Don’t have time to read? Here’s a quick but comprehensive summary of Kevin D. Johnson’s “The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs,” released on March 5, 2013.
Who should read this: “Whether you are thinking of starting a business, celebrating your first year in business, or approaching ten years in business, you’ll find tremendous value in reading this book,” Johnson writes. In other words, any entrepreneur looking for a mentor will find helpful tips here.
Elevator pitch: Entrepreneurship can be taught, and Kevin D. Johnson wants to teach it. This book includes 100 easily digestible lessons in strategy, people, finance, marketing and leadership, including lots of anecdotes from his own experience.
Author: Thirty-three-year-old Kevin D. Johnson is a serial entrepreneur and the president of Johnson Media Inc., a multimillion-dollar marketing and communications company.
1. Think big: Failing to reach your potential is a lesser-known, lesser-understood type of business failure. Entrepreneurs fail to think big because they are limited by their environment or their lack of expertise, or they lack the motivation or self-confidence.
2. Create new markets: Studies have shown that “blue ocean” businesses account for a disproportionate amount of the profits and revenues.
3. Work on your business, not in your business: Doing lots of operations work leads to early burnout. You should hire key employees so you can spend your time making plans for growth.
4. All risk isn’t risky: Entrepreneurs may have a tolerance for risk, but they also have the ability to make calculations and increase their chances of success.
5. Don’t waste time: The best entrepreneurs have a sense of stressful urgency. If you don’t feel this way, ask yourself why.
6. Build a company that is systems-dependent, not people-dependent: Map out all the roles in your company, from CEO to CFO, even if you’re doing most of them. That way, you can automate processes, make things more efficient, and be ready to hire.
7. Ask for help: Don’t let your ego get in the way.
8. Business comes first, family second: If it doesn’t, your business will probably fail. But if it succeeds, you can offer many benefits to your family.
9. Do what’s most important first: Successful entrepreneurs prioritize the important tasks, even though they are harder and take longer. Increase your motivation and focus by working in the morning, taking a break, changing your environment, and disconnecting from the web.
10. Hire a good lawyer: They can help with choosing a business entity, intellectual property, and contracts.
11. The business plan is overrated: Before writing one, research the competition, talk to customers, and develop a prototype.
12. Require criticism and disagreement in your company: Many founders make the mistake of hiring “yes-men” who think and act like they do.
13. Fire your worst customers: They can make you lose money and waste time in the long run.
14. Make money while doing nothing: To do that, try to work on your business (not in your business), focus on systems rather than people (see above), automate processes through technology, and outsource.
15. Outsourcing makes sense: Your business is more likely to succeed if you outsource non-core functions. And in the long run, you’ll create more jobs in your community (by surviving).
16. Move on fast from a bad business idea: Tenacity can help entrepreneurs, but not when it makes you stick with a bad idea for too long.
17. A bad economy is a great opportunity: Many great companies were founded during bad times, and great entrepreneurs are the ones who can stick it out.
18. Adopt technology early: Successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs are often exposed to new technologies before they hit the consumer market and become early adopters.
19. Ignorance can be bliss: Although many entrepreneurs are familiar with the industries they disrupt, others are newcomers that come in with radical ideas.
20. Adapt to change quickly: It’s harder to change when you’re doing well. To build change into the culture, do regular reviews of changing markets, customers, and technologies.
21. Technology is an opportunity, not a threat: It’s hard to imagine that the newest technologies will become widespread, but they do. Adopt them early.
22. Always follow up: Don’t let your fear of rejection, laziness, or misunderstanding of what is polite get in the way.
23. Have laserlike focus: Having too many products can lower quality, waste resources, and confuse customers.
24. Nonprofit really means profit: Look to nonprofits as customers. They have money to spend, are eager to find a deal, and will refer you to other nonprofits.
25. Explore new adventures for inspiration: Go outside or visit another city or state or country to solve a mental block or come up with new ideas.
26. Failure doesn’t kill you; it makes you stronger.
27. Seek partnerships for the right reasons: According to Guy Kawasaki, good partnerships accelerator cash flow, increase revenues, and reduce costs – not generate press coverage or make up for weaknesses, for example.
28. Be a master at leveraging resources: Customers and advertisers aren’t always willing to pay cash; learn to do creative things with the resources they offer.
