Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch


March 18, 2005

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What is an entrepreneur? How do you become one? Is it worth the time, energy and aggravation? Recently, Rob Spahitz, a reader of this column, posted to a discussion on the Career-Op mailing list. In his message he said, “How about an article on what's required to be a good entrepreneur?” An excellent idea, I thought, except that my own experience doesn’t follow what most would consider an entrepreneurial direction. I don’t have great designs on owning a large company with lots of employees and millions of dollars in gross earnings, but I do think there is a different side to the entrepreneur story than what we typically see in the papers. Rob’s question started me thinking more deeply about entrepreneurship, what it means to me and what it might mean to you.

Different meanings for different people provides this definition of an entrepreneur, “A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.” A little further down their page, though, in the area related to synonyms, they also say, “One that creates, founds, or originates.” While the second entry relates more to my own thoughts on the subject, I think that either definition describes nearly the sum total of all humankind today. We are all entrepreneurs, whether we like it or not. Sure, we might not meet some textbook definition, but we are all engaged in organizing, operating and – certainly – assuming the risk for this business venture we call life and career. Entrepreneurship doesn’t require anyone but you, although it often includes many more people.

One or many

So what does it require to be an entrepreneur? Whether you are the sole employee of your corporation, like myself, or the owner of a large business, there are some basic needs you must understand.
First, you must have your life in order before you can ever hope to order the life of a company. I have seen countless businesses, large and small , crumble into nothingness due to the inability of the owners to manage their own life. In learning about yourself, you are gaining the skills you will need to lead others. When you learn to organize your schedule, your work, your productivity, you can’t help but be able to teach that to others. When you learn to control your finances, the finances of a business are merely an extension of that experience.

Second, you need to see others as unique individuals who can help you accomplish your goals (and hopefully, theirs as well), not numbers on a ledger or bodies in a hive of cubes spinning out honey for you alone. Does this mean you go easy on laggards or tolerate unethical behavior? No. Treating an employee like a human being also means holding them responsible for their actions Hiring and firing can be a stressful task for an entrepreneur, but if you have your priorities straight, everyone will benefit.

Third, you need the ability to, as Kipling wrote, “…keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” While this is important when you are working alone, it is an absolute necessity when working with others. Instead of being carried away in the flow of worry and fear, you need to be the one to stand in the middle of the room and shout, “STOP!” Ideally, every employee has this ability, but as a group we can often get carried away in the heat of the moment. You do not have that luxury. The buck stops with you when you run your own company.

Whether you want to build a company with 5 employees or 500, you need to know about yourself first. You are employee #1 and managing yourself can teach you much about how to manage others. As I said initially, in the end, we are all entrepreneurs. We are all building something – our life, our careers, our dreams. We are all managing the whirlwind around us and we are all assuming all the risks. Clearly, once we get a hold of our own lives we’ll be open to managing – and hopefully creating a successful business – with others.

If you would like to discuss entrepreneurship, or any other career-related topic, with me and other Career-Op readers, visit our web site at . There you can post comments on each week’s column and find other career-related information.


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