Are you sure you want to be an entrepreneur?

What’s the business plan? What’s your revenue model? How do you get from point A to Point B? Can you scale this?

These are the questions people used to ask and lenders still probably ask to people audacious enough to start a business. I think they are the wrong questions today.

These are the questions I would ask today, after a lifetime of experience as a business owner and operator.

1) Do you believe in yourself as a business owner? If you cannot answer “yes” and believe in the “yes” you have very little chance, because you are going to get knocked off your pins almost immediately and numerous times after that. If you do not truly believe in yourself, you will be demolished by the first few hits.

2) Are you flexible enough to look at the evidence and switch course? Whatever plan you start with is imperfect. You have to accept that and mutate to accommodate the reality that reveals itself. The market will tell you of you’ve got it right if you can give it a little time and communicate clearly what you are about.

3) Never believe there is only one correct way to do things. There are always lots of ways to do things and many are better than the one you thought was “the only way” to do something. People used to think that the only way to bake a cookie was with wheat flour. Today a whole industry has sprouted around gluten-free baked goods.

Since 1990, Starbucks has defined what a coffee shop is, but in Palo Alto, California, the best coffee I’ve ever tasted is sold at Zombie Runner, a shop catering to marathon runners. People line up and pay premium prices for their amazing coffee and chocolates.

4) Does your idea keep you up at night? If you are not a little nuts and worried about starting something new and pursuing it like a wacko, you probably will not be successful, because somebody else will be crazier and more committed and eat you. This is the downside of entrepreneurship and the books and manuals tend to neglect it. From my experience, the really good deals (and after the really bad ones, too) are the ones that upset your gut, the ones that wake you at 3:00 a.m. to recheck your numbers. The good deals are usually the ones that you think you are overpaying for, or bidding too close for. But you are doing them because you know in your gut there is a way to make it work even if you don’t know what it is at that moment.

5) Starting a business is ridiculously easy but making it successful is incredibly hard. Don’t do it if you want a balanced life, whatever that is. Being an entrepreneur, at least at the beginning, is all about stupid imbalance. You and your loved ones must accept this for a while or you will be miserable with guilt and surrounded by anger. Unfortunately, your loved ones will also be unhappy if after all you put them though the enterprise still ends in failure, which is likely to happen.

Have a nice day.

Question: If you could choose between owning/running a business or being an employee with nice salary in a good work environment, which would you pick?

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13 thoughts on “Are you sure you want to be an entrepreneur?

  1. Peter Schroth

    I would rather make half as much money and work for myself and I am very thankful for the people who come to work, do what they are asked in exchange for fair wage.

  2. Joe

    The one thing I would warn people about is it’s all consuming. You may be sitting in your favorite chair watching your favorite whatever and you are only thinking about your business. If and it’s a big if you take a vacation or a few days, you are worried about what’s happening at work. Also be prepared for 7 days a week for a long time. Then the last thing is cash flow that’s a big problem. If you can handle all of this and can last 5-8 years then it will be worth it. Thanks JMY

  3. Wendell

    Your questions are spot on. The standard questions are important except for the scaleability one, (I am not 100% sure what scaleability even means) but the questions you ask are the real gut checks that need to be considered before jumping into the pool. In most cases your work will be your life for several years and maybe longer. That said, the personal satisfaction is wonderful once your company becomes a reasonably stable organization.

  4. Roberto Jacobus

    Unfortunately the first question can only be answered until you get yourself into a business. Lots of people think they do have all it takes, until they realize they can’t take the blows anymore. You have to have the guts to take the blows but also the brains (or reflexes) to dodge them. If you don’t have both it is likely you will fail.

  5. Tavis Frier

    Funny you should ask. I just quit the best job I’ve ever had, with a guaranteed 40 hours a week and excellent benefits to work out of my garage. I’d like to tell you all about it, but I’ve got a lot that needs to get done. Gotta go.

