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Op-Ed: Everything You Know About Entrepreneurship is Wrong

When you hear the word “entrepreneur,” what immediately comes to mind?


When you hear the word “entrepreneur,” what immediately comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, you’re probably picturing a recent college graduate who’s a bit disheveled, brilliant, and obsessed with earning a six-figure income by age thirty. After all, this is the type of entrepreneur the media loves to portray.

We’ve all seen photos of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak toiling away in a garage or Mark Zuckerberg staring at a computer screen in his dorm room. Yet, while these whiz kid-turned-multimillionaire overnight success stories grab the most headlines, the reality is that these only make up a tiny drop of the entrepreneurial pool.

 

Don’t Fall for the Stereotypes

With so much attention given to this rare breed, it’s no wonder there are so many misconceptions about American entrepreneurs, including:

 

  1. It’s all about the money. Most people — including many entrepreneurs — think starting a business is all about getting rich. But here’s a secret: It’s not.
  2. Entrepreneurs are socially awkward geniuses. Not true. You have to be willing to put in a lot of hard work and think creatively, but you don’t have to be a straight-A student to be a successful entrepreneur.
  3. Entrepreneurs are “lone wolves.” The most successful entrepreneurs know how to build a team. They realize that partnering with people with complementary skills allows them to accomplish even more.
  4. Entrepreneurship is only for young people. Surprisingly, the lowest rate of entrepreneurship is found in 20-34-year-olds, while the highest rate is found among 45-54-year-olds. The fastest-growing group is 50+ years old.
  5. Entrepreneurs are undisciplined dreamers. Many believe, somehow, business owners have been forced into entrepreneurship because they couldn’t fit in anywhere else and get a real job.

In my experience, having worked with thousands of successful entrepreneurs, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs for one reason: They love solving problems for people. Sure, they want to be successful. But to them, the real mission of their business is to help others.

Money is just a byproduct of providing something of value to others. That’s what I tell any would-be entrepreneur looking for advice on being successful: Focus on solving a specific problem and helping others first. Don’t worry about money; worry about providing value.

 

What Makes a Good Entrepreneur?

I believe there are many people who could start a business of their own but don’t because, for some reason, they think they don’t have the “right stuff.”

Unfortunately, what they think is the right stuff (see list above) isn’t actually necessary at all.
Instead, I believe there are several other personality traits that are vital in an entrepreneur. In addition to being excellent problem solvers, entrepreneurs are often:

 

  • Creative. Entrepreneurs are always looking for a better way to solve problems. They are curious and ask questions. “That’s how it’s always been done” isn’t in their vocabulary.
  • Adaptable. Starting a successful business requires a business plan. However, entrepreneurs realize things don’t always go according to plan and are able to adapt when necessary.
  • Resilient. Face it: Failing is just part of the process. Entrepreneurs fail fast and acknowledge and learn from their failures, understanding that each one brings them closer to success.
  • Grit. Entrepreneurs are always on the move and looking for their next big idea or problem to solve. They don’t sit around and complain; they go out and make it happen.

 

You Could Be Entrepreneur Material

Many people I meet are convinced they can’t or shouldn’t start a business. They assume that just because they’re not a genius, tech-savvy, or old (or young) enough, they can’t be successful.

This isn’t true at all.

Look around. The local restaurant owner started as an entrepreneur. Your plumber, landscaper, or electrician is an entrepreneur. So are the consignment shop owner and the yoga instructor. Entrepreneurs are everywhere.

There are no rules for who can become an entrepreneur and who can’t. In the same way, there’s no particular industry or occupation that’s more entrepreneurial than another. An accountant can become a successful entrepreneur just as easily as a web designer.

Entrepreneurship isn’t about being in a specific industry, having a distinct type of education, or dressing a certain way. If you’re passionate about providing value and using your unique set of skills to solve problems for others, then yes, you are entrepreneur material.

 

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur, an NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of Tarkenton Companies. Fran created GoSmallBiz.com to give entrepreneurs the resources they need to thrive in a highly competitive marketplace. Fran is also the driving force behind SmallBizClub, in partnership with Office Depot, as well as other ventures under the Tarkenton Companies umbrella. Connect with @Fran_Tarkenton on Twitter.

 

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