Power Up!

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Say the word "entrepreneur" and most of us picture a go-getter who turns a handful of dimes and quarters into a million-dollar enterprise through sheer pluck and a dash of luck. That's great. Fact is, though, that knowing the traits of a successful entrepreneur can help even established business owners.

Maybe your own organization has been around for many years, but running it successfully requires the same combination of confident mind-set and positive personal traits that typify the most successful start-up leaders.

"An entrepreneurial mind-set has always been important in business, and these days it's critical," says Mary Cantando, president of Cantando & Associates, a Raleigh, N.C.based consulting company that helps reinvigorate management teams. "With all of the shifts going on in the marketplace, you have to be innovative and think on your feet. That's what an entrepreneurial mind-set is all about."

Sounds like a plan. So how can you become more entrepreneurial? Here's how to cultivate the requisite qualities:

BE PASSIONATE. Do you love your work? Enthusiasm does make a difference. "Be passionate and love what you do," says Contando. "It really shows in terms of body language, spoken words and innovative customer services."

Maintain your enthusiasm — or revive it if your attitude has faltered — by reminding yourself of how your business helps other people. You play a vital role in the world.

BE INNOVATIVE. Look for ways to make your organization stand out in your community. Communicate that you sell specialty products and services rather than commodities and your operation will enjoy an aura of increased value.

Cantando suggests using the local press as a vehicle for raising your profile. "Use innovative public relations to be perceived as an expert in your category," she says. "You want to position yourself as the authority in your area."

Research especially any scheduled supplements in your local newspapers that can carry your message to a broader public. Make yourself available for interviews. And send news items regularly to the local press, radio and television stations about your activities.

Another approach is to donate products or services to non-profit organizations, then do public relations on what you are doing.

LEARN FROM FAILURE. "When something goes wrong don't kick yourself in the head," says Cantando. "Look for the silver lining. Ask: 'How can I make this work for me rather than against me?'" Cantando suggests asking some key questions that will turn a failure into a profitable learning experience for future decision-making. Here are some examples: Why didn't the initiative work out? Was it a matter of the wrong time and place? Price? Audience? Or was the competition doing too much of the same thing so we were not differentiated?

"Asking the right questions will give you a mental checklist to use when you next come to a decisions crossroads," says Cantando.

BE FEARLESS. Learning from mistakes is important because you can sharpen your managerial skills and apply new knowledge to decisionmaking. But there's another huge benefit derived from turning failure into victory: You become fearless in taking on new opportunities since you know that even if you fail some good will come out of it.

"You want to avoid becoming a 'middle of the road' person afraid to take risks," says Cantando. "The danger is that when the next big thing comes along you may end up ignoring it and missing a great opportunity."

Essential to the fearless mind-set is the resolution of the tension between personal and business risk and reward. Many of us identify so closely with our businesses that we take personally any temporary business setbacks. We need to constantly remind ourselves that business mistakes are not equivalent to personal failures.

Another potential pitfall is the urge to analyze a situation to death before acting. Too often this is done from fear of failure. Certainly analysis is necessary, but at what point does it become an excuse for inaction. The answer is not cut and dried, but depends very much on our personal propensities. Successful business owners cultivate a bias for action as opposed to a bias for analysis.

Entrepreneurs who succeed are able to seize a golden opportunity and run with it. "So many opportunities are lost because people think they will fail or get laughed at," says Frances McGuckin, a business consultant and specialist in entrepreneurial thinking based in Langley, B.C. "A true entrepreneur does not let fear stand in the way of seizing the moment."

ENTREPRENEURIAL STAFF. What good does it do for you to be a get-up-and-go entrepreneur when your customers are greeted with sit-down-and-stop personnel?

Every one of your staff members should be an entrepreneur and it's up to you to make sure they are. "Your employees are ambassadors for your business," says McGuckin. "They need to have confidence in who they are and be energized experts."

When your employees maintain an entrepreneurial mind-set, they are positive thinkers who communicate well with customers. Sound like an impossible goal. McGuckin suggests using a strategy, which she has developed under the acronym of LIFER. Here are the steps:

1) Learning: Teach employees everything about business you can.

2) Incentive: Establish employee reward programs that reinforce entrepreneurial achievements.

3) Fun: We often hear people complain about what a drag it is to go to work. If your own employees feel this way you can imagine how they are interacting with customers. Make your business a fun place to work. Establish theme days or host special events where employees can get to know each other.

4) Encouragement: Recognize their efforts. Perhaps they made good suggestions or they handled a delicate situation well. Let them know you appreciate it.

5)Responsibility: Make your employees accountable. This convinces them that you trust them to do a good job, which gives them a confidence boost so they try harder.

In short, you must be willing to let your staff be entrepreneurs. "Don't be afraid to delegate," says McGuckin. "Your business won't grow if you don't."

FULL SPEED AHEAD

Remember that successful business owners think like leaders, not like managers. Leaders are proactive, involve themselves in details without getting bogged down, and direct rather than dominate employees. Avoid the old managerial mind-set that administers, establishes procedures and passively reacts to events and problems that arise in the marketplace.

"It's easy for anyone to get stuck in old ways of thinking and get scared of the big, bad competitors," says McGuckin. "Don't you be that way.

Be driven as an entrepreneur. Have your goals and dreams and let nothing stand in your way."

Ask These Questions To Spark Innovation

Most of us get caught in a rut on occasion. You can break out of one by asking these questions:
  • What new services can I offer?
  • What items can I private-brand?
  • What newspapers and radio stations can I target with press releases?
  • What non-profit organization can I assist?

The Entrepreneurial Mind-Set

  • Be passionate about your business.
  • Try innovative customer services.
  • Reach out to the community.
  • Establish yourself as the expert.
  • Identify and pursue your target market.
  • Act quickly to "seize the moment."
  • Be a big thinker.
  • Turn your employees into entrepreneurs.
  • Foster personal growth in your employees and customers.
  • Show appreciation for others.
  • Don't say "I'll try." Say "I will."

Look It Up

The Entrepreneurial Mindset, by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan. A guide to energizing the organization to find tomorrow's opportunities today. Harvard Business School Press.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship, by Peter F. Drucker. Presents innovation and entrepreneurship as a purposeful and systematic discipline. HarperBusiness.

Entrepreneurship for Dummies, by Kathleen Allen. Information and advice on everything from putting together a business plan to conducting a marketing campaign. For Dummies.

Are You An Entrepreneur?

Do you possess the characteristics of an entrepreneur. One way to find out is to take two free online quizzes prepared by business consultant Frances McGuckin. Visit smallbizpro.com and click on "Interactive Entrepreneurial Quizzes."

For another quiz visit the site of Canada's Department of Western Economic Diversification. Point your browser to wd.gc.ca and click on "Business Tools and Guides." Then click "Am I an Entrepreneur.: Self-Assessment Quiz."

Lead, Don't Manage

Should you be a "hands-on" manager of every detail in your business. Take a tip from successful entrepreneurs: Great leaders help teams do their work.

"A strong leader will recognize the strengths of the team and that some people can do certain jobs better," says Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, Wellesley, Mass. That means handing over the reins from time to time — and that can be uncomfortable when your business is a large part of who you are personally.

Fostering good teamwork means celebrating the successes of the team and avoiding taking credit for yourself. It also means avoiding placing blame when things go wrong. "When someone makes an error do not reprimand them publicly," cautions Zacharakis. "Sit down with the person privately and discuss how the error was made, its seriousness and how to avoid making it in the future."

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