How to Become an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy.
They own and operate everything from small grocery stores to digital startups. No matter what the size and scope, there are entrepreneurs behind every business and private company in the country.
Examples of entrepreneurs are everywhere. McDonald’s was founded by an entrepreneur. Facebook was built by an entrepreneur. Coca Cola was launched by an entrepreneur. Name a famous company, and there was an entrepreneur behind it.
But for every entrepreneur that becomes a success, there are many others who fail. Gallup polling has found that 50% of business don’t make it past five years. According to Fortune Magazine, a staggering nine out of ten startups will eventually fail. Those numbers may seem disheartening, but it doesn’t mean you should never consider entrepreneurship for your career.
With genuine passion, hard-work, a great idea, and a knack for learning, anyone can build a business and become a success.
Before you can start becoming an entrepreneur, however, you need to understand what an entrepreneur is, what it isn’t, and what it takes to become an entrepreneur. You should also understand what educations, including entrepreneur degrees, will help, as well as the pitfalls that you need to avoid.
Think you can be your own boss and blaze your own trail as an entrepreneur? Then let’s explorethe exciting and unpredictable world of entrepreneurship...
What is an “Entrepreneur?”
An entrepreneur is a term we hear a lot in this country, but do we really know what it is? When we think of entrepreneurs, we think of business owners of all types. Restauranteurs, auto shop owners, digital startups, self-employed photographers; all of these would count as entrepreneur careers.
But what is the defining factor?
The word entrepreneur comes from the French word “to undertake.” No, not a grave-digging undertaker, but a person who undertakes risk and initiative with the end goal of financial profit.
Entrepreneurs are defined as anyone who takes a risk with the goal of financial profit.
Obviously making money is not the only motivator for entrepreneurs, but risk-taking, usually in the form of financial investments, is the underlying theme of all entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are also working to build something that will last. One of the defining factors for an entrepreneur is to take the necessary steps to create a business that will, when managed properly, continue making them money while they are not working. A cafe owner, for example, will make money while the cafe is doing business, even if she’s picking up kids from school.
Freelancers vs. Entrepreneurs
In today’s digitally-connected world, millions of people have taken their skills online and become freelancers. They take jobs as they come and work on their own terms, usually in writing, design, or as a consultant of some type. But are freelancers entrepreneurs?
Freelancers carry many of the same characteristics as entrepreneurs (more on that below) but they aren’t building something that will eventually make a profit while they sleep, take a vacation, or leave for the day. While the two terms are fairly ambiguous, they are distinct. By most definitions a freelancer is not an entrepreneur.
How Do You Know if Being Entrepreneur is Right for You?
How can you tell if the life of an entrepreneur is for you? There are some certain traits, qualities, and values that most successful entrepreneurs share. While they don’t guarantee success, certain entrepreneurial characteristics lay a strong foundation for life of risk-taking and reward.
First and foremost, entrepreneurs value independence. They want to be their own bosses, set their own schedule, and run their own lives. They are people who dread the thought of a boss overseeing their work, although entrepreneurs have hundreds, thousands, or millions of bosses; they’re called “customers.”
Entrepreneurs are self-reliant. They enjoy being responsible for their own success and take pride in building something greater than themselves.
They must also be able to handle risk. If the thought of not getting paid on a regular basis, failing to sell your product, or simply falling flat on your face frightens you to paralysis, you may have difficulty dealing with the up-and-down nature of entrepreneurship.
Due to the higher levels of risk, long-lasting entrepreneurs are also frugal. Despite popular culture telling us that entrepreneurs are popping champagne and cruising on expensive yachts, most business owners are savers, not spenders. This was highlighted by the research of Dr. Thomas Stanley and published in The Millionaire Next Door (1996), which found that most millionaires in this country are owners of small businesses (not lawyers, doctors, or bankers) and they are habitual savers. 81% of them purchase their vehicles instead of leasing, and 90% of those who do purchase spent less than $45,000. The book may need updating, but it shows the ever-important need for frugal living as an entrepreneur.
How to Become an Entrepreneur
So, what can you do to become an entrepreneur? What are the steps to becoming an entrepreneur? Because of the many types of entrepreneurs, there are many different paths you can take. For example, the owner of a delivery company wouldn’t take the exact same path as an interior decorator. But there are some similar steps all of them should take.
