By Thomas E. Anderson, II
Do you have a vision?
To work for yourself.
To start a business.
To earn extra income on the side.
To improve the world.
If so, you could be a visionary entrepreneur.
“The entrepreneurial vision is not about creating new products or services. It is all about creating a better way of doing something that enriches people’s lives.”
–Joe Love, fellow entrepreneur
The words visionary and entrepreneur seem intriguing to some and intimidating to others. No matter which category you fall in, hang in there. By the end of this article, you will be able to answer the question “am I a visionary entrepreneur?”
Have you ever thought “starting a business is too hard” or “I could never start a business of my own”? But deep down inside, you know that’s not true. You’re not alone. Research points to an overall slowdown in businesses created in the U.S. since 2008. Many people don’t want to take the chance and start a company. The Kauffman Foundation, a leading authority in all-things entrepreneurship, shows evidence that “changes in entrepreneurship rates could be driven by labor market conditions”[i]. In other words, more people start businesses out of necessity in market downturns. As the economy turned the corner, even more people began starting businesses. Not out of necessity or as an alternative to underemployment, but gainfully employed workers turned into entrepreneurs and tried their hand at small business ownership.
There are all kinds of reasons to start a business. Earning extra income is a popular reason entrepreneurs start businesses. But it’s not the most popular reason. More people are starting businesses for personal satisfaction rather than financial stability. Of more than 3000 small business owners (SBOs) interviewed by business community Manta and tech company Dell, 37% indicated their No. 1 motivation is the feeling of self-worth that comes from fulfilling their life-long dream. Only 28% listed financial stability as their top motivator. And while spring is a popular season to launch businesses (34% of bizzes launched in spring); fall (23%), summer (21%), and winter (22%) weren’t far behind. So if you’re waiting for the perfect time I have bad news. It doesn’t exist. But, the good news is that anyone can start a business regardless of market conditions, time of year, employment situations or the perfect alignment of the planets.
So what is your motivation for owning your own business? What will drive you to jump over the hurdles of risk and uncertainty? Be realistic and jot down some ideas. This will shape/determine the type of business you start. Your drivers have to be strong enough to propel you over these obstacles. If not, you won’t make it when times get tough. It’s also important to surface things that de-motivate you and steps to counteract them. For instance, what are the barriers that stop you from starting your own business? Putting aside the recent increase in taxation and regulation, the United States (along with other nations like Canada, Australia, South Korea, Israel, and the list goes on) favors entrepreneurship and taking risks in business.
When I started out, a major barrier to upleveling my business was knowledge of sales, marketing and business development. That actually caused me to stop and get a full-time job in 2009 to supplement my business income and my life. I marketed myself with my resume and got the job that doubled my income. The same way I marketed myself for a FTJ then, I’m marketing myself now for client contracts. It’s the same principle. Just happens more frequently and you get more control over the process if you know the right skills. Also a business is a good way to generate income you can not only fall back on…but income you can control. The clearer you get on your motivation, the more focused you will be in the day-to-day.
Vision Starts with You!
It’s common for entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs alike to want to get down to business. Literally. And I know my next statement goes against common thinking, BUT…
Visionary entrepreneurship starts with you. Your business takes off on the runway of your dreams, goals and the things you want out of life. It all begins with you as a person. And let’s face it – the last thing you want is more work for the sake of work. Did you know that 49% of small business owners (SBOs) decided to start a business while working at their last job? (I guess their boss made one too many last-minute requests). Whether you work for yourself or someone else, you want more out of life. If you didn’t want more, you wouldn’t be reading this post about taking the next step in your career. Failure to define what you want out of life will eventually result in the same feeling you get on a dead-end job: lack of purpose and fulfillment. Visionary entrepreneurship is no cake-walk. But when you set it up through the lens of your dreams and desires, it brings long term-fulfillment in spite of the obstacles you may face.
So before we cross over and talk about the world of entrepreneurship, try this:
Picture your ideal life. Can you describe it? How does it feel? What are you doing more of?
Ask yourself these key questions:
- What’s the more that I’m looking for?
It could be any number of things. Here are some common answers. If one resonates with you, take out your smartphone, open up a notes app and fill in the blank:
- More Money to __________________
- More Freedom to ___________________
- More Control over ____________________
- More Time to ________________________
- More Achievement in _____________________
- More Fulfillment in _________________________
- More Creativity in ______________________________
- More Impact in ___________________________
- How will your entrepreneurial vision help you to achieve more out of life?
Answering those questions paints the picture of your ideal life. And that picture can bring purpose and focus to your everyday life. You don’t have to be a visionary to have a vision. All you have to do is dare to dream about life without limitations. If you can take a chance and occasionally allow yourself to dream, the sky is the limit to what you can.
Now let’s get down to business!
“An entrepreneur is not a person who starts a company, but he is a person who actually solves a problem”.
