The word ‘entrepreneur’ calls to mind a variety of icons. Mark Zuckerberg and his signature t-shirt and jean outfit. Billionaires Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Infamous businessman Donald Trump. Each found success in a different way, riding out the hard times and reaping the profits of seized opportunity.
The term “entrepreneur” encompasses an enormous range of people, ultimately meaning a group of people who just want to live their lives in their own ways. Who counts as an entrepreneur? Anybody that's willing to pursue opportunity, regardless of their financial standing. This includes freelancers/contractors of all types (writers, graphic designers, etc), bloggers, authors, and anybody else who’s either self-employed or has turned their passions and/or interest into income.
The idea of being your own boss is enticing, but is being an entrepreneur all it’s cracked up to be? What exactly does it take to be an entrepreneur? Is it easy? Hard? Is it safe? Or unreliable? There are a few key attributes and techniques that other entrepreneurs have made use of to make their careers work, ones that can easily be adopted by those looking to blaze their own trail in the world.
Am I Persistent?
How many of you have heard of “KFC?” The famous fried chicken franchise today is worth over $500 million dollars, so it might be surprising to hear that the colonel struggled to get a buyer for his popular fried chicken recipe.
Even before trying his hand at KFC, Mr. Sanders experienced a lot of bad luck. A divorce, two failed businesses (a law practice and a motel), and being forced to sell his first restaurant as well.
After a string of failures, the colonel decided to try and sell his fried chicken recipe. It was quite a journey, visiting over a thousand locations to see if anybody would give him a shot. Each and every time he was shot down, leaving Sanders to pick himself up and try again somewhere else. But after visiting over 1,000 franchises, he finally struck gold when Pete Harman accepted his recipe.
This kind of persistence is a natural (and necessary) part of entrepreneurship. Without it, even more of today's businesses would fail (and a lot of them fail already). A good idea is nothing without the determination to keep going when obstacles are in the way.
Can I Handle The Risk Of Venturing Into The Unknown?
Creating a business from scratch is scary. Most of the time, entrepreneurs have to figure things out on the go, since no blueprint will work for every single business out there. And this can lead to bad, unforeseen situations.
Consider when Pandora founder Tim Westergren started his business. He definitely didn’t anticipate that he’d run almost completely out of money in 2001.
The “logical” reaction to that would’ve been to give up and quit while he was ahead. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he pushed forward. He started deferring salaries just to stay afloat. He did this for over two years, with over 50 employees losing the equivalent of $1.5 million in deferred salary. On top of which, he maxed out 11 credit cards in the name of Pandora. Just as their light was at its dimmest, an investment saved the company in the nick of time.
In the end, accepting the risk of insurmountable debt saved their business. But could you personally imagine pushing forward in those circumstances? There’s a fine line between pursuing a dream and irresponsible, downright insane behaviour. It’s important to be able to tell the difference, and the reward for those who stick by a good idea can be huge.
Am I Unflinching In The Face Of Failure?
We’ve all heard of Thomas Edison. He’s the man who failed thousands of times before striking gold with a cheap, working light bulb. We already know that this kind of persistence is needed to succeed, and it’s what allowed Edison to found his company General Electric, which continues to be a powerhouse 130 years after its founding. This ability to shake off failure is a key trait of successful entrepreneurs. Everybody fails, but the strong of will keep going.
What about J.K. Rowling, the writer of the world famous series "Harry Potter?” We’re all familiar with the cliché of the poor starving writer trying to make their way in the world, and J.K. was no exception. After filing for divorce, she and her child were left alone to make it, surviving on meager welfare support. At this point she describes herself as being as "poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.”
All that time she clung to her dream of being a published author, and kept working on her novel in local cafes when she had the time. She was rejected numerous times, until the CEO of publisher Bloomsbury was convinced by their 8 year old daughter to print her book. At her peak, J.K. Rowling was worth over $1 billion dollars.
She’s not the only author to face repeated rejection. Stephen King was rejected 30 times before his novel Carrie was accepted. Pitch after pitch he was rejected, and ultimately he quit his goal of becoming an author and threw his manuscript for Carrie in the garbage. Luckily, his wife fished it out of the garbage and convinced him to not give up. Eventually, he found a publisher for his book and finally achieved his dream of turning his writing into a legitimate business.
Entrepreneurs learn to become friends with their failures. They aren't deterred when they fall down; they get up and make sure they don't fall down the same way again. Or, for those as lucky as Stephen King, there’s somebody around to help push you through the setbacks.
Am I Up For The Entrepreneur’s Lifestyle?
Living the life of an entrepreneur definitely isn’t for everybody. Entrepreneurs have to be okay with the ambiguity of not knowing when (or if) they’ll be making money with their business. They need tenacity, passion, and drive to be able to stick with it for the long-haul. Above all, it’s important to have the persistence and consistency to turn nothing into something. It’s a long, difficult, sometimes lonely road. For those that see it through to its end, though, the rewards are incomparable.