In general, these are the steps you will take to become an entrepreneur:
Step 1: Find Your Industry or Niche
Step 2: Research Your Market
Step 3: Educate Yourself
Step 4: Build Your Business Slowly
Step 1: Find Your Industry or Niche
The most obvious first step it to find your specific niche. Many people want to become entrepreneurs, but they don’t know what industry to get involved with.
More often than not, your niche will be something you have worked in for years. If you have been a carpenter for a local construction company, home remodeling and restoration may be your area. If you have worked at a restaurant for many years, you probably have a good understanding of how to run a food service business. Your current experience is a great place to starting looking for your niche.
It will also help if you love your niche. To have years of success, you have to love what you do. Eventually, money won’t be a big enough motivator to keep you working sixty to seventy hours a week to sustain the business. You’ll need more than money to keep you motivated, you’ll need a purpose.
Step 2: Research Your Market
You should also research the available market, analyzing the area for demand and need.
Maybe, you want to open a fine Italian dining restaurant in your hometown. Are the other restaurants succeeding? Is there another fine dining in your area? Can the local customers afford to eat at a high-end restaurant, or would they prefer a more-moderate place to eat? Do they even like Italian food?
Finding the answers to these questions, and more, will be essential to your long-term success.
Step 3: Educate Yourself
There is a common myth in popular culture that successful, self-made entrepreneurs never graduate from college. The numbers, however, don’t back this up. According to a team of researchers from Duke, Akron, and Southern California, over 95% of entrepreneurs in high-growth industries have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Entrepreneur Education & Training
There are three types of educations that you should consider when looking at a life as an entrepreneur. While these may not be essential to your work, they certainly won’t hurt your chances of long-term success.
Education in Your Industry
The first type of education to consider is something directly related to your field. If you are looking opening an auto shop, you will obviously need some education and certifications related to car repair. If you are thinking about being a self-employed electrician, you will need the latest education and training with wiring and circuitry. If you want to run a restaurant, training in food service will be useful. Pretty obvious, right?
Once you’ve got your industry education down, many prospective entrepreneurs consider an entrepreneurial certificate or degree.
Certificates are a great way to inexpensively learn foundational skills needed to launch a new career quickly while a bachelor’s will provide a general studies foundation and entrepreneurial specific courses.
- Fort Hays State University Certificate in Building a Career in a Nonprofit Corporation
- University of Massachusetts - Lowell Graduate Certificate in New Venture Creation
- Grand Canyon University Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurial Studies
- Full Sail University Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Shorter courses in entrepreneurship can be completed quickly and are also useful for jump starting a new venture successfully.
Education Related to Business and Finance
Every entrepreneur, from owners of roadside cafes to global startups, needs to be versed in management, finances, taxes, and other business-related topics. You don’t necessarily need a master’s degree in economics, but an educational foundation in business will certainly help. An entrepreneurship education could mean an actual entrepreneurship degree or a more general business education that will prepare you to meet the day-to-day challenges of an entrepreneur career.
Common degrees related to business:
- Business administration
- Business management
- Business analytics
- International business
- Hospitality management
- Project management
Step 4: Build Your Business Slowly
Many aspiring entrepreneurs think that fast, rapid growth is the sign of a successful business. However, most businesses are built slowly, over years and even decades. Whenever possible, entrepreneurs will build slowly, starting with the very first sale and crawling forward. Building slowly allows you to learn and make adjustments before plunging headfirst into the business. Dealing with new situations provides valuable on-the-job entrepreneurship training you won’t get from any formal degree. In many cases, entrepreneurs will keep their day jobs while building the business in their spare time.
Potential Earnings for Entrepreneurs
There is difficulty in predicting earnings for entrepreneurs. However, Business News Daily, citing a 2013 study by American Express OPEN, reported the average entrepreneur salary to be $68,000, down from $72,00 the year before. The study also found that 15% of entrepreneurs work a second job, which suggests that these entrepreneurs are struggling to reach profitability.
