The good news is that entrepreneurial skills can be learnt, but you will need to be prepared for lots of trial and error.

Some of us are born with an entrepreneurial personality, but the environment we grow up in can be a key stimulus and motivator to develop and activate that skill, according to John Sikkema, thought leader, entrepreneur and executive chairman of professional coaching organisation Halftime Australia.

“The statement ‘necessity is the motherhood of invention’ is true particularly for entrepreneurial people,” says Sikkema.

“It’s our survival streak that’s the difference, and it’s why some people simply quit while others refuse to quit and are energised by thinking outside the nine dots… Entrepreneurs invariably start by enrolling in the school of hard knocks.”

The good news is that entrepreneurial skills can be learnt, but you will need to be prepared for lots of trial and error.

“Here are some winning ideas I learnt along the way of building numerous startups, including commercial businesses and more recently in setting up a not-for-profit,” says Sikkema.

1. Be prepared to go the extra mile: At age 23 I was in a class of 20 students training to become an insurance salesman. I was shocked at the end of the two-week induction course that there were only three of us left. 

The others didn’t leave because of poor sales or product knowledge skills. The three of us remaining were the only ones prepared to commit daily to the set tasks. 

2. Work in areas where there is little competition: Start by testing the waters in several different markets to analyse where you get the best results. Logically, that’s where you should put most of your energy.

3. Become a specialist rather than a generalist: Keep practicing and tweaking your skills in a specific target market you enjoy working in. Know that market inside out and become an expert. There’s a reason specialists are always sought after and earn the most. 

4. Have a clear vision and big goals: This challenges you to find creative ways to accelerate business growth. For example, we set up an Australia-wide franchised financial planning business (which was a new concept back then) with 65 offices rather than our other option of simply three fully owned offices in Tasmania. 

5. Find a partner and be open to not owning 100%: While it’s not essential, if you have a complimentary partner or a high-level compatible teammate it will greatly increase your odds of successfully getting a new venture off the ground.

This is true of many businesses I have built. To have someone to cover my weaknesses and excel in key parts of business has been critical to our success. In relation to shareholding do the simple maths – it’s better to own 30% of a $50 million business than 100% of a $500K business!

6. It’s ok to become a copycat: There is an old saying that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’, and this way of thinking creates an opportunity to improve someone else’s idea. Most of us are not, and don’t need to be, inventors. Often we are too proud to simply say we copied or were inspired by something we loved.

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