Are you as successful as you would like to be? (Depending on how you define success, of course.)
If you're like most people, the answer is, "Probably not." Not because you're greedy, not because you're an egomaniac, but simply because you have goals and dreams and work tirelessly to achieve them.
So here's an approach that will help you do just that.
The following is a guest post from Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and marketer who teaches people how to create meaningful self-employed careers. (His online courses "The Launch While Working Formula" and "Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal" can teach you how to start and grow your own business while working a full-time job.)
If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, it goes without saying that you need to be damn good at what you do.
Taking the time to find your strengths and focus on perfecting the skills that'll help you be the best in your industry becomes a very crucial decision point in every entrepreneur's journey. To make that discovery process even easier, download my free Skill Assessment Guide designed specifically for those wanting to become entrepreneurs.
Through my interviews and experiences working with successful entrepreneurs, I've come to notice many remarkable similarities they tend to share.
They're often ruthless when it comes to managing their time, which very quickly becomes their most important resource.
They know the importance of optimizing their lifestyle and doing their most challenging work at the time of day that best suits them.
They never give up and actively refuse to take no for an answer.
However, what I've really found interesting is that while all the entrepreneurs I've had the opportunity to meet share resilience and drive for success, they are glaringly different from one another.
Their approaches to achieving success, and the tools they employ in doing so, varies greatly.
Often, their most noticeable differences lie in the core strengths they possess, while, on the other hand, their similarities emanate from how well they've identified and improved their strengths over time, to compensate for what they lacked in other skills, talents, and character traits.
Here's a real-life example.
Early tech rivals Bill Gates (of Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (of Apple) both introduced radical innovations in the world of computing, that have had a far-reaching impact into the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. But, they could not have been more different when it comes to their entrepreneurial strengths.
While Gates himself was a highly skilled software engineer who personally wrote code for Microsoft products as late as 1989, Jobs was an unmatched design thinker who attended calligraphy classes as an informal student, and never wrote a single line of code for Apple.
These two entrepreneurs made lasting impacts with very similar product offerings, in the exact same industry, during the same period of time, with a completely different set of strengths and skills.
It was their shared ability to identify and lean on their most useful strengths & skills, that allowed them to achieve greatness.
Some entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban, thrive on interpersonal skills, leveraging their people networks to grow their businesses over time.
Others get their start by leveraging their well-trained technical skills, like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
Yet still, others are driven by a mesmerizing creativity, like Leo Burnett and Walt Disney, that enables them to inspire large numbers of people with their creations.
In reality, there are a nearly unlimited number of character traits such as a strong leadership ability, being a good negotiator, and having a laser-like focus, that can contribute to your success as an entrepreneur.
The deciding factor in how successful you'll become in the world of business is really how quickly and effectively you can find your strengths, build them into valuable assets for your cause, and focus relentlessly on only doing activities and getting into business ideas that engage your strengths.
In 2014, Gallup revealed the findings of a mind-blowing study about entrepreneurship, which involved years of research and collaboration with 2,500 entrepreneurs towards building a better understanding of business creation and growth. Among other things, the study uncovered two very interesting findings.
While other business icons and researchers may disagree on what the ten talents are that drive entrepreneurial success, there's undoubtedly an overwhelming consensus that success is most often achieved by focusing on utilizing your core strengths and talents.
This could not be more true for me, and in everything I do with my business.
I'm a huge advocate of never starting a business in an industry I haven't operated in, and never serving customers I'm not already very familiar with. It's part of my personal system for launching a successful business. Thus, nurturing my core strengths and focusing on doing only what I do best (for the people I can best serve) has become crucial to my success.
I feel very strongly that unless your weaknesses will truly cripple your business goals, you should do everything in your power to avoid business opportunities and roles where you'd be forced to use them at all. Sometimes it's inevitable that you'll need to do things you're not good at, and that's fine. However, you should strive to limit that exposure whenever possible.
When a business of mine requires doing activities that aren't within my core strengths, I've found it best to either actively turn down that work or outsource those weaknesses to others who can help complement me.
Here's my reasoning: to me, time is infinitely more valuable than money.
Would you rather spend your time driving business growth by using the strengths you're already skilled at, or should you spend your limited personal time learning a new skill that's currently outside of your wheelhouse? There are times when taking a pit stop to pick up a new skill, like learning how to code, can be very worthwhile (or essential), but only if your goal is to develop that skill into a core strength for the years to come.
Some people are good with numbers.
Some are skilled at coding.
Others (like me) are great at telling stories and simplifying complex ideas.
How about you? What are you good at?
We've established that knowing your strengths and actively playing to them is key to succeeding in any business you start. In fact, your strengths (talents, skills, passions, character traits) may have been the spark that drove you to want to start a business in the first place.
