The successful entrepreneur's secret

Many individuals who start up a business close it within a few years.

Read time 5min 20sec

There are many keys to achieving success as an entrepreneur. Support from family, friends, colleagues and clients is vital. Good financial management - particularly cash flow - can make or break an enterprise. A great idea also helps - as does effective marketing. But, in my experience, there's one thing that outweighs all of these.

Staying power.

Call it persistence, perseverance, unwavering faith - or even stubborn pig-headedness. This, above anything else in my opinion, is what will ensure an entrepreneur's business is still afloat at that elusive five-year mark.

It's tough out there

Online research of figures for small business success after five to 10 years turns up survival rates of anything from 10% to a more optimistic 40%. The bottom line is that many entrepreneurs who start a business end up closing it within a few years.

In my three years as an entrepreneur, I've seen several fellow business owners opt instead for an employer and a regular pay cheque - usually as a result of a change in their personal circumstances (having twins can do that...). I've also seen businesses fold because of conflict between the founding partners - and because none of the founders were working on it fulltime. And I've seen businesses close simply because running them was a lot harder than the owners thought it would be.

Entrepreneurship is not for sissies. It takes guts, determination, a thick skin - and yes, staying power.

The unemployables

I've had times when I've wanted to pack it in and go back to the security of a job in an ad agency. Then I think about what that would be like (please, no!) and I'm re-motivated to make my company successful.

Many entrepreneurs I know consider themselves to be unemployable now: being told what to do, and how and when to do it, just grates on someone who's had the freedom of being their own boss.

Some people might become entrepreneurs because they have struggled to find a decent permanent job - like those near retirement age or those who don't fit BEE requirements.

So, perhaps for these people, staying power is born of a lack of alternatives.

Keeping the faith - and the focus

Being passionate about my business and the difference I believe it is making to my customers is a strong factor in my pulling through the tough times. Having unwavering faith in my concept gives me the vision to stay on course.

Developing a thick skin is also useful - there will always be critics who don't think the business has any merit or future. Listen to them by all means, and glean useful insights, but don't be discouraged. If someone has researched their business and market thoroughly, they should have confidence in themselves.

Entrepreneurs are often tempted to lose focus and diversify into other enticing and appealing areas. Vanessa Clark, who launched her business earlier this year, says: “You need staying power to stick to your plan and concentrate on what you are passionate about and what you are good at. It is very easy to get distracted by all the exciting things going on and diminish your core value proposition by becoming a jack of all trades.”

One of my mentors refers to this as the 'shiny penny syndrome': moving in one direction, but being distracted by things just off the path.

Have a cash cow

Entrepreneurship is not for sissies. It takes guts, determination, a thick skin - and yes, staying power.

Jo Duxbury is founder of <a href=""></a>

The one instance in which it is okay to have a sideline distraction is if that distraction generates revenue that pays the bills every month.

Isabelle Rorke, co-founder of Anamazing Workshop and recent Endeavor winner, ran a design business in parallel with her animation studio in its early days. “Design was our cash cow - it earned us enough income to invest in animation. Once Anamazing was more established, we closed the design side and focus on our passion: animation.”

Get strong

A runner wouldn't set off on a marathon without weeks of training and diet management. Similarly, an entrepreneur can't run a business successfully without taking care of him/herself. Most entrepreneurs are their business, so it's even more crucial to get enough sleep, eat properly, get some exercise and have downtime to recharge.

Arm yourself with knowledge too: learn why start-ups can fail - and learn to identify the signs of this in your own business. Mitigate the risks through learning and solicit advice from mentors and advisers. All this will give you a better chance of making it to the five-year mark - and beyond.

Ten tips to boost your entrepreneurial staying power:

* Be sure to have a clear vision, mission and values. Check anything you take on against them to make sure you're on track.
* Write down all the reasons why you started your business and tape this somewhere you can see it easily. Read this when you hit choppy waters.
* Imagine the alternative: if you abandon your business, what's the next likely scenario? If it's a negative one (working for a boss again counts), it'll inspire you to keep going.
* Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you - friends, family, other entrepreneurs and mentors. Avoid negative energy.
* Have a back-up plan (cash cow) for paying the bills every month.
* Stay focused on your goals - don't be distracted by 'shiny pennies'.
* Believe in yourself and what you are doing.
* Learn what it takes to run a business - upskill yourself and become aware of the red flags like cash flow management.
* Look after yourself. Eat right, stay healthy and get enough sleep. You need to be performing at your best.
* Remember, persistence does pay off eventually.

How do you stick it out in tough times? Please do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

* Jo Duxbury is founder of

Jo Duxbury

founder of strategy agency Peppermint Source.

Jo Duxbury spent nine years as a freelance and full-time ‘suit’ in various communications agencies in London. She returned to Cape Town in 2004, and after freelancing at an ad agency, spotted a gap in the market for an online space for freelancers and clients to find each other. She took the plunge into entrepreneurship and launched in early 2006. January 2010 saw Duxbury launching Peppermint Source, a spin-off of Freelancentral that offers full-service outsourced marketing to companies that don’t have the time, skills or staff to handle their marketing in-house. Duxbury is inspired by simplicity, clever and beautiful design, and optimistic people who work to make their dreams happen. Find out more at her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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