Mark Ford

From Mark Ford, editor, Creating Wealth: What are the most common characteristics of the successful entrepreneur?

In If You’re Clueless About Starting Your Own Business, Seth Godin identifies seven:

  1. A positive, committed attitude so you can stick with your plan through “change, insecurity, and indecision”
  2. A natural love of challenge so you’ll have the energy and enthusiasm to handle the demands you’ll face
  3. The ability to manage a lot of stress and work at a high energy level
  4. The willingness to take responsibility
  5. A preference for being in charge rather than following orders
  6. A sense of excitement and urgency about growth and change
  7. The ability to sell yourself and your business.

When I first read the book, I immediately identified with three of these: the willingness to take responsibility, a preference for being in charge, and a sense of urgency about growth and change.

But I wasn’t sure about the other four.

A positive, committed attitude? Well, sometimes… on a good day. A natural love of challenge? Only when I feel confident I’m up for it.

And the ability to sell myself? No way.

So maybe I’d made a mistake becoming an entrepreneur.

Maybe I should’ve been an accountant… or a lawyer… or a sculptor. (I plan to do some sculpting if and when I ever “retire.”)

But I didn’t have to ponder long… Seth kindly provided a 25-question self-assessment so readers can see if they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

I took it, hoping for a high score.

I scored a 79. According to Godin, here’s what my 79 means:

You possess some entrepreneurial traits, but probably not to the degree necessary to buck the daunting odds. If your score on the last 15 questions was 15 or below [which mine was], your risk is even greater. Keep working for someone else.

Keep working for someone else?

I’d given that up 30 years ago. And I’d gone on to start—or to help start—dozens of multimillion-dollar businesses, two of which exceeded the $100 million mark.

  What’s a guy like me supposed to do?

A colleague of mine—the guy who recommended Godin’s book—scored very well on the test. And he is, indeed, a confident risk taker. But he hasn’t been able to build a business that lasts. He starts one, and because he’s smart and aggressive, it works well… for a time. Then it falls apart.

While I admire my friend’s courage, I see his capacity for risk as a deficit, not an asset.

In all other ways, he has what it takes: He’s knowledgeable. He’s responsible. And he has good management skills.

But he jumps whole-hog into every new idea he comes up with—and that’s his undoing.

I like Seth Godin’s books. He’s smart and makes smart observations. But I do sometimes feel he’s a reporter on business, looking at it from the outside in. To really understand anything, you can’t do that. You have to have experience. You have to know it from the inside out.

I wrote a book on my philosophy of entrepreneurship—or rather, the approach that worked for me. The Reluctant Entrepreneur presents a different point of view:

The safest—and surest—way to create a successful business isn’t to come up with a brand-new idea and put all your money into it. It’s to start out slow.

Develop your sources, contacts, and business plan first. And keep your day job until the new business is making so much money, you no longer need the salary.

Entrepreneurship isn’t rocket science. Nor is it divine or magical. And it certainly isn’t a roll of the dice. Instead, it takes careful planning and determination. Caution, rather than risk, is wise in business.

Cautious entrepreneurs aren’t the ones we hear about. We love to hear good stories about risk takers who gambled everything and came out winning.

The truth is most gamblers fail. Over and over again.

Winning entrepreneurship is not rash. It’s reluctant and careful.

If you’re wondering if you can become my kind of entrepreneur, I’ve prepared a different test.

How many of the following statements do you agree with?

  • I don’t like to risk my money. Not at all.
  • I would never think of quitting my job and risking my life savings.
  • I like the idea of being my own boss, but I’m not sure I’d be good at it.
  • I’m willing to take responsibility for my actions—but I still don’t want anyone to find out about my mistakes.
  • I sometimes have good ideas, but I often have no idea what to do.

How’d you do?

If you agreed with most of those statements, you’re a reluctant entrepreneur at heart.

Like me.

And I hereby invite you to join our ranks.