–Naveen Jain, fellow entrepreneur
What images come to mind when you think about an entrepreneur? Rich. Successful. Jet-setting. Usually glamour, money and success come to mind. Not risk and responsibility. You probably think of business personas like Rockefeller, Gates, Jobs, and Buffett. Is it possible that these business icons have given us the wrong idea about entrepreneurship?
The answer: Yes and No.
Being an entrepreneur is more than having a great idea. It’s about creating and claiming value. Expanding the pie. Peter Drucker puts it like this:
“In the United States, for instance, the entrepreneur is often defined as one who starts his own, new and small business…But not every new small business is entrepreneurial or represents entrepreneurship…The husband and wife who open another delicatessen store or another Mexican restaurant in the American suburb surely take a risk. But are they entrepreneurs? All they do is what has been done many times before. They gamble on the increasing popularity of eating out in their area, but create neither a new satisfaction nor new customer demand. Seen under this perspective they are surely not entrepreneurs even though there is a new venture.”[ii]
One thing true entrepreneurs have in common is that they create value.
The Secret Every Successful Entrepreneur Knows
You probably have some intriguing business ideas. We’ll talk about your idea in a minute. But first – I want to let you in on a little secret. It’s the dirty little secret of entrepreneurship. And it has come to the forefront more and more since 2008.
Entrepreneurship comes from the Old French word entreprendre, which means “to begin something or undertake”. Richard Cantillion was the first to use the term entrepreneur in reference to self-employed people (farmers, brewers, hat makers, etc.) who “bought or made a product at a certain cost to sell at an uncertain price”. It is rumored that the origin and history of this word in its original French context centers on the concept of a business person being “in between jobs”. Why is this important? Just like you produce a resume to market yourself to a full-time employer, you need tools to market your services…your business…your vision to potential customers, clients and partners.
We can look at being “in between jobs” in a few ways. The entrepreneur could be:
- Unemployed (or underemployed)
Many unemployed and underemployed workers are forced into working for themselves, becoming small business owners by default.
- Constantly searching for new clients
Self-employed small business owners are constantly looking for jobs. Some have full-time gigs. Others do not and rely on part-time contracts. Either way, entrepreneurs are constantly on the hunt for job opportunities. Opportunities to respond to a customers need, with the vision for their company.
- Servicing multiple clients
As a freelancer, the goal is for there to be no lapse of time between one job and another. In-between jobs at a rate of t=0. And to replicate this process many times over to create fulfilling work for others in your company. Visionary entrepreneurs see beyond freelancing to a business that impacts the lives of its customers and its employees.
- Bouncing in-between different companies…with a purpose
Companies become less nimble as they grow. Opportunities slip through their fingers and into the hands of astute visionary entrepreneurs. Luckily, there is not just one company that is missing opportunities. There are quite a few. And there are also clients and customers (people and businesses) who have needs that aren’t being met. Blogger and fellow entrepreneur Steve Pavlina explains that small business owners who provide genuine value position themselves above the competition. And this becomes more relevant during volatile times when customers want more value for their money. This creates the entrepreneurs’ job, the unique situation of being in between jobs, and if you play your cards right, the innovative company. In the spirit of entrepreneurship, this person acts as an intermediary – a go between, advocating for their idea – their vision at various companies. They work in-between multiple decision makers at these different companies to make sure that everyone experiences the benefits of their services. They know how to bounce back and forth between multiple established systems of doing things. How to navigate each company’s status quo to deliver a result that exceeds expectations and creates opportunity for themselves as well as their clients. The Millennial generation (of which I am a part) is noted for bouncing in between jobs every 2 to 3 years. This desire matched with the entrepreneurial skillset could prove useful for our economy if properly nurtured.
- Working 3 jobs: FTJ, SBO & CVO
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who are working their day job, while pursuing an idea for a freelancing business, all while holding on to a vision for a bigger businesses that takes a product or service to the market. Technology has made it so that this case is becoming more common. These people are in-between 3 jobs that are all within their scope of reality. In between your regular job, self-employment/freelance job(s) and being the CEO or CVO (chief visionary officer) of your own company.
Here’s my advice to you, learn to flourish in the “in-between”. In between idea and market. In between customers and cash flow. In between low yield and high yield. In between FTJ and Part time business. In between a vision for a better future and the stark reality of everyday status quo. In between yes and no. In between starting a business and staying on that job another year. Explore this in-between. Become comfortable with its uncertainties, and rising above the status quo to harness the opportunities created in-between jobs.
You may be thinking “what does a job have to do with starting a small business?” Well, I’m glad you asked. They are more related than you think. I would slightly disagree with Peter Drucker’s earlier comment on the difference between entrepreneurs and SBOs. Thinking about a business in terms of a job (or jobs) is the first step if you want to start a small business but you’re new to entrepreneurship.
