35 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

Author: Tim Berry

Tim Berry

Tim Berry

6 min. read

Updated October 25, 2023

A while back, I wrote an article called 10 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs on my Planning Startups Stories blog. So, I wasn’t happy to see an article entitled 25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs on Entrepreneur. I came up with 10, and now Entrepreneur has 25? Harrumph.

Of course, it’s all in good fun. Thinking about it, the list is pretty damn good (my compliments to James Stephenson, its author). There’s nothing wrong with expanding the list of traits that make a successful entrepreneur; it gives aspiring entrepreneurs a clearer sense of what to strive for.

So, let’s have some fun; let’s add them together and make it 35. Bigger numbers are good, right? We’ll start with my top 10, and follow with 25 more, based on Entrepreneur’s list.

My top 10 traits of successful entrepreneurs:

1. Planning

There’s a lot of talk about “P” words: passion, perseverance, and persistence. I mistrust all three.

A lot of unsuccessful entrepreneurs have these traits as well. You have to have some variation on them, but you can have all three and still fail. You and I both know people who never made it—and never stopped trying, either.

My favorite “P” word in entrepreneurship is “planning,” but that’s just me. Stubbornness is good too (even though it doesn’t start with a “P”).

2. Empathy

As in, understanding how other people think and feel about things.

Empathy leads to understanding what the people you sell to want, what they need, how they think, and how to best reach them. It’s hard to imagine somebody building a company without being able to put themselves in the buyer’s state of mind.

3. A sense of fairness

For dealing with vendors, customers, and employees. A successful entrepreneur needs to be able to be fair with those they do business with.

4. Transferable values

This is closely related to the sense of fairness. I just don’t see people building businesses without believing in what they’re doing.

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5. Willingness to work hard

Entrepreneurs need the ability to work shoulder to shoulder with other people.

Cliched, but true: The harder I work, the luckier I get.

6. Knowing what they don’t know

To me, that’s much more important than what you do know. Know where you are weakest, and where your strengths lie.

7. Listening carefully

It’s important to listen carefully. When necessary, shut up.

8. Vision for what they can build

Imagining a happy future. Dreaming.

Successful entrepreneurs need to have a solid vision of success and their end goals.

9. Making mistakes

You have to deal with failure. Keep pitching.

10. Jumping viewpoints

From short to long-term in an instant, and mixing those viewpoints together. It’s like dribbling—keeping your eyes up while managing the ball at your feet.

Plus 25 more traits, inspired by Entrepreneur’s list:

11. Do what you enjoy

If you’re starting a business for the money, you may be in it for the wrong reasons. Make sure you are doing what you truly enjoy.

12. Take what you do seriously

Start your business soberly, with intention. Take it seriously.

13. Plan everything

It doesn’t have to be a formal business plan; a lean plan or an internal plan can work fine. What kind of plan you choose depends on your business and the needs of your company—but you need a plan regardless of what your goals and intentions are.

14. Manage money wisely

Good businesses have failed based on lack of cash (which isn’t the same as being profitable). To be successful, you need to learn how to manage your money.

15. Ask for the sale

You can’t wait for everything to come to you. You need to be assertive and actually ask people to buy what you are selling.

16. Remember, it’s all about the customer

To be a successful entrepreneur, it’s important to sell something that your customers actually want. Knowing your customers well is key here.

17. Become a shameless self-promoter (without becoming obnoxious)

More often than not, you are not going to be discovered out of the blue. You need to promote your business and make people find out about it yourself.

18. Project a positive business image

You may only have a single opportunity to convince your customers to try your product or service. Developing a solid brand for your business is key to being successful.

19. Get to know your customers

If you can personalize your business, you set yourself apart from the competition. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just put out a great product and leave it at that.

20. Level the playing field with technology

Successful entrepreneurs utilize the technology available to them. What technology is out there that can make running your business easier? Leveraging available technology to your advantage can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill small business, and one that can stand up to bigger competitors.

21. Build a top-notch business team

Face it: You don’t have all the skills necessary to run your business successfully. Find others who compliment your skills, and you’ll be more successful.

22. Become known as an expert

Being able to position yourself as an expert in your industry will help people view your business with more confidence. Whether this looks like starting a blog or getting involved in local events in their respective fields, successful entrepreneurs are also industry thought leaders.

23. Create a competitive advantage

If you think you don’t have any competition, you’re wrong. All businesses have competition. The question is, what do you do better than your competition?

24. Invest in yourself

To become an expert, you need to invest time and energy into learning as much as you can about your industry, and become as skilled as possible.

25. Be accessible

Make it easy for people to buy and use (and also ideally afford) your product. Don’t make it challenging for people to do business with you.

26. Build a rock-solid reputation

To be a successful entrepreneur, your customers, investors, and those in your industry need to be able to trust you. Don’t ever give them a reason not to.

27. Sell benefits

You aren’t just selling a product or service. You are selling what your product or service does better than anyone else.

28. Get involved

Become a fixture in your community, whether online or in your local community (or both). Make yourself a voice in your industry.

29. Grab attention

You may only have one chance to convince someone that your business is worth a second glance.

30. Master the art of negotiations

No question about it: You will have to negotiate at some point in your business career. It’s a good skill to get down early.

31. Design your workspace for success

Does this mean you need to spring for a huge, impressive office space in your first month of business? No—and that’s probably a terrible idea. But, your workspace should be suitable for your own productivity, and give the right impression to clients or customers.

32. Get and stay organized

Analyze your market. Conduct a SWOT analysis. Use whatever tools work for you to keep your business organized, and don’t let your lack of planning and organization be your downfall.

33. Take time off

Successful entrepreneurs aren’t all work. Take time off every once in awhile.

34. Limit the number of hats you wear

You can’t do everything and be successful. It’s important to determine what you do well, and what you would be better served to outsource to someone else.

35. Follow up constantly

It will keep your product or service top of mind for customers, and help you understand your market better.

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Content Author: Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.