- Introduction to Entrepreneurship
- The Numbers on Entrepreneurs
- Living (and Surviving) the Entrepreneur's Lifestyle
- Do You Have the Right Personality?
- When the Shit Hits the Fan
- Making Friends and Influencing People
- Young Entrepreneurs
- Additional Resources
The famous Chinese philosopher Confucius is credited with being the first to say, "Choose a job that you like and you will never have to work a day in your life." This is good advice for those who are happy working under a boss, but for some people, happiness just can't come without the freedom of owning and running their own company. For them, the only job they will like is the job they create for themselves. Those people are called "entrepreneurs," and their brilliant madness is part of what makes the business world go around.
Every major company in America started with an idea, and many of them started in somebody's garage. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Dell, Starbucks, Matel, Facebook, Digg, YouTube and literally thousands of other multi-billion dollar companies grew out of next to nothing. In fact, when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, he couldn't afford to buy proper desks for his employees, so he used cheap doors with legs bolted to them. Today, the company still uses the door-desks, albeit a slightly fancier version, as a throwback to their roots.
If these are the kinds of stories that you want to be a part of, and entrepreneurship sounds like the right career choice for you, read on. There's a lot to learn before you jump into the fray, and here we've compiled articles from some of the biggest blogging names in the business to help you get started.
What You'll Learn
- What life as an entrepreneur is really like, and what you can expect out of the lifestyle.
- Personality traits that successful entrepreneurs share, and how to cultivate them in yourself.
- How to stay motivated when the going gets tough-or stops going at all.
- Why good mentors are so hard to find, and how to get their attention without seeming desperate.
- The keys to surviving in the business world as a young entrepreneur.
- Success stories and motivational advice from many of the biggest names in the entrepreneurial world.
There are a number of challenges facing new business owners in the current market. One of the biggest is the cost of private health insurance, as well as a number of taxes levied on private companies-like income tax, property taxes, state taxes, and government regulation in general. Additionally, getting into contact with investors and enlisting their help is increasingly difficult with the economy in its current state. Access to funding is the biggest issue facing small business owners.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new startups has been in a decline since its peak in 2006, with approximately 225,000 new companies going out of business in the last quarter of 2009. Currently, the rate of birth of new companies is the lowest it’s been since 1994, with about 500,000 in 2010. That means that the US currently has a high "churn" rate-there’s a lot of turnover in what businesses are on the market at any given time, which means that though there is plenty of success, there is also quite a bit of failure.
But that hasn’t stopped lots of innovative people from forging ahead anyway. In the US, small businesses with 1-19 employees account for 80% of the total working population, which has been theorized as part of the reason the US’s employment rate has risen above that of its peers like the UK. However, most entrepreneurs are only self-employed, which hasn’t helped much with the availability of jobs. Entrepreneurs may be key to getting the US economy back on track, as long as the downturn in national markets doesn’t continue to scare investors away-but only time will tell.
There’s a popular myth that entrepreneurs make more money with less work and more time off-that everything they touch somehow magically turns to gold. But anyone who’s actually tried their hand at it would laugh at the idea. Entrepreneurship might mean that you get to determine your own future on your own time, but it’s a lot harder than it looks, and sometimes the key is knowing how to distinguish the important stuff from the unimportant stuff.
In his article The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction), Tim Ferriss talks about how unsuccessful he’d be if he tried to do everything, and why you should decline offers as often as you accept them. Essentially, Tim argues that sometimes you have to neglect or completely ignore smaller opportunities like interviews and joint ventures, or even allow one company to fall completely by the wayside, in order to focus on the more important aspects of your life, like a lifelong goal, or your family. Even just little things like checking email can affect the way you behave for the rest of the day, which means that you aren't paying attention to other things that are more important. As Tim reminds us, "time without attention is worthless"-if you're not paying full attention to what you're doing, you're wasting your time.
Additionally, entrepreneurship is an attitude-if you aren’t positive and willing to take the blame for your own actions, you’ll quickly find yourself in deep water. For a self-check on your attitude, you might want to check out Steve Pavlina’s How To Do Everything Wrong, in which he helpfully points out all the self-defeating things we do on a daily basis that can interfere with success. This slightly tongue-in-cheek guide feels more like an admonishment than advice, with charming suggestions like "notice the paths that happy and successful people take, and avoid those paths," and "disempower yourself by blaming your problems on your DNA," which makes you want to immediately prove him wrong by doing it all right.