Trying to determine the entrepreneurship salary must be the ultimate challenge for a statistician. There are so many variables, including investments, taxes, certifications, product purchasing, and payroll, and any of these can quickly sap the earnings of an entrepreneur. So while you may sell $2 million worth of product, that doesn’t mean you will earn $2 million.
Another problem with predicting entrepreneurial salaries is in the vast differences in business. For example, Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX, is an entrepreneur. The owners of a local mom and pop diner are also entrepreneurs. Now, maybe mom and pop have a couple of million in savings and are very comfortable, but the chances are strong that Musk made far more money than Mom and Pop over the past 15 years.
Tips for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur
There are many things you can do to increase your chances of success as an entrepreneur.
- Entrepreneurs need many tools, skills, and traits to maintain a business, and one of the most important things they can do is to maintain positivity. No, this doesn’t mean happy-thinking your way to a successful business, it means keeping an attitude of positive thoughts, even when times are down. When something goes wrong, a negative-minded person would dwell on their failings and maybe call it quits, while a positive mind will look at the failure to determine what went wrong and how to fix it.
- A good entrepreneur will also be focused on learning and growing, both from a personal and professional standpoint. This means getting the latest certifications if needed, taking classes to improve communication skills, or subscribing to industry publications that provide vital information for future decisions. Actively and purposefully working towards improvement, and evolving their efforts, is a common theme for successful entrepreneurs.
- Also, entrepreneurs will often keep personal and work finances separated. In order to set budgets and pay yourself properly, it is recommended that entrepreneurs have separate bank accounts for money that belongs to the business and money that belongs to the person. This might seem like a trivial difference, but it can affect how you work and how you spend.
- Another important strategy is to build a network of support, both emotional and business-related. Entrepreneurs have a lot to worry about, and taking some of these tasks off your shoulders can help you focus on running your business. Many entrepreneurs will have a support group that includes an accounting or financial expert, a marketing consultant of some type, and a mentor that can provide advice and guidance.
Pitfalls to Avoid
There are many pitfalls that entrepreneurs need to avoid, and while some of them are obvious, some of them can sneak up and ruin your success. These pitfalls can come before you’ve even made your first sale, or they can come after you have finally started to build your success.
Practically across the board, successful entrepreneurs will tell you to avoid debt whenever possible. Some, like Mark Cuban, will tell you to avoid debt entirely. According to Cuban, if you are starting a business by borrowing money, you are already doomed to fail. Other entrepreneurs will take a more moderate stance on debt, saying instead that debt should be kept to a minimum. Becoming an entrepreneur with no money is hard, but high amounts of debt is a pitfall for entrepreneurs.
It might sound counterintuitive, but rapid success can actually be a pitfall for entrepreneurs when it’s not managed properly. When a business gets too busy, they may not be able to process all the orders, flaws in management may begin to reveal themselves, and communication may begin to breakdown. The result? A steady drop in revenue until the bottom falls out. Being prepared for success with scalable management models and quality control is essential.
Another pitfall to avoid is over-dependence on a single income source. A good entrepreneur will avoid over-dependence by not letting a single client represent more than 25% of their income. If a single client or customer represents too much of your sales, what happens when they decide to stop doing business? You lose a significant portion of your income.
This concept was witnessed in grand scale during the financial meltdown of 2008. American Axle made parts primarily for General Motors, with GM representing roughly 76% of their income. After the automaker significantly reduced orders, American Axle was nearly forced into bankruptcy. Having a diverse client-base can help you avoid this pitfall.
There are other pitfalls to avoid, including internal conflict and high employee turn-around, but with good management, a solid business plan, and quality support, a good entrepreneur can keep moving forward.
Becoming an Entrepreneur: Is it Really That Risky?
Becoming an entrepreneur is never easy, but it may not be as risky as many people think. It includes long days, working weekends, and dealing with a variety of unknowns that make most people quit before they start.
Risk is often the major reason why people avoid becoming an entrepreneur, but consider this: someone who works for a company has one source of income: their employer; while an entrepreneur has many different sources. If the employee gets laid off, they are out of a paycheck, but if an entrepreneur loses a customer, they have many more to fall back on. When managed properly, being an entrepreneur can actually be one of the safest careers possible.
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