Michelle writes an article for Minutehack - How Do You Know You’re The Right Type Of Person To Start A Business?

10th August, 2015

This article was originally written for Minutehack by Michelle Wright.

I quite often get asked whether ‘anybody can become an entrepreneur?’ It seems rather a mysterious occupation. Well, the answer is that really everybody can, but whether everybody should is quite another matter.

I set up our social enterprise Cause4 in May 2009. I had always wanted to run a business but some of the motivations such as being in control of my own destiny, ability to work more flexibly and with the choice to take on work that I am passionate about, seem, at best, laughable if not completely naïve now.

In my opinion, becoming an entrepreneur is less about your knowledge and background, and far more about what you might be willing to do to succeed.

There are lots of myths about starting a business – you need a killer idea, you need an MBA, you need experience in start-ups, you need some investment behind you. But really none of these things is essential, although they might be helpful. The really critical thing is that you are prepared to put the hours in, and not just hard work – but to work harder and more relentlessly than you might ever have before.

I worry that with all the media hype of the ‘celebrity entrepreneur’ there is a whole generation of aspiring business founders who start a company without their eyes open. All of the successful entrepreneurs that I know have an almost dogmatic will to achieve, have huge drive and will do more work, with greater care and quality, than any regular employee.

They are also hugely flexible and willing to change and learn, and most importantly, when the going gets tough, they don’t quit too soon.

"As soon as you have customers, especially in a service business, then each one of them is your boss"

The fact is that the hardest things I have ever done, that took the most time, the most dedication and the most energy — the entrepreneurial things — have not felt like “work” at all. When the countless hours of work don’t feel like hours of work, the distinction between what you do and what you are becomes a very blurry thing.

However, when a business grows and you end up employing staff and you need to develop a team culture, that’s the point that you need to learn and adapt more than ever because it’s definitely not easy.

So when an aspiring entrepreneur asks me if they have what it takes, I point to the things that I wish somebody had told me before I started:

The business has to be a passion

If not, it’s very hard to be motivated to put the hours in that will be needed to achieve results. If you are selling a product then you need to believe in it passionately, if you are working in a service, then ditto…you truly need to believe that what’s being offered is worth what you’re charging.

You are always on call

As soon as you have customers, especially in a service business, then each one of them is your boss. It is imperative that you keep them happy if you plan to survive. So rather than being your ‘own’ boss you have multiple bosses and that is a concept for which you need to be prepared – make sure you realise that for the first few years you most definitely are not your own boss.

Your time is not your own

Whilst you might have the aspiration that your time will be your own and you will be able to make considered choices about what work you do and don’t do, it’s important to recognise that this is just an aspiration, at least at first.

As soon as you have customers and staff your time is not your own. Also don’t expect any sort of entitlement – the sick pay, holiday pay, overtime pay that might be expected in usual jobs.  That isn’t on the cards for the start-up founder.

It will affect your personal life

At least in the early days the impact on your personal life is inevitable, and it’s not a small sacrifice, it’s often a big one. If you have a family then they need to be signed up to your decision to run a business, and for the investment to have a realistic time limit.

And your lifestyle will change; with most of your money invested in the business it might take years for an enterprise to pay back. And burnout can be a distinct possibility.

The odds of success are against you

Yes, we all know of the squillionaires who have made it big, but the reality is that over a half of small businesses fail in the first five years, and a lot of the failures are not articulated in public for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from.

An entrepreneur needs to be confident in making decisions and lots of them. The decision-making process only gets more complicated as time goes on, especially once you have staff and customers depending on you.

Things will go wrong

It can sometimes feel like running a small business is a resilience test. Things do go wrong and whilst some things can be planned for, not everything can be foreseen. If you can’t handle the knocks, then a small enterprise is not for you.

The high tolerance for risk as a key attribute of entrepreneurs is often a myth, most that I know take risks but very considered ones – it’s more the ability to ride the difficult periods that is the true test of entrepreneurial capability.

If you can’t be put off then it could just work: If you’ve continued to read this far and haven’t clicked away, if you’ve found the challenges energizing rather than debilitating, then you could be just the person that could start a business.

If you can believe in yourself, even if the odds are against you, then you’re more likely to get customers, banks, staff and partners to believe in you too.  A successful business is not an easy place to get to but it may be the most exciting journey you’ve ever taken.

“Cause4 has had a transformational effect on the Festival, at the level of innovation in organisational development, as well as in fundraising.”

Chris Martin, Trustee of Salisbury International Festival