Everybody would like to make money – and success will usually depend on the degree of enterprise that is intelligently applied to the business idea.
And many well-landed inheritors of wealth have finished up ‘skint’ despite their favourable start, because they lack either enterprise, or professionalism – or both. Or they may not be hungry enough! Necessity can be a real mother of invention.
Whether it is the latest ‘dot.com’ idea or carving reproduction antique furniture, there has to be a vision and it has to be related to a credible market. The market may not be self-evident to everybody (especially to bankers and other sources of venture funds) – and it may not be too evident to the targeted buyers of the vision; but it has to be clear enough to become credible in the real world of the target market. There will be obstacles galore, from unbelieving finance houses to sceptical buyers. But the entrepreneur with the vision and understanding of the market will not be easily deterred.
Assuming all this, alone or with others he (or she) will be a canny risk-taker – not just an optimistic dreamer, but a determined realist. Be it financial, technical or operational, the risk-taking will always be measured and remain within available resources, yet for as long as they can see that the objective remains credible, they will pursue their stony path with dogged persistence – and generally won’t take ‘No’ for an answer. Sometimes this means going against conventional wisdom and the advice of ‘experts’. Seeking, evaluating and considering advice will be part of the risk assessment, but when the chips are down, since only the entrepreneur will be deeply enough involved in the details, nobody else can take the responsibility or the decisions. If you already have enough business experience, then professional research and evaluation have to combine with the entrepreneur’s ‘gut feel’ and you will usually be right to trust your instincts.
Overcoming obstacles and inertia in others will require the entrepreneur to exercise patience as well as persistence. Prospective customers always have to be found, tracked down while in motion, addressed and persuaded. Particularly when the entrepreneur is starting without an acknowledged track record in the chosen market, motivation, determination and persistence can be more important than brilliance.
No faint hearts will succeed, since few entrepreneurs have found easy pickings without putting in the necessary effort. Besides constant attention to detail and analysis of the ever-changing situation, this can mean working harder than almost any employee and being able and willing to go on and on until the job is done. His or her waking hours and sometimes sleeping hours will be engaged on the vision. This requires stamina and the confidence to take a necessary break at the right time – perhaps with mobile phone and his laptop within easy reach.
Overlaid upon these other personal traits, the entrepreneur has to have integrity. That sounds trite, but it shows through in behaviour and is soon perceived by customers and collaborators alike. Natural respect and loyalty follow; the prospects for success are immeasurably enhanced, when integrity is seen to be absolute. There are no guarantees in life, but entrepreneurs with the necessary traits are likely to make serious money – even if this requires long years. Most American millionaires have built their businesses from small beginnings over many years before finally selling.
What is it like, to be a one-person-band entrepreneur? On a bad day in America, it could start like this: ‘Now, what have I forgotten? Perhaps nothing, but I must be on the way to the airport by four, to beat the traffic, let’s just check – the customer file has all the correspondence and a copy of the contract – I mustn’t risk losing that contract – my only copy, yet I may not need it on this trip. No, there isn't time to remove it from the very bottom of the file – and where should I file it anyway, just for a couple of days? No point in opening a new file – I suppose it would have to go under ‘T’ for ‘temporary’ or for ‘trips’. I shall never remember that by Wednesday and then I'll be hunting for it. Nothing more frustrating than looking for something in a great hurry, when you can almost put your hand on it, but somehow it escapes and then the telephone rings. Ah, it must be… then the first ring removes all traces of memory.
‘Damn! There IS the phone. If only the “Executive Suite” receptionist could get to know something about my main clients, she might know when to take a message and when to interrupt me. I suppose it takes a good private secretary a few months, so how can I expect her to know? “Call from New York”. “Yes, this is he; what? Five hundred pens with my choice of advertising message, for $250 and win a free Jacuzzi; no thank you.” Now! Where was I?