29. An idea’s execution, not its uniqueness, yields success: Focus on speed, your team, and frugality.
30. Find an enemy: Finding an enemy can motivate your team and “gamify” the startup process.
31. Don’t underestimate your competition: Saying you have no competitors does not attract investors. Every company has competitors, even if it’s a different product that people might otherwise spend their money on (a “substitute”) or a product with a different business model.
32. Ask for what you want: You’ll be surprised what people are willing to give.
33. No competition probably means your idea has little merit: Possible reasons include lack of demand, too small of a market, an unprofitable idea, or huge barriers to entry.
34. Put out fires quickly: For customer complaints, respond quickly and calmly; listen after apologizing; explain your plan and give a timeline; share updates frequently; and make sure they are satisfied with the resolution.
35. Have an exit strategy: It will help you make decisions along the way and recognize opportunities to exit.
36. School is not necessarily education: College has pros and cons, but what’s clear is that entrepreneurs have to keep learning (whether in school or not).
37. You’re in no rush to get an MBA: Getting an MBA while running a business will just detract from the business.
38. Spend the majority of your time with people smarter than you: You will pick up their habits and thoughts, and learn from them.
39. Office space is not a priority, but a good team is: Office space can actually decrease productivity because of commuting, and services like Regus can provide the facade of an office (like a secretary and address) without the real thing.
40. What you wear isn’t what you’re worth: Dress comfortably, but respectably – the right people won’t care.
41. You don’t always have to be the smartest one in the room: The best CEOs are humble and know how to bring together smart people.
42. Talent trumps seniority.
43. You are odd, and it’s okay: Entrepreneurs have higher levels of dyslexia, ADD, and Asperger’s than the general population.
44. People don’t only work for money: Good employees will accept payment other than money, and they may even work harder than paid employees.
45. You have a sidekick: Working with someone else can increase productivity by more than double.
46. Don’t let people abuse your flexibility: Entrepreneurs have flexible work hours, but that doesn’t mean that friends and family should take advantage of that. Try to set some boundaries.
47. Don’t manage people, manage expectations: Setting expectations for things like deadlines will make people fall into line, rather than you having to manage them at each step.
48. Get the right mentor: Choose one who has achieved the success that you want, and is able to answer questions fairly quickly.
49. Choose your spouse wisely: Marry someone who understands you.
50. Fire unproductive people: Know what you’re looking for, don’t make rash hiring decisions, and be sure to constantly evaluate the team and seek out top talent.
51. You don’t need money to make money: You can obtain lots of resources for free. But it might take money to make lots of money quickly.
52. Pay taxes quarterly: Otherwise, you may owe more than you can pay at the end of the year.
53. A check in hand means nothing: Take questionable checks to the bank to verify funds and, more broadly, don’t assume you’ve been paid until the money is in the bank.
54. Avoid negative cash flow: It’s possible to have negative cash flow over a month (for example) even if your company is profitable overall. Keep track of this so you can pay all your bills.
55. Borrow money from a bank before you need it: You’re more likely to get a loan when you don’t need it, and you’ll be prepared should an economic downturn hit.
56. Prepayment is king; disregard standard payment terms: Build trust with customers to get them to pre-pay for products or services. Make your payment terms clear and set up a timeline for getting paid as early as possible.
57. Hiring a professional accountant is money well spent: In the end, they save you time and money overall.
58. Manage debt well. Most entrepreneurs don’t raise funding, and most businesses fail due to undercapitalization.
59. There’s a downside to having investors: Investors aren’t easy to find, deals can fall through, and money can exacerbate your problems if the business isn’t sound already.
60. Focus on building revenue: Investors care about sales and revenue.
61. The biggest investment in your company is yours: People are more likely to invest when you have invested your own money (or at least time) into the business.
62. Use different banks to minimize risk: If your business and personal accounts are at the same bank, they are linked by your Social Security number. You may see business debt affecting your personal credit report, or be pressured to pay off business debts with personal finances.
63. Know your PAYDEX score: Partners may use the PAYDEX score, equivalent to a business’s credit score, to make decisions.
Marketing and Sales
64. You’re in sales, whether you want to be or not: It’s important to focus on sales early because you might be building something people don’t want, and making revenue is the whole point of the company.
65. Your customer is your boss: Ignoring customers’ needs or building in features they don’t want leads to failure.
66. You have sales before you have a business: That’s the sign of a promising idea – when money paid to your business forces you to form a corporation.
