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What Is an Entrepreneur?
You might think of an entrepreneur as someone who starts or runs a small business, but there’s more to it than that. At a fundamental level, entrepreneurship is about identifying opportunities and taking on risks to fill them. Entrepreneurs as a class tend to be excited by (rather than afraid of) the challenges that come with solving problems that have never been solved.
You don’t need a business degree—or even that much money in savings—to become a successful entrepreneur. Many aspiring entrepreneurs get their start by simply offering a new solution to a widespread issue.
4 Things to Consider Before Becoming an Entrepreneur
There’s a lot of romance around the idea of being an entrepreneur. Many people at some point or another have had a business idea they thought could change the world, or daydreamed about being their own boss. There are certainly advantages to becoming a first-time entrepreneur, but it’s also an intense, stressful process with a high chance of failure. Here are four things to consider before becoming an entrepreneur:
- How much do you love your idea? The job of an entrepreneur is hard work, and failure is a very real (or even the most likely) outcome, so you’ll need to truly love what you’re doing to get through those challenges.
- How much stability do you need in your life? Being comfortable with great risk is one of the signal characteristics of entrepreneurs. Especially early on in your time as a business owner, your product, your schedule, and your income will all be up in the air. You might work sixty hours a week or more for months on end with no cash flow and no guarantee of future income. If that doesn’t appeal to you (or it isn’t realistic for your other life commitments), then quitting your day job to take the plunge might be a mistake.
- How confident are you in your mission? An essential trait of entrepreneurs is a deeply rooted confidence in your own abilities. Especially when you’re starting out, many people are going to doubt you. If you’re easily discouraged, then this may not be the path for you. Once you’ve gotten your new business off the ground, you’ll be tasked with making lots of tough decisions that some people aren’t going to like. In these cases, you’ll need to stick by your choices and avoid second-guessing yourself.
- What is your tolerance for failure? You’re probably familiar with stories of founders who launch a billion-dollar business on their first try but for the majority of successful entrepreneurs, this isn’t the reality. A key component of entrepreneurship is a comfort with failing, especially if you can learn from that failure.
How to Become an Entrepreneur in 7 Steps
There’s no one tried-and-true path to becoming an entrepreneur, but there are lots of resources out there. Networking events can help connect you with fellow entrepreneurs, industry contacts, and potential investors. Incubators or accelerators can help you with the basics of developing a product, business plan, and marketing strategy. Here are a few important things to keep in mind over the course of your entrepreneurial journey:
- Find your purpose. Write down three things that make you angry. Choose one and really drill down on what you could do to make that thing less of a problem in your daily life. Then, write down a plan of action for solving that problem. Or, if you feel like getting creative, come up with a product that could tackle the issue. This doesn’t necessarily have to be your big invention, so have fun with it.
- Identify a problem you can solve. You may not have the most experience in an industry, but think about this: Are you a person who knows your niche intimately for another reason? Might the people making products in your desired industry not have your unique knowledge about those products? You may know more about what you want to make than all of the people who are already making products like it. Do market research to determine the potential demand for your product.
- Make your first prototype. Prototyping is a two-pronged process: First, it’s bringing your idea into the world to see if it can be made. Then, it’s examining the strengths and weaknesses of your product by comparing it to what else is out there. Try your first few prototypes on yourself. If you wouldn’t buy it and it was your idea in the first place, who would? If it passes the “would I buy it?” test, great—now step it up. Give it to some trusted friends and family members to try.
- Sell the problem, not the product. You may think that when you’re selling your product, you’re selling your product, but that’s not the case. You’ll be selling the problem that your product solves. Part one of your pitch should convince your manufacturer, customer, or buyer that there’s an urgent problem that needs solving. Appeal to their emotions and get them to either identify or empathize with the problem. Ask, “Has this ever happened to you?” If it hasn’t, make them feel for the people it does happen to: “This is something that my friend has had to cope with their whole life.” Part two of your pitch is showing how your product alone is the solution to this urgent problem.
- Develop your brand story. The story of your brand is what you’re going to want to tell people when you’re marketing your product. That’s what journalists want to write about, that’s what radio hosts want to talk about. Have you overcome something to start this business? Where do you come from? What was this idea born out of? The more open you’re willing to be about who you are and what you stand for, the more likely it is that people will relate to you and therefore your product.
- Build a culture of scrappiness. There are two different types of people you have to hire: One will support the strengths you already have, and the other will cover your business blind spots. The more success you get, the more people will start coming out of the woodwork to get in on that success. In the business world, those people often come in the form of experts insisting you need their help to grow. In some cases, this may be true. Don’t turn your nose up at every expert who offers advice. On the flipside, though, you might find that you can perform some of the skills those experts are peddling just fine on your own.
- Stay connected to your “why.” Starting a successful business is—well, a treacherous business. You need to stay focused on something that will keep pushing you forward, otherwise known as your “why.” Why are you doing this? Why is it important? Turn your “why” into your business’s mission statement. This is as much for you as it is for the people who will be working for you and with you—no matter what sort of business you’re trying to start, it’s crucial to align yourself and your team on the why behind the what.
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