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The Real Definition of Entrepreneur

Man jumpLet’s face it: There’s nothing sexier than describing yourself an an entrepreneur. It’s like a hot leather jacket that everyone is trying on for size, including me. If it’s not a fit, maybe you like this simpler style, called solopreneur. Or maybe this tiny little handbag, called micropreneur instead. Or, this briefcase-slash-diaper bag called “mompreneur.”

Point is this: We are bending the term to make it mean what we want it to, need it to. I defined myself as a solopreneur, even had a video show and podcast by that same name…and then Grant Cardone called me out on Twitter and was basically like, that term sucks. “It’s too small.”

He’s right.

(And forget freelancer. Don’t get me started on what a horrible term that is.)

So what IS an entrepreneur, really? An editor at Shopify reached out to me to ask me what I think (and he wrote about it in this thoughtful piece here).

Fact is, there is one definition of it, and it’s this: a person who operates/runs a business, and takes on considerable risk to do so. Traditionally, we think of the entrepreneur as a person who finds and exploits a need in the marketplace, and either invests his or her own money, or more likely someone else’s, to fund this vision, product, service, company, and if it goes well, everyone makes a ton of money. It traditionally entails hiring people and renting office space and negotiating big pricey deals with vendors, etc.

You May Be One Yourself

Fact is, entrepreneurship has changed so much in the past decade that you may not do any of these things. You may never have an office or a staff, you may never raise funds from investors or regular people. But chances are you, don’t do this all yourself. All you need is a laptop, an internet connection, and a bank account to do business and rightfully call yourself an entrepreneur, and many do.

So if I am going to take liberties with the term, or at least tease the nuances, I would say that an entrepreneur is less defined by the business she runs or the amount of money they raise, and more defined by vision, risk, and character.

An entrepreneur leads with the solution to a problem, not with just a need to make money. An entrepreneur doesn’t just “organize” a business in my mind, but fuels it, directs it, and creates it. I hesitated to call myself an entrepreneur for a long time because I thought you had to have a Harvard MBA. I was so wrong.

Entrepreneurs are: scrappy and disruptive, creative and unruly, strategic and unstoppable. Sometimes they make lousy students and difficult employees. Some literally propel themselves on the force of their personality and the appeal of their promise, and other people help them carry it out and make it happen.

I’ve heard more than a few people say that entrepreneurship means “freedom.” I don’t know that I agree with that as the defining element. Maybe you don’t want debt. You know who else doesn’t have debt? A homeless guy. Is that what you want? You know who has a lot of freedom? An unemployed person. There are lots of ways to be free, and in fact, taking on the risk and investing yourself in something the way an entrepreneur does may be exciting and empowering, but “free” is not what I’d call it.

You’re free of the constraints of a corporate job, sure. That’s what people love. Look, we live in the land of the Lone Ranger. We love the idea of this rabble rouser, out conquering a new frontier. That’s romantic, and yes, many entrepreneurs slave away in solitude. But plenty don’t. The smart ones never dream of doing it on their own.

The entrepreneur is a maestro, a leader, but knows the value of team, too, and can lead and inspire. To my mind, I am not so hung up on the “prerequisites” for being an entrepreneur. Because I believe most can’t help themselves. And that’s why they do it.

In this way, they’re more like artists: They are compelled to make, create, connect—and that is why we are in love with them, aspire to be one or be like one. I can’t think of a better reason.

So. Is that you? I’m thinking I’m liking the fit myself.

 

Interst out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center - applications due 5/23/16

Interst out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center – applications due 5/23/16

…By the way, if you DO dream of pursuing a business idea and becoming an entrepreneur, check out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center. They’re accepting applications now for their 8-week intensive running June-July 2016. I’m one of the instructors, leading a session on vision and mission, which I’m psyched about. Check it out!

How Being Busy Is Costing You Business

Man using Mac laptopI’m going to break something to you right here and now: No one actually cares how busy you are. Honestly. No one. And telling people how busy you are is very likely costing you business and opportunities.

I do a lot of events for freelancers and solopreneurs (including this one hosted by the lovely Kate Gaffin’s Connecting to Greatness Group, at WeWork September 30th in Manhattan), mostly telling them why they need to STOP referring to themselves that way, and most importantly stop thinking like one. Most freelancers I know busy—doing stuff they don’t like for not very much money. They endlessly yammer about needing more work, and yet when I’m in a position to share or offer some, I get the Heisman—”Oh I’d love to take it on, but I’m not sure I have the bandwidth,” or “I’m just way too busy,” or “I’m all set for now.”

And they wonder why they’re not making more.

(Just ask Grant Cardone, the beloved author of The 10X Rule, and creator of grantcardonetv.com where I have my show, Solopreneur, which he and I have decided is a lousy name, because you don’t get more credit or money for doing it all yourself.)

I have more work than I know what to do with, yet I never stop seeking out opportunities. Everyone has the same hours in a day, but that’s not how I choose my work. I don’t see myself as just one lowly freelancer whose plate is full. I’m a business; I’ll add more plates if I have to.

