Would I encourage everyone to start a business? No.
Starting a business hurts. It requires hard work. Everyone has skills and abilities, but not everyone should invest those skills and abilities in starting a business. Those who possess entrepreneurial aspirations need to know how tough it is to create a company.
The biggest challenges are not the external ones like funding, coding, technology or talent acquisition. Those challenges can be fun, as long as you view them the right way. The biggest challenges are the internal ones, like stress, fear and self-doubt. Entrepreneur and financial expert Ramit Sethi estimates that 95 per cent of the barriers to success come from crippling thought processes.
You have to power through some serious mental hurdles in order to start a business and make it a success. What kind of hurdles? Here are the ones that you need to get rid of.
1. I'm not really an entrepreneur. Let me toss out one of the most over-asked and under-answered questions on the planet: What is an entrepreneur?
Nobody knows for sure. People try to define the word – from government organizations to columnists. We have little more than mere definitions, cobbled together by people trying to make sense of the vast entrepreneurial arena.
One of the most popular types of entrepreneur articles are the lists. You've read them, with titles like "25 Characteristics of a True Entrepreneur." These can be seriously misleading. When we crowd out would-be entrepreneurs by tightening our definition of an entrepreneur, we do a disservice to the world at large and to those entrepreneurs as individuals.
In a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, researchers admitted "There is no well-defined population of entrepreneurs (due to lack of consensus on definition), so comparisons and generalizations are dangerous." Another research project from the University of Baltimore cited multiple studies that pointed to the same truth: "A common definition of the entrepreneur remains elusive."
If you think you're not an entrepreneur, then you're approaching the issue from the wrong angle. The right angle is I want to start a business...sell something, do something, invent, create, dream and grow. If you start from the "am I an entrepreneur?" question then you may accidentally disqualify yourself before you even begin.
2. I'm not going to succeed. If you look at the business startup stats, you're either going to have a panic attack or immediately surrender. I exaggerate, of course, but let me share some of these stats with you:
- Y Combinator, an incubator program, has a 93 per cent failure rate (source and source).
- Over the lifetime of a small business, 60 per cent either break even or lose money (source).
- 51 per cent of new businesses die within five years (source).
- 80 per cent of entrepreneurs fail at their attempt within 18 months (source).
"Failure" is pandemic in the entrepreneurial community, so much so that "fail fast, fail often" is a Silicon Valley mantra.
What's an entrepreneur to do with this kind of data? You can respond in one of two ways:
1. Believe that you will fail
2. Fight failure
If you want to run your business into the ground – or never get it off the ground – then firmly place yourself in the massive fail category. If, on the other hand, you want to succeed, then readjust your beliefs.
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3. I'm not worth that much. Bill Gates wanted to be a millionaire for a long time, according to Walter Isaacson in the book The Innovators. But even Bill Gates underestimated his personal worth. Today, with a net worth exceeding $80-billion, Gates probably doesn't have a problem paying his heating bill.
Often, entrepreneurs sell themselves short, because they have little self-worth. The prototypical entrepreneur – scrappy, resourceful, smart and aggressive – may not have aspirations toward greatness or wealth. But in order to build a successful business, the entrepreneur needs some business drive.
Maybe you fear being greedy. Maybe you are a champion for making things low cost or available for everyone. That's OK. At the same time, you must realize that you deserve to raise your prices, make profits, build a business and succeed for the long term.
4. I'm not a salesperson. Entrepreneur and salesperson are often considered to be synonymous terms. One author on entrepreneurship claims, "Entrepreneurship is 80 per cent sales and marketing." An article in the Harvard Business Review states, "Salesmanship is central to the success of any young company, and entrepreneurs ignore this at their peril."
You don't have to be the traditional salesperson to succeed as an entrepreneur. Do you have to sell something? Well, yeah, sort of. But you don't have to be a salesperson to sell.
What do you do then if you don't sell?
- Stay excited. Passion is one of the entrepreneur’s most powerful assets.
- Be an expert. Those who master a niche are destined to profit from it. As you position yourself as a top-shelf professional in your field, you’ll inevitably grow.
- Build your personal brand. If you want to build your business, build your personal brand. It’s one of the fastest ways to growth without intentionally selling.
- Form the right partnerships. Successful entrepreneurs don’t fly solo. If you aren’t the “sales type” then find a partner who can do the dirty work for you.
5. I'm not a good leader. Like the word "entrepreneur," the word "leader" is slippery to the point where it's almost useless.
Some entrepreneurs are scared off from their entrepreneurial passions because they fear leadership, whatever that is. To overcome this mental hurdle, the aspiring entrepreneur should dismiss from her mind the fuzzy word, leadership, and replace it with a metaphor, not a word.
Entrepreneurs are on a journey. Other people join them on the journey. If someone wants to claim the title of "leader" or "CEO" or "manager," then fine. But keep the metaphor in mind – the journey. Growing a business isn't about a single person asserting his or her control or "leadership," but rather rallying others in the pursuit of progress.
Whether you think of yourself as a good leader or no leader at all is of little consequence. You need to be capable of building a business, and that's what matters.
Would I encourage everyone to start a business? The answer is still no, but I want to qualify that response. There are far more people who should and can start businesses. The tyranny of mental hurdles is so acute that many would-be entrepreneurs start to quit before they even start.
If you're going to build something, it's time to go for it. Mental hurdles, be gone.
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