When you say you are an entrepreneur, chances are that, depending on who you are talking to, they are going to understand very different things about you.
Some are going to think: He’s trying to be Donald Trump
Some: He owns a franchised fast-food/fashion/coffee outlet or two
Some: He came up with a unique service that he is launching into the broader market
Others: He owns a small factory producing a niche product
Still others: He sits around all day doing nothing
And a few: He’s a freelancer, working for lots of different clients providing a service.
After 20 years of sailing solo, I feel there is a need to distinguish working for yourself from freelancing from being an entrepreneur. The dictionary loosely defines an entrepreneur as:
A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk
From this definition alone, it seems that freelancing is immediately excluded. Except of course for the fact that creating and maintaining a profile and ongoing work as a freelancer requires organising and managing an ongoing enterprise involving marketing, labour and admin… which sounds a lot like running a business.
The trouble is that financial support and funding aimed at entrepreneurs seems to have a very different definition of the word in mind. They talk in terms of turn-over in millions, staff of no more than 30. Most small start-ups I know are happy when they turn a few thousands and their staff is normally just one. There is no help for this kind of entrepreneurship. But this is where so many start
What help does an MBA give a self-starting individual? Unless you plan on growing into a fully-fledged business with premises, products and staff, it often seems they don’t offer much. Again sure, it’s all still processes, finances, admin, marketing and growth. But the dynamics are so different when your overheads and profits are low that, to all intents and purposes, most business advice is just… well, an expensive waste of time.
This is the thin edge of the wedge where purpose and passion collide with success, financial well-being and market forces.
The mantra of advice for wanna-be entrepreneurs is ‘Do what you love’ but somehow that passion and purpose has to find a way to compete in a busy market and make enough money to keep the passion alive. Like so much good advice, it’s next to impossible to follow. If you want to run your own business, you have to know how to run a business, balance your books, budget and forecast. You can get away with not knowing for a while, or you can hire someone who does it for you, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to find out and take control.
The truth is passion and purpose can blind you to your own obvious short-comings, it can lead you into emotional mistakes and misjudgements, it can keep you flogging the skeleton of a long dead horse.
It seems that anyone who comes up with a great idea for a business feels that this means THEY have to pursue it. One thing I have learned is that being able to spot an opportunity does NOT mean you have to pursue it. Some people are just good at seeing the gaps. More often than not, we cannot actually fill those gaps ourselves.
All this feel-good, can-do advice has tended to recommend people taking on dreams and ideas that are logically and logistically out of their reach. Fuelled by the tales of 0.02% that succeed against these odds, people hurl themselves into the abyss of the unknown with entrepreneurship.
Instead, what should you do?
1. Learn how to balance financials and cast a budget
2. Learn how to COST things
3. Learn how to manage your time and your projects
4. Learn how to research markets and not to be led by your emotions
5. Learn to tell the difference between Blue Sky and Blue Pie in the Sky.
And lastly, deploy your actual skills and hire help where you lack. Do not just go and do something one day because there is a gap in the market. You will fail. 99% of the time.
Purpose is good.
It’s not everything
I just read this quote online. It’s from a Quora thread about how to become a billionaire, from the ex-wife of Elon Musk, Justine Musk:
“You’re determined. So what? You haven’t been racing naked through shark-infested waters yet,” she writes. “Will you be just as determined when you wash up on some deserted island, disoriented and bloody and ragged and beaten and staring into the horizon with no sign of rescue?”