A couple of years ago, my employer sub-contracted with another consulting firm to provide career counseling and personality assessment to individuals who had been downsized, to better prepare them for next steps professionally.
However, during that project, I was taken aback by the blindly optimistic "one size fits all" manner in which some consultants in our partner firm encouraged these individuals to become entrepreneurs. They did an excellent job helping them to prepare resumes and enhance interviewing skills, but seemed overzealous with regard to promoting entrepreneurship.
For many clients this was an easy sell, since they were tired of having the course of their professional lives dictated by cost cutting measures, restructuring plans, outsourcing, difficult bosses, etc. And yet, practically none had put any real thought into what it takes to start (and build) a successful business. Although many had extensive work experience, few articulated a clear understanding of either the financial risks or personal attributes necessary for success.
This was especially problematic in light of the fact that most small businesses simply don't make it. Bolick (2003) estimated that 65% to 85% of small businesses fail in their first five years The financial, interpersonal, and emotional aftermath can be quite devastating.
Assessment can be extremely useful in helping an individual determine upfront if he or she is cut out to be an entrepreneur. There are many valid and reliable instruments available that shed considerable light on characteristics common among entrepreneurs. Formalized assessment, utilizing multiple data points, can help a person answer the following questions:
Do I think and problem solve like an entrepreneur?
Many successful entrepreneurs tend to be both creative and action-oriented in their approach to problems and situations. They develop innovative ideas, give form to them, and see things through to implementation. In short, they are both visionaries and doers. While analytical and empathetic types can and do start businesses, their efforts may often fall short if they do not pair themselves up with those who are more strategic and action centered. Although less prevalent than more traditional personality measures, there are several well-researched, user friendly, and cost effective brain mapping and problem solving instruments available that accurately identify thinking preferences.
Do I have the persistence and drive necessary to start and build my own business?
Virtually any article written on the characteristics of entrepreneurs list drive, persistence, perseverance, self-motivation or other such descriptors as necessities. Not all individuals who are entertaining the notion of starting a business will have the commitment, energy, and singularity of purpose essential for ultimate success. If a client scores low in drive on multiple, self-report personality measures, he/she really needs to consider if they are willing to put forth the sustained effort and hours needed to make a business prosper.
Do I look like an entrepreneur personality-wise?
High drive is only one trait shared by many entrepreneurs. The UAB Small Business Development Center (1999) lists positive mental attitude, objectivity, tendency to anticipate developments, resourcefulness, communication skills, and technical acumen as typical entrepreneurial characteristics. Leous (2002) describes entrepreneurs as possessing vision, self-discipline, consistency, and a strong detail orientation.
The Women's Small Business Center (2004) cites planning skills, non-conformity, common sense, and a willingness to seek professional assistance from others (i.e. accountants, advisors, attorneys, and insurers) as entrepreneurial assets. Finally, Clark (1997) adds self-confidence, calculated risk taking, high ego needs, high control needs, and a willingness to make sacrifices in order to achieve.
Many current personality instruments can accurately identify these characteristics . While there is no standard, prototypical entrepreneurial personality, if an individual finds himself or herself lacking in many of these traits, he or she should do considerable self-reflection on the viability of moving toward a business startup.
Am I motivated by the same things many entrepreneurs are?
Entrepreneurs like to win and achieve. They are calculated risk takers who are quite emotionally invested in their work. They like the challenge of creating something out of nothing. They anticipate change. They are about developing opportunities for themselves and others as opposed to just escaping from past unpleasant work situations. Much like personality attributes, these motivators can be accurately measured and quantified using state of the art values scales.
Entrepreneurs possess specific characteristics that can be measured psychometrically. Individuals considering entrepreneurial options need to be honest from the outset regarding problem solving, drive, personality, and motivational fit. Essentially, they need to determine if they genuinely possess "entrepreneurial spirit" or are just running from a bad work experience.
In the end, there is no safety net for entrepreneurs. There are many risks financially, personally, and professionally. While no one should ever be discouraged from pursuing entrepreneurship based upon formalized assessment, we as career counselors should do our utmost to provide clients with as much upfront information and support as possible to help them more fully weigh their options.
Bolick, D.A. (2003, July). Why so many businesses fail. Webpronews.com.
Clark, S. (1997, June). Entrepreneur's traits key to success-or failure. The Business Journal Portland.
Leous, T.M. (2002). Success traits. TML e-Marketing Associates LLC.
UAB Small Business Development Center (1999). Typical characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.
Women's Business Center (2004). The successful entrepreneur-So you think you want to start a business?
Kent Noel , Ph.D., LPC, is a Consultant and Career Counselor with Carr & Associates, an Industrial Psychology firm in Overland Park, Kansas. He can be reached at email@example.com.