“I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur.”
“I have no idea how to start a business.”
“I don’t have what it takes to be a business owner.”
“I don’t have the time to start anything but I’ve had so many ideas for so many years now.”
Any of these sounds familiar to you?
What We Tell Ourselves
These are some of the things I keep hearing from people that I run into as a consultant and a coach. Most people feel that they don’t have what it takes to be a business owner – whether it’s time, energy, money, knowledge, skills, experience etc. I used to tell myself these stories as well! But thankfully, that’s now history!
A short while ago I had the privilege of delivering a keynote speech and of being part of a panel discussion with a few other entrepreneurs at my workplace. The theme of the event was the entrepreneurial spirit.
To prepare for the event, I interviewed a number of people from both inside and outside the organization. I’m always curious to hear various opinions and interpretations of what “entrepreneurship” means to people.
I thought it might be interesting to present my ideas in a blog post since I can reach more people this way. My interviews were really insightful and eye-opening and I wanted to address all those points through my own experience as an entrepreneur.
Running a Business Without a Plan
When I started my first home-based business, I had no idea how to run a business. My first idea to teach Indian cooking came from a colleague who believed that curries were made with curry powder. Being of Indian origin, I immediately saw an opportunity to educate people on how curries are not really made that way. That is how I inadvertently started on an entrepreneurial journey which would take me through lots of ups and downs.
My biggest eye-opener was when I was starting my second business as a photographer. I was good at my craft, and people appreciated my work. That’s when someone gave me the idea that I could have my own photography business.
In much the same way as most people start their businesses, I jumped into the deep end of the pool without research, without business skills, without an understanding of what it takes to be a real business owner. And I was actually a business owner before I became an entrepreneur.
Business Owner vs. Entrepreneur
I like to differentiate between a business owner and entrepreneur since not every business owner, in my experience, is an entrepreneur. And a non-business owner could be entrepreneurial as well. The only difference between these two is the fact that an entrepreneur has the ability to pivot and fights for a bigger cause than a business owner.
A business owner starts a business with the idea of just making money. But an entrepreneur will always start with why they want to do what they want to do. In that light, I would call myself a business owner while I was doing photography but I soon evolved into an entrepreneur when I realized why I was doing what I was doing.
Photography wasn’t merely just taking photos and handing them out to my clients. I put my heart and soul into making it an experience that they would always remember as part of their photo session. To me, giving my clients a fabulous and memorable experience along with beautiful photos as keepsakes was why I was in it.
Learning About My Entrepreneurial Side
The saying that “a picture paints a thousand words” can be construed on many different levels. As I already mentioned, my intention was to create a beautiful experience both during and after the shoot. This would ensure that every time my clients looked at their photos, they would be transported back to the time they had fun, bonded together as a family, felt good about themselves, and created some beautiful memories through photographs.
To be able to continue providing this experience to my clients I soon realized that I would have to figure out how to run a business. Until then, I was just spending my time and not making any money to sustain my business.
Fortunately, I was employed full-time and therefore, my livelihood didn’t depend on my business. And when I got myself a mentor and started following some business courses, I very soon started seeing results that completely changed my life as well as my business. And over the next three years of my photography business, I doubled my revenue year-over-year.
I found myself offering products and services that weren’t available in my market and soon started building my business on really strong referrals. I loved my clients and my clients loved me back.
What I Learned About Owning a Business
What I understood and learned from my experiences when scaling my business as opposed to when I was starting a business was that I had to develop certain qualities in myself. Without my really knowing it, I already had a few qualities that would serve me well.
As a single parent, I needed to get through each day without any kind of support. That had toughened me up and disciplined me in ways I hadn’t realized. But I still had a lot of work to do on myself that really honed these qualities and habits.
What I learned while running my business was that my thoughts and ideas needed discipline and direction. And although that takes time to learn, it’s not difficult at all. Anyone can learn these techniques that enhance their entrepreneurial side.
I believe we all have it in us to become entrepreneurs. But most of us are conditioned from our childhood to believe we need to live and work a certain way. We also grow up with the belief that business isn’t for everyone. We should be the ones to know our own strengths, yet we’re told things about ourselves that we start believing and limit ourselves to others’ beliefs.
It’s my deepest conviction that everyone has an entrepreneurial side and that anyone can become a successful entrepreneur if they can learn to be the following:
When you are an entrepreneur or even a business owner you just have to be an action taker. The longer you sit around planning to take action the more you miss out on opportunities.
Planning is essential but acting upon that plan is critical. What’s the guarantee that while you sit around and plan on how you want to start your business or how you want to bring in more clients or how you want to affect change in the world, there won’t be other people executing on those same ideas?
I understand that taking action can be very scary sometimes. I am able to talk about this because I have been there. But imagine how much more scary it would be if you were to lose business because you didn’t take action at the right time? You have to act despite your different fears, and remember that courage is not the absence of fear but courage is taking action despite fear.
Creative Problem Solver
We have to solve problems every day of our lives. For example, if you’re running late for work, you might need to make a decision on which route to take to get to the office faster. This thought process might involve making some educated decisions on traffic conditions along certain routes. That, in turn, would help you to determine which route to take.
