Some salespeople are just built differently. They put another degree of effort and strategic thought into their day-to-day responsibilities — and they do this by employing the entrepreneur mindset.
The entrepreneur mindset is a special frame of mind that separates certain salespeople from their peers. In other words, it’s the difference between a good sales rep and a truly great one.
Here, we‘ll explore the concept further and review some of the key traits that define it. And if you’re in a pinch, jump straight to the information you need:
What is an entrepreneurial mindset?
The entrepreneurial mindset is a frame of mind, beliefs, and behaviors that drive entrepreneurial success. Most entrepreneurs exhibit positive tendencies from this mindset that help them overcome challenges, become more decisive, and take charge of their businesses.
It‘s worth noting that the entrepreneur mindset isn’t necessarily specific to entrepreneurs. Virtually anyone can demonstrate it professionally — not just ambitious budding-business owners. Here are some of the key characteristics you’ll grow in this mindset:
Entrepreneurial Mindset Characteristics
Entrepreneurs should be self-driven because they’re solely responsible for the success of their business. They need to motivate themselves and push through obstacles without anyone telling them what to do.
Self-drive can also look like staying focused on their goal, as entrepreneurship can require long hours, hard work, and dedication. Being self-driven allows entrepreneurs to take initiative and make decisions that will move their business forward, even when uncertain.
Entrepreneurs have an open-mindedness to how they approach their work. They’re willing to pivot when necessary, work with diverse groups of people, listen to critiques, and pivot when things are not working.
By staying flexible, entrepreneurs can adapt to change and take advantage of opportunities as they arise — instead of letting them pass by.
To think like an entrepreneur means you have to get creative. Many people like the sound of running their own business, but need more creativity to develop the ideas and strategies to gain and retain a customer base.
Even if you’re not serving a “creative” industry, your choices — from your supply chain to your marketing — can capture your target audience’s attention if it’s different from the rest of the competitive landscape.
Authenticity builds trust and creates a strong connection between entrepreneurs and their customers. When entrepreneurs are true to themselves, their values, and their brand, their customers are more likely to trust them and feel engaged with their business.
Authenticity also allows entrepreneurs to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, by establishing a unique identity that aligns with their vision and values.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 20% of U.S. businesses fail within their first year of operation. Entrepreneurs have to have the tenacity, or determination, to keep trying even after they fail.
Going through setbacks like low sales or visibility can chip away your confidence, but true entrepreneurs understand that the climb to success isn’t free of challenges.
Employee vs. Entrepreneur Mindset
Individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset, or entrepreneurial spirit, take initiative and make a point of elevating their colleagues. They embrace leadership opportunities and learn what they can at every possible turn. Those qualities — among others — set the entrepreneurially-minded apart from the employee-minded.
Here are some of the other key differences between the two thought processes.
1. Entrepreneurs zero in on individual tasks more than employees.
Believe it or not, “multitasking” isn‘t actually a thing. It’s just a buzzword that means rapidly jumping from individual task to individual task, sacrificing quality and thoughtfulness along the way. It’s a behavior that stunts focus and undermines productivity — a tendency that entrepreneurs avoid and employees fall into.
Entrepreneurs know how to focus. They understand that they‘ll get more out of their work by locking in on individual tasks and moving on once they’re completed. Employees struggle with that concept. They put too many balls in the air and drop some in the process.
2. Entrepreneurs have an ‘on to the next one’ mentality.
Employees often get fixated on the mistakes they’ve made. They tend to ruminate on failure, letting it take a toll on their confidence. Frustration eats at them, and they catastrophize hiccups and hitches.
Entrepreneurs see the good in failure. They understand that every mistake is a learning experience. They understand that the world isn‘t over with every screw-up. They give the situation some thought, determine how they can apply what they’ve learned as a result of it, and move “on to the next one.”
3. Entrepreneurs partition and prioritize their work differently.
Employees generally apply themselves — which isn’t a problem in itself. Their issue comes from how they apply their time and energy. They often tear through all their work as it comes to them with consistently exhaustive, borderline-indiscriminate effort.
Their first instinct is to work as hard as possible, and while that‘s admirable and sensible in its own right, it’s not always as effective as the road their entrepreneurially minded counterparts take — they make a point of working smarter.
They partition and prioritize their work more thoughtfully than employees, tiering their responsibilities by urgency and taking on their work accordingly. They know that time is the most important professional commodity, so they handle it with more tact and careful intention.
