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10 wise entrepreneurship lessons from being an entrepreneur

entrepreneurship lessons

My entrepreneurship lessons are based on my own experience as a business owner and scientist on this topic. For me, entrepreneurship is primarily a matter of doing. However, it requires an entrepreneurial mindset. As Cicero put it 106 years before Christ, “Character without knowledge has more often led to success than knowledge without character.” For sure, a man with undoubtedly a lot of knowledge and character.

Entrepreneurship is, therefore, about who you are, and your attitude partly determines the behavior you exhibit. By doing, you learn to fall and stand up, but also to stand out.

Due to damage and sometimes shame, I came to 10 wise (read hard-learned) entrepreneurial lessons in my 25+ years of experience from being a startup founder and an entrepreneur and studying the science behind entrepreneurship. It has become my “business bible” that describes my lessons learned in entrepreneurship. It may sound pedantic at times, but that is really not my intention. I hope it helps your entrepreneurial journey and gets the success you want!

Table of contents

Wise lesson #1: Give before you take

The first of the 10 entrepreneurship lessons is mainly about networking, but also about collaboration. I have visited many networking drinks and held collaborative discussions. So, I spoke to many people. The majority takes first before giving back. Those “takers” first want to know what they can get or take from you. They will only give you back something later if it proved helpful for them. But even then, some didn’t return anything. Whether it is later or never, it isn’t sustainable. Therefore, my lesson is – before you take – to simply ask:

What can I do for you?

When visiting a networking event, simple ask this question.

Again, the “takers” get shocked anyhow. They did not expect your kind gesture. If everyone does that, you will eventually get what you initially wanted.

Wise lesson #2: Do what you can’t let, but don’t let what you can do

Number 2 of my 10 entrepreneurship lessons is about passion, drive, and perseverance. As an entrepreneur, you are really thrown into the deep. You can no longer hide behind your position, or your colleague or your excuses such as: “this is not my department.” You irrevocably encounter yourself in all your strengths and weaknesses. It can be confronting. Yes, It does.

Therefore, the entrepreneurial lesson I learned is, above all, to be yourself. There is no point in hiding. So, do whatever you really want to do. That one thing that you are passionate about and you can’t live without it for a day. Then it also becomes a lot more fun, even if you earn too little to live by.

Of course, there is always less fun work left to do in your business. For years, I have shoved them on before me, but that didn’t make it easier. Rather the opposite. So what is left for you to do today? Do it. Now!

Do what you can’t let, but don’t let what you can do.

Dr. Martijn Driessen

Wise lesson # 3: First good than fast and then lots

This third lesson of my 10 entrepreneurship lessons is about building a foundation. In short, about planning and organizing. A bitter necessity if you want to make it a real company. Because if you keep making mistakes, you’ll easily get burned out. Of course, mass is money, but without a sound basis – read: proven processes – mass becomes a mess.

Hence, this lesson is actually very simple. Make sure that what you do is right first. Please test it out in small steps and small quantities. If that all works well, you can start to think bigger and faster. But, again, test, test, test. Only after that you can start focussing on the rest.

Do half of what you do, and do it twice as well.

René Savelberg – former CEO of McDonald’s Netherlands

Wise lesson #4: Think from the other person’s filter, starting with the customer’s

This is the biggest lesson in successful entrepreneurship I learned, however challenging to master. But I’m going to try to teach it to you. It is about market orientation, thinking from the customer, and how the thinking style of a salesperson works. It is primarily about the filter. I do not mean the coffee filter, but the filter every person has. So, your filter and that of your customer. You can view the filter as a pair of glasses that you wear.

Not literally, of course, but a virtual one that allows you to see the world around you every day. Those virtual glasses are the sum of your upbringing, your norms, and values, your character traits, your thinking styles, etc. Actually, everything you have experienced so far. The way you view the world in your unique way, the customer does in his unique way.

So, to sell something to your customer, you need to know his unique glasses. Only then will you actually know whether and how you can meet his or her needs. How do you do that? Very simple, actually. By asking questions, you find out about his or her glasses. An important detail is to ask open questions. They always start with how, what, who, where, and when.

Another tip: if you are really interested in your customer, it goes effortlessly.

When I say apple, what do you think of?

Wise lesson #5: Listen before you speak

This fifth experience of the 10 entrepreneurial lessons that I learned is about social orientation and communication. So in a way also about the filter. Your customer’s filter; what thinking style does he have? What preoccupies him?