However, before moving on, it's important to first make a clear distinction between soft skills and hard skills, as they'll combine to make up your entrepreneurial strengths.
Soft skills: Personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
Hard skills: Specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured.
Pulled straight from my Skill Assessment for Entrepreneurs, here are my eight steps to discovering your strengths in business. For a more meaningful experience, pick up the guide now and follow along with me.
1. Determine your soft skills.
As we mentioned above, soft skills are your personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
In short, these are the skills you possess, that you can't necessarily quantify. This is your EQ (Emotional Intelligence), not your IQ. Here are some examples of soft skills:
- Having a strong sense of self-awareness
- Being optimistic
- Being resilient
- Having patience
- Being a good listener
When I started my first business, I pretty much only possessed soft skills. I had to teach myself how to create a product with absolutely no past experience. What I lacked in hard skills like coding talent, marketing chops, and writing abilities at the time, I significantly made up for in determination, optimism, and people skills that would help me build the meaningful connections I'd need, to get my business off the ground without doing everything myself. Later on, I trained myself to become proficient with the hard skills my business (and future companies) would need, and I painstakingly learned how to use all the best tools to start an online business.
In our comparison between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs from above, Jobs clearly possessed and leaned on his strongest soft skills, in order to champion Apple through to success. Gates, in the beginning, took the opposite approach and utilized his hard skills within Microsoft.
My free Skill Assessment Guide walks you step-by-step through the process of both looking inward and getting outside feedback to help you discover which soft skills are your strongest assets. This is an essential step in the process to defining how you'll interact with others, and which complementary traits you should look for in potential business partners and employees.
2. Break down your biggest wins.
During the week I launched my very first online course on winning freelance clients, I slept an average of 4-5 hours each night and still made it into work at my day job.
Yet still, I felt energized every single day of that week.
I was emailing back & forth with people who were considering buying my course, answering tons of questions, and giving away some of the content for free to the motivated people that simply couldn't afford to buy it at the time. I built so many great relationships that continue to flourish. I absolutely loved it, even though it was an incredibly difficult week. This was a huge win for me.
From the events that transpired that week, I learned so much about myself in terms of which soft skills of mine continued to bubble up to the surface and help me become successful.
To name just a few, I learned that I very naturally fall into the role of becoming a personal mentor to people, I learned that I was even more open to critical feedback than I previously believed, and I got to see a direct, positive impact on how my sense of humor helped me drive clear business results. This launch experience taught me a lot about which soft skills I'd need to continue leveraging within my business.
Now, it's your turn. Think of a time you did a great job on challenging work project, or a time you felt particularly accomplished with something you worked on. Ask yourself what exactly were you doing at the time, and which soft skills you employed to help you achieve your end result.
3. Figure out what comes naturally to you.
Part of determining what your strengths are as an entrepreneur, is taking an inward look back into the past and figuring out what you've always been a natural at.
What have your friends, coaches, teachers, managers, or even your parents always told you you're a natural at? This can fall into many different categories, so don't get hung up on thinking of this as a strictly "on the court" or "in the classroom" type of strength. Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Did you always find yourself being the mediator between your group of friends?
- Was is always easier for you to pick up complex physics in class?
- Were you often the one making plans and figuring out the logistics of getting from point A to point B?
- Are you a naturally talented athlete?
- Do you have the ability to make others smile and laugh?
Focus on coming up with at least five things you're a natural at, and then breaking down which soft skills of yours have helped you be such a natural. These are most likely your strongest soft skills - ones you've possessed since very early on in your life.
4. Ask others what your strengths are.
Once you've done some introspection and come up with a handful of strengths that you believe to be your strongest assets, it's time to turn to the people you know and trust, to get an outside opinion.
Left completely to my own devices a few years ago, I would've thought that one of my most valuable strengths at the time, was my ability to build my own WordPress website without needing outside development or design assistance.
And you know what? That is definitely still a strength in my book. However, in the grand scheme of things, working on website features really isn't the best utilization of my time and it's not what I'm best at. I decided that in order to be as successful as possible with my business, I need to be only doing what I'm absolutely best at, and leveraging my strongest skills in the process.
It was my close group of friends and business mentors that helped guide me to a place where I could identify the fact that I'm much better suited at spending my time writing (one of my greatest strengths) and connecting directly with the people in my community, as opposed to getting deep in the woods of working on website features. Without that clarity, I would've been wasting some of my talents.
So, let's reach out to three to five people who know you very well, trust you, and would give you honest feedback. You can pick up the template for this reach out message in my Skill Assessment Guide.
