How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur: Build a Quilt

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Audio How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

Every successful entrepreneur has her radar going at all times.  She’s scanning for …

A disruptive external event.  A crippling new government regulation.  A critical supplier gone.

Anything that can derail her entrepreneurial venture.

Stuff happens.


Why Be an Entrepreneur

Many of us see becoming a business owner as the solution to challenges we may be facing as a result of job loss or other life changes that leave us looking for income.  Divorce.  Loss of a spouse.  Need for a second income.

Whatever the reason, the internet has lowered the barriers to entry into business.  The high start-up costs of yesteryear have been reduced dramatically.  You no longer have to rent an office or storefront, or invest in furniture or print all sorts of marketing materials.

All you need is a viable idea, a computer and a bunch of applicable skills.  Maybe even a mentor to shortcut the journey.  And maybe a “virtual franchise” if you’re looking at direct marketing someone else’s product line.

What It Takes to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

But before you even get that far, and invest that much time and energy, the most critical checklist is one that ascertains that you have the personality traits that make for a successful entrepreneur.

According to a Forbes article (7 Traits of Incredibly Successful Entrepreneurs by Eric T. Wagner), those traits include:

•    Curiosity about everything: You should want to know how and why everything works, and be asking questions constantly.
•    Endless creativity:  If you do what others do, as they do it, you will fail; seeing things a new way is what leads to success.
•    That “vision” thing:  Without clarity about where you’re headed and why you want to go there, it’s too easy to falter along the way.
•    Great communications skills:  You can’t be the pied piper if you can’t communicate your vision in writing and in spoken words.
•    Natural leadership: You need to know your strengths and be ready to delegate tasks around your weaknesses as soon as you can afford to.  And you need to be head cheerleader.
•    Risk seeker and action taker: The risk-reward concept should be second nature to you as you jump into action long before most others do.
•    Unbridled tenacity: You need the sheer will to do what it takes … regardless … even when others will have given up and gone home.

One More Trait

Over my decades of entrepreneurial ventures, I’ve found another trait that has saved my hide more than once, especially in the early stages of a business:  the ability to focus on more than one thing at a time.  Today some might call it ADD (they call everything ADD).  I call it “building a quilt.”

As I build one business, I always have a series of other projects going in the background.  They may be minor, taking little time and focus away from the main activity.  But in times of difficulty, the secondary projects have always been easy to ramp up to bridge slow times or to avert disasters.

If you know my story, you know I lost my business in 2001 when my major clients went bankrupt following 9/11.  It was an event I could never have predicted.

What you may not know is that my primary focus was to replace the lost activity by taking my consulting skills and searching for a new use for them.  (Today that represents my major business: doing international consulting in a technical field that is the expertise of my partner.)

But as I did that, I also reactivated my translation contacts and put my four languages to use.  And I took my extensive knowledge of import/export and ramped up a little service overnight that helps people source and import products from other countries.

I built a quilt.  A patchwork of activities.

If you’re to be a successful entrepreneur, what do you have in your back pocket that you can call on when the proverbial “stuff happens?”   Let us know in the Comments section below.


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.

  • Laura Whitfield

    Great article, Sharon! I am just starting a business called Defying Small (we’re on FB & Twitter) and I am building my quilt now! I am a kindergarten teacher and this summer I will begin blogging the parenting book I’ve written while working my PT communications job and building my new business (which includes writing a book). I loved reading your story and learning about the 7 traits. Sharing with other start-ups I know. Thank you for all you do!

    • Laura, I find that concept of a “patchwork quilt” so important as a way to help us survive the early days of business-building. Besides, they say we women have exceptional multi-tasking skills, so why not multi-business, right? Good luck to you as you build out YOUR activities, having some along the flanks as the main one grows! And my thanks for sharing the message.

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Enjoyed your article and story, Sharon. I love your concept of a “patchwork quilt.” Thanks for also sharing the “7 Traits of Incredibly Successful Entrepreneurs.” I especially like “that vision thing.” Have a blessed day!

    • Alexandra, once one of my brothers was moving from the operations side of a big corporation to upper management. When I asked what would be different, among other things he said he’d be responsible for “that ‘vision’ thing.” I never forgot it … 😉

  • Liz Bigger

    Wow Sharon! I can totally relate!!! Love this post!!!

    • I would imagine that the “quilting” reference would be right down your alley, Liz! 😉

  • Love this, Sharon! Your concept of the “patchwork quilt” is a perfect illustration. Your addition of “the ability to focus on more than one thing at a time” is an excellent one!

    • So many of us do this, Robin, without even realizing it. The are pluses and minuses to multitasking … but this is certainly one of the pluses!

  • Barbara Becker

    Sharon, what a great story and metaphor. I offer several services that make up my “quilt”. I love your articles!

    • Thank you, Barbara. You’re right, a metaphor with a clear visual certainly makes it easy to describe a concept! I’m glad you’re already diversifying your services …

  • “Building a quilt”…love that visual, Sharon!! That really hit home for me and it makes sense…because entrepeneurs do have to pull in so many skills and traits and bring them together. Excellent post!

    • Thanks, Sherie. I’ve been using that expression for over 30 years … and probably actually DOING it even longer, from my earliest entrepreneurial ventures at around age 20.

  • Pat Moon

    Now I know I am not stupid in wanting to do a variety of things.. its like making a quilt top, putting talents & skills together so they synergize and work even better than when isolated. Thanks for a great article.

