[A version of this article first appeared in the May 2009 edition of Corporate Report Wisconsin]
Note to the university professor at last fall’s business conference: The following is an attempt to explain why I slipped out early during your presentation on “The New Economics.”
As a business writer, I send out biz-tip email blasts periodically to clients, prospects, and fellow small business owners. They’ll be on such topics as husband-wife survival skills, marketing on the cheap, surviving your own vacation, etc. I have learned to separate out my recipients into two distinct email lists: one for salaried managers and university professors, the other for small business owners.
That’s because I discovered that the difference between the two is like that between men being from Mars and women from Venus. The gulf is vast.
Now, as a 25-year veteran of self-employment, I have a distinct bias. Nonetheless, I do not mean to imply, state, infer or hint that one group is superior to the other. Far from it. As any entrepreneur will tell you, the smart folks are the ones who snagged a berth on Big Corp, USA. (That’s also why the banner on my website, The Freestyle Entrepreneur — http://www.thefreestyleentrepreneur.com – is “Survival Skills for Those of Us Crazy Enough to Work for Ourselves.”)
My point: Regardless of where you get your bread buttered, be aware of that huge mindset difference between a business manager and a small business owner. At the root of it is the reality of risk and reward. While managers can muck it up and move on, or still keep on collecting their salaries for at least a little while, SBOs put their money on the line each and every day … and they can’t just put out a resume and move on if they screw up. They have to live with the results of what they create. They risk not just their time and talent, but their assets, income, capital investment, home, business, car … their entire lifestyle and standard of living.
That’s why SBOs are big on experience versus theory. Go to a conference for business owners, and the presentation by a successful CEO or the roundtable panel discussion of entrepreneurs (people with a track record of building businesses and making money) will always be packed. Meanwhile, the talk on business models by the MBA who has never risked a nickel of his or her own money on a business venture will generally go begging.
While we may enjoy a good book on one theory of management or another (and a smart SBO is one who always keeps learning and growing), we learn best by our own experiences and by talking and listening to those who, as the saying goes, “have been there, done that.”
Most of all, SBOs are doers, big on action, less so on planning. Example: While many corporations may have a three-year, new-product development schedule, an SBO is more likely to take a walk through downtown, talk to key people in different areas, sniff the wind, and then sit down over a steak and whiskey with two associates and announce, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do and here’s how we’re going to do it.”
And, yes, odds are that this fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants research will be just as right just as often as that carried out over six months, at a six-figure cost, by the big corporation.
My point: For those who work with entrepreneurs and other business owners, never forget that we really are different – independent, time-stressed, very much in need of helpful information and advice … and very impatient with the rest.
So, as always, work hard, make money, have fun. — JRI
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