• Makheni Zonneveld

Traits of successful entrepreneurs

Updated: Dec 20, 2018

This post is part of the free Q & A Future Readiness service. If you have not yet subscribed please click here or watch the 4-minute video on the homepage of makheni.com. Please click here for previous blogs in the series.

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Dear Makheni

I have read many books and many articles on traits of successful entrepreneurs and I would like to know which you consider to be the most important. Mabel (Not her real name. Didn’t state what she does and where she is from)


Dear Mabel

Thank you for your question which warrants a deviation from the series on selling tips. I am most impressed that you are a reader.

Let’s start with defining success to make sure that we are on the same page. It is sad that the yardstick for success is usually a bank balance. It is possible to achieve a huge bank balance without having some of the important traits that I would like to touch on. If what you would like to achieve is only more money then you you only need this next sentence. Find a need that people have, focus on meeting that need, work very hard and dedicate all your time and energy on meeting that need at all cost. In this whole long sentence, the operative word is cost. What cost?

Your achievement may be at the expense of:

  • Your relationships. We have all heard of people who had regrets on their deathbeds – regretting that they amassed riches at the expense of personal relationships.

  • Your conscience - contrary to popular belief, everyone has a conscience.

  • Your health – many people work themselves into an early grave or lose their health in the process of amassing riches and then try to buy their health back with the riches. Money can buy the most expensive hospital bed but it cannot buy health.

  • The rights of your employees if you are not a sole proprietor.

  • The wellbeing of your consumers.

  • Your fellow citizens or the citizens of the countries that you operate in if you are a tax evader. As a tax evader, no matter how many millions you pour into your foundations as a PR exercise, you may fool others but not your conscience.

You are right, the list of traits of successful entrepreneurs is long. I will try to simplify it by summing it up into two headings: BEing and DOing. BEing comes before DOing because the content of your character determines your actions. If you missed the blog on the Do’s and Don’ts of online marketing, please click here. Even if you have not missed it going through it again will do no harm.


When it comes to BEing, traits of a successful entrepreneurs have to do with 1. Values and 2. Mind-set.

1. Values

As you follow the series you can rest assured that ‘values’ and ‘value’ will pop up now and then.

As an entrepreneur you can have what I call the ‘corporate sector approach’ to values. Over the 2 decades that I have offered training, keynote addresses and coaching in the corporate sector, I have seen a lot of organisations that have their Mission, Vision and Values that reside in a big picture frame. The problem is that those values usually do not reside in the hearts of the people. Many of those huge picture frames are now replaced by the ‘About US’ page on websites of organisations but nothing else has changed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stating your values in writing - I also have my mission, vision and values on my website, makheni.com. The question is do I live those values?

One of the interventions I often suggest to organisations is helping them to transform organisational culture by moving the mission, vision and values from a website page to the hearts of people. This ensures that their daily decisions and activities are driven by that as well as by the overall organisational strategy. In my experience, it is far easier to teach people 'Rocket Science' or any other hard skill than it is to inculcate the ‘hard to implement skills’ that are called soft skills.

As an entrepreneur, you can’t go wrong with living values such as Integrity, Authenticity, Customer commitment, Respect for the individual, Quality, Teamwork, Good citizenship, Supporting sustainability, Innovative, Continuous improvement and all the positive stuff that get listed all the time. The essence of values is that you should aspire to live them at all cost. Yes, values do cost. In fact, if your values never cost you anything then they are not worth anything.

It’s easy to think of unethical conduct in terms of Enron, FIFA, Facebook and others because they make the headlines but the question is does the man in the mirror have integrity? Do you consistently do what you said you would do, how you said you would do it the way you said you would do it?

2. Mind-set

The mind-set that ensures success in entrepreneurship is the same mind-set that ensures success in any other venture.

Solution orientation

When everyone else complains, describes the situation and have a problem orientation, successful entrepreneurs have a solution orientation. If problems did not exist there would be no opportunities to offer solutions and make money.

Possibility thinking and optimism

As an entrepreneur you will always be surrounded by pessimists who will always tell you that it cannot be done. You need to keep believing that it can be done. I am not talking about denying reality. No matter how much you believe in the idea of making money selling ice in Greenland, you will not succeed.

Delayed gratification

Unsuccessful people spend today. Successful people have the discipline to invest today and spend tomorrow.


This is an important trait that is necessary for success. Work smart and hard. Please do not listen to the nonsensical ‘work smart, not hard’.

Work smart and not hard is a catchy phrase that appeals to most people because many generally want instant effortless success.


Most successful entrepreneurs have failed more than once but the difference between them and unsuccessful people is that they stand up, dust themselves off and soldier on. Perseverance does not mean continuing to do the same thing that led to your failure but learning from the failure and finding a better way.


Generosity goes far beyond giving money. Generosity includes giving of yourself and sharing the lessons that you have learnt along the way to help others to learn from your mistakes. Few things limit people like the poverty mentality that is called the scarcity mentality – thinking that the pie is too small. The internet makes the pie bigger because you and your competitors are not limited to people in your geographical area.

Lifelong learning

Successful entrepreneurs never stop learning. That is why many of them are readers. When you keep learning you grow as a person and you find better ways of doing things. Anyone who knows me knows that over the decades I have always encouraged people to read and that I have always attributed my success to reading, reading and reading. I agree with a what a fellow South African, Glen McQuirk, once said, “I don’t know anyone who attributes his success to watching television”.

Mabel, the good news is that all these traits can be acquired.


The essence of the doing part is, 1. Meeting needs and 2. Solving problems real problems of real people. For more on how to go about doing that, keep following this blog.

What now?

Mabel, as I said at the beginning, I am glad you are a reader. The question is do you implement what you learn?

Write down your values then do some serious soul-searching. Do you really live your stated values?

Write down the long list of traits of that you referred to and consider which you would like to acquire

Keep reading

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Makheni your Future Readiness Coach

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Makheni Zonneveld has extensive experience in helping organisations, teams, individuals and entrepreneurs with real transformation. She employs these communications tools: Online and face2face coaching, speaking, training, storytelling and writing.

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