Entrepreneurs Anonymous

Are you one of the millions of Americans who secretly longs to be an entrepreneur?
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the October 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There's a nagging voice inside your head telling you to say adios to your cubicle and head out to the open plains of entrepreneurial freedom. That voice is probably what made you buy this magazine.

The estimates that at any given time, about one-third of all Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 are thinking about starting a . (That's nearly 50 million people.) Yet only about 1 million are started every year. Author Chad Simmons dubs the remaining dreamers "anonymous " in his book The Anonymous Entrepreneur: 12 Steps to Build the Entrepreneurial Attitude (Corinth Press). These are the people who have yet to develop the "entrepreneurial attitude" necessary to take the plunge.

"The entrepreneurial attitude includes three things: vision, excitement and performance," explains Simmons. "The people who go out and take action have a vision. They can articulate that vision in such a way as to inspire themselves and others. And they're willing to go out and do what it takes to make it happen." What about those who haven't developed that attitude? "The people who don't [have it] just haven't gotten there yet. It doesn't mean they won't."

One thing that may be holding anonymous entrepreneurs back is the risk involved in ditching a salary, benefits and the relative safety of being an employee. "In my book, I talk about the four R's of , and risk is one of them--risk to your reputation and your resources," says Simmons. "[To protect your reputation,] you can practice good ethics and maintain the kind of character it takes to succeed." To protect your resources, including your money, home and equity, Simmons suggests you stay creative, keep your options open, and proceed carefully and responsibly. "The best way to manage resource risk is with ideas and cash. When you have ideas, you always have something else you can do to keep moving forward. When you have cash, you always have the ability to implement those ideas."

To figure out if it's time to shine your entrepreneurial light, evaluate yourself to see if you possess some of the entrepreneurial characteristics Simmons identifies: energy, drive, the ability to think and act in the , persistence, being goal- and risk-oriented, and being a self-starter. "Entrepreneurs [also] recognize that money is only one measure of success," Simmons says. "They're interested in the fulfillment they get by going out and putting their ideas to work in the marketplace. And they do that well enough to create financial autonomy."

And the characteristics that might hinder your success? "We tend to have growth walls that spring up around us," says Simmons. Some people have trouble making decisions; others let their emotions run too free or are too idealistic. You can fix these things by becoming aware of them.

But more than anything, Simmons says the strengths of the entrepreneurial attitude make up the recipe for success. "Entrepreneurs don't quit," he says. "They have an attitude that propels them to succeed, whatever the odds."

Hit The Books

An accountant can keep your in check.

Think twice before hitting the books--your business's books, that is. "Everybody thinks [accounting software] is perfect. Many people don't know the rules you can run afoul of or the things you can take advantage of," says Mary Lou Pier, a CPA and owner of Chicago accounting firm Pier & Associates Ltd. For example, will it benefit your business to hire employees or independent contractors? What tips can benefit you during tax season? An accountant has these answers and more.

Pier stresses the importance of good communication with your accountant: "Are you getting answers you feel comfortable with?" she asks. "Do you understand them? Are they responsive to your needs?"

Once you choose an accountant, you can either outsource all your accounting to him or her or bring in a part-time accountant once or twice a week to check your books, write out checks and do invoicing. You can keep records using accounting software, but make sure you have your accountant review them periodically to make sure no mistakes have been made. Says Pier, "Your accounting system should work like clockwork."

It's Who You Know

Make networking work for you.

Starting a involves so many details--from where to get the best prices on office supplies to how to get customers in your door. Don't fret: A wealth of information is available through local business networks.

"Networking is people connecting with people--exchanging ideas, information and resources," explains Dee Helfgott, a networking coach and speaker in Palm Desert, California. "There's so much information you need when you start a business. One of the greatest resources you could avail yourself of is a network." You can usually find formal networking groups through your local chamber of commerce, trade association or general business association. Once at a meeting, follow these tips from Helfgott:

  • Prepare a 30-second introduction that describes who you are, what you do and how your business benefits others. Make it long enough to convey information, yet short enough so it's not a sales pitch.
  • Stay active in organizations and join committees. "Taking a small role on a committee gives you visibility and [helps] people gain respect for you," says Helfgott.
  • Listen well. That's how you'll get the information that may help you.
  • Remember that you can help others as much as they can help you. "Even if you're a new business owner and are feeling overwhelmed and thinking you have nothing to offer anybody else, know that you do," says Helfgott. "Be willing to not just take from people but to give back and ask `How can I help you?' "
  • Network outside your group. "Networking is about getting to know people," says Helfgott. "You never know who knows someone who may need your product or service."

Attitude Adjustment

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to any of them, it may be time to develop your entrepreneurial attitude.

  • Do I hear my instincts guiding me but fail to listen?
  • When I walk into a , do I see ways to improve it?
  • Do my big ideas seem like silly dreams better left unspoken?
  • Does it feel good when others look up to me at work?
  • Do I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who sees the "real" problem?
  • Do I think risk and problems are good things?
  • Am I not getting enough money and creative fulfillment from my work?
  • Is being ethical important to me?
  • Am I a rule breaker?
  • Do I own a business or wish I did?

Teen Scene

Boomer babies are big spenders.

The baby boomers' babies are growing up and taking over--taking over a hefty market share, that is. Find the trend teens cherish most, and that flock of unruly teenagers that used to drive you crazy may just drive you to profits. Here are some important facts:

*Teenagers have been growing in number since 1993, and current figures of 30.8 million will continue to increase until the teen set reaches 34.9 million in 2010.

  • In 1997, teenagers spent $122 billion.
  • Teenagers influence $139 billion of parental sales annually.
  • More than 50 percent of teens purchase the same brand on two out of three shopping trips, across all brand categories.

Contact Sources

Dee Helfgott & Associates, (760) 772-3335, coachDHA@aol.com

Pier & Associates Ltd., 300 W. Washington, #1418, Chicago, IL 60606-2002, (312) 629-8443


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