    • I’m glad that was reassuring, Pat, but I can’t imagine that “stupid” is a word easily applied to anything you do. From what I know, you have good, solid thought processes and take responsibility for the outcomes. Nothing stupid about that! 😉

      • Pat Moon

        Yes, Sharon, that was not a good choice of words.

        • We all do it–without meaning it literally–don’t we, Pat? Let’s just hope our subconscious minds aren’t listening … 😉

  • Brilliant as always… Yes it takes a lot of strength, creativity and much more to be successful at anything in life…

    • You and I realize that “how you do one thing is how you do everything,” Carly. Which is why your statement indeed applies to anything in life …

  • What a wonderful visual, Sharon, and very reassuring to many of us that we are on the right path. How often have I doubted whether it will be possible to unite all my skills, talents and experience “under one hat” and now you give me this vision of a quilt with no boundaries and ever expanding. Great, thank you!

    • What makes our offerings unique, Barbara, is OUR specific combination of “quilt pieces.” The key is to take different pieces and apply them as different “ventures” or projects … to give our income generation extra stability … sort of like a 3-legged stool.

  • Great perspective and suggestions! Thanks for sharing this.

    • You’re very welcome, Sandi, glad you found them useful!

  • Loved reading this because it encourages me to keep moving forward, to overcome the fears, and to take chances on the deeper dreams within. I love the simplicity of steps you listed as well. Nothing frilly. Nothing difficult. Just straight forward go get em tips. Thank you!

    • Life can be “straight forward go get em” if we let it, Marvia. Unfortunately, our upbringing (and what we still hear all around us) makes us think that maybe it needs to be frilly or difficult. 😉

  • Susan Schiller

    This takes me back, Sharon, to a day when you wrote to me, predicting that I would have income flowing in from multiple sources, like a quilt. It was like you were speaking something into existence in my life, and I’m forever grateful for the transforming quality of your words.

    Reading this article today, reinforces those words and compels me to take action. I’ve been in a fog today, for some reason – your words bring Light and clarity! Thank you 🙂

    • I’m grateful that you’ve allowed me to be along on your journey, Sue. We know that what I touched was just a small part of the reinvention you were going through, and you have my ongoing support, as you know. 😉

  • This is an excellent article Sharon – I agree with you that the best way is to have many “patches” which you can blend and sew together – I am a work in progress but am taking some good steps to getting my own quilt into place!

    • Glad to hear that, Moira! Sometimes the additional efforts are spinoffs of our major endeavor, which is fine as long as they are standalone income generators.

  • Jessica Stone

    Wow! I’m so glad to know that my “serial” entrepreneurship is ok, normal, and actually a good thing. I feel like I have my hands in so many things, yet they are all so important to me and have, like you said, bailed me out when necessary. It’s definitely a juggling act – however, I’m having fun and it’s keeping me on my toes! Thanks for a great article!!

    • Jessica, there is a point where we can have our fingers in too many pies (I’ve done that!), but it’s very individual and depends on what each venture requires. If anything, it will mean some things will take longer to gain momentum and a window of opportunity may have closed. But the risk involved in having only one thing going is far greater … at least in my books.

  • Fabulous advice as always Sharon. In these days of financial uncertainty we need to be flexible and adaptable. Having a variety of skills is essential. And you have proved that!

  • Yetunde Daramola

    Thanks for the entrepreneur tips. I usually have my hands in so many pies. It works for me as different income streams fund different activities.

    • The ability to build multiple streams of income will serve you well, Yetunde! Just because life comes with downs and ups, there will come a time when one or another will become a very welcome safety net!

  • Such a wealth of knowledge you are Sharon. Thanks for all the support you offer through your posts.

    • And thank you, Anita, for all YOUR support. BTW, I loved our conversation the other day; nice to know the “connection” extends beyond written into spoken words! 😉

  • Gertraud Walters

    Like your idea of building a quilt. Brilliant article,food for thought.

    Thank you Sharon.

    • Glad it brought you food for thought, Gertraud. My goal is to trigger women to think through all aspects of their finances so they are in greater control of their everyday lives.

  • Marilyn Arriaga

    wow, when you said quilt, I didn’t see that coming. What an excellent post. I too have a quilt that I am building. I use my main business to help the 2nd one.

    • Perfect, Marilyn! One day you may find that the role reverses, and the second business actually helps you bridge something unforeseen in your main one. Keep it up! 😉

  • Love the analogy – “I built a quilt. A patchwork of activities.” That’s how I did it, as well, until I hit my stride. And, I agree – to be successful you do have to be able to focus on many things at once.

    • What a joy it is, Lisa, to see how solidly you’ve built your “underpinnings.” From your comments over time, you’ve got a solid foundation to grow (or rest) upon. Congratulations!

  • Fabulous! Love the building a quilt analogy to having multiple streams of income and projects. LOVE thsi article!
    Warmly, Mary

    • Thanks, Mary! It’s a concept I’ve applied forever, maybe because I saw the risks of entrepreneurship as a kid, where outside factors (in a foreign country, in our case) could pull the rug out from under. From then on, having a Plan B in the wings became second nature. And still serves me well!

  • karen p

    My quilt consists of managing a business, home and kiddos! Loved the article Sharon!

  • Lorii Abela

    What an excellent article. Inspiring story and analogy. Sometimes small things, when they come together become a big thing and helps you more than you expect. Thank you for sharing.