Urban legends

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

Business owners tend to be inspired and motivated individuals, especially during the start-up phase of their company’s development.
Sometimes it’s the fear of failure that grabs them and gets them to put in the long hours so often required. Sometimes it’s the possibility of financial reward that inspires and motivates. Sometimes it’s simply an involvement with creativity that secures their commitment. In a country that provides so much support for entrepreneurs and promises such an array of rewards for successful business owners, why do so many people shy away from even exploring the possibility of owning their own company?
It seems that every week someone comes to me about a concept for a new business venture that could have real potential. However, usually it is a dream that will never be realized, most likely because the person with the dream will never choose to take even rudimentary steps to further explore their business concept.
Many of these people hold notions about successful entrepreneurship and business ownership that have little foundation in reality.
I submit that there are many myths floating around that tend to thwart entrepreneurial curiosity. Any one of these myths can halt a person’s exploration of owing their own business. Here are a few of them:
Myth #1:
Successful entrepreneurs are born with a passion for a high level of risk taking. My experience suggests that this is not true in the majority of circumstances. Most people interested in starting their own business have little by way of financial assets or protected intellectual property to offer and thus the risk they take from the beginning is limited. Their passion to have their dream unfold favorably and their confidence to pick themselves up in the event of failure is what separates them from those who shy away from even trying.
Ironically, it is often those who choose to work for a start-up company who assume as much risk as the owner, if not more. Ironically, it is many of these people who will choose to leave the company or are asked to leave the company as the company grows and changes.
And as most people know, finding a really good job opportunity can be a difficult and costly affair at any point in time. The thinking person puts a lot on the line when they accept a position with a new company. Yet, it is not uncommon for small-business developers to sell their company as soon as the level of risk required to progress exceeds their level of comfort. That’s one
of the benefits
of business ownership.
Myth #2:
From the beginning, most successful entrepreneurs have had the know-how to build a business and they had the knowledge needed to create a sound business plan before they started on the journey to own their own company. This is not true. Most small-business owners fail to create even rudimentary business plans from the get-go. Just ask bankers or venture capitalists who are often asked to take the financial risk during the start-up phase of a company’s development. Often, people with an idea arrive at their doorstep with little on paper and only a half-baked dream to share. Seldom is their concept defined clearly enough to attract others to invest.
Successful business owners, on the other hand, are quick to learn about the importance of listening to experienced advisors and of asking for the information they need to assure that their business will be successful. Successful business owners have a good grasp of what they don’t know, and they are not afraid to ask for the help and guidance they need. They are willing to learn about what has contributed to the success of other business owners. Their business concept becomes more refined and more sophisticated as they proceed on their journey.
Myth #3:
Successful entrepreneurs have exceptionally strong track records, years of learning experience and contacts they bring to the start-up table. This statement is false. Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s restaurants, started his journey to business ownership by selling milk shake mixers to small sandwich shops. Steve Wozniak was an average engineer at Hewlett-Packard when he built his first Apple computer.
The list of tales similar to these is long, very long. In a recent report of the National Commission on Entrepreneurship, a researcher named Bhide is noted to have reported that in one year, "40 percent of the Inc. 500 owners had no prior experience in the field they entered … many were in fact out of work when they decided to start their own company."
In each instance, however, a willingness to believe in a dream and a willingness to work hard to achieve were present from the beginning. They were generally responsive and adaptive.
Myth #4:
Most successful entrepreneurs are successful because they brought to the marketplace a new invention or unique product or service. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are countless stories about inventors and dreamers who had remarkable inventions or terrific business concepts and failed to have their creations accepted in the marketplace.
There are a wide variety of factors that contribute to the success of a small business. Sometimes timing is a major factor. Remember the dot.com wonderboys? Sometimes location of the business proves to be a critical factor, like in the restaurant industry. Sometimes it’s a slight modification of an existing product or service system that attracts demand and allows for a distinct value proposition to be defined.
And, of course, there’s the matter of making more good executive decisions than bad decisions. Every successful business owner I have known has a story to tell about a mix of factors contributing to their company’s achievements. Long-term success is not achieved without the business owners’ continuing ability to be inspired by possibilities, to have a strong determination to accomplish objectives, to have the willingness to accept mistakes as gifts for learning, as well as a willingness to be decisive when decisions need to be made. Having great contacts to turn to for guidance can contribute a lot to a business owner’s chances for success. However, seldom are contacts alone a dominant factor in projecting the outcome of a business venture.
Making the decision to explore business ownership can be the first step on a road with an endless array of opportunities. However, it begins with a decision to take that first step. It is not surprising that hundreds of thousands of Americans do so each year. These people are not those who have blindly accepted the myths generated and reinforced by those uninformed.
Richard Hellan is president of Hellan Associates, an executive and business coaching firm in Milwaukee. He can be reached at
(414) 967-9012.
September 3, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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