Get the edge

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Author of Everyday Entrepreneur, Fred Dawkins, shares exclusive insights on entrepreneurship of every type and every level in mainstream economy, not just within the framework of tech start-ups which is the dominant dialogue

Get the edge
For over twelve years I had the opportunity of doing business in India. During that time, between 1998 and 2010, there was dynamic change in the country, which was awesome to observe. While much more needs to be done to develop ecosystems that support business development and to remove barriers that deny capable people opportunity, the situation has improved dramatically which means more opportunities exist than ever before in India to become an entrepreneur and to think entrepreneurially.

But regardless of where you live, the most important skill to learn today is the ability to create and manage your own career. Globalisation and technology combine to guarantee that the one constant we face is rapid change. There is no room for prison thinking as the status quo must constantly be challenged to ensure that we stay competitive. The most important characteristics for individuals, organisations and countries alike are resilience and adaptability. These are the key characteristics of entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, the prevailing stereotypes of entrepreneurs discourage many people from embracing the idea. Most of our perceptions about entrepreneurship stem from two specific types:

First are the misfits; those who either can’t fit in or don’t choose to. These are the rebels characterised as risk takers or gamblers. They convey the image of success achieved through reckless risk, initial failures and inherent natural instincts that allow them to succeed in areas that most won’t try.

The second high-profile type is the tech entrepreneur immersed in the world of venture capital, an area typified by high risk, high rate of failure and exceptional rewards for success. This is a sphere that gives us most of the buzzwords attributed to entrepreneurship such as ‘accelerators,’ ‘incubators’ and ‘burn rate’.

The latter tells you when you will run out of funds, so identifies the point at which you need an investor. It’s a little like bungee jumping, hoping someone will come along and tie your rope securely before you hit the ground.

Together, these two stereotypes reinforce the perception that, above all else, entrepreneurs are risk takers whose success is tempered by failure. As a result of such typecasting, many good projects never see the light of day while others fail by taking risks that can’t be justified.

These are but two forms of a wide range of entrepreneurial types, which get the most attention but are far removed from the everyday entrepreneurs who provide the engine that drives the economy and the stimulus that creates jobs locally when big business is preoccupied chasing profits around the globe. In the broader circle, the critical terms are practical; words like ‘bootstrapping’ and the ‘lean startup.’ These words are grounded in reality and pragmatism. Hope is not the prevailing sentiment.

Being proactive is critical. And these mainstream entrepreneurs certainly take risks. The risk and reward dichotomies are joined at the hip. No doubt the greater the risk the greater the reward and the higher the chance of failure — but, most successful entrepreneurs know how to manage their risk. Failure is far from a prerequisite. Learn from it if you must but avoid it if you can through anticipation, resilience and adaptability. Entrepreneurs are not defined by the risks they take, but rather by the results that they achieve. They are problem solvers who make things happen.

So what does it take to become an everyday entrepreneur? Is this a skill that can be learned or does it just come naturally? Do you have to work 24/7 and sacrifice your personal life to be successful? Is it all about the mystique, or is there a formula to follow? Since this is a lifestyle about embracing change and becoming adaptable, a formula is hardly appropriate.

Becoming an entrepreneur is far more about mindset than skillset. Entrepreneurship is entirely about not knowing the way, but finding a way. In a world where new data is being generated at an alarming rate, how much of what we know do we actually understand? Entrepreneurs don’t preoccupy themselves with whether they can accomplish something, but rather spend their time and energy looking for solutions. The question “if” doesn’t come up. Instead, they ignore “if” and move immediately to “how.” They don’t have all the answers, but they are dogged in their determination to solve the issue at hand. This is certainly a belief and an approach that can be taught, and quite effectively at that. Entrepreneurship can be taught, it should be taught and it is starting to be taught. Colleges and universities around the world are rushing to find the best ways to spread the word.

Does an entrepreneurial mentality mean a 24/7, workaholic lifestyle? Well, that’s a personal choice, but a bad one if you choose it. You may well work long hours during your start-up phase when you are the generalist wearing every possible hat and passing through a learning curve that will prepare you for the next phase. You will also work those same long hours when you hit a bump in the road, a major threat and/or opportunity that needs your full attention. However, if you continue to do this as your regular routine, once you complete the start-up stage, you are making mistakes that will limit both your life and your business.

Either you are not building your team properly, or you have become a control freak unable to delegate. In either case, you and your business will suffer, and in the end, you will have regrets. Finding balance —admittedly a subjective decision — is critical. Rem­ember: the most important human res­ource in your company is you. Find ways to take vacation; pay yourself fairly, attend courses and travel. Don’t let your business outgrow you.

In addition to determination, the other essential ingredient for everyday entrepreneurs is opportunity. All ideas are not opportunities, and not every opportunity is viable. Having ideas makes you a dreamer; converting them into reality makes you into an entrepreneur. This does not mean you have to be an innovator. For every innovation, there are thousands of entrepreneurs who find applications in the process of solving a wide range of problems in the business world. I encourage you to look for problems that affect many. Experience helps you identify opportunity. Empathy also helps, because it makes you sensitive to problems that exist for others. Most opportunities do start with problems; the bigger the problem, the higher the reward for solving it. That’s another aspect of the entrepreneurial mindset — every problem is an opportunity. You do have to be vigilant. All opportunities are not created equally, but you have to make the best of what is available. Waiting for just the right one is like waiting for the winning lottery ticket. Often people just don’t see the possibilities, but there are always some there if you are looking. If you are limited in opportunity, seek out jobs in entrepreneurial firms where you can learn basic business skills and identify other possibilities.

There are many other elements of being an everyday entrepreneur, but determination and opportunity constitute the foundation. Most importantly: don’t undervalue what you do. We need to value entrepreneurship at all levels, not just the superheroes like Steve Jobs. If running a business is not for you, work on that entrepreneurial mindset. Job stability is fleeting, so manage the business of your career by making good decisions and taking jobs that build your personal brand. Every business today is placing new value on disruptors. These are people who challenge the status quo. Be entrepreneurial in your thinking, and you won’t be sorry. zz

(Fred Dawkins has over 40 years’ experience in manufacturing, retail and land development. Everyday Entrepreneur is the first book in his Entrepreneurial

Edge series)

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