It never ceases to amaze me that the people who push away work are often the lowest paid, and who admit to me they don’t have much else going on. One woman I spoke with recently about work I had to offer her said that she just wasn’t sure if she’d have time to take on the work because of her job…a job she admitted she doesn’t like and is planning on leaving.

Will someone please explain this to me? I wasn’t offering her a six-figure job…but there’s potential for ongoing paid work, growth, and the opportunity to show me how great she is, while she keeps her other job or searches for a new one. I can’t think of a better way OUT of a job, in fact, than to show off how great you are to someone new who might recommend you somewhere, or hire you herself! She’s going to think about it.

I would still consider working with her, but she’s hesitant, and thus, so am I. Because this isn’t the first convo like this I’ve had. Other people will tell me a million reasons why they can’t do this or can’t meet that deadline. So many people (women mostly) who are busy pumping the brakes and then wondering why their careers are going under 35 mph.

This is what it means to think small, people. So if you’re looking for work and want ways out of what you’re doing or ways to grow, say yes. If not to me, than someone. Say yes and find a way to do it if it appeals, even a little.

Your clients, as much as they love you, also don’t care how busy you are. As a client, managing your business isn’t my job; it’s yours.

Think of the client/contractor relationship as an open marriage—who and what else you “do” on your time is not my business. I only care about what you and I have going on.

If you continually give off this air of being “so crazy busy,” fact is, I might pass on you altogether for other stuff that comes up. Not only because I don’t want to deal with that drama, but you’ve essentially told me in no uncertain terms that you’re “busy,” which either means you don’t see working with me as a priority, or you can’t manage your time well. And I want someone who does.

Now, my clients don’t think: “Ah, I’ll call that Terri. She’s probably not up to much.” No way. Having higher demand for my services doesn’t mean I make less time for people I want to work with—it just means I can charge more. By making sure you have enough “time” for the clients you have (work that go away like that), you decrease demand, in fact. The only stuff I don’t have time for are the things that I’m either not interested in, are not in my wheelhouse, or don’t pay off in any real way. But that’s stuff no one should have time for.

Your business can be as big as you want it to be—if you’re willing to think and act like one. Find resources. Find a way. You can’t gain momentum in your business if you keep hitting the brakes.

What You Learn by Being Lousy

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Watch me eat it. Go ahead. Click on it.

I went camping recently. I say that casually, as if it’s so normal for me, when it’s so not. But regardless, I went camping—legit slept in a tent, ate meat off a stick, the whole thing. I was with a big group of friends and on the agenda was a lot of boat-related activities: water sports in the morning, and chilling out on Lake Hopatcong on a pontoon in the afternoon.

I had concerns, most of which had to do with not being near land, and also I get very seasick.  Now, of course I know you can take something so you don’t get sick, and I do all of that, but I experience a pervasive unease at being in the water too long. Period.

I have a point in telling you this, and it’s not “what I did on my summer vacation.” It’s that what I learned from this one summer day is that I overestimate and underestimate what I can do, and it has to do with expertise vs. ability.

Here’s what happened

We piled into a motor boat with our salty, suntanned captain (who came with the boat), and were told we would be wake surfing—not tubing, as I’d expected. But it was basically: “Here’s a surfboard, here’s a rope, now hang on while we hit the gas pedal.” I’ve never been on a surfboard in my life, never surfed anything but the web. And let me tell you, it required far more skill than being yanked along on a rubber tube.

I first thought, “No way.” Then I watched as one friend after another got up and tried it and some of them did pretty good. Maybe it wasn’t so hard? I listened to our captain-slash-instructor go over the basics again and again: “Press down with the heels, bend your knees, engage your core, arms straight out, and let the boat pull you up.” I watched again and again, and thought, “I think I can do this.”

Wrong. Couldn’t have been more wrong. When it was finally my turn, I ate it so hard it’s laughable. I was shocked—didn’t I know after an hour and a half of watching and listening, how to do this? I knew it in my head, but when I got out there, it was as if that knowledge all went straight out the window. I had lake water up my nose, down my throat, and I had to swallow my pride along with it.

(Here’s the highlight reel of my epic wakeboard fail.)

I felt so…disappointed. But even that was silly—I had never been on a wake board in my damn life. Where on earth did I get the idea that I could just do it, first time out of the gate? My disappointment is what was so misguided–because that sense of disappointment came from this misled idea I had that I could do it, having never done it before. That’s not disappointment. That’s naivete! So now I was embarrassed over my disappointment over my failure. It was a big old downer sandwich.

My point is this

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as they say. And in an age of instant knowledge, youtube videos, and soundbite wisdom, we can be led to believe we’re expert in a thing before our feet ever touch the ground (or water, as it were). I’m guilty of this. And likely, so are you. We mistake information for expertise. And you only get expertise by doing and trying and failing and fixing.

When I started to complain about how bad I was, my friend Michael cut me off at the pass. “Are you serious?” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 9 years old. I was out there every day of the summer.”

