“The drive needed to be an entrepreneur can’t be taught in schools, universities or in the workplace, it’s an innate behavior” – Danny de Hek
I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember – gathering tennis balls off roofs, wheeler and dealer of antique keys and knocking on doors to cut peoples lawns, before asking if I could use their lawnmower. It was like a drug – it was an adrenalin kick. Even when I had a ‘real’ job I was looking for opportunities – it was almost subconscious: – “I see, therefore I ask ‘what if?’” I could see the silver lining on the cloud, the benefit when others could only see the cost. I describe it as ‘I have work’ as opposed to ‘I have a job.’ This distinction is important, because it demonstrates the shift in mindset required to be an entrepreneur.
There are a lot of myths surrounding the idea of entrepreneurship, the most obvious being that they are always successful, and have the lifestyle the rest of us envy. And to make matters worse, they come to our attention when they are successful, and are often seen as an ‘overnight success’ – a description that is ridiculously naive as nothing could be further from the truth. No-one sees the heartache and frustration, the self-doubt and sleepless nights that went before.
For every Richard Branson there is a hundred others who have tried and not made it – yet if it wasn’t for them, the Richard Branson’s would not emerge. In a world in which financial success is the only real arbiter, those hundred have failed. But in my world, they are the hero’s, because they live out of their convictions, and not off someone else’s. Give me the choice of sitting in a room with 10 high profile sports celebrities or 10 ‘failed’ entrepreneurs, and I’ll pick the latter – for that is where my energy lies.
Another myth is that entrepreneurs are super confident to the point of almost being con artists – they have the gift of the gab and can convince people into putting money into dodgy ideas through the sheer power of their personality.
Now, while I accept that I have the gift of the gab, I see it more as the ability to negotiate rather than overwhelm and convince – to do otherwise is to disrespect those who have given me their attention. I need to be able to walk away and know that I haven’t burnt my bridges – I need to be able to sleep at night. Because if there is one thing I have learnt over the years, is that business is about relationships. Always.
This brings us to a third myth – you can work at home in your pyjamas as you don’t have to dress for the occasion. Now, as attractive as that might sound, it is important to separate your professional life from your personal life as much as possible – although the lines are very blurred. You might be working from home, but you need to feel like the professional that you are, and dressing for the part helps focus your energy. Imagine you have suddenly been summoned by a client – they need to see you asap, and you don’t have time to shower and change.
Being an entrepreneur can be a juggling act – I call myself a serial entrepreneur – as my antenna are always active, always aware of not only what, but who is around me. One reason why I can do this is that I have a ‘toolbox’ of skills and strengths – I know what I can do myself, and what I need to outsource. As an example, I have recently decided to offer a blog-writing service, as I have met several people who have that skill – I’ll find the work and commission the most appropriate person to write it. I am also looking at developing a socially-focused website, alongside two online shops, my consulting service and my business network. This leads into another aspect that is important – that of networking. I cannot over-emphasise how important this is – if you know of a local business network, join it – the depth of knowledge, experience and goodwill you will find is worth the subscription fee. That is why I have my own.
One thing an entrepreneur learns very quickly, is the 80/20 rule – be good today and perfect tomorrow – because tomorrow never comes! Now, that doesn’t mean that you should lower your standards – quite the opposite. What it does mean is that as long as an idea is in concept stage, you don’t have to figure out every last detail. Until it gains sufficient traction to need that level of attention, leave it and continue with something else. Ultimately cash flow is king, and today’s bills can’t be paid for with tomorrow’s ideas.
My way of life and the freedom to ask the question each morning: “what am I going to do today?” drives me, compels me, even possesses me! I don’t alway’s know what the day will bring – some are better than others. But I do know that I’ll be making the decisions, the mistakes, the judgements, and the income based on my confidence, my antenna, my toolbox, and my network. And since I have clients who keep coming back, I will continue to believe in my ability to live as an entrepreneur.
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