The word has a certain mystique, possibly because of its French origins – a combination of entreprendre, meaning to undertake, and enterprise – and possibly because of what it means to some people. To some this creates a vision of successful business magnates, tycoons or other captain-of-industry types. To others it could be that one or two-man company, working all the hours to make a buck.
To me, entrepreneurship is something much more widespread than the larger than life, hard-nosed “go-getters” you seem to achieve self-parody on TV shows such as Dragons’ Den or The Apprentice.
In fact, you may be an entrepreneur without realising it – I refer to this as “accidental entrepreneurship” – and if, like me, you are, it’s time to cut the BS and get on with your job because the most vital commodity in your treasure chest is time – and you don’t have much of it to waste!
Parental advice I should have ignored
Sticking with the reality-TV theme let me risk boring you with my “journey” to entrepreneurship. It started badly. In fact, it took me 30 years to get over my father’s advice to never work for myself – he’d been a hotelier and restaurateur all his life and had never seemed particularly happy with it and that may have coloured his judgement. It wasn’t until an attractive redundancy package came along that I decided to give up the 9-to-5 (as if!) and embark on what I imagined would be a freewheeling career as a freelance management consultant/interim manager.
As it turned out, the next few self-employed years bore a distinct resemblance to the previous employed years: I was still doing customer-centric change management and strategy work in large organisations, but with a different pay arrangement. Oh, and slightly less stability. Still, not quite the “gig economy” since, luckily, my gigs were measured in months not taxi rides.
But that still did not make me an entrepreneur. Not even the accidental sort.
Expert advice I can’t ignore
Entrepreneurs are defined as people who set up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit (my emphasis). Entrepreneur Magazine – who should know – emphasise the point further in an article by Steve Tobak. He critically, points out that being an entrepreneur, like being a leader, isn’t so much a job as having an attitude. Traditionally this has been to business aspiration and risk.
But there’s more – a critical factor that differentiates the triers who dip their toe in the water to see if it works, and those who have a higher calling and are committed.
I set up NextTen Innovation Solutions – along with my colleagues – because, having had a life-long obsession with customer experience and service, I was fed up with companies who professed to be customer-focused but weren’t making the changes necessary to be genuinely customer-centric, and short-changing their customers and employees as a result. My hope was that there were enough potential clients out there who’d like to exchange money for our services and that we can build a dynamic, thriving and profitable business, that practices what it preaches as a result.
So those four words in bold tick some boxes for me but the entrepreneurial penny really dropped when I read a blog post by the ever-savvy Seth Godin where he defined people “acting like an entrepreneur when:
- They make decisions.
- They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing.
- They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome.
- This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work.”
When I read this a few weeks back I realised I was now definitely an entrepreneur, not just someone who was self-employed. I also appreciated that big business badly needed more of these types of people as well. Entrepreneurial thinking is not just for those aspiring to build their own business, it is critical to companies that need to become ever more responsive and agile as the implications of the customer age become more stongly felt. We’ll continue to expand this theme in the coming weeks.
“Being an entrepreneur” isn’t, as Steve Tobak points out in another article, a job in the same way as being a “being self-employed” isn’t a job. So, when people ask me what I do I don’t tell them I’m an entrepreneur or that I just woke up this morning and realised I was an entrepreneur, I usually say I’m building a business since this is the shortest way of describing a job that is multi-faceted, never-ending, and full of more emotional ups and downs than any of my previous jobs, employed or otherwise.
“Accidental entrepreneurship” is definitely not something for the faint-hearted, and if, like me, you wake up one morning realising that you are “acting like an entrepreneur” you need to check that you are comfortable with the level of risk involved in investing in whatever venture you’re working on and the ambitions it has in terms of profit.
If that’s something that excites you – great – just don’t waste time worrying about the implications of entrepreneurship. Just cut the procrastination and BS. Go for it and get on with your job!