The true entrepreneur



“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” (Nolan Bushnell)

Some time ago, I participated as a coach in a “thinkubator” for small and micro-businesses in Diepsloot. I was humbled. These were people who started businesses, not because they fancied themselves as Richard Branson but because they needed to put food on the table. The adage is that necessity is the mother of invention; after listening to the stories and ideas of these people, I would submit that it is also the mother of determination.

One of the exercises was brainstorming what is needed to be an entrepreneur and to succeed in business. A common theme was having a vision greater than just making money. Almost everyone in the room felt that there was a purpose to business, whether it was for the common good or to create employment. This sense of belonging to a community is a growing trend worldwide and can be seen in consumer pressure for businesses to act in good faith and to practice fair trade. The profit motive is all well and good, but perhaps we are moving toward a new era where business owners are also seeking meaning.

The need for determination and discipline came up repeatedly. One of the participants laughingly shared that he started a business because he didn’t like ‘working’; five years later he’s working harder than ever for longer hours. There was a rueful agreement that it takes grit and enormous self-discipline to juggle the many demands of running a business and that the rewards do not always equal the effort required.

The counterfoil to discipline in terms of working hard is the discipline to stop, rest and invest in yourself. Business owners get to wear all hats. Even when you outsource or delegate, the buck stops with you. Hard work and long hours can become a habit and there is a tendency among entrepreneurs to wear stress as a badge of honour. The body and mind can only perform at a high level for a certain amount of time, after which performance and effort start to go in opposite directions. Ask any Olympic athlete… there is training and there is effective training. Taking care of oneself is a priority along with taking care of the business.

Perseverance was another characteristic that generated debate. The perseverance to carry on despite setbacks and all the nay-sayers is vital. Behind all the business success stories is usually a history of loss and dead ends. My personal favourite (influenced somewhat by my love of his ‘secret recipe’) is that of Colonel Sanders who was apparently turned down 1009 times before he succeeded in selling his fried chicken recipe… at the age of 65! The bitter side of perseverance is when it becomes sheer doggedness. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes, the business model or idea is just not right. The ability to recognise when a shift is necessary and/or having the courage to walk away is equally important. True courage is starting all over again.

Unsurprisingly, planning and business management skills came up as being key to business success. The majority in the room felt that although they were aware of what they needed to do they often felt inadequate for the task. Red tape and the mystique around business finance is frankly intimidating, especially for people who like me, may be ‘numerically challenged’. Taking the time to learn basic business skills, developing a sound business plan and then sticking to that plan can be what separates a struggling business from a successful business. There is a lot of truth in the maxim “Mind your cents and the Rands will look after themselves”. Strict planning and budgeting require strict processes, which implies strict controls.

Key takeout: Before going into business, be clear about why you are doing this and check your appetite for hard work and disappointment. Once in business, while you will have multiple roles to juggle, it is important to know where you need help and when to ask for that help.

Author: Janet Askew


Janet Askew

Janet is a trainer, coach, speaker and writer who is passionate about promoting women in business and SMME development. In addition to her consulting work, she is a director of Essentially Natural and serves on the board of the Wot-If? Trust.




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  • I recently was the head business mentor on the IBM startup boot camp and I can tell you, those who DO, outperform those who dream by a mile. 

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  • If you don't grow your business won't grow. Most business owners don't invest in themselves and you mention that it is key to success and we need to hammer on this point more.
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