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MBA and being an entrepreneur

What my MBA taught me about being an entrepreneur

True story.

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 6 years old.

It was the end of August, and I had a summer’s worth of comic books as inventory. I made posters announcing a lawn sale, stuck them up around my neighbourhood.

I sold every copy.

44 years later, the 7-figure business I ran for 20 years closed, crushed by the burdensome shutdowns of a global pandemic.

Not all stories have a happy ending. Is there ever an ending, though? I believe every ending is simply the start of something else.

My something else was starting grad school at the age of 50, and launching a whole new career as a blogger and coach for entrepreneurs.

Completing my MBA taught me 3 things about being an entrepreneur that I didn’t fully grasp during all my years of being a business owner and franchisor.

Perspective is everything

Entrepreneurs live and breathe their business. Often, there is no separate between life and work, between their private and public. There is the working on and the working in the business (thank you, Michael E. Gerber. which is a fine line and a challenge to balance. It is easy to feel trapped in a blender of daily operational tasks and big picture strategy, putting out little fires and setting up systems to prevent big ones. After months – or years – of this lifestyle, it’s like being face-down on an Impressionist painting. You lose perspective. 

Perspective is everything. What my MBA taught me about being an entrepreneur is that an outsider is the only individual who can provide it. Not loving family members, supportive spouses, employees, or caring friends. Actually, especially not those people. Anyone with emotional or financial ties to the entrepreneur and their venture is also face-down on the business. It’s only an outsider who can view the entire situation and see it for what it is. 

Why does perspective matter? There are countless ways an outsider’s view on a business provides value to the entrepreneur. From marketing tactics, pricing strategy, operations, employee relations, and culture, a fresh, unbiased review can reveal patterns, duplications, and gaps the entrepreneur simply won’t see. The fact is, living with and working on and in a business creates an inattentional blindness. But as Thoreau said,  it isn’t what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. The perspective of an outside is critical for an entrepreneur to understand what is working and what is not in their business.

One person can't do it all

This seems obvious, but one person can’t do it all. This is beyond the “there are only so many hours in the day” thing. Many entrepreneurs find themselves wearing all the hats, and are reluctant to delegate. As a franchisor, I saw franchise partners stifle their growth because they didn’t empower staff. As a coach, I’ve met business owners who fall behind on projects because they think they have to be in every meeting and understand every little thing. 

What my MBA taught me about being an entrepreneur is that it’s ok to own your strengths, and collaborate with those whose skills complement yours. Entrepreneurs must embrace the passion that brought them into business, and work with great people who are passionate about the things they are not. For example, if you love analysing financial spreadsheets but don’t know how to write a compelling marketing message, hire a copywriter. Or, if you are a sales superstar but your inbox is piling up, hire a virtual assistant. Expecting to be an expert in all things is not realistic, or reasonable. After all, we are human, not machines. It is more effective to delegate.

It's not a puzzle

Business has models and matrixes and frameworks and formulas. But success in business is not maths. 2+2 does not always equal 4. Even when things appear to be right, they may not be. Great ideas fail. Successful, experienced businesses make costly errors, like the famous failure of Target’s expansion into Canada. What my MBA taught me about being an entrepreneur is that it’s not a simple puzzle. It’s not a matter of putting pieces together. Building a new business or expanding an existing one is a complex alchemy of information and inspiration. It’s part science, part intention, and a whole lot of timing. A poorly developed business plan is cited as a top reason for new business failure. Another reason is not reviewing and updating that business plan. Entrepreneurship is a constantly moving ship and constant observation and adjustments are necessary.

The bottom line

Though there are no guarantees in business, or life – what an entrepreneur can do is take every possible action to minimise risk of failure. This means embracing and living these 3 concepts:

  1. Get an outside perspective on every aspect of a business. A fresh, unbiased pair of eyes are capable of seeing patterns and gaps the entrepreneur are too close to see.
  2. Every person has limitations. Delegate and outsource tasks and skills to focus on your strengths.
  3. There is no magic formula or quick fix for business success. Embrace analysis, observation, and be willing to adjust as required.

Further Reading

Entrepreneur Dos and Don'ts for a Home Based Business
Business ethics and boundaries
top 3 regrets as an entrepreneur

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Rebecca Page-Chapman