“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”
I recently participated in a “Thinkubator” for small and micro-businesses in Diepsloot. I was there ostensibly as a team coach to help in small group work. I was humbled. These were people who have started businesses, in many cases, plural businesses, not because they fancied themselves as Donald Trumps but because they had to put food on the table. The old adage is that necessity is the mother of invention; after listening to the stories and ideas of these people, I would submit that it is also the mother of determination.
One of the exercises was to brainstorm what is needed to be an entrepreneur and to succeed in business. The suggestions put forward would put the average MBA student to shame.
I was intrigued that a common theme was a vision greater than just making money. Almost everyone in the room felt that there was a purpose to business, whether it was for the common good or to create employment. This sense of belonging to a community is a growing trend worldwide and can be seen in the pressure from consumers for businesses to act in good faith and to practice fair trade. I have never seen it so strongly evidenced in a group of entrepreneurs before. The profit motive is all well and good, but perhaps we are moving toward a new era where business owners are also seeking meaning.
The need for determination and discipline came up repeatedly. One of the participants laughingly shared that he started a business because he didn’t like ‘working’; five years later he’s working harder than ever for longer hours. There was a rueful agreement that it takes grit and enormous self-discipline to juggle the many demands of running a business and that the rewards are not always equal to the effort required.
The counterfoil to discipline in terms of working hard is the discipline to stop, rest and invest in yourself. Business owners get to wear all the hats. Even when you outsource or delegate, the buck stops with you. Hard work and long hours can become a habit and there is a tendency amongst entrepreneurs to wear stress as a badge of honor. The body and mind can only perform at a high level for a certain amount of time, after which performance and effort start to go in opposite directions. Ask any Olympic athlete… there is training and there is effective training. Taking care of oneself is a priority along with taking care of the business.
Perseverance was another characteristic that generated debate. The perseverance to carry on despite setbacks and all the nay-sayers is vital. Behind all the business success stories is usually a history of loss and dead ends. My personal favorite (influenced somewhat by my love of his ‘secret recipe’) is that of Colonel Sanders who was apparently turned down 1009 times before he succeeded in selling his fried chicken recipe… at the age of 65! The bitter side of perseverance is when it becomes sheer doggedness. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes, the business model or idea is just not right. The ability to recognize when a shift is necessary and/or having the courage to walk away is equally important. True courage is starting all over again.
Unsurprisingly, planning and business management skills came up as being key to business success. The majority in the room felt that although they were aware of what they needed to do they often felt inadequate to the task. Red tape and the mystique around business finance is frankly intimidating, especially for people who like me, maybe ‘numerically challenged’. Taking the time to learn basic business skills, developing a sound business plan and then sticking to that plan can be what separates a struggling business from a business that is successful. There is a lot of truth in the maxim “Mind your Cents and the Rands will look after themselves”. Strict planning and budgeting require strict processes, which implies strict controls.
Key take out: Before going into business, be clear why you are doing this and check your appetite for hard work and disappointment. Once in business, while you will have multiple roles to juggle, it is important to know where you need help and to ask for that help.
Author: Nolan Bushnell