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What Makes a Successful Business Owner?

When evaluating if business ownership is right for you, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. While dreaming of being your own boss can feel great, it will likely be more difficult than anything you have done in your career to date — and worth it!

What are the characteristics of a successful business owner?


Successful business owners don’t sit back and assume things will simply fall into place. Instead, they display a high degree of self-motivation, seeking to make things happen themselves. Successful business owners are the ones that go out into the world and look to make change happen, instead of letting change happen to them.

Self-motivation manifests itself when business owners are faced with a challenge and then work relentlessly to solve the problems. You won’t have a boss to tell you how to prioritize your time and attention. Having an internal desire to achieve things on your own is key to any business owner’s success.


Becoming a business owner means you must be completely sure your business has a market and can succeed with your guidance. While you may have friends and family that believe in you, you (and any partners you have) need to have a deeply held confidence your business will be successful.

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, lays out two different ways of thinking: Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset. According to Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe their qualities, such as intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. Saying or thinking things like, “I am just not good at accounting” or “I have never been much of a leader,” are examples of a fixed mindset.

Dweck says that people with a growth mindset believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Seeking to improve accounting skills or taking writing courses to develop a skillset is aligned with having a growth mindset.

In the first few years of business you will be wearing many hats, some of which you have never put on before. If you don’t naturally see an area you are currently weak in as an opportunity to improve, then you might find it difficult to grow your business to a place where you can hire people to overcome your weaknesses.

Acceptance of Risk and Failure

Anyone who leaps into business ownership, depending on how they fund their business, is likely making one of the biggest financial risks of their life. Even beyond overcoming the financial hurdles, entrepreneurs should accept that their ego, pride, and morale may take a hit if things don’t go according to plan and their business fails.

While successful business owners do accept these risks, it’s important to note they don’t just rush in blindly to business ownership. Part of what makes them successful is the research they have put into their concept, market, and industry. This helps them accept the up-front risks and allows for better decision making while running their business. They can focus on success and avoid analysis paralysis.

Competitive Drive and Tenacity

From the moment you open your doors, you’ll be competing for the attention of potential customers, for market share, and with others who want to grow their businesses. For as long your a business owner, you’ll face competition — and this is where tenacity is key.

If you don’t have an internal competitive drive to battle the competition and the tenacity to stay with it, your company’s success could falter. While the competitive drive is important, when it comes to the competition you will also need to be competitive with yourself. You will be making a lot of decisions; some will be brilliant while others will fail miserably. The key will be your drive to stay with it and overcome the missteps you’ll inevitably make from time to time.

Be Decisive and Persuasive

Making important decisions can be difficult. No decision is made in a vacuum, and they can be increasingly difficult to make with the more partners or employees you have. When more people are involved it’s not only about making the decision; it’s about persuading others to be excited by the decision.

Strong, Ethical Leader

As a business owner, all eyes are on you — there’s no one to pass the buck on to. It’s your job to earn respect, trust, and confidence from your employees and then to reciprocate.

At center stage of your company, it’s not only important to be a strong leader but also to make sure you lead with ethics and integrity. While people may be able to take shortcuts and receive temporary gains, you want your business to be sustainable. Acting with integrity makes you a role model and sets the tone for the type of behavior that is important for business success.

Maintain Humbleness

While successful business owners do need to have confidence and believe in themselves, don’t let those traits be confused with ego. The most successful business owners understand that they always have an opportunity to learn. They aren’t afraid to ask for help when they encounter something they don’t know. They are the first one to ask questions and put pride aside because they know any insights gained will outweigh “having all the answers.”

Be Flexible and Open-Minded

While successful business owners have a strong vision for their desired outcomes and the passion for getting there, there are many unknowns along the way. Holding fast and refusing to adjust your plans to achieve your vision is a sure-fire way for your business to go extinct. Like in the animal kingdom, the survival of your business will depend on your willingness to adapt.

Though a larger scale than most business owners will see, Blockbuster’s success and failure is a lesson to learn from. Their failure to adapt to industry disruptors Redbox and Netflix is a demonstration of how had Blockbuster been more open-minded and flexible; they might have been able to shift their business before it was too late.

Vision and Passion

No matter the size or scope of the business you’re interested in, it’s important to have a vision of how you want your business to operate and how you want to serve your customers. Your vision for the business will trickle down to your employees.

Successful business owners have a passion for entrepreneurship and the life it allows them. While the classic advice of “do what you love” is great, as long as you have an immense passion for your vision of success, you’re on the road to finding that success.

Understanding of Basic Business Skills

As a business owner, you should expect to play a role in accounting, marketing, sales, operations, and human resources, all while executing on your vision. Successful business owners know their areas of strength and are grounded with a general understanding of business functions vital to running a successful company.

You don’t need to be an expert in payroll, bookkeeping, or tax preparation because there are companies you can hire to help manage these foundational elements for you. What you do need to ensure is that those things are being taken care of accurately.

Building and Maintaining a Strong Peer Network

You might look at successful business owners and think “They are just naturally good at business,” but if you go ask them how they got to where they are many will tell you stories of mistakes, fumbles, and feeling lost along their journey.

The one thing you’ll hear regularly is they had help along the way. When they needed to learn more about a skill, ran into a challenge, or had to make a difficult decision, they had a strong peer network to turn to. It’s great if you already have one, but for those that don’t, there are groups like Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which helps connect business owners to learn and grow from one another.

Overcoming Fear

Last, but potentially the most important, is the ability to overcome fear. You will consistently have a voice in your head encouraging you to quit. Beyond just accepting risk and failure, successful business owners overcome the voice in their head and manage to control their fears. Courage in the face of fear and self-doubt allows them to keep their eye on the prize and not give up when others might.

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