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One of the great joys of my career has been working alongside hundreds of ambitious entrepreneurs, including those in the top 1% — a.k.a. owners of businesses that make it to $10 million in annual revenue. There are 31 million entrepreneurs in the U.S., and if there’s anything I’ve learned, we are all courageous and dedicated. Every entrepreneur I know has a healthy chuckle over the adage, “Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work an 80-hour week to avoid a 40-hour-a-week job.”
As the owner of a public relations agency, I tend to work with tons of bold, successful entrepreneurs, but I think it’s worth looking at three of the most important mindsets that entrepreneurs in the 1% have taught me.
1. Every experience is an opportunity
Creative venture builders consider every engagement an opportunity to get a new idea or establish a beneficial relationship. From attending a basketball game to meeting a potential new hire, successful entrepreneurs know opportunities come in the most unlikely places.
Viewing every engagement as an opportunity, these entrepreneurs stay plugged into the problem-cause-innovation cycle that makes us distinctive. Think about every time you say, “It’s just ridiculous that…” Well, that’s an opportunity.
The same goes for people. Much has been said about the people you align with and their impact on your success. And yes, that’s true. But pioneers know ideas often start as seeds, and the ability to identify talent and character early in a relationship or early in a person’s career is a differentiator because new perspectives and experience are often a magical combination.
One CEO whose fast-growing business has been nationally recognized for its creative products once told me, “Ultimately, my business is only a business if it can thrive without me at the helm; my next phase of growth is ensuring the team has everything they need to be a team.”
Every entrepreneur faces a moment when they realize they must relinquish the reins. After years of being elbow deep in every aspect of the business, it’s challenging to decide where to loosen the reins. Great leaders make it their business to identify and nurture talent.
2. Look at failure as a spark for growth
Few founders reach their full potential without some failures on the way. But the differentiator isn’t just getting back up; the innovation comes along with it. Proactive entrepreneurial minds are willing to examine why something failed and identify what they can control and change. Even better, they can identify failure quickly.
Looking at something that isn’t working and changing direction purposefully and intentionally is a vital skill of successful entrepreneurs. Over and over, I hear a similar story of a burned-out or frustrated entrepreneur making a conscious choice for change, and that becoming a turning point to greatness. From switching up marketing and sales tactics, to a new product offering, failure and frustration is often the mother of invention. So, if you’re at that place, take a deep look at how you can change your plan — after all, isn’t that the grandest benefit of entrepreneurialism?
3. Recognize your own strengths
One thing the top 5% of entrepreneurs do well is knowing where they serve the company best (and where they don’t), and they work diligently to carve out the space they need to be that asset to the company’s growth.
Some CEOs are natural spokespersons, and their story, voice and unique perspective is something only they can share. These CEOs thrive as brand champions and thought leaders. As one direct-to-consumer brand CEO, who stars in his company’s TV advertising, told me, “If I can’t champion this brand, internally and externally, how can I ask anyone else to do so?” These CEOs know how to take the helm of their own storytelling early so they can blaze trails throughout their journey, no matter where they land.
Some founders are technical visionaries. In these cases, the founder’s journey is critical to understanding the company’s path. No one else can see the future the way they can. One technical Founder and CEO I know was so far ahead of the AI boom he had already seen what would happen with ChatGPT and ensured his technical product answered problems most people didn’t know to ask about. While these founders may eventually step aside to allow someone else to helm the business while they stay engaged on future-proofing the business.
Arguably, these are skills that are rarely replicated with the same CEO edge and vigor. Excellent CEOs have a vision for the business and their role in success, enabling them to empower a team that supports the CEO’s best and highest use of time. This emotional intelligence about themselves is a differentiator in success.
Securing a spot in the top 1% of entrepreneurs is a mix of success factors. Still, the mindset remains one of the most critical, and most importantly, it’s one of the influences within an innovator’s control.