Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

'explorer_2006_0055.jpg' photo (c) 2006, Will Brown - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/EDIT: Within a few minutes of publishing this post, I received some great input from contacts on LinkedIn and Google+, as well as by Skype, email and the comments below. Thanks to each of you! I have now updated this post to reflect your suggestions, rather than have two versions floating around. So while you will now actually be reading my second draft, please still feel free to add any suggestions; I’m more than happy to write a third!

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I have been asked to speak at a local high school tomorrow for their Career Day. My topic… being an entrepreneur. Looking forward to it; I always enjoy giving a presentation, and the realities of being an entrepreneur definitely hit home for me, since I’ve been one since 1989.

As I’ve been getting ready, the following just kind of fell into place. This is obviously not meant to be all-inclusive; I’m just trying to give them a more rounded understanding of things to consider about being an entrepreneur.

Knowing me, I’ll change this 300 times between now and tomorrow morning, but here’s my first second draft, spelling crimes and all. I’d love your thoughts on this, especially if you’ve been down the entrepreneurial path…

Four important truths of being an entrepreneur

1. Your product is important.

  • What exactly will you sell or do as a business? What will people pay to get from you?
  • Your product is not just the item you sell or service you provide. It’s the feeling it gives to your customers, and the solution it gives to their problems. If you can’t give people peace of mind that you’ve solved a problem for them, you won’t keep them as customers.

2. Your customer service is importanter.

  • Companies with mediocre products but great service are a lot more likely to survive than companies with great products but mediocre service.
  • Yes, there will always be some companies that somehow do well or even thrive despite terrible service, just like there will also always be a 110 year old woman somewhere who says she stayed alive by smoking a cigar a day. But the healthy way for any of the other 99.9% of us to stay alive as a business is to take very good care of our customers.

3. Knowing your customers and what they truly want? Even more importanter.

  • This is where your marketing can make you or break you. You may be the best dooflickly maker in the world and have absolutely amazing service, but if no one wants a dooflicky, or doesn’t see the value in paying for yours at the price you want — or even if someone does really want one but doesn’t know you exist — you’ve got a serious problem.
  • You’ve got to not only be seen, but be seen favorably. People are not looking to buy your product. They are looking for whatever best meets their most pressing need. The better you can show how you can do that, the more successful your business will be.
  • Your customers include people you’ve never thought of. They are the people who need your care and attention at any given time. Yes, they include your actual customers, but sometimes will also include such people as your suppliers, your family, whatever association or government agency sets the regulations in your industry, and the Canada Revenue Agency (or IRS or whatever your local tax agency is called). You need to keep all these customers satisfied, so it’s important to understand who your customers truly are!

4. Your attitude and passions are importantest of all.

  • Are you doing this because you truly love making dooflickies, or because you figure it’s a way to make money? The more you truly love your business, the more likely you are to truly succeed at it.
  • Are you willing to work long and hard, but also recognize that it’s going to take time? That ability to give it all you’ve got day after day is an essential element of any entrepreneur, and one that not amount of talent or money can replace. It’s the reason why you have to be sure you love what you do, because you’ll be doing it a lot.
  • Are you comfortable with failure? Thomas Edison once said that he failed his way to success. It’s a great way for us all to view our failures. They’re not actually failures at all; just lessons learned. And the more comfortable we are with recognizing and maybe even embracing failures along our way as valuable learning experiences, the more likely we are to taste success in the near future.
  • Be prepared to deal with the unknown, and with change. A lot of it. There are few safety nets when you’re an entrepreneur, or few paths that you can follow with certainty. You will need to be comfortable with constant change if you really plan to live the entrepreneurial life. Your ability to make solid decisions with as much knowledge as you can gather — but never as much as you’d really like to have — will be a huge factor in your efforts to grow your business.
  • Don’t compromise the ones you love. Being an entrepreneur is a wonderfully rewarding but also long, hard road in many spots. You’ll need love and support way more than you think you will.
  • Don’t sell your soul. Successful entrepreneurs often talk of how they look back at times when they walked away from what seemed like a great deal, simply because that “deal” didn’t feel like the right thing to do. They often see such decisions as the best ones they ever made.Know what your standards of right and wrong are, and don’t compromise on them.

There you go… my first second draft of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. What points did I miss, or which ones of these seem off to you? What entrepreneurial advice would you want to share with a class of eager high school students?

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7 comments
greenbaydigital
greenbaydigital

Lorne, a great bundle of knowledge in a small package.  From my small amount of experience as an entrepreneur I would always try to pass on to the younger generation is two things.  1. A Good work ethic and 2. Service sells and is generally more profitable than products!  (Especially when linked to a great product).  A good work ethic will keep your hands at the plough even when others are giving up.  A good work ethic will keep your mind open to learning new ideas, methods and applications.  A good work ethic will help you service your clients in an open, honest and effective manner.  People don't like to be deceived. 

Anyway, just a few thoughts from a young man with a lot of business debt and a cool print shop in Springdale, Newfoundland!

BobRodkin
BobRodkin

Best piece of advice I received from an entrepreneur mentor some 25+ years ago was, "If ever you find yourself thinking, 'I've arrived, I know it all', then go find a job someplace because you'll be finished as an entrepreneur. You can never stop learning, never stop improving, never stop listening, EVER!"

Anyway, it's worked for me when I made the effort...and I've paid the price, when I haven't. 

NTQElectrical
NTQElectrical

Commitment to stay with it through the good and bad times cause they will both be there

LornePike
LornePike moderator

 @greenbaydigital I love these points, Fred! A great work ethic and super customer service can give any firm a huge competitive advantage. And you do indeed have a great print shop; I was delighted to find you.

 

You guys definitely came through with excellent customer service for me; next time I know of anything needing to be printed in the Central Newfoundland area, you'll be hearing from me. Thanks, Fred!

LornePike
LornePike moderator

 @BobRodkin Great advice, Bob, and definitely worth sharing with a high-school class or anyone else for that matter. I've touched on this in several presentations, and believe it's true for virtually any field these days. There's always something new to learn, and always a way to get better, even at the stuff you do already know well. And hey, everything's more fun when you know how to do it well!

LornePike
LornePike moderator

 @NTQElectrical Good advice. And you're right; the good and bad times are both part of the entrepreneurial experience. Maybe not always in the balance we'd like, but they'll both be there. :)

greenbaydigital
greenbaydigital

 @LornePike Thanks Lorne. I appreciate that.  We do seem to be lost in central Newfoundland, but we are being "found" by more and more!  I hope your speech will be effective and inspirational for the younger generation!