  6. Joe Bartelt

    I totally agree with this article and would also like to add, be prepared to do the crappy jobs. Many people think that just because they are now a proud business owner they don’t ever have to work in the trenches again. These are usually the entrepreneurs that fail when things get bad. Your customers don’t care that two of your employees when out on a bender and didn’t show up for work the next day. They just want their product delivered on time. So be prepared to take up the slack even if you have to work a 16hr day here and there. Even with that said after 17 years in business I cannot imagine doing anything else.

  7. Seth Emerson

    On of the benefits of living in America is you can do both. When I was first starting out in a job, and also in auto racing (as a hobby) I noticed that many – if not most of my fellow amateur competitors were spending their earned income on racing, causing major problems at home. Many of them lost marriages and family over it. (Racing can be all consuming). I decided to start a small “niche” company to sell parts and a few services to racers. It was started small and stayed small. I executed it in my spare time and used only that money to fund my racing – thus keeping my wife happy. I had to budget time around regular work – the long hours were by choice, and I have said that if the business were to double in size, I would shut it down. But now I am looking toward retirement from my regular job, (soon), and deciding if or how I would want to expand my little manufacturing company. It has been a juggling act, but it has left me in a good position for the future. SO – You can do both, but you have to blend the commitment to job, family and your “dream” company

  8. Larry Clayman

    Great topic as always. Having inherited my business from my Dad, I have often wondered if I would have been so bold as to strike out on my own. In retrospect, I think not because one of the reasons I went into the family biz was because I could not settle on what I really wanted to do. This gave me a leg up. All of the comments about the 24/7 life is all too true as running a business consumes you. It has been difficult on my family even as two other members of my family are in the biz with me. I have enjoyed the freedom of not reporting to “the man” but running your own show (especially a small one) is very unforgiving.

  9. David Philipp

    All of the comments so far are true, but I think they are concentrating too much on the long and hard hours, the responsibilities, etc. I have run my own business for over 40 years, and I like to think of how much I enjoyed it. I report to no one (except my customers–but I have a choice), I can’t be laid-off or fired, I can try out my ideas and accept my successes and failures because they were my ideas. In other words, I get a lot of satisfaction of what I have accomplished over the years!

    Our company has taken many turns in response to changes in the industry, some were great and some were not so great, but we survived because we had to. I love my job and even though I am semi-retired, I still work as much as I want to–and the rewards are still there: keeping my mind active, meeting technical and business challenges, thank you’s from customers, and extra money for my “retirement” activities.

    For me, there is no other way!!!

  10. Dan Grosberger II

    Great article. Working for yourself is very rewarding. When the customer tells you that you did an excellent job, this is what makes it all worthwhile. The long hours and ups and downs are part of being in business for yourself. Once you start a business and it succeeds there is no turning back.

  11. Samuel

    I have been in business for 38 plus years now, and seen a lot of hard times, but would not change it to go to work for someone else. Last three years been tough, no pay for me, but still happy I have my business…

  12. Mark Ellenberger

    Make a living doing what your good at doing, and expand from there. I too work a full time job. I moved to the country, built my own shop, refurbished a pair of old machining centers, and now almost upon retirement. With the uncertainty of retirement, as in getting a retirement check, we all have to strive for a plan B. Owning your own business has become manditory. It’s everything mentioned above, that desire to try and do. That’s also what gives our State and Country HOPE!

  13. Chuck Fluharty

    Well, I’ve done both and working for yourself, even with all the hours, beats working for less capable individuals in rapidly changing companies. After climbing the world in a $32 billion dollar German chemical company, living abroad and making Director at 36 yrs. of age, I realized that traveling away from home and community wasn’t worth the big salary. I started working two jobs in 1992. First, I tried taking my father’s old machine shop to the next generation, but family disputes resulted. After leaving that shop, my wife and I started our own shop with a Hardinge Swiss in 1997. We tried entering the aerospace field with big Nakamura machines in 2008 and ended up in bankruptcy in 2009 (F22 program). Now, after finally leaving the chemical industry in February 2011, I’m working the shop full time at 51 yrs. old and have never worked harder. Business is booming and we are getting ready to buy our first “brand new” Swiss machine. We serve advanced military markets and are working to defeat radical Islam with every machined part. If you aren’t working in manufacturing, then you are working a living wage job in the “service industry”. Good luck.


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