A couple of weeks ago I tasked myself with writing this post. Unlike my recent musings on business cards, the idea didn’t spring full-formed from something that had happened, but was instead a question I personally wanted an answer to.
Is it possible to become an entrepreneur overnight? By that, I mean, is there a switch you can flick? And if so, how do you do it?
Prior to writing this post, I had always been under the impression that “entrepreneurship” was hardwired into a person. You either had what it took to become one or you didn’t.
Through thinking and writing I’ve not only been able to correct my inaccurate assumption, but have been able to answer the question. I’ve seen entrepreneurship for what it is—nothing more than a switch. A switch than anyone can flip at any time, providing they’ve got what it takes.
Let me show you how the entrepreneurship switch might be flicked. I will follow these three examples with a list of ingredients I believe essential to the “make up” of an entrepreneur.
Example One—The young and crazy serial entrepreneur
I have a friend—let’s call him Mike—who has been in and out of the business of starting businesses since graduating high school. His first company was an import-export operation, run mostly online. With little experience and almost no business know-how, it wasn’t long before the business tanked. With anyone less blinkered, this might have deterred them from another venture. Not Mike—is experience had flicked a switch. He’d caught the entrepreneurship bug and there was no going back. Full-time employment held little interest for him, and although he worked in a couple of jobs before starting his own digital agency, he was always scheming and launching side operations—some that worked for a while, others that didn’t, and still others that he simply lost interest in. However, there was no doubt about it: with his drive, and with a passion for starting out on his own, sooner or later he was bound to succeed. Today, not 4 years after we first met, Mike is running his own digital agency. His clients include Coca-Cola, Blackberry, and other big names. No one would argue that he is not an entrepreneur, but they might have done two years ago when in the midst of a half-thought out insurance venture. The truth is, Mike became an overnight entrepreneur the moment he started his first business. He had desire, he took action and even though he perpetually failed through taking risks, he learned and he adapted. There’s just no going back for him.
Example Two—The entrepreneur that needs a little push
Molly has been working the same job for going on eight years. She’s done well and has risen in her company. She’s still being “managed,” but now has others who report to her. She considers herself a fairer boss than the one who directs her day-to-day activities. In fact, over the past 6 months, Molly has had to actively stop herself from getting into arguments with her boss. There are just things she believes should be executed differently; for example Molly believes in a work-life balance. Her boss does not. Molly’s boss has some very old-school notions, and thinks that if you’re going to get ahead in life you should stay two hours later than your colleagues and you should work on weekends. Face-time is all that matters to her.
Not Molly. Molly gets that pursuing outside interests is important to personal happiness and can actually bring new ideas into the company. Then of course, there’s her boss’s stance on relationships at work—a definite no-no! Molly finds herself thinking that if she were the manager, she’d do so many things differently. One day, she comes into work and is told that if she is going to wear jeans, they need to at least be black. They shouldn’t look like jeans. The switch flips. Molly realizes she cannot work like this forever. She will never be truly happy following petty rules or being told what to do. She’s tired of helping others achieve their dreams. She like to take a stab at achieving her own. Over the next few months, she continues to work her day-job. In the evenings she heads to the SBA, she speaks with her bank about start up loans and she begins setting up her business. Then, when she is ready, she hands in her resignation. Molly is an entrepreneur. She became one the moment her desire prompted her to take action.
Example Three—The entrepreneur that first needs enough experience
Nick is the Operations Manager of a large, brand-name clothing company. He’s been working for the company for 20 years. When he started, all he had to his name was ambition. He didn’t have a university degree and as such, had to start in the lowest paid position—as a cashier on the floor of one of the company’s many retail stores. Nick learned everything he could about talking to customers and about day-to-day store operations. The more he learned, the more confident he grew. Within two years he was made store manager. Again, he did everything he could to become the best. A year later, he applied for a position in the head office. Again, he had to start out at the bottom. But, driven by his desire to succeed, he excelled and rose quickly. It took him another 10 years to get to the Operations Manager position. At 45, Nick finally feels he understands how one might run a company like this. He has worked in just about every position imaginable within the company and feels that if he were given the opportunity to make the decisions that only the CEO gets to make, he’d be able to double annual turnover.
Nick considers his situation. He has enough in savings to support his family for at least a year or two, has connections with people that will more than likely finance his venture and, as he looks inward, he realizes he is unlikely to rise higher than he already has. It’s a family business and as such, he knows that the next CEO is going to be the boss’s son. Nick decides the time is right. With his wife’s approval, he will quit his position and begin his own retail company. Because he is required to work out his six months notice, he will use the time to plan ahead and get started. Nick becomes an entrepreneur the moment he hands in his notice and begins working on his own venture.
If Nick had decided at a young age that everything he was doing was “training” to become an entrepreneur, I guess I might also have considered him one then, even though he remained in employment for the next 20 years. Providing he was planning as he went, I’d say he flicked the switch at the very start of his career.
What do you think?
In each of the examples above, becoming an entrepreneur is something that essentially happens overnight. And, it’s not something that happens by chance. It’s a consequence of choice. Whether you start young and keep trying until you succeed or whether you reach a point in life where you finally decide you’re ready to start out on your own, you flick that switch.
If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, I believe that you need a combination of the following five ingredients:
- Raw desire. That is, the desire to take charge of your own future and to start your own operation. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this sometimes comes across as “unrealistic,” but providing you combine it with the four other ingredients below, this is the exciting first step.
- The ability to take action. Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, or even before you do, you begin taking steps to make it happen. This means actually doing things, whether that’s setting up a business website, registering a trade name, selling your first products, or networking with contacts that you believe will be key to the future success of your business, just take action.
- A desire to learn. Without this desire, you won’t get very far. Being in business is going to require you to stay abreast of your market, your employees, sales, and just about everything else. It’s going to require you learn from your mistakes and your successes.
- The ability to adapt. A direct follow on from the desire to learn. If you want to do well, you’re going to have to adapt—to the market, to changes, to what your customers want, to your own failings, to any number of things. And, if you’re just getting started, it’s likely you’re going to have to adapt your idea too.
- A willingness to take risks. Without this you won’t start and you probably won’t grow. The best businesses do things that others haven’t done before or haven’t done well enough. To do this, they often need to take a risk given there is no precedent. Fortune favors the bold. Remember that!
I also believe you can cultivate each of these abilities if they’re not already a part of your make-up.
My advice to you: stop thinking of an entrepreneur as a Hollywood movie star. The reality is most entrepreneurs are not and will never be Mark Zuckerbergs. And, thank heavens for that! I for one don’t need another platform like Facebook. However, another coffee shop, gym, restaurant, hospital, or law firm? Bring it on.
What are your thoughts on how one becomes an entrepreneur? What do you think it takes? Do you believe it’s a switch? I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to reply.