4. Entrepreneurs are smart about risks but don’t avoid them entirely.
Employees are risk-averse — reluctant to embrace failure, so they avoid any possible exposure to it. They value stability, sometimes to a fault. And while a steady paycheck and job security are valuable, they‘re not an entrepreneur’s first priority.
Entrepreneurs understand that risk is an often-unfortunate reality that comes with ambition. They know that you can‘t hack it in business without boldness, but that doesn’t mean they blindly embrace every last risky decision they’re faced with.
They take calculated risks, thoughtfully considering whether a leap of faith’s reward is worth its potential consequences. The key difference here is a matter of initiative. Entrepreneurs take it upon themselves to blaze the trail — employees generally follow behind.
5. Entrepreneurs emphasize and build on their strengths instead of their weaknesses.
Entrepreneurs spend more time building on what they do well than they do remedying their weaknesses. Employees spend more time putting a robust, jack-of-all-trades-esque body of skills together.
That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it lends itself to goodness as opposed to greatness. Entrepreneurs understand they need to stand out — and they know they can probably surround themselves with the right people to compensate for their shortcomings, down the line. That kind of faith in their strengths and future sets entrepreneurs apart from employees.
6. Entrepreneurs aren’t threatened by people smarter than them.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, leave that room.” That’s a tough concept for employee-minded individuals to reckon with. They resent people that might upstage them, so they avoid surrounding themselves with people smart enough to challenge them consistently.
Entrepreneurs value learning opportunities more than protecting their egos. They‘re the ones that leave a room when they’re the smartest in it. That‘s why they’re quick to tap and hire particularly bright people without getting too competitive. That good sense and humility help the entrepreneurially minded realize their ambitions and bolster their professional skill sets.
7. Entrepreneurs own all their decisions — good and bad.
Entrepreneurs hold themselves accountable for poor decisions as much as they tout their accomplishments. They consider and analyze their mistakes without dwelling on them too much. They also don’t try to skirt blame or distance themselves from the less-than-ideal calls they make.
Employees often try to deflect responsibility for the consequences of their actions, or they get too caught up in justifying their blunders. As I mentioned, entrepreneurs view screw-ups as learning experiences that don’t define them or dictate their professional value. They take their shortcomings on the chin and keep moving forward — taking ownership of their mistakes is a big part of that process.
How to Develop the Entrepreneurial Mindset
When we talk about adopting the entrepreneurial mindset, it can feel like the road map to get there is paved with vague instructions — be fearless, work hard, take risks. Sure, this sounds simple. But in practice, we quickly realize it’s easier said than done.
To get the ball rolling, here are a few actionable steps to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in day-to-day life:
1. Set clear goals.
You can‘t progress if you don’t know which direction you‘re going. It’s not enough to have dreams or wishes — you need clear goals.
Start by outlining a handful of goals to hit each week or month — ones that are specific, measurable, and realistic. Chip away at them every day and see how far you can get. If you have trouble staying accountable, write your goals down or share them with family, friends, or colleagues. Remember, big achievements are often the result of small, consistent actions.
2. Prioritize learning.
When discussing “learning,” you probably picture it in a formal setting, such as completing a training or certification. Of course, formal learning is vital for your professional development — and you shouldn’t pass up on these opportunities. But you can also learn by simply listening to others.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions, then actively listen. Seek out a mentor, message a peer on LinkedIn, listen to motivational podcasts, or take an online course. As the entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “Formal education will make you a living; self education will make you a fortune.”
3. Reframe failure.
Here‘s a shocking statement — failure doesn’t feel good. But the best entrepreneurs know that failure, rejection, risk, and criticism are all parts of the gig, choosing to see them as common side effects of ambition. Instead of folding, they learn how to keep moving.
The key word here is to learn, since reframing your mindset around failure will take some time and effort. The trick is not to think of failure as something to fear or avoid, but as a tool to better understand situations and make more informed decisions in the future.
A different perspective can completely change how you see a situation, so choose yours wisely. And remember, everything is a risk — including inaction. So try getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
4. Embrace risk-taking.
Failure is the best teacher. So when you take a risk, you‘ll either win or you’ll learn a lesson. This doesn‘t mean you should spontaneously quit your job or say “yes” to the next opportunity that comes your way. It’s all about calculated risk.
