Can You Make It as an Entrepreneur?
The recession has inspired many long-time employees -- ravaged by downsizing, furloughing and a host of other corporate cutbacks -- to consider going out on their own.
While it can be tempting, especially if you think you have a killer business concept, you have to ask yourself, "Am I cut out for entrepreneurship?"
"Everybody's got a great idea, but that doesn't mean it's going to work," says Vince Orza, dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University and an advisor to the university's Love's Entrepreneurship Center.
The successful entrepreneur, he adds, has a deep-seated passion for being his or her own boss. "It's that kid with a lemonade stand, the kid with the paper route," he explains. "If early in life you had that bug, you're more inclined to have it later in life."
I've interviewed hundreds of business owners in my work writing about small business, and there are a few common characteristics and personality traits most of them have:
- They tend to be risk-takers. (Not bungee-jumping-type risk-takers per se, but fearless when it comes to pursuing what they're passionate about.)
- Many had a burning desire from a young age to run their own businesses.
- Most are embarrassed of failure but not afraid of it.
- Multitasking seems to come naturally.
- Their work-ethic-o-meter is often off the charts.
- Most are confident beyond what would seem reasonable.
If this doesn't describe you, it doesn't mean you can't try your hand at self-employment, but entrepreneurial experts predict you'll be swimming upstream without at least a few of these at your core.
Scott Kluth, founder of Chicago-based CouponCabin.com, ran a lawn and snow service when he was 11 years old and brought in about $350 a week.
"If you asked my mom, she'd say I was an entrepreneur since birth," says Kluth, whose online coupon service brings in about $13 million in annual revenues and employs 38 people.
He worked for Sears.com before launching his own company in 2003. What motivated him was a burning desire to have control over his own destiny. "I wanted to be focusing on my own success," he maintains.
Allison O'Kelly, founder of Atlanta-based Mom Corps, also had a dream to run her own business from a young age, but found a successful career as an accountant for the audit and tax advisory firm KPMG before becoming an executive with Toys "R" Us. Her desire for more flexibility after her sons were born pushed her to finally pursue entrepreneurship.
O'Kelly describes herself as a risk-taker who is ultra-confident, especially when it comes to the business model for Mom Corps, a staffing company focused on getting moms part-time work. The company has 10 employees and annual sales of about $2 million.
"I was confident in my skills and what I had to offer," she explains. "I always had the attitude that I could do this. I'm very positive about what I do. I never believe I can't do something. That's what makes me successful."
While she admits there were times early on in her business when she was spending too much on things such as salary and marketing, and came pretty close to seeing her venture go under, she was able to persevere.
"I would be stupid to think there is no way I could ever fail, but that's what I tried to tell myself," she recalls. "I was going to do everything in my power not to fail because I would be embarrassed if I failed."
Another attribute that great entrepreneurs possess is a commitment to a vision for a product or service they believe in, according to Deborah Bailey, author of "Think Like an Entrepreneur: Transforming Your Career and Taking Charge of Your Life."
"They can see the possibilities that others can't, and because of that they may not get support or agreement from others around them," she says. "Focusing on your vision will help keep you on track and keep you motivated through the ups and downs."
Indeed, that's the double-edged sword for many entrepreneurs: The blind commitment that drives them can also lead to stunning failures. But a true entrepreneur, says Oklahoma City University's Orza, gets up and starts all over again.
So, do you think you have what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur?
Mom Corps' O'Kelly maintains, "If you're asking yourself the question, 'How do I know?' then you shouldn't do it."