Entrepreneurs

One of the big problems for entrepreneurs is the gulf between the reality of entrepreneurship and how it’s popularly understood.

The media is filled with perfectionist (i.e., reductive, hyped up, grandiose) portrayals of entrepreneurs. “Overnight success,” “rags to riches,” and “triumphant lone geniuses” narratives are all perfectionist, as are those where an entrepreneur takes big, dramatic risks but somehow almost always manage to land on his feet – or, if he fails, his failure is portrayed as colorful and not all that painful.

In real life, most entrepreneurs seek to minimize the risk factor in their strategies, and most entrepreneurial failures are painful indeed.

Here are some more realities about entrepreneurship:

*It’s harder than it looks.

*Many businesses are less successful than they look.

*Business success often builds gradually, and the payoff (in terms of a good income) can takes years or even decades of patient work and investment and sacrifice.

*Your talent – whether it’s programming or cooking or construction – is less important to your success than your perseverance and discipline. And it’s less important than your ability and willingness to do marketing and sales. In fact, talent often acts against business success because it encourages arrogance. (E.g., “I’m such a great ______ that people will come to me,” which is an example of the endowment effect fallacy, the common human foible that causes us to overestimate the value of assets we own just because we happen to own them.)

*Many successful businesses are given a tremendous boost by the entrepreneur’s money or family connections – a point often omitted from official bios and media coverage.

*And, finally, many businesses put a strain on the entrepreneur’s health and relationships.

The gulf between the myths and realities of entrepreneurship creates a big hurdle for many entrepreneurs by:

1) impairing their vision and strategy
2) causing them (and their families!) to have unreasonable expectations for success, and, paradoxically,
3) causing them (and their families!) to undervalue whatever success they have achieved, which can lead to discouragement.

(Creative entrepreneurs face even more myths.)

Other issues entrepreneurs commonly face are ambivalence about money, and a reluctance to bill. Not only is money management complex and, for many people, rather boring, “money issues” resonate at a very deep emotional level.

2) Conflict between their “producer” and “manager” roles. The producer is the one who loves to code, cook, construct, etc. She’s often the reason an entrepreneur goes into business to start with. But as discussed in Michael Gerber’s Classic The E Myth, the producer is essentially an employee’s role. In a business, the manager – meaning, the role most concerned with profit and sustainability – must be ascendant.

Here are some tips for getting more productive in your business:

1) Get clarity on what entrepreneurship is truly like, versus all the myths. You can get some of this out of books, but it’s more effective to learn from experts. Americans can find inexpensive local business classes via the Small Business Administration, and everyone needs mentors (see below).

Beyond that, get clarity on what your business is like. Many entrepreneurs with a socially responsible, or green, or alternative healing business don’t recognize that they have taken on an activist challenge in addition to the entrepreneurial one. That’s fine and admirable, but it does make things more challenging. Here are some tips for running a green or otherwise value-driven business.

2) Clarify your roles. Clarify the goals, responsibilities and needs of the producer, manager, marketer, salesperson and other roles.

3) Get communal. A business is a conglomeration of communities, including staff, customers, suppliers, professionals such as your accountant and lawyer, and your family. A healthy community and it lives or dies on the health of its communities. Beyond that, you will succeed or fail largely based on the health – and support – of your professional and personal relationships. (And it’s hard to succeed in the midst of a crowd of naysayers tearing you down.)

4) Get mentored. Here’s how. Mentoring is perhaps the strongest signifier of someone’s likelihood of success. If I see someone who is well mentored I deduce that he: (a) is integrated into the right communities, (b) can ask for advice, and (c) can follow the advice they’re given. (Because mentors are quick to give up on people who can’t.) Those are key success skills. In contrast, someone who is under-mentored is probably isolated, unwilling to ask for help, or unwilling to listen to the help they ask for – personal characteristics that are strong hindrances to success.

5) Do your time management. In more than a dozen years as a business coach, I’ve realized that the hardest thing about entrepreneurship is not the marketing, sales, planning, production, etc., but that you have to do all of those things in the right proportions. (And that usually means spending at least half your time marketing and selling.) And…

6) …you have to do them well enough. Not perfectly. So work on your perfectionism and other barriers. And, finally,

7) Don’t overplan. Create a profit & loss statement to guide you, and a simple marketing plan to show how you’ll achieve the sales figures in the P&L.But you don’t need a more complex plan than that unless you’re looking for money – and overplanning is a form of procrastination.

You’ll find advice and solutions to all of the above in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. For fastest progress, try coaching. If you want me to give a workshop for your department or click here. And don’t forget to check out my Academic Writing Catalyst Program for a powerful supportive community that will help you finish your thesis or book as quickly and easily as possible.