What does it take to be an entrepreneur

Below is a copy of my response to Mary Hamilton’s blog: http://maryhamilton.co.uk/2011/03/journalism-entrepreneurialism-and-failure/.

(You can and should follow Mary on twitter @NewsMary.)

Some thoughts on entrepreneurs

Good post Mary – in some ways, many of the points you raise are common to all industries.

Fear of failure (not just lack of money or opportunity) is what holds many people back from risking all as an entrepreneur.

Not everyone has what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur – or a good journalist, footballer, photographer.

Being freelance doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. I’m a freelancer – I know I am not an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs do more than ditch the regular pay cheque – in fact, though some don’t even do that, preferring to work from a more secure footing (hence your point about entrepreneurs tending to be older). Instead they invest time, intellect, energy and money in building a new business or a new way of doing business.

Being an entrepreneur takes certain skills (financial, managerial, and operational). It also requires a certain mindset – being able to face the fear of failure (and “the fear of not enough success” – a nice point of yours) is just one aspect of that.

Success in life mainly depends on the ability to delay gratification (“I want it all and I want it now” doesn’t usually work). That requires tenacity, self belief, and a willingness to make mistakes – to fail and start again and again. “I have not failed 1,000 times: I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways that will not work,” Thomas Edison (apocryphal).

Vision also helps (though sometimes – often? – it can be turn out to be a delusion) – successful entrepreneurs see an opportunity to add value where most other people see risk or inconvenience. Specialising can also help – narrow markets where certain information, services or products are hard to find or use tend to attract premium paying customers.

Most of us at some point have probably looked at an apparently simple business idea and thought – “Oh I could have done that.” The point is: we didn’t. Some businesses are complicated – like Dyson’s 20-years spent developing his cyclone technology. Others appear easier (Twitter – just 140 characters and very few bells or whistles – yet apparently worth $7.7bn). All of them required someone to actually take the plunge.

You are right that success depends to a certain extent on how you define it – freelancing has risks, the financial rewards may not be as great or as secure compared with following a conventional careers  but it has other rewards in terms of variety, freedom, flexibility. Your business might not be the next big thing – but a successful small thing can still bring a lot of personal satisfaction (and the chance to leave home).

Final point – there are people making lots of money in journalism – they just don’t tend to be journalists (think Bloomberg, Murdoch, Huffington, Bill Ziff, Kerry Packer, Tony O’Reilly, Leo Kirch, and John Malone etc). There will be others – media will continue to evolve – someone will find a way to monetize the obvious or the obscure – it might just be you (but don’t lose sleep over it if it’s not).

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