Your Business Startup:
Have You Chosen the Right Business?
I routinely ask encore entrepreneurs why they chose to start a business. As you might expect, their answers range far and wide.
And I've noticed that the responses fall into one of three broad categories. For some the launch of a business fulfills a long-held aspiration. "I've always loved this kind of business," they say, "and I knew that someday I wanted to own one."
A variation on this theme is the person who has always felt that building a successful business would be thrilling and fulfilling. But perhaps circumstances forced him or her to delay a startup until later in life.
A second group is also aspration-driven. They have not spent years dreaming of owning a business. But somewhere along the way they discovered a personal enthusiasm for creating a certain product or delivering a certain type of service or helping people solve a certain type of problem. Their business is an outlet for this enthusiasm.
Starting a Business for Utilitarian Motives
For a third group the answer is more utilitarian. Perhaps they lost a job, could not find another one, and launched a business in order to survive. Or they came to the end of their career, discovered that they did not have enough income for retirement, and thus started a business out of necessity.
And quite often I come across encore entrepreneurs who started a business simply because they discovered that their retirement was somewhat boring.
Notice the sharp distinction in motivation between the first two groups and this third one. Groups one and two are motivated by love for what they are doing. Group number three, while perhaps liking what they are doing, has taken up entrepreneurship more out of necessity than from a longing to build a business.
With this third group I pose a second question. Having asked them why they chose to start a business, I next ask why they chose to start this particular business. Again the answers are far-ranging. But they basically revolve around one or more of these themes:
- I could make a lot of money doing this.
- I could do this without investing a great deal of time or money in additional education.
- I didn't have much money to start a business, and I could get into this one rather inexpensively.
- I had a friend who owned a business like this. She seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I would give it a try.
- There was a good opportunity for this kind of business near my home. So I could run this business without having to move or face a long commute.
- I don't have a lot of skill sets, but this was one line of work that I could do well.
- It seemed like it would be easier to start this kind of business compared to others that I looked at.
The Hard Work of Building a Business
In terms of your own startup, which of these groups do you fit into? It's an important question to ask.
Launching and building any business is never as simple to do as it might appear at the outset. The general public has a gross misunderstanding of just how many hours and how much hard work most owners give to their business.
Creating a thriving business calls for patience, perseverance, and a wholesale portion of what we sometimes call "pure grit." At the outset — and even months into the endeavor — success is far from assured. With very limited capital and a tiny staff (if any), you find yourself having to be a jack-of-all-trades. And you also have to be a masterful juggler, because you have so many balls to keep in the air.
To put it frankly, there's a lot of drudgery in putting together all of the pieces to make a startup successful. When the drudgery sets in, far too many startups falter. And they falter because the owner simply grows too weary or too discouraged to continue.
You Must Believe in What You Do
My point is this. Encore entrepreneurs in the first two groups have a genuine enthusiasm for what they do. And this enthusiasm allows them to press on in spite of the inevitable setbacks, surprises, and disappointments of starting a business.
People in the third group may not have this level of enthusiasm. For them building a business can quickly become draining rather than envigorating. As a result, I would anticipate that startup failures are more frequent in the third group than in the first two.
In the absence of enthusiasm, this third group must learn to genuinely believe in the value of the product or service that they provide. And I'm speaking here of the value to the customer. Truly believing in what you do is not the same as having enthusiasm for it. But it's the best substitute in the absence of enthusiasm.
If you are in this third group and do not believe deeply in what your business does, you might consider the possibility that you've chosen the wrong business for you. I'm not saying that you should walk away from it today. But you either need to find a way to believe in your products and services. Or you need to start thinking about a transition to some other type of business.
A Simple Litmus Test to Guage Your Enthusiasm
And how can you know whether you believe in what you do? You may be able to actually feel your conviction or enthusiasm within your inner being. Not all of us, however, are deeply attuned to our feelings. So let me suggest another litmus test.
When you're telling someone about what you provide for customers, what happens to the quality of your voice? Does its intensity pick up? Is there a notable tone of excitement as you speak? Is there an uptick in the energy behind your words? Do your statements flow out at a slightly faster clip than normal?
These are all signs that you are excited about what you are discussing, whether the excitement stems from enthusiasm or from believing strongly in the topic.
If you don't regularly hear that excitement in your voice, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your choice of businesses.
Building a business is a long-haul proposition which calls for emotional and psychological energy even more than it calls for physical endurance. If the business itself does not fuel your energy emotionally and psychologically, the road to success will be doubly difficult for you.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on July 17, 2014.