As of 2018, there were 30 million small businesses in the United States—some firmly established, some with business cards just rolling off the printer. Of these, only a select few will ever make it past the 5-year mark, a crucial milestone for many businesses. The rest will fail.
So what will separate the winners from the losers? Some of it will come down to luck, favorable market conditions, and factors that are simply out of a business owner’s control. But a lot of it will come down to the personality traits and mindsets of the people behind each of these small businesses.
There are millions of small business owners across the nation, and they’re as varied and diverse as the ventures they run. However, the most successful among them will likely share a few of the same winning mindsets, from their ability to be resilient despite the challenges they encounter to their knack for handling rejection and turning it into something positive.
From our perspective, here are the five top mindsets that successful business owners should cultivate.
5 Common Traits of Successful Small Business Owners
1. A passion for making things happen
If you don’t love—or at least like—running a business of your own, you’re going to have a tough time rising to the top. After all, why not just go and work for someone else? It would be way easier than what you’re doing now. Successful small business owners have a passion for their product or service, but they also have a passion for the process of nurturing a business and helping it grow.
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It’s that passion that helps to carry them through unavoidable difficulties like economic downturns, industry-related challenges, and personal hurdles. Maybe that’s why a recent Gallup poll revealed that 84% of small business owners would do it all again if they could. Running your own business isn’t always easy, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you’re going to see the challenges that come up as opportunities to learn and to grow, not as confirmation that you’re a failure. That’s a significant mindset shift.
2. Grit, tenacity, and resilience
While many people will start their own businesses, the majority won’t succeed in the long-term. Markets become saturated, clients don’t turn up, things go wrong and fall apart. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that only about half of businesses survive their first five years, and only about a third last for ten years or more. The companies that are still around after many years aren’t there by accident. They don’t rise to the top because they’ve faced absolutely zero challenges, but because they’ve responded to them with a certain degree of tenacity, grit, and resilience. If you’re a business owner, you’re going to have to persevere despite the obstacles you encounter along the way: and trust us, the road to success is absolutely littered with them.
3. A love of people
Even though small business owners are a mix of introverts and extroverts, they typically share a love of people and genuinely enjoy working with them. It’s no surprise: launching a business means pitching ideas, winning over investors and new customers, making those first few sales, and convincing other talented people to join your team. None of this is possible without classic people skills, which really comes down to caring about the other person and communicating in a way that makes them feel valued and respected.
But being a “people person” isn’t something you’re just born with (or not). You can build your love of people by doing very simple things: Greet them warmly. Use their name often in conversation. Ask about their interests and actually listen to their response. Pay a sincere compliment. Small business owners must be skilled at making those around them feel genuinely cared about. Their willingness to engage with others in this way, in turn, generates a sense of trust, respect, and support for the business itself, whether that comes from potential investors, clients, or employees.
4. The ability to turn rejections into opportunities
Do you know a single small business owner who succeeded at launching a company on the very first try? Probably not. “No” is something small business owners hear a lot as they work to build their dream. But the difference between those who become successful and those who fizzle out early is how they deal with that crucial word—“no”—over and over and over again.
Great small business owners learn early to be resilient despite rejections and disappointments, and even use them to build a stronger business. They know how to turn these things into an opportunity to learn what they can do better, and then build a better version of their business out of those experiences. The successful business owners you hear and read about aren’t the ones who “just got lucky” but those who simply kept trying. Can you imagine if Walt Disney had stopped trying after his first “failed” endeavor? Even he faced rejection, and was actually fired from a newspaper because his boss thought he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”!
5. The willingness to ask for help
Small business owners tend to be do-it-all types, mostly because when you start a business you have to wear many different hats at first. It’s a great strategy—until it isn’t!
While you may be able to “do it all” in the first stages of your business, as you grow you’ll have to turn to others for help. That could mean bringing on your first employee or growing an existing team. It could mean delegating more of what you’ve always done yourself to someone who could do it just as well, or even better than, you. In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration reported a correlation between hiring more employees and greater innovation.
Perhaps it’s because bringing on talented help frees up your time to do more of the things you love—the parts of the job you’re really good at. Hate combing through the numbers? Hire an accountant. Don’t know your way around a color wheel? Bring on a great graphic designer. The more you try to do it all by yourself, the more obvious it will become that you simply can’t. Look at the successful small businesses all around you: they may have started with one person, but then they grew. And in order to thrive, you’ll need to do the same. The first step is always admitting that you need help.
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