Ask Jackie Fast: What makes a successful entrepreneur?

Jackie Fast, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and former 'The Apprentice' Candidate introduces her solid gold advice for budding entrepreneurs.

There’s one main answer to this question: What makes a successful entrepreneur? – GRIT!

According to author Angela Duckworth, grit is the 'perseverance and passion for long-term goals' and is a strong predictor of success in life.

While grit can help you become more successful in whatever path you choose, it is an essential quality to have if you want to become an entrepreneur. Beyond the glamour of setting off on your own, and the idealism of paving your own path, lies the reality that starting your own business is tough work. Enterprise is not for the faint-hearted.

Entrepreneurs need a significant amount of grit to survive – and to thrive.

Clearly, having 'perseverance and passion for long-term goals' is a requirement of success in your enterprise. So, if grit is so important, how do you get it? And how do you make sure that you have enough?

Well, grit is like a muscle: with motivation, effort and mindfulness you can grow it, proving entrepreneurs aren’t born - they’re bred.

Here are my top 5 tips to strengthening your grit to support your becoming a successful entrepreneur:

1. Build a support system

Being an entrepreneur is lonely. Although the phrase “it’s lonely at the top” usually relates to larger organisations, the truth is that when you set off on your own for the first time it can be isolating. If you’re on your own, who do you bounce ideas off? Who do you share your work experiences with? Who do you tell about your weekends?! Relying on yourself can be challenging, too, both during the lows, when you’re overcoming obstacles, and during the highs, when new opportunities present themselves.

Ensuring you have a strong support system of people who understand your vision and your business is critical. So, when you start out, tell your friends and family your goals and bring them along with you on the journey. They can share in your 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. They stood by me and supported me: from midnight phone calls with my mother when we had our laptops stolen, to friends filling in as Deputy-Managing Director during our peak time at the office when I had to fly home for a family emergency. I would not be where I am without their support.

2. Notice stress

The stories of sleeping under your desk during a start-up can be true - as an entrepreneur you will quickly adapt to working, long and hard. Over time, though, this can become habitual and you might start to push yourself beyond your physical limits without realising it. The problem with this is that you begin to be less aware of your mental health and 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 are often signs that you are overworking yourself and should 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. Take 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 physical health in order to overcome obstacles like a champ. Regular exercise, limiting alcohol and eating well isn’t just for athletes – if you want your brain to be at its peak performance you need to support it properly.

4. Take a break

In the first years of starting your business it’s unlikely that you will have the time or the 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 of 24 hour ‘work detoxes’ every month will ensure you view your business with fresh eyes, which is important given how quickly you have to make decisions at the start of a business.

5. Figure out what motivates you

Whenever I was faced with a particularly difficult time during the 6 years of growing my global sponsorship agency, Slingshot, I put Jay-Z’s albums on repeat, extra-loud, on my commute into the office. The bass not only revved me up, giving me the energy I needed to get through the challenging day, but I also found his words incredibly motivating (“I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man”). His music motivated me: if Jay Z could claw his way up from the Brooklyn projects, I could 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 enormously rewarding, but also comes with significant challenges. Building up your ability to power on through in the face of adversity is what will differentiate you from the next person... so you can eventually enjoy the fruits of your labour (on your yacht, perhaps?).

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