For those who want a less sarcastic guide to living the entrepreneurial lifestyle, check out Bill D’allessandro’s Entrepreneurship, Skydiving, and Inertia, where he compares starting your own business with the sheer terror of jumping out of a plane, and explains why it’s exactly that sort of fear an entrepreneur has to be prepared to face, or else risk stagnation and failure. Once you've gotten the ball rolling, it's easy to correct the little things you're doing wrong. But if you don't take that first step and put in a lot of hard work, you'll never get anywhere.
Most of all, though, successful entrepreneurs have to learn self-control and maintain a level head. Brian Armstrong’s How To Stop Letting Little Things in Life Piss You Off helps explain why losing your temper can only hurt you and your business by making you looking like a fool. It's far better to focus on the things you're grateful for that go right than to zero in on the mishaps and problems that crop up from time to time.
Mike is a very successful entrepreneur who founded three separate multimillion dollar startups, but still protests the rags-to-riches myth that’s sprung up around entrepreneurs. In this interview from Blogtrepreneur.com’s Expert Interview Series, he gives a down-and-dirty description of what the entrepreneurial lifestyle is really like, without the glorification. Topics covered include the real time and effort that success requires, the importance of fear, the difference between business and productivity, dealing with automated business requests, and the late-night bender that motivated him to take the leap in the first place.
Also check out the stories of 20 Unconventional Entrepreneurs Who Will Inspire You from David Siteman Garland’s the Rise to the Top, where he interviews several awesome and inventive entrepreneurs, ranging from notorious party boy Tucker Max, to Seth Godin and his infamous Domino Project.
Like any profession, entrepreneurship attracts a certain sort of personality-the people who are crazy enough to jump off the deep end and into the mad fray of the business world. In his article 10 Traits Entrepreneurs and Einstein Share on Euntrepreneur.com, Mike Werling examines the major qualities successful entrepreneurs share with one of the greatest thinkers of all time. Mike covers major traits like imagination, inquisitiveness, innovation, a positive attitude and intuition, as well as more mundane points like remembering to take naps. Most points are accompanied with a real-world business example of excellence in that category, including companies like Google and Coke.
For a more straight-forward guide, check out the Successful Entrepreneur Checklist from Ahmet Kirtok of the Small Business Arena, which provides a comprehensive list of traits successful entrepreneurs share, including competitiveness, creativity, independence, a willingness to ask for help when necessary, and a strong sense of self-worth. Additionally, What Great Entrepreneurs Have In Common from Forbes.com’s Drew Hansen covers an unlikely and yet still necessary trait that most entrepreneurs share: vulnerability. An entrepreneur has to be willing to expose himself and his work to scrutiny, and accept the chance that he will be hurt and he might fail. Without this key trait, you will never be able to make waves in your market of choice.
In the end, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between being a true entrepreneur and just being a business owner, which Jun Loayza elaborates on in Startup Advice: Entrepreneur vs. Business Owner. While the business owner focuses on working hard, micromanaging and making money, the entrepreneur is more concerned with doing things in a time-efficient manner and delegating where necessary, resulting in a much smarter work style. If you have the wrong mindset, you’re destined for a life of struggling and over-working. As Jun warns at the end of his article, "Entrepreneurship is not a career; it’s a lifestyle."
But even with all the faith and foresight in the world, it’s hard to be prepared all the time, which is where Colin Wright’s How to Be Confident Even When You Suck comes in. Colin is an international entrepreneur who has mastered the art of standing out and adapting, and here he explains how to always appear in control.
Case Study: Matthew Inman - The Oatmeal: Case Study of an Entrepreneurial Artist
This interview on mixergy.com with the mastermind behind popular webcomic The Oatmeal reveals Matthew’s reasons for going into the creative business-and leaving a successful SEO career behind. He reflects on his lack of passion for the SEO world, and how it’s still coming back to bite him now that he’s in a field he loves. Ultimately, he advises, focus on finding an area that you are really passionate about, and if you’re good enough, the business will come.
But no matter how good you are, or how passionate you are, sometimes things just don’t go your way. The important thing is to never give up. Take Cody McKibben’s advice from How to Keep Kicking Ass When You Lose Everything-"if you’re not failing at a few things each month, then you’re not trying hard enough." Cody tells a deeply personal story about his own failures, and how he managed to pull through them even when everything seemed lost. He recommends putting on a brave face and mastering your fears, whether they're the fear of failure or the fear of abandonment, and most of all to learn from your mistakes. In the end, it’s about getting back up, dusting yourself off and trying again, even if you have to do it over and over and over again. If you’re not trying, you won’t succeed. Take some advice from these successful entrepreneurs:
- Danny Iny of EpicLaunch.com’s The Charlie Brown Theory of Commitment to a Startup - No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away, you just have to keep kicking harder, but be smart about it: only go for it if you have the energy to commit for a full 2-3 years. There's no point asking Lucy to hold the ball if you can't kick straight, regardless of how trustworthy (or not) she might be.