According to Forbes, there are 28 million small business in the U.S. Over 22 million of those business are self-employed with no additional payroll or employees. They are non-employer businesses with average revenues of around $44,000 a year.
What does that mean?
It means that over 75% of small businesses start as jobs.
These are jobs that the owners have control over. Sure, they work for their clients. But they have control over how many clients they work for and they can influence the hours they work. Which gives them more control and freedom in their lives to do more of the things they want. Like spend time with family, travel, shop. More time to enjoy life!
I have run my own non-employer small business since I was 13. In fact, since I started working I’ve always had a side business. I didn’t get a “real job” until I was into my late 20s. I remember making just as much money in my side business that I made in my real job. Imagine making $500/week for an average of 10 hours of work per week. FTJs and PTJs have come and gone, but my small businesses have provided lasting streams of income.
Now let’s talk about that other 25% of small businesses that are bigger than a single job. This is where you want to take your business. You want to grow it to reach beyond a job to have people working for you, helping you build your business while you help them build their lives and their careers. These types of businesses are vital to the American economy. Why? They provide jobs to the American people. Since 1995, 65% of the net new jobs were created by small businesses. The aim of a visionary entrepreneur is to be counted in that number.
Develop and Test Your Ideas
Surfing the web late one night, I came across an article that advised visionary entrepreneurs to create an idea bank. Reading that tip in isolation made me uneasy. I’m sure you have great ideas. I have several binders at my house with great ideas. I think ideas are great. But an idea won’t make money until someone else buys into it. You can offer the best iPhone app money can buy, but if no one needs it, it won’t have any buyers. With no market, it won’t sell.
Let me save you some time. It’s not just about the idea. It’s not just about the market. It’s about both. Visionaries have great ideas but aren’t required to do anything with them. Opportunistic entrepreneurs know how to make money solving problems. Visionary entrepreneurs know how to get their ideas to the market. Remembering the French definition for entrepreneur, the goal is to make the time in between jobs as short as possible. In this case, t=0 is a good thing. That’s where constant marketing comes in. And I don’t’ mean anything fancy. I’m talking about seeing if there are people interested in and willing to pay for your product idea before you ever build the product.
Last year I took Coursera class in design thinking and learned that I was executing my ideas all wrong. I was building services, products and packages and then taking them to the market to see what stuck. One concept emphasized in the course was the idea of a customer journey. You know – talking to clients and getting their feedback and testimonials. Figuring out what their journey looks like helps you to think of creative ways to solve their problems. Not just about the idea, however novel it may be. It’s about how your idea solves someone’s problem and how you can provide value, as well as receive it. Sales professionals refer to a client’s problems as pain points. Here’s my advice to you as a current or future visionary entrepreneur:
Innovate with a customer-focus.
- Who needs this service or product?
- Who will pay for it?
Answering these questions gives you a sense of whether your idea will be accepted and whether you will experience the fulfillment of selling a product you created. It’s a journey within itself that requires tons of emotional intelligence, especially in the area of not being “married to” your ideas. It requires you to be objective enough to process client feedback while holding on to your concept. Having a written vision helps.
Visionary entrepreneurs are trending towards a two-way approach to starting businesses, especially service based, expertise-oriented businesses. I recommend building your business like a bridge. Envision it. Sketch it out. Map it out. Then start building on both sides. Start sketching out your idea for a product of service. Or pick out one from your idea bank. Then start contacting prospects and customers to get a sense of their journey and the challenges they’re facing. Then start testing your idea on a small scale to see if it makes sense to pursue right now. Start building from the idea side and the market side and see if you can meet in the middle. It may not work on the first try. Keep trying and tweaking and experimenting. You’re bright. You’ll get it. It’s a journey. It’s an adventure. Have fun with it.
If you have a dream to start a business or want to grow your current business, the best place to start is by evaluating where you are right now. I actually came up with a Goals Assessment and coaching preview session to help you do just that. You can check out my 60-question Goals Achievement Assessment to figure out if you’re on track to business success.
Thomas E. Anderson, II is a vision development coach who enjoys motivating and equipping individuals to pursue personal, professional and organizational goals that lead to a more fulfilling life. He specializes in life focus, vision development and goal acceleration.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:
- How I Organized My Business Idea using the B-I Triangle
- I’m Building My Boss’ Business…But What About My Own?
- Your Little Black Book of Business Ideas
- Leapfrog Over Your Obstacles
- Create a Plan That Reflects Your Dreams
All posts on “My Future In Focus” Weblog are the intellectual property of T.A. and are licensed under a
[i] Clifford, Catherine. “Fewer Americans Are Launching Businesses. Here’s the Silver Lining (Infographic)”.
[ii] “Etymology of Entrepreneur”. http://ozgurzan.com/2011/02/06/etymology-of-entrepreneur/