Of course, you are full of yourself and your company. You have gold in your hands. But 10 to 1 that your customer has something different on his mind. For sure, he has something else on his mind. Something that he does not immediately throw openly and honestly on the table, especially when he feels that you want to sell him something.

So, first, you must put him at ease and gain his confidence. That starts with asking questions. Exactly: open-ended questions. If you still feel the urge to talk, bite your tongue, and curl your toes.

Another tip: you listen with your eyes. In other words, look closely at what is not said by looking at his body language.

Listen with your eyes.

Wise Lesson #6: Whatever you really want, you can

This hart learned lesson is about believing in yourself. About effectiveness, as measured in the E-Scan. This lesson actually refers to all entrepreneurial lessons. It means that if you really want something, you will find a way to take you there.

It is not without reason that there is a well-known saying that there is no road impassable for the persistent person. Where there is no road, you can always build one. But that is only possible if you firmly believe you can create that road. So, it is only possible if you’re highly internally motivated. That’s why you see it in the eyes of successful entrepreneurs. You see, their eyes sparkle and twinkle. They have that rock-solid conviction in what they want, and eventually, get it done.

By getting up again every time you have fallen, you’ll eventually succeed. Tip: start with the end in mind. After all, that’s what you want. The more concrete your end goal, the easier it gets. So, if you already know what you want. Then you have to do it.

Do what you really like, and make sure you become the best at it!

Jan Aalberts – CEO Aalberts Industries

Wise lesson #7: Make sure you hear yourself talking

This entrepreneurship lesson is about your inner voice. It deals with what you think and what you want. In other words, it refers to your autonomy and creativity, and not what others want you to do.

Do you live by your fantasy? Don’t be distracted by what others think or say. By that, I don’t mean you can ignore everyone around you from now on. They want the best for you. Doubtless. However, they also have their filter and interests. They view you and your company from their perspective. Everything they say is related to that.

Listen, consider their advice or opinion, especially if good open questions on their part preceded it, but ultimately make your own decision. No one else is so intertwined with your company. Only you know all the ins and outs. So listen to your intuition, to your inner gut-feeling.

Your feeling knows much more than your mind can think of.

Dr. Martijn Driessen

Wise lesson # 8: Do not find yourself successful, because then it will be too late

This eighth lesson of 10 entrepreneurial lessons, which I learned, is about keeping both feet on the ground. Of course – you will never hear me say – you can’t celebrate your successes. Please do celebrate. But try not to let it go your head.

By finding yourself successful, you have a good chance of becoming arrogant. Arrogance is the enemy of every entrepreneur. Don’t get stuck in there. Do not think for a minute that you are already there, because then you relax and you start lacking behind.

The future is always ahead of you, not behind you. Although, of course, there is nothing against looking back and reflecting from time to time.

  • What can you do differently?
  • Is there anything you can do better next time?
  • What options do you have?
  • How can you make it happen?

After all, you know very well what you want. Right?

After all, you know very well what you want.

Wise lesson #9: Stop checking, start learning

“I told you so; I knew it better!” Managers and Specialists – as entrepreneurial thinking styles – are more likely to suffer from this way of thinking. They love to double-check – if not triple check – before moving ahead. They are the first to tell you precisely how things are and should be. It is not good or bad; but it is less effective, depending on the situation.

It is more useful when you ask yourself: what is different, what is actually meant, what possibilities does it offer me, and what can I learn from this? Exactly, here again, it starts with asking the right questions. This time you are asking open-ended questions to yourself. Because that’s where the learning starts! Learning by reflecting and improving.

#10 of my entrepreneurship lessons: Never give up

The tenth wise lesson is not consciously mentioned last. Wise lesson numero uno is no more important or better than number ten. Nevertheless, if there is one personal characteristic that you, as an entrepreneur, should have enough of, then it is the ability never to give up. So, perseverance.

As an entrepreneur, you find yourself in new and unknown situations more often than you would like, which sometimes demands the utmost. Things that don’t go as you expected. That makes a massive appeal to your motivation, to your passion—the reason you ever started your own business. But if the reason you started for yourself is still there – no matter how small or far away – then you will eventually continue. Then you will find the motivation to think of another way that will take you to what you so eagerly and eagerly desire.

Your desires are your friends. Your expectations are your enemies.

an investor and entrepreneur

With these entrepreneurship lessons, I wish you much wisdom and success.

With entrepreneurial regards,

Martijn

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