What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur? Grit.

A version of this article was originally published by BBC Bitesize.

According to Angela Duckworth, who catapulted to fame after delivering a TED talk which has been viewed over 18 million times, grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and is a strong predictor of success in life.

Whilst grit can help you become more successful in whatever path you choose; it becomes essential should you wish to become an entrepreneur.

Beyond the glamour of setting off on your own and the idealism to pave your own path is the reality that doing so is tough work and not for the faint-hearted. When everything is invested in your own business – time, money, passion, and creativity – it can border on obsession and completely take over your sanity. You will need a significant amount of grit to survive.

The best bit, you can grow it – proving entrepreneurs aren’t born, they’re bred.

Here are my Top 5 Tips to strengthening your own grit to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Build a Support System

Being an entrepreneur is lonely. Although the phrase “it’s lonely at the top” relates to larger organisations when you are managing hundreds of employees, the truth is that when you set off on your own for the first time it can be isolating. Unlike working for an organisation, you lack shared experiences making it challenging to bounce new ideas off of.

Relying on yourself can be challenging during the lows when overcoming obstacles as well as during the highs when new opportunities present themselves. Ensuring you have a strong support system who understands your vision and your business is critical. When you start out tell all your friends and family your goals to bring them along with you on the journey and share in the success as you grow.

I started my first business without understanding the value of a strong support network and in hindsight owe my success to my friends and family. From midnight phone calls with my mother based overseas when we had all our laptops stolen in the first year to friends filling in as Deputy MD at my office when I had to fly home for a family emergency during our peak time in the office. I never would have gotten to where I was without their support.

2. Notice Stress

The stories of sleeping under your desk during a start-up are true – as an entrepreneur you will quickly adapt to working, all day every day. Over time this becomes habitual and you start to push yourself beyond your physical limits without realising it. There will always be something to do and you will always find time to do it. The problem with this is that you begin to be less aware of your stress levels because you become so focused on your business. You are unlikely to notice when you are reaching your breaking point.

Although everyone is different, it is important to take stock – not just of your mental wellbeing (as you often won’t feel stressed), but of your physical wellbeing as well. Old injuries that resurface or disturbed sleeping patterns often are signs that you are overworking yourself and you need to de-stress before you burn out. Grit isn’t just about overcoming obstacles, it is about having the mental capacity to deal with them over the long term.

3. Taking Care of Yourself

Being an entrepreneur is like running a marathon that doesn’t end until you sell your business. Like all marathon runners, you need to train and ensure your body is in peak performance to endure what you will put it through. In addition to recognising stress, you need to prioritise your health in order to overcome obstacles like a champ. Regular exercise, limiting alcohol, and optimising nutrition isn’t just for athletes – if you want your brain to be at its peak performance you need to support it’s functioning.

4. Take a Break

In the first years of starting your business it’s unlikely that you will have time nor money to take a proper holiday, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give yourself some headspace. Taking time out to read books or see friends is important to foster creativity – helping you continually improve your business plans with new ideas. Taking a couple 24hr “work detoxes” every month will ensure you view your business with fresh eyes, which is critical at the pace that innovation continues at currently.

5. Figure Out What Motivates You

My business book PINPOINT’s dedication preface is to Jay Z “who keeps me hustlin” because whenever I was faced with a particularly challenging time during my six years of growing my global sponsorship agency Slingshot, I had his albums on repeat, extra loud on my commute into the office. The bass not only revved me up to give me the energy I needed to get through the challenging day, but the words were incredibly motivating (“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business man”). If Jay Z can claw his way up from selling crack in the Brooklyn projects, I can certainly get my client’s pitch done by the deadline.

If Jay Z doesn’t work for you, find something that you can easily tap into that picks your spirits up and pushes you forward.  

Being an entrepreneur can be rewarding but also comes with significant challenges. Building up your ability to power on in the face of adversity is what will differentiate you from the next guy so you can eventually enjoy the fruits of your labour on your yacht.

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