The truth is, we don’t even acknowledge these decisions as problem-solving because it’s such an unconscious part of our lives. While problems in business aren’t always that simple, yet they are still not too different. All it takes is being cognizant of what’s the root cause of the problem. Once that’s out of the way, you can easily find an answer or two to the problem. Once you start working on this consciously, you’ll find it a lot easier to approach problems.
However, you don’t always need to have a solution to every problem! That’s why consultants like us, consultants have a role to play in the society and the economy. When you hire a consultant to help with certain areas of your business, you’re solving a huge problem of a knowledge gap in your business.
And guess who profits from it? You!
Remember that even Henry Ford, who never received a formal education, relied on his team of highly accomplished engineers to help build the cars we can’t do without today.
I understand that a lot of people don’t consider themselves to be leaders. The good news is that this too is a learnable skill. There are innumerable courses on leadership. But all leadership starts with two things – taking action, and being responsible.
When you take the initiative in something, you’re taking the lead. And when you take the lead in doing something that most people are uncomfortable with, you’re deemed a leader. Although that’s only one aspect of being a leader, we can all make a start with that.
A leader needs to be responsible for their words and actions because a lot of people look up to them. It’s not such a difficult thing when we know we’re on a mission and we’re trying to make this world a better place with our ideas and actions.
Learning to be a visionary is probably one of the harder things to learn. But sometimes it comes with experience and certain skill sets. When you allow yourself to be immersed in trying to solve a problem, you somehow start seeing the solutions appear in front of you. These solutions are sometimes pretty far-fetched. But they could very well become a possibility if you really put your mind to finding an answer.
When our mission is really clear to us, our vision is also clarified. Let me give you an example from my own life. Having come out of a troubled marriage and immigrating to a foreign country with a 3-year old, I realized that a lot of women go through similar struggles.
I couldn’t remember having any time for myself as my son was growing up. And that’s what gave me the idea of creating an experience for my clients where they could feel beautiful and liberated for a few hours.
That led me to not only create a better business model, but it shifted my business completely. It led me from having a photography business, to wanting to help people live better lives through personal development and entrepreneurship.
My vision took a few steps to evolve, but it did. We’re all unique and the way we get to ideas and solutions vary from one to the other. Therefore, it’s important we give ourselves the time and be patient through the process.
As human beings, we never stop learning. We start our lives going to school, and continue to train on the job after we leave school. And for some, curiosity gets the better of us and we continue to take more courses and training to acquire cross-functional skills.
We can’t know everything, therefore, we need to keep learning. To give another example which you will probably identify with is learning to bake or cook a certain dish. I think we can all identify with this situation, and therefore, I presume you understand what I mean by being a lifelong learner.
Only in business, you need to learn more about business strategy, marketing, pricing, customer service, business accounting, funding etc. And it also helps to study other successful entrepreneurs and how do you have made it.
I consider this kind of learning really fun because at the end of it I don’t have to write an exam! Instead, I get to apply this knowledge to my business or my daily life and see the results. Of course, results are different for everybody, even though we might use the same methods or processes. That’s where experimentation and testing come in. These experiments and tests show us where we’re going wrong and how we can improve the processes and have better results.
Another important quality is being relentless in what you are pursuing in life. If you’re a parent, you probably don’t give up on your child if they take a little longer to learn something, do you? Instead, you persevere till your child gets it. You search the Internet for ways to approach the situation and what others have done in similar situations. Then you adopt those ideas and see what works with your child.
As a business owner, you have to do pretty much the same thing. Your business is your baby, so you need to stay with an idea long enough to try and test it out. If you see that it isn’t really working you have to find another solution and pursue that.
The idea is to persevere and not give up at the first sign of struggle. Perseverance is what will take you to the finish line. Too many people start businesses and give up as soon as their idea doesn’t work out the way they had expected it to. The first thought they have is that they have failed and aren’t cut out for business. What they don’t realize is that if they had relentlessly pursued that idea and explored different options in most cases they would have succeeded.
It’s not a surprise that everyone who wants to be a business owner wants to change the world with their product or service. I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t feel that way. That’s what fuels our passion and moves us into action.
Whether we admit it to ourselves or we don’t, we all want to make this world a better place. The only difference between most and the handful of people that actually do something is taking action. I’ve already discussed this in great detail. However, suffice it to say that action really defines the person you are.
Are you a dreamer who has an ever growing wish list? Or, are you the mover and shaker who is catalyzed into action by your idea?
I hope you’re now convinced that everything I’ve elaborated about entrepreneurship is highly learnable. Not only that, but everyone already exhibits most of the qualities I’ve described. What you feel you need to develop, you can do by hiring a coach or a mentor. There’s nothing in the world you cannot accomplish if you really want to do so.
We’re the most intelligent living species in the world. So, we should be able to use that intelligence to acquire those skills on our own or hire someone to do our work for us. Albeit, it would cost us a bit – but the cost becomes insignificant in comparison to the lifetime value we get to enjoy as a result of that.