to be calculating. In any of the moves that you make, you need to be careful not to make too big a move too quickly.

You need to be somewhat analytical, the ability to analyze the data, not to get lost in it but the ability to analyze the data and understand what it is that it is telling you. Start through a cycle then, based on that data, feed it in, make adjustments to your program and try another incremental step.

That’s really how we’ve seen it. That’s the thing that helps people overcome some of their risks to understand. It is a series of steps. It is not one big leap where you are leaping all over the Grand Canyon in one step.

Anita Campbell: OK, great. Now you have given me a list of ten things that you say set an entrepreneur apart from an employee. In other words, things that make a person have an entrepreneurial mindset or that actually make up the entrepreneurial mindset. So I would like to walk through this list one by one. Either one of you can take this, whoever feels like you want to tackle the particular issue.

Number one on the list that you gave me is “survival instincts.” What does that mean in the context of being an entrepreneur?

Sybil Ege: Well, when you are an entrepreneur, you have to find a way to really survive beyond the first day. It is not like when you are an employee, if something is wrong somebody else can pick up the slack. You have to be very conscious of doing whatever you can.

It’s almost like running a marathon everyday. You have to be very in tune and focused with what it is you want to accomplish. If you see something that needs adjustment you have to go for it.

We talk about resourcefulness. For example, let’s say you are concerned because you lost your major provider or major supplier. Well, if you are really in survival mode and are really resourceful, you will have thought of that well in advance and already have a backup. That’s what I mean by survival instincts.

Anita Campbell: Great. That’s great advice. Number 2 is “driven to achieve.”

Leo Wisniewski: I’ll take that.

Anita Campbell: What does that mean?

Leo Wisniewski: It is where you have to be prepared to understand there are bumps in the road, some small bumps that will confront you when you have your own business. The folks who have that quality of ”driven to achieve,” they won’t let those bumps stop them.

They will continue to press forward. They will understand its proper context and it will be a great life lesson. It will be a good business lesson. While they are in it, it may require some quick decision, some analysis to determine the course of action. Throughout all of that they have a drive to not give up, to keep going.

Anita Campbell: Number 3 is “a willingness to learn from your mistakes.” Is there really a difference between entrepreneurs and employees when it comes to willingness to learn from your mistakes?

Sybil Ege: Oh, I believe so. The employees don’t want to make mistakes. They want to get their bonus. They want to get their great reviews and get their increases once a year in their salaries.

They are gong to be cautious and careful not to make mistakes. Therefore, they will be less creative about their approach because they want to take the tried and true path. The entrepreneur will be willing to make mistakes. They don’t see that as a problem. To them a mistake is just a lesson yet to be learned.

Anita Campbell: A lesson yet to be learned.

Sybil Ege: That’s right.

Anita Campbell: Number 4 is “risk taking.” I assume you mean calculated risk taking and not somebody who throws all caution to the wind. Is that right?

Leo Wisniewski: Yes, that’s a great point Anita. You’re exactly right. It’s a combination of things. It is small calculated risks but at the same time, both of us, Sybil and I, are very straight forward and provide straight talk about business ownership. At the end of the day, you can’t eliminate all risk.

We have had clients, potential folks that want to work with us, that are looking to get into business and are looking for a guarantee. What’s unique about what Sybil and I do is we will help them understand that business ownership might not be the right direction.

There are no guarantees.

You need to get comfortable with that. You can make the risks smaller but you can’t eliminate them.

Anita Campbell: Number 5 is “persistence.” Is there any magic time frame that if you can just stick it out for a period of time, your business is more likely to be successful? Or is this a continuous ongoing persistence?

Sybil Ege: I think everyone would love to know how long it will take before they become a raving or a raging success, however you want to say it.

Persistence just means that you can’t just try something one or two times, for example. A lot of people need to build a network. They need to call people who have similar customers to see if there is an opportunity to share some information about their customers.

Maybe even do co branding or cross-marketing together. When you are calling somebody new, you know, if you hate doing cold calling and that person isn’t there when you call after the first time or after the second time and you give up. Well, maybe they were just not in their office when you called.

You have to keep calling many, many, many times. That’s what I mean by persistence. Do not assume that the reason somebody is not there when you try to approach them is because they don’t want to talk to you. They just have another life. They have a life of their own. You just have to keep going and not let this get you down.

Anita Campbell: Number 6 is “enthusiasm.” I assume that means that if your heart is not in it, you probably are not good for this business.

Leo Wisniewski: Yeah, that’s right for some folks. A good business is a business they are passionate about. Our perspective is that if you want to be a business owner, not just someone who is self employed, a kind of a comfort zone is a business that you are enthusiastic about, one that you like but maybe that you don’t love.

It’s kind of a counterintuitive thinking. You can see yourself as the overall business owner and not be so caught up in the day to day details of your business which ultimately, from our perspective, that’s what business owners are about. They understand the overall picture, the general direction. They know how to manage, market, promote their business. They don’t get hung up in the day-to-day details like a technician would.

Anita Campbell: You have to have a “passion for being in business not just the passion for the product or service.” That’s number seven.

Sybil Ege: Yes, that’s true. Once in a while we will have somebody, a new client of ours, who is interested in getting into a second or a third business and, as is our customer, we’re always going to say, “What sort of goals do you have?” or “What are your objectives for this business that you want to get into?”

The serial entrepreneur, if you will, will always say, “I am looking for a business that’s going to make money.”

Whereas the first time entrepreneur wanna be is typically saying, “I have got to have a business that I am passionate about. It has to be a product that I love or a service that I really love.”

There is a really strong difference. The business owner, after a while, realizes they are in the business of business and that’s what they have to have the passion about.

Anita Campbell: Number 8 is “not to be a quitter.”

Leo Wisniewski: That’s right. That goes back to the inevitable challenges that you will have in your business. When those things come up you have to find … one thing we haven’t talked about is, what we call trusted advisors. A variation of that is having a good support system around you.

Sometimes you are going to need advisors who will provide you with great content and information. Sometimes you just need some emotional support. You will need that. Don’t try to do this yourself. Try to find a good support system so when those things come, you won’t quit. You will keep going.

Anita Campbell: I want to just go quickly over the final two items because we are running low on time. Number 9 is that “successful entrepreneurs put their customers first.”

Number 10 is they are “willing to market, market and market some more.”

Do you want to say just a few words about those two?

Sybil Ege: Yes, especially about the marketing. I think all small business owners who are getting into it for the first time underestimate the effort that is necessary to get their name out there. Marketing has to be a very big part of their business plan and of their life in that first year or two, in particular, as you are trying to grow your name out there.

And if you don’t put your customers first they are not going to return. So you have to be very customer service oriented.

Anita Campbell: That’s great, great input. Where can people find out more about you on the Web, Leo and Sybil?

Leo Wisniewski: They can go to our website which is It is a great place to get started. You can look at a lot of great information. Listen to our shows, the program archives, look at business listings, and a lot of great information out there.

Anita Campbell: When is your show on?

Leo Wisniewski: Actually, it is Tuesdays from noon to one, Central time, and we’re actually going to be having you on. We are excited about that on January 16th, I think.

Anita Campbell: Yes, I am excited about that as well.

Leo Wisniewski: That will be great.

Anita Campbell: You will have a show later today. I am going to let you go get prepared for your show.

Thank you so much Leo Wisniewski and Sybil Ege, Co founders of The Entrepreneurial Source, for joining me today. It’s been a great show.

That’s all I have time for in this segment. I want to thank you once again for listening. I will be back next week with more insights from a small business expert. Join me again. I am Anita Campbell.

* * * * *

Small Business Trends LLC, 2006

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