(YoungBiz) - So you've always dreamed of being your own boss. Yep, that's you, the top banana, the big cheese. You can just see yourself, giving orders via your cell phone while sunning yourself on some faraway beach.
Being in business for yourself could work out that way. But it isn't likely to start out that way. You'll likely encounter some rough patches along the road to the big rewards. Do you have what it takes to hang in there? 'Treps who have been there tend to share five common traits that are key to long-term business success:
Trait No. 1: See
Opportunity Where Others Don't
One true sign of an entrepreneur is someone who can look at the same circumstances as a dozen other people and see something different: opportunity. That's how 19-year-old 'trep Todd Gilliard, owner of Art Installers Inc. in Bowie, Maryland, got started.
Gilliard was working at an art gallery when he noticed that, after customers purchased the art, they needed someone to deliver and install it in their homes and offices. He saw this as a golden opportunity and presented his idea to the gallery's owner. The two drew up an agreement, and Gilliard was in business.
When Brad Sweet of Relay, Maryland, needed a Mother's Day gift, he also saw opportunity where many people wouldn't: in a pile of scrap wood.
"I knew how to build things from watching my parents, and I've always been involved with art, so I collected some scrap wood and started making a birdhouse," recalls Sweet, 20. "I needed a roof, so I went to the recycling bin and got some soda cans. I cut the cans open and made the roof out of them. Then I made working gutters out of the cans."
Sweet's ingenuity quickly became a business. His first eight birdhouses sold out at his first craft show.
Trait No. 2: Self-Motivated
To stay on course, you've also got to keep your focus. "You have to have your own motivation to actually go out there and get the work done," notes Sweet.
That can be a challenge--especially when life gets busy. But the true entrepreneurial spirit finds a way. Now a student at Towson University in Towson, Maryland, Sweet continues to operate his business during school breaks and summer vacation.
That same grit and determination helps 'treps to get through the tough times. "I use the hard knocks as learning experiences," Gilliard explains. "Running my business has taught me skills I can use forever."
Trait No. 3: Willing to
In order to chase a dream, you've got to be willing to make sacrifices along the way. Gilliard was a high school senior when he started Art Installers Inc. He quickly learned that being a business owner meant that sometimes, instead of hanging out with his friends, he was hanging art instead.
Trait No. 4: Know Where
Gilliard had a strong set of business skills from the beginning--he had watched his father, also an entrepreneur, and taken notes. But his education didn't stop there.
Gilliard enrolled in an entrepreneurship course at his high school, where he learned how to research and develop a business idea. Through the class, he was exposed to sample business plans, spreadsheets, and profit and loss statements from real businesses.
Using what he learned, Gilliard outlined the management of his business as well as financial needs and future plans. "It really helped to get me organized," he says.
Trait No. 5: Aren't
Afraid to Fail
Sure, there are plenty of success stories in business, but not many people want to tell you the dirty truth: Businesses can fail. They fail all the time.
'Trep Naveen Jain, 21, of Novato, California, learned this during his first year at Purdue University when his first business, Pure Gaming Network, took a ton of effort and only paid in pennies. "I was really into video games, so I thought I would start my own e-zine to review games and make money from advertising," he says. "It was the classic dot com."
Naveen used the first company as a learning experience--and his newfound business smarts as a springboard for Sparkart, a Web/print design and development company. These days, he's designing Web sites for well-known clients like the band Linkin Park. (For more on Jain's business, see this month's Sales & Marketing column.)
So do you think you have the stomach for the entrepreneurial roller-coaster ride? Take the quizzes listed in the "Next Step" box and find out.