Mike Brown knew his business but until he participated in a study to identify entrepreneurial types, he didn't know himself quite as well. Now the verdict is in: Brown, co-founder and president of New York City interactive content developer Cyber-NY, is an Idealist.
That means, Brown learned, that he loves his work and believes what he does is special but doesn't care for financial and administrative details. The 34-year-old found the description spookily accurate. "The results were very revealing," he says. "It's like going to a fortuneteller who starts telling you stuff about yourself."
Brown's revelation flowed not from a fortuneteller, but rather from researchers hired by Pitney Bowes Inc. Pitney Bowes, the $4.2 billion global leader in mail management, commissioned Yankelovich Partners to conduct a study of the small-business market. "Eighty to 90 per-cent of our customers are small businesses," explains Ed Gillespie, director of small-business financial solutions for the Stamford, Connecticut, company. "So understanding this segment is really important to us."
The survey is significant due to its size and scope, says Don Bradley, marketing professor and executive director of the Small Business Advancement National Center at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. "Bits and pieces of the research have been done in the past," says Bradley, who also owns an international consulting business, American Marketing Group of Conway, and helped Pitney Bowes apply the results of the research to small-business needs. "Two things made this study so successful: the large number of people interviewed and the bringing together of a lot of research ideas that had never before been linked."
Concentrating on businesses with less than 25 employees, Yankelovich conducted half-hour telephone questionnaires and focus groups with more than 2,000 entrepreneurs across the country. Questions ranged from finance to technology and zeroed in on entrepreneurs' attitudes toward their businesses and themselves.
The resulting report, "Attitudes and Behaviors That Create Small Business Success," reveals the approaches actually used by successful entrepreneurs, not to mention the most pressing concerns of small-business owners. One finding showed that maintaining quality and attracting and keeping customers were the dominant concerns across the board, outranking worries about staffing, competing and paying the bills.
But the key finding was that many successful entrepreneurs have very dissimilar attitudes. "We found that one answer is not right for all business owners," says Gillespie. "It depends on the business owner." For instance, one business owner would measure success by how fast sales grew, while another was primarily interested in maintaining an independent lifestyle.
To make sense of the answers, analysts divided business owners into five groups, each displaying distinct attitudes toward their businesses: Idealists, Hard Workers, Jugglers, Optimizers and Sustainers. While each type can be successful, they found all take a different route to success and often define success in their own way.
In this five-part series, we'll examine each of the types, complete with profiles of representative entrepreneurs, starting here with the Idealists.
Twenty-four percent of business owners surveyed fit the Idealists mold, making this the largest of the five groups. Idealists start businesses so they can work on something special, according to the study. Brown can identify. "I love creating content, developing software and doing all the designing," he says. After starting a record label and a nightclub in his 20s and later working for other companies, Brown says building interactive content for Web sites, kiosks and CD-ROMs has become a personal creative passion that he indulges through Cyber-NY.
Although they love creative work and are technically adept, Idealists are impatient with administrative tasks. "My fear is I'll wake up two years from now and realize I haven't designed anything or touched any content in two years and all I'm doing is dealing with accountants and attorneys and doing business and administrative stuff," Brown says. "That's not why I got into this. I want to keep designing."
Optimizers, who comprise the second largest group at 21 per-cent, are into the personal rewards of entrepreneurship, often preferring freedom and flexibility to expansion. They do want growth, but the most important financial figure is the amount of profit they take home.
Hard Workers, representing 20 percent of those studied, tend to put in more hours to achieve results. They're detail-oriented, financially aggressive and the most growth-oriented group of entrepreneurs.
Jugglers, also accounting for 20 percent of the sample, are the most personally involved in their businesses. They feel the pressure to pay bills, make payroll and keep cash flow positive. They're technologically savvy and embrace the Internet. They think nobody can do it like them and are consequently reluctant to delegate.
The smallest group, at 15 percent, is the Sustainers. These entrepreneurs are likely to have inherited or purchased companies rather than started from scratch. They work hard and would rather put in more hours than apply technology to problems. They're the most conservative group, often declaring they don't want growth and are happy with the way things are.
Segmenting business owners by type helps entrepreneurs understand that many other entrepreneurs share their particular definition of success, Bradley says. They can then apply advice and techniques appropriate for them.
How often is a study actually life-changing? Brown's analysis spurred him to alter his management style to better address his weaknesses and leverage his strengths. In addition to disliking paperwork, he now realizes he's overly controlling when it comes to letting others exercise their own creativity. "Being an Idealist, you want things to happen the way you envision," he says. "Basically, I found I have to lighten up a little bit."
Today, as a direct result of identifying his entrepreneurial style, Brown delegates more administrative and creative work. "It makes things easier on me, and everybody is happier," he says. "In fact, it was kind of a turning point in the growth of the business."