In my role as mentor to business professionals, I often get the question about your potential of going out on your own as an entrepreneur, versus your current role of working for a boss at an established company. Of course, that’s a personal decision, with many considerations and risks, but in my experience, the answer depends on some key mindset elements you can best assess.
Most people think success depends on first having that innovative and unique idea, but I would beg to differ. As an angel investor, I have found that good ideas are a dime a dozen, but the ability to turn them into a successful business is a rare skill, or ideal focus. Thus, I recommend that you look hard inside your own head for the mindset and ability to adopt these strategies:
- Focus on business problems first, not dreams. A business problem is something people are willing to provide money for a solution, not a solution looking for a problem. Entrepreneurs must enjoy the hard work of solving problems, and quickly get past the idea stage, with focus on a specific product or service, including timeframes and financials.
- Able to marshal people and other support resources. A new business is never a single person operation. Successful entrepreneurs have to be people oriented, to solicit experts with various skills, including marketing, production, operations, and finance. Most importantly, you have to deal with customers, and understand their wants and needs.
- Be willing to make commitments and hard decisions. You have to be willing to accept full responsibility for all aspects of your new business. There is no one above you to bail you out, and blame has no place in business. Many people I know have great ideas, but are all too comfortable letting someone else make the decisions or take the blame.
- Provide both thought and people leadership. First of all, this requires recognition that leadership is primarily inspiration and trust, rather than giving orders. It also requires effective communication, and being a role model for the team, investors, and customers. If you are not comfortable with all these, I recommend that you stay in your current role.
- Believe in the need for marketing and selling. With today’s world-wide Internet, no solution is so compelling that “if we build it, they will come.” You need to sell yourself, as well as your product. Marketing is necessary via social media, traditional media, and personal visibility, to attract customers, loyalty, and a competitive brand image.
- Relish being a “jack of all trades,” rather than expert. If you enjoy wearing many different hats and are constantly learning new skills, you will get more satisfaction as an entrepreneur. Your team will always be smaller than the number of skills needed, so you have to be willing and able to jump in to save the day. There are no startup expert roles.
- Enjoy the challenge of taking a calculated risk. Fear of failure or significant risk has stymied many aspiring entrepreneurs, or ruined their health. Every new business has many unknowns and much risk. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must enjoy taking risks, but always look for the balance between extreme risk, and smart risk versus return.
- Demonstrate agility and timeliness in all actions. In this rapidly changing world, being first at the right place, and pivoting quickly as things evolve are critical elements. If you like to study things over and over again, or are prone to second-guessing your decisions, the entrepreneur lifestyle may not be for you. Entrepreneurs must react and recover quickly.
- Start with a purpose and a long-term plan. In established enterprises, professionals are expected to complete assigned tasks, and leave the long-term planning to others. The best entrepreneurs follow their passion and purpose, and tend to think more long-term for their satisfaction, rather than short-term. Others look to you for the path to success.
If one or more of these mindset elements is definitely not you, and you are unhappy with your current role, it might be time to do some job hunting, but now is probably not the time to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur. While entrepreneurs consistently claim to be happier and healthier than employees, the role is certainly no fun for those who don’t have the right mindset.