And here I am, a grown woman, expecting that because I’m what—smart? attentive? fit?—that I’m supposed to kill it out of the gate? This is not a flaw of my physical abilities. This isn’t “Terri can’t do water sports” or whatever other story I wanted to tell. This is a flaw of misplaced confidence and misguided expectation.

As Grant Cardone says in his wildly popular book, Sell or Be Sold, the number one reason people hate anything, not just sales, is because they don’t know how to do it. I was tempted to say that I hate wake surfing. But that’s not true—I hate being bad at a thing. But give me a few hundred hours out there and I could imagine loving it. If we’re being honest, I will likely spend those hours on other things.

Oh God. All Day on a Boat?

Next up: Could I handle hanging out on a pontoon boat for several hours, given my extreme seasickness. Now, we weren’t out swordfishing on the high seas. Try trailing for sunfish and eating chips while listening to Bruno Mars. When I felt a whisper of nausea, I took a Pepto, and then laid on the deck while Lake Hopatcong rocked me to sleep. And when at one point we ran out of gas, and had to wait for someone to zip us some, I didn’t panic. I felt so unruffled, so calm. “This must be what relaxing feels like,” I thought before falling back asleep.

In fact, I was sad to get off at the end of the day! And back to—what?—my tent? Had I turned into a completely different person? In some ways, maybe yes. What a difference a day makes.

It’s been said that we overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year. I can’t nail a thing out of the gate perfectly, and likely, neither can you. But we’d all do well to realize that and get past it—and recognize that it’s normal. And chances are, we can hang out there longer than we think we can.

(If you like this, check out why you shouldn’t believe my Instagram feed.)

3 Rules of Thought Leadership (by Someone Smarter Than Me)

DanielDiGrizDaniel DiGriz is so smart that after a few minutes of listening to him, you can actually feel yourself getting smarter. Now that is a gift. (Let’s hope it worked.)

The founder of Madpipe, author of All Marketing Is Dead, and self-titled “digital ecologist” (a term he’s had trademarked) has lots of titles, and believes everyone should have a bunch, too, since all social media sites (including LinkedIn) are search engines. Oh, and also because titles don’t matter.

A word about what exactly DiGriz does: He helps clients become thought leaders and create a successful marketing presence in their space—which changes depending on the company. As an external marketing director, he does this through one-on-one coaching, supervision, and training of in-house teams to meet their own marketing needs, which are unique and different from everyone else’s.

Rule #1 of Thought Leadership: Get Over Yourself

The biggest mistake of thought leadership, he says, is this belief that the onus is on everyone else to come to us, read our sites, care about us and what we have to say. In fact, this isn’t about you at all, which is why DiGriz doesn’t spend all that much time talking about himself. It has to do with how you change the world.

“What you are isn’t relevant,” he said. “This is one of the first lessons of thought leadership: It’s not about you. It’s about…what creates a response in the end user.”

Daniel-WIT

Click here to watch interview.

Rule #2: Have An Original Idea

Anyone can be a thought leader, says DiGriz. But thought leaders don’t say, “Yeah, what she said!” You have to have a fresh take and original ideas and insights about the industry right now, and how to make things better.

Knowledge after all, is replaceable, he says. It’s why he doesn’t mind sharing it freely via his blog, his podcast, what have you. Experience, however, is not. And the mark of a pro, he says, brings all of that experience to the table with a defined, intuitive skill set.

Rule #3: Know the Difference Between Being in Charge and Owning the Conversation

Another misconception (and an arrogant one to boot) is that whether you’re in charge of a big company or work for yourself, you’re “the boss” and that makes you important. You’re not the boss: The economy is. That ground is always shifting beneath you, and your success depends on how you can adapt to it.

Which brings me to his book, All Marketing Is Dead—because in fact, he says, it is. And this is where a discussion about marketing becomes one about mortality: Because what holds in the Walking Dead is true for business owners: Traditional marketing tactics, even as we use them, are zombies: stiff, slow, awkward, easy to outrun, consumed only with feeding themselves, and must be killed on the spot.

But that doesn’t mean marketing is going away, or that you or I are in any way above it. If you try to excuse yourself from marketing and all its aspects (social media, outreach, etc), you quite simply aren’t a business owner. In other words, marketing is not a tap you turn on when you need it, but a consistent effort, one that you should make for yourself just as you would if you had thousands of shareholders to answer to.

Thought leaders know this, and thus must continue to adapt and update their efforts, annihilate the stumbling zombies from their strategies and instead find ways to make their marketing elastic, intelligent, human, integrated.

To be a thought leader, says DiGriz, ask yourself: “How can I make the world more effective, raise the bar in my industry and improve the way I communicate about it?”

“You can be a thought leader, introduce new concepts and ideas without getting anyone’s permission. If we can do that, we can lead in our fields, change our industries and grow our business together.

(Watch the full interview with Daniel DiGriz on Solopreneur.)

(Also check out DiGriz’s podcast—on this episode, he had me on to talk about why brands need a spokesperson.)