Every day I meet people who own a business. I get emails and calls from all over the country asking for tips, advice and rates to assist with various business functions. I work with many self-employed people in addition to working with large businesses. This post is solely for the self-employed.
My job is to advise and often to execute advice. When I take new clients some will listen. Some will not want to pay for help. Some will pay and still not listen.
I’ve found there are three business personality types who start their own ventures. This runs a bit like the biblical parable of the sower. I want you to look at the various personality types and what the consequences are for each when they dive into business.
There people who think they know more than they do. They know how to do something, like bake cookies, and therefore think they can run a cookie business. This personality type will listen to advice, follow the easy stuff and ignore the rest. They like baking cookies. They like the idea of owning a business. They like to work on big, grand things like getting into the Neiman Marcus catalog and striking it rich. They like to talk about franchising their cookie business even though they can’t sell enough cookies to pay their rent. They won’t focus on the little things that must be done in order to survive. They often will call me to find out how to get into a big store or catalog. These businesses always fail.
There are the bureaucrats. These are the ones who love being the CEO. They call the shots! They have meetings! They roll out forms and procedures and set rules in spite of being the sole employee. These people love to conduct meetings. They will allow me to speak but they don’t listen. They call the shots! Whatever is advised must pass through their filter. Advice must always be tweaked so they feel that they control every pull of every lever. This type will last a while. They can BS their way through a lot of tight situations because they can spin the jargon. They fool people. They don’t fool themselves and they know they are playing with borrowed time. Luck matters a lot with the bureaucrat. When they are lucky, they think they are brilliant. When not so lucky, they blame. They are the ones who will talk about their brilliant idea but the partner who cleaned them out. They complain about the factory that botched that one big order. They complain about the accountant who wasn’t telling them everything. They are shocked to find out the business is broke even though they haven’t made a sale in months. They don’t like to spend on things the business needs but love to spend on high-profile things the business doesn’t need like more office space or a leased phone system. The bureaucrats will last as long as the cash and the luck hold out. These guys love big ad campaigns.
Finally, just like the parable, we have the entrepreneur. Few people who start businesses are entrepreneurs. Very few. Most are cookie bakers or bureaucrats. I know instantly when I get to work with an entrepreneur. They are excited about business, they want to learn everything about everything. They want to avoid failure but do not fear it. They seek out and listen to advice. They ask to understand even about tasks which they will not do themselves. They don’t really delegate. They let those with the expertise do their part. They participate in processes by understanding processes. They don’t blame because they participate. They know what is important. These people get it. Not everything they try succeeds. But eventually, the entrepreneur will succeed. They lead with their heads and follow with their hearts.
The entrepreneur is a pleasure for me to work with. I often learn as much from them as I am able to impart. I teach the technical, they teach the ins and outs of their vision. They are the super-heroes of business.
So here’s the punchline. Cookie makers and bureaucrats always fail. They struggle, They work hard. But they fail eventually.
The entrepreneur may fail at one thing but he has the next idea already in mind. Failure is a school for the entrepreneur. Failure is a death to the cookie maker. Failure is a nasty divorce to the bureaucrat.
If you are a cookie maker or a bureaucrat, you can dig in and start learning the skills of the entrepreneur. You can let go of the bad habits that made you a cookie maker or a bureaucrat. Do that and you might make it.
In my experience people change very little. They aren’t willing to. They can justify who they are. And most will sail their leaky boat into the sunset.
2014 could be your year. I could also be the year you sink. Think now.
Chris Reich, TeachU