‘Yes, remember the draft agency agreement, the technical brochures and the price sheets. How long do I have? It's one o'clock and now everybody in the office suite has gone for lunch, but nobody thought to check whether I need anything brought in. I'll never last till that airline dinner – I'll jump in the car and run down to the sandwich shop for a tuna salad on rye. Must deposit those cheques on the way. Can't have the account too bare. Isn't the rent due this week? I bet the accountant will call with a list of things as long as my arm, of expenditures to be allocated between overhead and job costs. All itsy-bitsy details he must have before he can complete the financial statement, I thought I had already marked them on the invoices. Perhaps I can get away first, then we can put it off till I return from Minneapolis.
‘Yes, until I can justify an assistant who can let me get on with the real work, I shall definitely type my own correspondence. Thank heavens for personal computers. It will definitely save the overhead – and make me really appreciate how easy life used to be, when I could concentrate on the business in hand and leave the office routine to others. My next secretary will have a most enlightened and appreciative boss, I swear!
‘Makes me weep almost, another job application from a young marketing graduate. I had two from 30-year-old MBAs last month. Hell! How I could use one of those chaps. But there is no way. Until a couple more customers make a real commitment and budget accordingly, $40,000 for an inexperienced graduate is out of the question. As for the MBAs, the last one was looking for $75,000. That super executive secretary I interviewed last year could have been a great help with the desk research as well as the routine, but she was already making $27,000 plus the usual benefits.
‘Sooner or later, I shall be able to consider a serious prospect. Perhaps a keen young graduate intern, who is willing to learn about the real meaning of entrepreneurship, the hard way. If he is too proud to lick stamps, or to make 30 telephone calls in an afternoon, chasing unwilling, unavailable company presidents dammit! I'm not too proud, so let him go to a Fortune 500 company and be a small cog in their vast machine.
‘Gosh, all this dreaming in the sandwich shop and post office lines – I have one hour before racing to the airport. No less than six telephone messages, none of them from those people I have been calling without success. Why won't people return calls? By Murphy's Law, any long distance enquiries come only while I am out of the office, leaving me to make and to pay for the several response calls inevitably needed before we actually connect. With some reliable staff, instead of finding merely a message with name and telephone number on my desk, I might find an intelligent report, giving details of the company, their products and their market aspirations, even sensible follow-up arrangements, already in train.
‘Time to leave. Throw the garment bag into the trunk, with briefcase full of papers and a coat for Northern climates. Why am I always bathed in sweat, when I reach my seat? Two hours is barely enough to dry out and brush up the appearances, before meeting another new face. I must use the time we are not eating to read over the host company's profile and product literature. Yet, I have never known such absolute freedom. So long as I can keep the clients satisfied, nobody can prevent me from coming and going as and when I please. There are no holiday lists, no priority travel arrangements, no P's and Q's to be watched. If I should take a trip, leave early or late, extend my visit to England by three weeks, bring my wife to the party, etc., etc., nobody but nobody can disagree with me. I just need somebody to make sure that I remember to stuff the enclosures into the correct letter, before I seal it down. It makes such a mess when they are reopened!
‘Wake up! Dreaming again, let's get down to reading that contract and product literature. We shall be landing in 20 minutes.’
Before you are completely put off and decide against becoming an entrepreneur, it should be said that most days start off less stressfully and under better control. It is almost a relief to know that there is nobody to screw things up – but yourself! And you have absolute freedom – to sink or swim.
In summary, an entrepreneur is:
1. An indefatigable visionary with a clear goal.
2. A (measured) risk-taker.
3. Willing to push the boundaries, to develop markets.
4. Persistent but patient and determined to succeed.
5. A professional manager and a good communicator.
This article is adapted from Entrepreneurship – the Seeds of Success by John Forbat. An electrical engineer by training, John Forbat worked with several well-known firms in the aircraft, avionics and electronics industries, which gave him ‘the experience of how large companies are managed – and mismanaged’. He then moved into a number of highly entrepreneurial businesses where his successes (and the odd failure) taught him the essentials of entrepreneurship. Much of his experience was gleaned in the US, where he lived for 20 years.