You're going to ask them to share with you, what they believe to be three of your biggest strengths, and if they can include any examples of when you demonstrated those abilities, that's a major plus. Your goal is to get a consensus back from those who know you best, about what they perceive to be your strengths. The responses could completely surprise you, or validate what you already believe to be true about yourself.
5. Run through a hypothetical scenario.
Imagine your boss, coach, or teacher gives you a group project that needs to be completed by the end of the week.
Your success at your job, on the court, or in the classroom depends solely upon completing this activity well, and it's a great opportunity to show what you're made of.
Seriously, think of an example in your head. Create a hypothetical situation that's relevant to your life and where you're at right now, in which you have three team members joining you on this project.
Now, ask yourself which role you naturally assume within your group. Do you become the organizer, leader, creative, a moderator, take a back seat, or something else entirely?
Is there a specific part of the project you're more naturally inclined to take on? Do you like the overall planning phase, or do you prefer getting straight down to business and doing the actual legwork during the project? Do you take the initiative to assign responsibilities, or do you prefer to be given your role within the group? Do you interject if someone else starts to take over the role you want within the group?
Answering all of these questions for yourself will tell you a great deal about how you work in teams, and which strengths you'll naturally play to. From there, you can take a look back at which soft skills help you through the process of working on a group project.
6. What are some of your hard skills?
Hard skills are your well-defined, easily measured strengths and abilities. These are what most people think of when it comes to "skills," but they aren't in my opinion, what are most important when it comes to becoming a successful entrepreneur. They can always be learned over time, whereas a soft skill like being a strong leader, isn't acquired by attending an online class on nights & weekends.
Nevertheless, acknowledging, understanding, and focusing on using your hard skills is essential to maximizing your success potential. Here are a few examples of common hard skills that entrepreneurs possess:
- Design: Proficiency with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.
- Writing: Being able to take complex ideas, break them down into digestible bits, and craft them into compelling stories
- Analysis: Advanced financial modeling abilities in Microsoft Excel, complex statistical analysis, data mining
- Marketing: Search Engine Optimization, SEM, proficiency with social media platforms
For me, my most prominent hard skills are my writing ability, an advanced working knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite, and a deep understanding of SEO. The combination of these three hard skills is what helps me create high quality blog content, downloadable guides, and visually appealing content for my online courses.
7. What do you love to do?
How would you spend your time if you didn't have to go into work every day?
Look first to the things you already do in your limited free hours around work and spending time with friends & family.
Do you like helping your friends talk through difficult situations at work or in their personal lives? Do you spend your free time writing about life lessons you've learned through your travels? Do you go on outdoor adventures every weekend?
If you're anything like me, then you love to do the things you're already good at. It's human nature. Trying new things and risking failure can be uncomfortable at first.
At this point in my life, I have a true love sharing my experiences in business through my writing, and pushing myself to my personal limits with long-distance running. If I could do the two of those things completely full-time, I would (and that's the plan). I'm using my Launch While Working Formula to scale my side business into eventually becoming my full-time muse.
By my own measure, I'm already good at both writing and running.
However, when I think back to how painful it was, as I was just beginning to sharpen my abilities at both, there were many times I contemplated giving up. Once I got my first handful of breakthroughs, I had the momentum and confidence to keep pushing, and slowly I began to love them both.
Taking a look at the things you truly love doing, and identifying which soft skills you employ most when doing these activities will help you further narrow down your core strengths as an entrepreneur.
8. Decide what comes next.
Once you've gone through the process of identifying all of your core soft and hard skills, the real question is, what will you do with this knowledge?
By now, if you've gone through my Skill Assessment Guide side-by-side with this post, you'll have landed on (and ranked) your top 5 soft skills that are going to get you the furthest in business. You'll have also settled on the hard skills that'll be most instrumental in starting your next side business.
What you decide to do with this knowledge is completely up to you. The easiest thing to do is to stay content with what you're doing at your day job, even if your work is meaningless.
I challenge you to start looking for a more meaningful job where you can focus on building your core skills, engaging your strengths, and continue discovering what you're truly passionate about in life.
Personally, I've found that starting a side business can often be one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have. Mine (this website) has been an instrument by which I've gotten to have a connection, however small, with hundreds of thousands of people over the past couple of years. Now that's motivating.
The next step toward finding a way to launch into a meaningful self-employed career, is to combine your soft and hard skills, to come up with profitable business ideas that'll engage your strengths and areas of interest.
If you're passionate about cooking, naturally step into a role of mentoring others, and have a knack for writing & speaking, I'd be willing to bet that you'd stand a strong chance of success in creating a food blog, or offering one-on-one cooking classes in your area.
Naturally, you'll need to pick up some more skills and learn a bit about digital marketing along the way, but by starting in a place where you're engaging your interests and strengths, you'll be motivated to push forward.