67. You aren’t always the best person to close a deal: People don’t always make decisions based on logic, so the same pitch from different people can have different results. Study your potential customers and, based on that, choose the right person to represent your company.
68. Networking isn’t all about you: Ask how you can help the other person, and it will ultimately be more beneficial to everyone.
69. Don’t waste time on people who can’t say yes: When trying to make a sale, ask your contact who will be responsible for making the final decision and target that person.
70. There’s no such thing as a cold call: Do research on prospects and their history, and the call will quickly “warm up.”
71. Tell everyone about your business: You miss out on opportunities when you keep quiet due to fear, shyness, or a mistaken sense of politeness.
72. Ask the right questions: When talking to partners or customers, open-ended questions are more likely to create a dialogue and get at the root of the matter.
73. Receive the maximum value for your products or services: Pick a price and stick to it. Customers may say no, but they will respect you, and eventually they will pay.
74. Don’t patronize customers: Patronizing, like having a client deal with your assistant, sends the wrong signal. But entrepreneurs often do it because they believe that’s what CEOs do, they misunderstand delegating, their ego is inflated, or they want the company to appear larger than it is.
75. Build your network creatively: Be proactive and creative, meet the right people, and find the right environment (not necessarily a standard networking event).
76. Don’t hold grudges: Customers or investors who say no may have the opportunity to say yes in the future; don’t alienate them with anger or disrespect.
77. Act in spite of how you feel: Don’t let your emotions or fatigue let you miss out on valuable opportunities.
78. Push beyond your fear: Let your goals propel you.
79. Be a maverick: Lots of successful entrepreneurs were rebellious.
80. Make your dreams come true.
81. Make difficult sacrifices: The best entrepreneurs are willing to make extreme sacrifices that go beyond just eating ramen.
82. You have unbelievable endurance: Endurance is the most important trait for entrepreneurs.
83. Be prepared to lose it all: Despite the media hype, this is what happens to many entrepreneurs.
84. Being successful is not the goal: Entrepreneurs should be motivated by creating a valuable product for customers, not success itself. The feeling of success is fleeting after each accomplishment.
85. You are excited when Monday morning arrives: Entrepreneurs love Mondays because they get a fresh start with work, and the rest of the world is available to respond to them and move things along.
86. You’re disappointed when Friday arrives: Fridays are less productive for your team, you have to pay everyone, and you can’t really get back to work until Monday.
87. A 9-to-5 is worse than death: Entrepreneurs do have fear, and that is the fear of failing to the point where they need a “real job.”
88. Your parents want you to get a real job with benefits: Be patient with them; they may not understand what drives you or the risks involved.
89. You sometimes get more resentment than respect: People are often jealous or can’t really understand what you do.
90. It’s not about being your own boss: People who don't want a boss may not have the discipline that entrepreneurship requires. And entrepreneurship is not about being a manager (as the term “boss” implies), but a visionary.
91. Entrepreneurship is in your blood, literally: Research your family history to see if you have any entrepreneurial ancestors – it might give you a little extra inspiration.
92. You know your worth: Entrepreneurs are willing to leave jobs or say no to deals that undervalue them or their companies.
93. You can’t keep a job: Entrepreneurs tend to leave jobs or get fired.
94. You cry when things don’t go your way: Steve Jobs did; it’s okay for you to, as well.
95. It’s never too late to be an entrepreneur: In fact, older people are starting more businesses than those in their teens and twenties. But the media tends to focus on young tech entrepreneurs.
96. You feel unequaled joy when your idea becomes reality.
97. Following your passion is bogus: Not all passions can be monetized, there are other reasons for starting a business, and businesses actually come with lots of drudgery.
98. You have the right motivation: The best entrepreneurs are motivated by the desire to solve a problem and create a great product. Other entrepreneurs are motivated by the desire to avoid a regular job, or just make a living.
99. You love your life: Controlling your own destiny is what makes entrepreneurs love their lives, through good or bad times.
100. You’re an entrepreneur forever: Once you know the life of the entrepreneur, you can never forget it.
As mentioned above, this book is easily digestible. Some lessons are familiar, and some are less common – like the controversial “business comes first, family second” rule. The only part that readers may tire of is Johnson’s extensive personal anecdotes, including several (partly justified but nonetheless surprising) comparisons of himself to Mark Zuckerberg. Yet this personal touch is at times inspiring: Johnson has obviously achieved fulfilling success, and he gives us the sense that we can, too.