So I am sometimes asked if I work with entrepreneurs, and my answer is that, no, I don’t, I work with small business owners.
I think it is actually important to make a distinction between small business owners and entrepreneurs.
The difference between an entrepreneur and a small business owner and why it matters
The word entrepreneur has come to describe the people that books are written about. Richard Branson, Larry Paige, Bill Gates, Anita Roddick. You’d never refer to Bill Gates as a small business owner, even though Microsoft was a tiny company operating from Bill’s bedroom once.
Entrepreneurs are the rock stars of our age. They are like the celebrity chefs of the business world. But for every Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey, there are thousands of cooks, men and women who put together a great pasta carbonara or scotch fillet, day in day out, they’re referred to as the cooks of the line.
You’ll never read about them in books or watch them on TV, because they are just great professionals and trades people and they’re passionate about food and cooking and seeing empty plates returned to the kitchen.
They’re great great cooks and they run great restaurants, but they’re not celebrity chefs.
And neither are most small business owners, entrepreneurs.
To be an undertaker
Originally, the word entrepreneur comes from the French ‘entreprendre’, which translates as to undertake. To be an entrepreneur therefore meant, someone who undertakes things. And on that reading, anybody who undertakes a business is an entrepreneur. But since the advent of the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world the word has taken on this added meaning of someone who builds something that in a few years gets sold for umpteen billion dollars.
Ok, so what’s in a word… why does it matter if you refer to yourself as a small business owner or an entrepreneur?
Well, words matter. Words take on meanings over time and those implied meanings start to have an impact beyond the simple dictionary definition. For example, if I mention the word policeman, it is simply impossible for you to imagine a female police officer and thus we perpetuate the stereotype.
If you are an architect, or a plumber or a graphic designer or an accountant or a hairdresser or mechanic, or an engineer and you have a business that exists to deliver that service, you are in all likelihood a small business owner, in my book, not an entrepreneur. And why that matters is that if you are such a small business owner and you describe yourself as an entrepreneur, there is a good chance that you will always feel a little bit disappointed with yourself. After all, if you were a true entrepreneur you’d be on the way to building a business that gets sold for $100 million dollars in the next two years and you’re looking forward to buying your own island in the Bahamas with the lifestyle to suit.
But you won’t sell your architecture business for $100 million, probably not even for $1Million. Very very few small business owners ever do sell their business for an amount of money that allows them anything more than simple retirement.
Most small businesses get sold or passed on to one of its employees and the sale is funded out of future earnings of the business. The former owner may get to pay of his or her mortgage with the proceeds which, combined with some modest superannuation investments, allows for a relatively comfortable retirement.
And that’s great.
If you manage to do that as a small business owner, you’ve done a wonderful thing. It means you’ve raised a healthy bouncy business. It means you and a bunch of people have been and continue to be able to send their kids to school and pay their mortgages. If you’ve built such a small business, it means you’ve created the kind of thing that makes the world go round.
To be a small business owner is something you ought to be exceedingly proud of… I promise you.
And if you ever need help in moving past your challenges in developing your business, here’s my treat for you:
Walk away with clarity, insight and focus and you’ll be able to implement one or more simple practical actions that will start to move you past your stumbling blocks in running your small business.