Why thick skinned entrepreneurs go further

At the start of any day hitchhiking, there’s always a feeling of nervousness. It typically happens just before you stick out your thumb or hold up a sign.

This is the moment of truth. You’re declaring your presence and your reason for being to all passing motorists.

On average, I reckon I would wait about 25 minutes for a lift. On a busy road, this meant hundreds of vehicles would pass me before one stopped. But when you are the exposed solo hitchhiker seeking that single lift, the cars don’t just pass you, they reject you! And after a while, it can hurt.

Rejection Hurts

But whilst many people gave me and my thumb the ‘thumbs down’, hitchhiking meant I had to face rejection square on. As a result, I learnt that the continuous rejection process is ultimately a route to success – as long as you don’t give up. And it’s the same for the entrepreneur; you are rejected way more than you are accepted, especially in the early years.


Rejection implications

In the formative weeks and months of the first agency business I started aged 23, I went to countless meetings with ideas and proposals; but very few people wanted to buy and sometimes not even listen. Failure to win work frustrated and dejected me but friends and advisers said not to take it personally and to persevere. Thankfully the occasional success kept me going and gradually the ratios improved.

Of course, no one likes to be told ‘No’ and therefore we are attuned to avoid it. And this behaviour is right at the heart of why many start-up businesses fail.

All businesses must sell to survive. This necessarily means spending time meeting new people and putting yourself in situations just like the hitchhiker who seeks a lift. Unfortunately, fear of rejection cripples many people because they find it difficult and/or sometimes impossible to put themselves on the line with others. The result of course is no chance of a sale or insufficient sales. Either way the business ultimately dies.

Success strategies

No one has sold every time. Some of the most successful business people in the world have experienced the most rejection. Likewise, no hitchhiker has thumbed a lift with the very first car every time and the best travelled hikers are the ones who don’t give up. Important entrepreneurial qualities include a thick skin, perseverance and self-belief.

However, rejection is often accompanied by feedback and it’s crucial to take on board what people say in order to improve the chance of future success. Listening and acting on advice means your products/services have the opportunity to improve; and as sales increase so rejection ratios improve.

Finally, if you know you are bound for entrepreneurial life, my final suggestion is to find and attend an excellent sales training course. For reference, advice provided by the Sales Training Consultancy helped me a lot.

Unfortunately, sales has a bad name because most people who sell don’t receive quality training and/or think that sales is what a suited man does in a car showroom. A good course will help you to understand people and how to approach and handle sales as well as rejection. As a consequence you will be better able to start and grow your own business.

Key Learning Points: Rejection is part of entrepreneurial life. Whilst we don’t like being told ‘No’, you have to embrace it to succeed as an entrepreneur. Persevere & learn to improve business prospects & develop self-belief through the experience.

Open your mind to the behaviour of others

Being able to read thinking and have an insight into peoples’ behaviour is a real advantage when it comes to entrepreneurial life. Some people find building relationships easier than others; but regardless of your own ability, the development of this skill is very important and it requires experience, practice and an appreciation of some behavioural theory (recommend Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence).

In life we typically surround ourselves with people like ourselves. This necessarily limits our learning. Hitchhiking, much like business however, forces us to meet and get on with different people; and whilst I didn’t realise it at the time, the experience on the road taught me invaluable lessons that helped to make life in business easier.

Reading people and situations

Getting on with people in a car meant I travelled further. The questioning and listening strategy (highlighted in the previous article) typically worked very well but it didn’t take me long to tune into people who didn’t want to chat and/or reveal information about themselves. For the record, these people taught me how to deal with silence.

Then there were people who would happily talk but seemed to take no interest in me. The journey was memorable for the monologue – let’s say no more.  And occasionally I would get in a vehicle to be confronted by someone who was very strident with their opinions and seemed keen to argue.

But how do you draw meaning from these experiences?

In the nineties, a UK organisation (The Husthwaite Group) conducted extensive research into buying behaviour and as a result devised a behavioural model based on peoples’ levels of assertiveness and responsiveness (see diagram 1).

Diagram 1

The findings made for very interesting reading that not only concurred with my experience of working with people in business but also made sense of the behaviour of people I had met on the road.

The model divided people into 4 groups: Analysts; Drivers; Amiables; and Expressives each of which have their own behavioural characteristics based on levels of assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertive people are confident and know what they want. They put forward opinions and listen to others. Conflict is not a problem and they will happily argue their case. People who are highly assertive can come over as aggressive (think about Alan Sugar). In contrast, people who lack assertiveness tend to focus more on the detail, are typically passive and others can take advantage.

Responsiveness is the extent to which people respond to us and our questions. Some people are very responsive and give lots of information about themselves, their problems and needs. Others are less willing or unable to respond in this way.

We are all different and few of us fit precisely into the model because our behaviour changes depending on the circumstances. But the value of this research-based theory however, is that it helps us to understand ourselves as well as other people. Used intelligently and regularly, this modelling helps us to nurture business relationships and helps us to understand people who are different to ourselves.

Hitchhiking taught me the value of reflecting the behaviour of the person I was with. The Husthwaite research reached the same conclusion about mirroring behaviour but takes this notion further because the model produces results in a meaningful manner.

As an outgoing person I am happy to voice my opinions and I like to talk with people – which puts me squarely in the ‘Expressive’ box’. However, when I recognise I am working with ‘analysts’, ‘amiables’ or ‘drivers’ I know I must alter my behaviour to get the very best out of them and the meeting.

Key Learning Points: Meeting different people expands our comfort zone and improves our ability to get on with people not like ourselves. Use experience and the theoretical model to understand behaviour and develop stronger business relationships.