Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

May 29, 2012

Is Entrepreneurship for Everyone?

Updated “new and improved” version of this post is here.

Discussion started by Rieva Lesonsky on LinkedIn “Small Biz Nation” group. Here’s my response

I advise small business owners, from solopreneurs to 50 or more employees. Let me mention a few of them:

  • Two art majors started making hand-printed greeting cards for friends. Now they own a print shop with 10 employees. They’ve printed my books.
  • A woman was making pear condiments in her kitchen. Now she sells pallets of her specialty foods to Costco from her warehouse. I have a photo of her driving her forklift.
  • A woman in IT had gluten intolerance, started baking things for herself. She now has a bakery, several retail outlets including in the San Francisco Ferry Building, sells online, and has 30+ employees. She still doesn’t understand her P&L.
  • A Japanese immigrant worked as a busser in a restaurant, and saved his money. The restaurant went bust, he bought it for $1. Twenty years later, he has one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area, and has had a Michelin star.
  • A Hispanic guy got hurt on his construction job, and went on disability. While he was waiting for some job retraining, he started doing gardening for neighbors. He was chastised by the state for accepting money while on state aid. He now has three trucks and two gardening crews working for him.
  • A woman took over her husband’s bookstore when he died of a heart attack. She doesn’t really enjoy the business, but she’s trained somebody else to run it for her, and she has actually hired two more people.
  • A banker took his early-retirement buyout and started a yoga studio, and he just loves doing that.
  • A woman got fired from her sewing job, took a couple of favorite customers and did sewing for them. She now has a sewing workroom with ten employees, and recently bought out her former boss.
  • When my wife, the least entrepreneurial person I know, left her job because her boss was a total ******, she scanned the want ads for a new job for about six months, until she had so many HR consulting clients she had no time for that. Ten years later she keeps her schedule full without any marketing, just by referrals.

None of these people would have scored high on anybody’s entrepreneur test beforehand. I think it’s so dangerous making assumptions about who can or cannot be entrepreneurial. It may be true that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but I challenge you to point ’em out ahead of time. I have worked with so many “accidental entrepreneurs” like these folks. “One day I just noticed that I was in business. It was so hard to make a go of it. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to run a business, how to hire or manage an employee, how to watch the finances.”

The guy in the article who says entrepreneurship can’t solve the unemployment problem is oblivious to the fact that every one of these people I mentioned created 5 or 10 or 50 other jobs. And that some of those employees will in turn go out on their own—either voluntarily to pursue their passion or kicking and screaming. And that each of these little businesses help support other businesses around them.

My job is to teach these people enough about running a business so that it doesn’t drive them crazy.

Regarding that stat that most small businesses go belly up due to lack of money, I think it’s a myth, and I called this a myth in another post.


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