“There are many common denominators between previous generations of entrepreneurs and today’s entrepreneurs,” says Guy Bélanger, a historian and author of a biography on Alphonse Desjardins. “The main entrepreneurial traits haven’t changed; they’ve simply been adapted to the current business environment and challenges. What was good then is still good today, but a different kind of entrepreneurial vision and approach are needed.”
1. Stay true to your values
Although it seems like anyone can be an entrepreneur, succeeding in business is another matter. “Most importantly, it’s about values. And, there’s no better example than Alphonse Desjardins to illustrate the critical role of values in separating good entrepreneurs from the mediocre ones,” says Bélanger.
“Through his community-mindedness, Alphonse Desjardins built a people-focused company that started with the objective of promoting local development. He surrounded himself with the right people, made allies and got people on board.”
“Development by and for the community—that’s the very essence of Desjardins, and it’s what has made the company so successful!”
Choosing a project that reflects your values helps build a strong, relevant brand that resonates with a market that shares similar values.
Some of the many values that characterize the most seasoned entrepreneurs within and outside Quebec are generally accepted traits. Openness—to others, to ideas, to change—is an undeniable key to success. Similarly, sharing various information, experiences and skills enriches any organization considerably. Discipline, accountability, creativity and adaptability are also keys to growth that can be found in most entrepreneurs.
2. Be resilient
Besides risk-taking and perseverance, necessary for any entrepreneurial venture, resilience is an essential quality needed to succeed in business.
Being able to bounce back, learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward in difficult times—these are all realities entrepreneurs have to deal with.
“Alphonse Desjardins himself had to be very resilient in developing the caisses,” says Bélanger. “You have to keep in mind that these were different times. His idea was quite original, even crazy to some, but he strongly believed he’d found the solution to many of the credit problems his community faced, which impeded local development. Against all odds, he stayed the course, set things right and moved forward.”
This year, many entrepreneurs showed us that it’s possible to quickly adapt to exceptional circumstances. Obviously, not everyone can pivot their services, but being able to see beyond the storm is key to long-term success.
3. Develop your people skills
Communication skills are essential for any successful entrepreneur. Having people skills can make all the difference between modest and real growth.
Alphonse Desjardins was already demonstrating that in his day. A journalist by training, he had strong interpersonal skills that served him well in finding support and getting people on board.
Social skills and empathy are critical to team engagement. Human resources are the greatest asset a thriving, competitive business can have.
Now more than ever, long-term success depends on a strong business network. We can’t face life’s uncertainties and adverse conditions alone, which reminds of the importance of “pulling together.”
4. Hone your networking skills
Building a strong network takes effort. It’s simple: no network, no business.
“Alphonse Desjardins cast a wide net in building a strong, diverse network within his community,” says Bélanger. “Business people, women, clergy, politicians—he spared no effort in continually expanding his sphere of influence.”
Times have changed, but networking is as important as ever, especially during a crisis like the one we’re in now. It’s an opportunity to strengthen relations with partners, forge new connections with key industry players and even turn to competitors to discuss mutual challenges. Who knows, you could even discover a merger or acquisition opportunity. Your financial institution can also be another good source of connections: account managers have their own network of colleagues and partners who might be able to contribute to your success.
5. Never stop learning
Because being competitive naturally depends on your ability to adapt to a changing environment, you need to be willing to continually improve and learn new skills.
There’s no shortage of programs that offer professional development for entrepreneurs, especially government programs. Many diverse options are available.
As they say, it’s never too late to learn and improve.
6. Develop a sustainable vision
It’s absolutely essential nowadays to incorporate social and environmental aspects into a business strategy.
“Sustainable development is nothing new,” says Bélanger. “It might not have had a name back then, but we can see it in the entrepreneurial approach Alphonse Desjardins took 120 years ago.”
Developing and pursuing a sustainable vision isn’t just a trend; it’s a well-known business reality, and it’s key to staying in business. Any growth initiatives must now be reflected in a commitment to sustainable development and the bigger that commitment, the greater the impact.