Experience Is No Guarantee for Entrepreneurs

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (MainStreet) -- Think about this: Today some of the "youngest" entrepreneurs are retirees! They spent their lives in the corporate or academic jungle working for someone else. Then, either due to economic reasons or a burning passion for an idea, they started a business. Years of business and life experience working for someone else does not necessarily translate into being an immediate success as a business owner, though, and it doesn't mean you are -- or will be -- a great entrepreneur, no matter what your age.

Entrepreneurs have to be good at many things: The "product," the pitch, the sale, the operations and the strategic, long-term view. As we start down the entrepreneurial path, many of us have some of these characteristics or skills, but few come wholly formed into the entrepreneurial role.

Personally, I spent many years in finance and operations, strategy and operations, and finance and strategy, but I wasn't expert in marketing, sales, fundraising or legal matters. As I spent more time in various roles working for others I expanded my professional credentials long before starting my own business. I worked to get experience in multiple industries: banking, retailing, auditing, manufacturing (OEM and contract), electronics, home goods and more. Any role, any task, any time was an opportunity to learn more and acquire more skills. I could have spent 100 years in corporate America and never learned all the lessons that come from running and growing your own business. Until you have to do it, review it, teach it or transact it, you see only the tip of the iceberg.

Here are some of the hats you (or someone in your team) will wear as an entrepreneur: leader; manager; coach; goalie; referee, traffic cop; parent; child; teenager (rebellious); accountant; banker; investor; teacher (kindergarten); lecturer; warden; scorekeeper; timekeeper; technician; janitor; houseparent; sales representative; marketer; brand strategist; designer; clerk (administrative, shipping, receiving, accounting); pitch person (for the product, business, concept and more); student; winner; loser (oh yes!); evangelist; banker; mad scientist; desperate decision-maker; reluctant terminator (the first firing is the hardest); boss ...

Are you tired yet? Well there are tens -- if not hundreds -- of "hats" you will wear in the course of building your business. And whether it succeeds or if it fails, the hats will continue to change as quickly and as often as the "hat dance" in Victory Lane at a NASCAR race.

The most successful entrepreneurs are not afraid to take on any role, from sweeping the floor to buying the toilet paper to carrying a large stick to keep everyone in line, on time and on budget. The entrepreneur with life experience is more comfortable in certain roles than — shall we call them -- less "seasoned" counterparts. Regardless of your experience level, find your strengths and hire to fill your weaknesses. Do not make the assumption that experience translates directly from corporations to small business. Do not undervalue the voice of entrepreneurial experience of your peers, be they young or "well-seasoned."

The biggest mistake often made by even senior entrepreneurs is that "business" is easy. It may not be rocket science, but the complexities of meeting customer needs, making a profit and pinning down the details on taxation, regulations, licenses, accounting and payroll may just make you long to be a rocket scientist. In science, at least there can precise answers. Business is as much art as science.

As an entrepreneur, be willing to: ask questions of other (successful) entrepreneurs; admit what you do not know; learn about business from a new perspective; read, research, read and repeat on any topic you are not familiar with; do the dirty or boring work; put the customer first — always — even when it is painful and inconvenient; and work as much on the business as in it.

Becoming a successful entrepreneur takes time. Some things you can learn by reading, but entrepreneurship you ultimately learn by living.

—For more tips and tricks on getting the most out of your small business, visit MainStreet’s “Small Business” topic page for our latest coverage!

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