You’re ready to be your own boss—check! You’re also passionate about an idea and dying to bring it to life—double check! But before you quit your day job, it should come as no surprise that running your own business can be an overwhelming new challenge. So how do you know if you’ve really got what it takes? There are a few important traits shared by successful entrepreneurs that can help guide you.
These qualities will make a huge difference when it comes to getting your business up and running:
1. You Have an Idea That Fills a Gap
The first step to success is finding a need that isn’t already being filled. When Tim Crossley was freelancing as an audio engineer, he was having trouble finding his footing because there were a lot of people in his field. But after learning how to design recording studios, he recognized that there wasn’t much competition in that niche.
“It seemed like there weren't a lot of people helping people determine how to make their rooms sound better,” says Crossley, a co-founder of Crossley Acoustics, a full-service acoustic design and build firm in Brooklyn. He started to pursue it, turning Crossley Acoustics into one of the few firms that offer the full recording studio experience, from design to construction.
He admits the work isn’t the easiest: “Construction is a difficult business to be in in New York City, but it’s what’s helped us stand out from our competition,” he says. “There are very few companies that do the multitude of work that we do.”
2. You’re Willing to Do All the Things
Many people start their own company because they want to focus on what they love. But as a small business owner, you’re not just doing the thing you want to do; you’re responsible for everything else, too.
“When you’re in charge of the business, you wear all the hats,” says Alison Matheny, founder of BEST, a creative studio based in New York City that handles branding and content creation projects for a variety of products (everything from hotels to skincare). “You’re the bookkeeper, the project manager, the creative director, the website manager, the social poster—you do everything.”
3. You Know When to Call in the Experts
If you don’t want to do everything—or you don’t know how to do everything—you’ll have to expand or outsource. “There’s a point in time when it’s really important to delegate certain jobs, and to bring people on with new ideas,” Matheny says. “That’s a struggle for a lot of entrepreneurs, releasing that control and allowing other people to help you.”
It might also mean investing in tools, such as a program for time tracking or bookkeeping, or website development software. Crossley, for instance, used Squarespace to create and host his company’s website. “Even with a background in design and a handful of experiences with front-end coding, it would have taken me infinitely longer to make a website from scratch, and I never would have been able to achieve the same results,” he says. “And thanks to the SEO features we’ve measured an appreciable uptick in the amount of sales calls we’re getting since having launched our new site.”
4. You’re Able to Evolve
Jack Kneller and his co-founder, Beth Porter, launched organic snack company Sweet Nothings in the summer of 2019. Before their first launch and sales, Kneller and Porter gathered as much feedback as possible on their product and branding, trying dozens of different recipes and rebranding a few times. Even so, they’ve had to adjust their formula along the way.
“It feels like you really only have one shot to do it,” Kneller says. “You go to market being like, ‘This is our final product.’ But already, not even that many months into the business, we’re already tweaking to make it even better, to respond to consumer feedback.”
5. You’re Not Afraid to Put Yourself Out There
Early in the process of creating Sweet Nothings, Kneller and his co-founder were invited to a competition at LinkedIn in which 20 brands pitched hundreds of employees on why their product should be the new snack at the social media firm. “There were big companies there, with beautiful banners and nice sampling spoons,” Kneller says. “We were in our jeans and T-shirts with unbranded cups and no tablecloth. But we won that competition, and that got us a summer contract with LinkedIn.”
That contract helped them vie for other corporate cafeterias, and today Sweet Nothings is stocked in Apple’s headquarters, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Levi Strauss & Co., Athleta, and Twitter New York. Putting yourself out there pays off, and that means starting with a great website design to help shape your brand image and first impression to potential clients.
6. You’re Ready to Work Hard
It’s easy to romanticize being an entrepreneur. Although it’s incredible and empowering work, it’s also exhausting. “It’s really hard,” Kneller says. “It’s hard emotionally, it’s hard with friendships and relationships. We spend a lot of our waking hours thinking about work, talking about work, working on work.”
While it’s one thing to hear this from others—and people told Kneller this before he started Sweet Nothings with Porter—he still wasn’t fully cognizant of the toll it would take. “At first, I was go, go, go,” he says. “Now I’m trying to be more holistic with my physical and mental health, carving out time to work out and cook for myself.”
Don’t forget—running your own business often means there are no set working hours. You’re essentially on call 24/7, which means that holding the line between work time and down time also falls on your shoulders.
From maintaining a healthy work/life balance to knowing how to take risks, the fundamentals are now in your toolkit—you’re ready! Start sketching out your idea and don’t be afraid to ask the experts for input along the way.