You won't often see me get upset over the rise of entrepreneurship in Canada. But this is one time, in my 25 years as an entrepreneur, I feel I have to voice my opinion.
You shouldn't have to become an entrepreneur because you've been downsized. You should want to become an entrepreneur because starting your own business is the one thing that you want or need to do more than anything else in the world. Entrepreneurs should start businesses because they see opportunities to do something different, something better than the competition. They're in business to leverage new ideas to shake up sleepy markets. The function of an entrepreneur is to disturb the status quo, to blaze a new trail and to make a difference.
Unfortunately, that urge to build a business isn't what's driving the many people who have been forced to seek self-employment in the wake of the 2008 recession.
Over the past five years, much has been written on the resurgence of entrepreneurship. I was particularly struck by a recent article published on CNBC.com entitled, "After recession, wave of 'accidental' entrepreneurs." "Last year, almost 13 per cent of the U.S. working-age population was in the process of starting or running a new business, according to the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study by Babson College – a slight decrease from 2012 but a jump of 67 per cent from 2010," writes Nancy Mann Jackson. "And more than one in five of those starting a new business in 2013 said they did so out of necessity rather than opportunity."
I know the old saying, "necessity is the mother of invention," but necessity in the form of entrepreneurship – starting your own business, finding clients, meeting payroll, and working ridiculously long hours in the process – just shouldn't be.
Why? Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted, because all too often it leads to stories like the one Ms. Jackson shares in her article. She tells the story of Angela Daidone "who became a freelance writer and marketer after being downsized three times from public relations and marketing jobs." For Ms. Daidone, self-employment has been an emotional roller coaster. "You go through bouts of depression because you're always worried about paying the bills," she said. "When jobs don't come through, you see it as a failure.""
Ms. Daidone's concerns should be taken to heart by anyone considering the path of self-employment, and maybe – more importantly – by our political leaders. I'm not a political animal, but I believe we as a society need to step up and provide greater opportunity for retraining, co-op, apprenticeship and related programs to help to reconfigure people's skill-sets and open up their frame of opportunity – not force them onto a path of 'necessity'.
We're not all cut out to be entrepreneurs. I remember one meeting with a very bright, articulate client. She had created a good product that was just beginning to build traction in the marketplace. She was talking to a number of people to find the "easiest" way to take her business to the next level. One option was to raise capital and open her own plant, but she didn't want the financial risk. The second option was to contract an overseas plant to manufacture the product for her, but she knew this would entail a lot of due diligence, travel and personal time spent overseeing quality control in another country. She did not want to spend that much time abroad. So she asked me, "what do you think I should do?"
I thought about it for a nanosecond. As hard as I searched my instincts and experience, I could only come up with one answer: "Go to bed and get a good night's sleep. When you wake up, go find a job."
This may seem glib, even rude. But it isn't. Business, especially entrepreneurship, is all about attitude and will, the things that drive us to make a difference in the businesses that we build. The truth is – as any entrepreneur knows – that building a business means sacrifice, risk and tremendous uncertainty. This life isn't for everyone.
Early in my career as an entrepreneur I had the good fortune to sit down to dinner with a gentleman who was nearing retirement from his own 40-year entrepreneurial journey. I asked him one simple question, "when does this get easier?" His reply spoke volumes: "Sorry Ken. I don't know yet".
I wish that I had the perfect solution for those that have found themselves necessarily self-employed. I don't. I do know, however, that we can't get dazzled by fantastical statistics that promote the near-term rise in entrepreneurship as a completely positive trend. For some people it's a trap.
How can accidental entrepreneurs escape their circumstances? Stay in touch with friends and colleagues. Tell them the truth about your business. There's no shame in struggle. Let them know you're open to all offers. If you're lucky enough to be offered another job, stress how much you've learned and stretched as an entrepreneur. And remember: Your next boss will be lucky to have you.
Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc. is a branding and innovation thought leader who helps organizations reimagine their futures. He is the co-author of two books on innovation – The 90 per cent Rule and the newly released bestseller, Cause a Disturbance (Morgan James Publishing, NY).