Maybe You're Not Really An Entrepreneur

Mitch JoelPosted by

Being an entrepreneur is not the same as being self-employed.

How would you define an entrepreneur? I have always broken it down like this: An entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for a specific industry that does not yet exist, and has the ability to bring that business to market successfully. Yes, it leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Yes, it is not all-encompassing. I was once asked to judge an awards program for entrepreneurs. A lot of the businesses were second or third generation owners. I discounted them. I got in trouble for doing so. The argument – on the other side – was that these individuals really took the business to the next level, another level or a whole other space. Fantastic. I agree that these individuals are highly successful and talented, but I also felt like they were entrepreneurial… but not the entrepreneurs. One of the nuances (for me), is that the entrepreneur has the initial idea to start a business, and takes on the risk and leverage involved in taking this idea to market (and growing it). Everything after that is entrepreneurial.

With that, what’s the difference between being an entrepreneur and being self-employed? 

We’ve been waiting for weeks to get something fixed in our home. The trades person took two weeks before returning the initial call. It was a whole production of missed appointments and apologies to get them to do a site visit. We had to follow-up for a quote… and… you know the rest of the story. OK, I made that up, but it’s a conversation everyone has had at some point in their life. A friend was telling me a similar story. She paused, and said, “don’t they want my business? Don’t they want a good referral?” I don’t think that they do. It’s not just home trades people who have a bad reputation for this sort of thing. We see it in the strangest of places. From lawyers to accountants to designers and beyond. Yes, these individuals own their own businesses, but they are not entrepreneurs. They are self-employed… and they don’t make very good employees.

That’s the point.

When someone asks me what makes a great entrepreneur, I believe the core attribute that makes these individuals successful, is that they could have no tougher boss than themselves. Nobody has to tell them when they’re slacking off or not delivering, because they’ve spent enough time beating themselves up for it. We live in a world where being an entrepreneur (and failing at it) is so highly glamorized. We see it coming out of Silicon Valley on a daily basis. There are individuals out there (some have written bestselling books and million of followers) who believe that the future of success is all about being an entrepreneur. I don’t think that most people are cut out to be an entrepreneur. It’s not a slight. It’s like saying that most people are not cut out to be an engineer… or a gardener. Entrepreneurs are a rare breed, and it takes a certain kind of individual.

Know thyself.

Giving great service and creating a great experience is something that the best entrepreneurs constantly live, breath and try to reimagine. What saddens me the most is when that potential gets lost. When that person – who owns their own business – thinks they’re an entrepreneur, when they’re really just a poorly organized self-employed individual. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to shift from being an employee to an entrepreneur. It’s probably a lot harder to admit that you’re self-employed, and then shift towards becoming an entrepreneur. Anyone can own a business. Not everyone can make a business unique, successful and resilient.

So, what kind of owner are you? How entrepreneurial are you?