- Erin Blaske’s Jaded: Adventures in Business Ownership - Erin reflects on her disillusionment with the business, and urges her readers to stay genuine even when everyone else is being a tool. She suggests that you should stop comparing your business to everyone else's, don't do anything that makes you feel like you're spamming your customers, be authentically you (not a pale imitation of a competitor), and set clear guidelines about the sort of person you want to work with, and stick to your guns.
- Pamela Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation, presents The 20x Rule - Because increasing your output can only lead to increased success, Pamela encourages her readers to multiply everything they do by twenty. Instead of pitching one client a week, pitch twenty; instead of contacting two journalists, contact forty; instead of three blog posts a month, try sixty. The more volume you put out, the better your chances are for striking gold.
Additionally, try not to get too caught up in the rat race, always striving to produce cheaper products with more variety. Mike Michalowicz explains Why You Want to Under-Do Your Competition-because customers value quality, and sometimes being really, really good at one thing is better than being just okay at many things. Just look at WD-40 if you don't believe it. After all, Bigger is not Always Better, as Dr. Jeff Cornwall urges his students to remember. Sometimes the Mom and Pop shop does best staying local, and to expand nationally would be to sell yourself short. Don't let the success of your business be its downfall.
Alok Kejriwal of Games2Win.com explains how he turned pirates into advertisers with inviziads-ads that only turn up when the game code is posted on an unapproved page. In this interview with mixergy.com, Alok goes over his thought process in coming up with the idea, and how he managed to turn a profit killer into a huge profit boost. Alok kept going when things seemed most bleak, and it paid off in a big way.
Bonus Case Study: Pinger’s Polite Plans for World Domination
Forbes.com’s Nicole Perlroth explores the life and thoughts of Greg Woock and Joe Sipher-masterminds behind Pinger, the biggest free texting service in the United States. It didn’t come easy, though, as the pair struggled through first a failed attempt at creating MP3 players, and then major setbacks in the first 3 years of Pinger when their voice messaging software failed. They never gave up hope, though, stubbornly insisting, "We think we can take over the world," and in the end their positive attitude paid off.
The business world is dependent on making connections. Who you know is just as important as who you are, and sometimes getting the attention of a well-established businessperson can be the key to success. However, it can be hard to get that foot in the door, as Ramit Sethi (author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich) explains in Why successful people don’t want to mentor you. Nothing turns a business person off like desperation, and mentors get desperate requests from rookies all the time. You have to offer your potential mentor something in return, so that she can start a dialogue with you. Do your homework, ask specific questions and take genuine interest in her company. Make the relationship as easy as possible for her, and offer help wherever you can. Ramit elaborates on the phenomenon with a guest post on GetRichSlowly.com, where he encourages you toward The Best $20 You’ll Ever Spend-buying lunch for a potential mentor so you can pick her brain.
Once you’ve landed a meeting with that big-name business contact, it’s important to stand out, even in a crowd. In her article How to Be the Most Memorable Person in the Room, Erica Douglass explains how you can use pattern interrupts to engage anyone in conversation, without imposing yourself upon them. Just a memorable opening line, like "I got here by kayak,"-something that makes them respond with, "tell me more"-can be the difference between getting completely ignored and making a new best friend.
It’s also important to approach new contacts in a way that makes them want to respond to you. Check out Dean Hunt’s sneaky message to Jimmy Fallon in his post How to Get Almost Anything You Want. He uses techniques like assuming familiarity, referencing something specific to his target, and implying that a response was the polite thing to do without specifically asking for it. It worked like a charm-Fallon started following him on twitter the very next day. Everything you do when it comes to interacting with potential partners and clients, or with anybody else, should be directed toward Increasing Your Likability, which you may find easier with a few tips from Guy Kawasaki, including dressing like your peers, smiling with your eyes and not just your mouth, and always looking for common passions.
For a more detailed and comprehensive discussion of networking, check out Yanik Silver (of Maverick Business Adventures) and part 3 of his Business & Life Lessons series: Authentic Connections, Mastermind groups & Mentors. Yanik presents quite a bit of general information about networking, including a detailed overview of what, exactly, Mastermind groups are and how they can help you, as well as specific stories from his life about his own business heroes-including both of his parents.
While you’re making those connections, it’s also important to Stay Organized-with a little help from Jenny Blake and her plethora of organizational tools and tricks from all corners of the Internet, including a healthy dose of Google's various websites.
