The most recent Bank of America Small Business Owner Report is filled with lots of interesting information, but to me it all points to one singular trait that any small business owner needs to have if he or she is to be successful. I’ll get to what that trait is in a moment, but some background about what the report found is necessary:
For starters, the report found that economic optimism is down across the board. Compared to last year especially, small business owners are less optimistic about the local, national, or global economies faring well. As we’re in an election year, 2/3 of those surveyed said that they expected the presidential election to impact their business “somewhat” to “a lot.”
That is a lot of uncertainty, and amidst all of this, small business owners are adjusting their growth and hiring plans:
- While almost half said they were planning on hiring new staff last year, that number went down to 22% this year.
So, what does all of this point to? What is that most necessary trait that any small business owner needs to have to be successful? There are many traits that make a successful entrepreneur, for example, initiative. Certainly one requirement of entrepreneurship is that you have an idea and are willing to try it out and see it through. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says, “The only thing worse than starting something and failing, is not starting something.” Initiative is important, but I don’t think it’s the number one trait.
There’s also perseverance. Said none other than Steve Jobs: “I am convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
Maybe it is follow through. Says Guy Kawasaki, “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.”
A lot of people, myself included, think that one central tenant for business success is confidence. It certainly is true that it takes a huge leap of faith and belief in yourself and your abilities to leave the comforts and stability of a job and strike out on your own. As Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right.”
But I am not sure that even confidence is the key to long-term success.
No, especially when I look at stats like those in the Small Business Owner Report, it seems clear to me that if you want to stay in business for the long haul, the one trait that is needed is... flexibility.
How do you go from planning on hiring new staff to not being sure whether the economy and the results of the election will sustain it? By being flexible. How do you deal with the thought that a national election could have ripple effects to your small business? By being flexible. Being flexible means being able to pivot when you lose a big customer or when a competitor steals your marketing strategy. For the small business person, flexibility is confidence and perseverance and follow-through all rolled into one.
And in that vein, I will leave you with one final quote, from the one and only Richard Branson:
“You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn to walk by doing and falling over.”
Getting up, learning a lesson, being flexible, and trying again is what enables the best small business owners to keep walking.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.
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