A calculated risk is a carefully considered decision with a degree of risk and a reasonable chance of a positive outcome. For instance, it’s common for entrepreneurs to put some of their personal assets on the line to finance operations. Yes, this is risky — but if you can get past the initial fear of such a risk, many benefits can await you on the other side.
Entrepreneurial Mindset Quotes
- “Every no gets me closer to a yes.” — Mark Cuban
- “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” — Robert Collier
- “Life keeps throwing me curve balls and I don’t even own a bat. But my dodging skills are improving.” ― Jayleigh Cape
- “Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” — William Feather
- “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.” — Vince Lombardi
On Work Ethic
- “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.” — Ann Landers
- “Success isn’t owned. It’s leased, and rent is due every day.” – J. J. Watt
- “So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is more important than working hard.” — Caterina Fake
- “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” — Muhammad Ali
- “I never dreamed of success. I worked for it.” — Estee Lauder
On Taking Risks
- “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” — Jimmy Carter
- “Be courageous. It’s one of the only places left uncrowded.” — Anita Roddick
- “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” — Frederick Wilcox
- “Everything is a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you.” — Nicola Yoon
- “Rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.” — Susan Wojcicki
On Handling Failure
- “I don’t like to lose — at anything — yet I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks.” — Serena Williams
- “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
- “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” — Bill Gates
- “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford
- “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”― Maya Angelou
On Motivation and Drive
- “Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” — Conrad Hilton
- “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” — Ayn Rand
- “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” — Oprah Winfrey
- “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” — Steve Jobs
- “No matter how many goals you have achieved, you must set your sights on a higher one.” — Jessica Savitch
- “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.” — Montesquieu
- “Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” — Brian Tracy
- “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” — Padmasree Warrior
- “Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.” — Margaret Wheatley
- “Do it from the heart or not at all.” ― Jeanette Winterson
Entrepreneurial Mindset Examples
1. Jamie Siminoff — Ring
With a small group of engineers working together out of his garage, Jamie Siminoff and his team came up with a new invention — Ring, a video doorbell.
In 2013, he brought his idea to the TV show “Shark Tank,” seeking a backer for his new invention. His pitch was straightforward — a $700,000 investment for 10 percent of his company. All the sharks flatly rejected him, including Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, and Lori Greiner.
For many, such a sweeping rejection on a national scale would be embarrassing — even paralyzing. Not Siminoff. Even though he left without a penny, he garnered enough publicity to help him fund his invention and the startup behind it. It wasn‘t the outcome he’d hoped for — but it turned out to be a beneficial one, nonetheless.
Five years later, Amazon purchased Ring for $839 million. It‘s now become one of the most successful companies to appear on Shark Tank, even though Siminoff didn’t seal the deal.
So let‘s recap — sometimes, failure feels like the end of the world. But success is not linear. It’s more like a bumpy road with highs and lows, and many entrepreneurs know this well, Siminoff included. It’s the rebuilding from failure when the entrepreneurial mindset shines.
2. Sheila Lirio Marcelo — Care.com
For Sheila Lirio Marcelo, a young woman born in the Philippines, the road to entrepreneurial success was a gamble. She migrated to the United States for college, attending Mount Holyoke College.
During her junior year of college, Marcelo became unexpectedly pregnant with her first child. Marcelo recalls struggling with child care during this time, which eventually pushed the brakes on her entrepreneurial dreams.
Years later, despite working a full-time job, Marcelo struggled to find quality care again, but this time for her aging parents. She knew this problem was not unique to her family and sought a better solution than the yellow pages.
“I didn’t feel like I was ready to go start a company since I didn’t have any experience,” said Marcelo. Intent on her own startup — and despite initial doubts —she took the risk and launched Care.com in 2007.
One of the most important lessons she took from her first few years as an entrepreneur was setting clear transparent goals — “which is crucial so you can fail and learn to get back up.”
From $400,000 in revenue in its first year, Care.com grew to $4 million a year later. Marcelo never looked back. Marcelo said it best on the topic of failure — “I think in terms of evolutions, not revolutions. Failure is not part of my vocabulary.”
Anyone can have an entrepreneurial mindset.
As I said, you don’t necessarily have to be an entrepreneur to exhibit the entrepreneur mindset. It might take extra thought, effort, and persistence, but any rep can embrace the patterns of behavior that define the frame of mind. And while going above and beyond like that can take a lot out of you, it might be the best way to reach that next level professionally.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.