Case Study: Steve Blank: Founders are Artists
Steve is a giant in the computer world, having worked for big name companies like Pixar, as well as starting several of his own companies like E.piphany, Zilog and Rocket Science Games. In part 4 of his 5-part interview for FounderLY.com, Steve explains why mentors are so hard to find, and how you can engage one. He also discusses several other topics related to startups and building your own business life.
There can be no doubt that the arrival of the Internet has lent a huge advantage to young entrepreneurs who grew up using the new technologies available today. However, these young business people can run into quite a lot of trouble when trying to be Taken Seriously as a Young Entrepreneur – for which Under30CEO.com presents a helpful guide from the experiences of Jason Brian, 20-year-old entrepreneur. Tips include associating yourself with established people so your brand gets respect by association, asking lots of questions and having faith in your brand, despite what anyone tells you. You might also want to take a glance at Oliver Wilkinson’s 7 Tips for Teen Entrepreneurs, which include starting early while you don't have as many bills to worry about, starting small so you have a chance to make mistakes when they won't ruin you, and learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.
But it’s exactly these kinds of cursory overviews that can stymie young entrepreneurs who want to do their own thing instead of getting stuck in the shadows of their older counterparts. For teens who want to get into the business world, sometimes the best answer is to network with their peers, which is where the Teen Business Summit comes in. This is a great resource for teens looking to work together to take over the world of business because it allows them to connect. The summit is annual, and attended by many of the big names in business, all looking to help the next generation get ahead.
But you have to keep in mind the complications that come up for young entrepreneurs that their older counterparts might not face. Some of them include:
- How to Live a Debt-Free Life as a Young Entrepreneur - Onibalusi of YoungPrePro gives his advice for keeping things in budget, even when you don’t have a budget. His advice is to be frugal with your money, don't take out loans, and make sure you understand all the ins and outs of the finance world, including taxes and investment opportunities.
- The Young Entrepreneur’s Generation Gap Challenge - Scott Gerber of Entrepreneur.com offers some advice on how to deal with age bullies in business. He suggests that you hold your ground no matter what gets thrown at you, don't waste your time trying to convince people who disagree with or dislike you, and when all else fails, bring in an older partner to back you up.
- How Tech Tips the Scales in Favor of Young Entrepreneurs - But the news isn’t all bad. As Rob Salkowitz of FactCompany.com points out, young entrepreneurs have major advantages in the new, Internet-driven business model that's taken hold. Familiarity with social networking sites like Facebook makes business networking not only easy, but automatic; the ability to find information quickly is just as valuable as inherent knowledge, but faster to acquire; and, it's easier than ever to start a company without very much funding, because all that's really necessary is Internet access and a little computer know-how-something many older generations lack.
In general, you want to avoid the 7 Major Mistakes Young, Loaded Entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg Make-like mismanaging money, undercharging clients, and not trusting employees-and focus on the advantages of having a whole lifetime left at your disposal.
Jason is as young as they come. He started his company Pencil Bugs when he was only 9 years old, and now at the age of 15 he’s glad he got started so young. In this interview with Youngentrepreneur.com’s Matthew Toren, Jason tells the story of how he built Pencil Bugs into a successful company, how it’s affected his "childhood," and the advantages of starting young.
There are several other interesting and savvy bloggers out there to help you grow your business and learn the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Check a few of them out:
- Help! My Business Sucks! from Andrew Lock. This site runs an unconventional marketing video series, including interviews and advice with famous and successful entrepreneurs. In this particular video, Andrew interviews Matthew Perry and reveals some secrets to help your small business stand out.
- Strategic Profits from Rich Schefren. Rich makes regular videos with advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners. In this particular installment, he talks about how to keep your team focused on the important tasks each week.
- Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Corner Stanford University presents a number of powerful speakers giving presentations on a variety of topics, including marketing, leadership, creativity and globalization. Speakers include Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn.com, Marissa Mayer of Google and Guy Kawasaki of Garage Technology Ventures.
- Mixergy.com by Andrew Warner. Andrew interviews successful entrepreneurs from all walks of life, and mines their secrets for your benefit. In this particular interview, Oren Klaff, the king of pitching, reveals the secrets to his amazing persuasiveness.
- Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming – A wonderful guide to improving and evaluating your management system, to help your company be the best.
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank – The quintessential quite to marketing and product management for entrepreneurs, complete with personal anecdotes for illustration.
- Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston – A collection of interviews with famous and successful startup leaders like Steve Wozniak and Mitch Kapor.
- Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki – A comprehensive guide to the challenges of running a start-up, from one of the veterans in the business.