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How to Fail as an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are unique. They are people who identify business opportunities and organize a business to pursue the opportunity.  An entrepreneur is a person with the combination of personality traits and life experience that creates a high level of entrepreneurial alertness.  They see opportunities that most others miss. But entrepreneurial alertness is not a sufficient trait for being an entrepreneur. In fact, it is just one of the many talents required to be a successful entrepreneur. And it is the complex tapestry of what constitutes a successful entrepreneur where the problem lies. Most entrepreneurs fail and many take their health and families with them into the abyss. Some spectacularly. Let’s explore how failure manifests itself in the entrepreneurs I have known. The good news is that through awareness of these issues, training, and education, you can circumnavigate the failure traps and become a successful entrepreneur.

The Wannabe

First, you have the hard-core wannabe. This is someone who talks a lot about starting a business, is very skilled at entrepreneurial opportunity identification, but never comes close to selecting an idea to pursue, developing the necessary knowledge to explore, conceiving a plan, and implementing, persevering, and focusing with intense effort to overcome significant obstacles. It’s the guy in the cubicle beside you who always has a scheme but never any intention to act. Or, perhaps it is the woman who sits beside you in your MBA finance course who always has a fantasy business she is going to launch right after graduation. The wannabe is often quite talented at opportunity identification and can even spit out a strong emotional case for why the business concept is the best thing since Uber. But, for some unknown reason, nothing ever moves beyond the idea and the emotion.

The Cliff Walker

Second, we have the cliff walker. This person is able to move beyond the opportunity identification step to actually do some research and create a plan. But as they approach the edge of the cliff, which all entrepreneurs must face, they won’t make the commitment to dive in. This tells us that the decision to start the business was truly never made. I remind these people that the word decide comes from Latin root word decidere which literally means “to cut off.” That is, to cut off all other possibilities. Once the decision to start the entrepreneurial venture has been made – there should be no hesitation on the cliff’s edge. The next step is to dive. The Cliff Walker may walk up to the edge of starting several different businesses, but because their grandmother is ill, their dog is sick, their fiancé is doubting, or the moon is not aligned with Saturn, they hesitate. And, hesitation kills. Eventually, they get tired of the exhaustive pacing on the cliff’s edge. They find a comfortable home in a corporate cubicle far from the cliff and the scary thought of being in charge of their destiny.

The Plate Spinner

Third, we have the plate spinner. I have distinct childhood memories of watching plate spinners on The Ed Sullivan show. The image of someone frantically running between spinning plates, trying to keep everything going, is the perfect analogy for the entrepreneur attempting to run multiple businesses at once. These folks are typically very talented but lack the ability to critically assess, prioritize, and focus. They successfully identify opportunities, develop effective plans, implement and then they’re bored, distracted, and see the shiny object on the other side of the street they must go explore. This leads to division of focus and the initiation of another business effort, then another, then they discover they can’t manage all the businesses and they begin to fail. Often, this is followed by an attempt to throw money at the problem which increases debt, pressure, and the wobbling of the plates. Eventually, it all comes crashing down in a chaotic mess that no one wants to clean up.

The Super Technician

Fourth, we have the super technician. This is someone who considers themselves an entrepreneur but really is just a hard-working super technician. They possess a skill that is in demand in the marketplace and they venture out on their own to “hang out their shingle” and announce to the world they are in business. They are talented at their craft and quickly are overwhelmed with work. Instead of implementing a plan that would allow the business to scale beyond their individual capacities, they work and they work and they work some more. The only path they can find forward is to continuously carry a heavier and heavier load. Eventually, there is a misstep, an accident, a health issue, an overload, and the super technician falls behind, cuts corners and suffers unrecoverable setbacks because there are limits to how much one person can do. When those limits are exceeded, recovery is typically impossible.

The Successful Entrepreneur

The successful entrepreneur follows a process, whether she realizes it or not, that builds a business that is profitable and functions well without an unreasonable load on the entrepreneur. A skill set that includes opportunity identification, decision making, research, prioritization, plan conception, implementation, perseverance, feedback based improvements, periods of intense effort, and the often-forgotten ability to notice all that is occurring and to grow personally in ability, self-efficacy, and well-being. Often, I find entrepreneurs are not extroverts. They tend to be a little on the nerdy side. They are logical but passionate. They analyze and implement. But most of all, they have the ability to set themselves up to have a deep reservoir of perseverance. They focus at times so intensely that those who know them become concerned. They self-correct, learn, experiment, take notes, and improve as they move forward. Their employees are treated well, they are humble, they take criticism and feedback from employees, mentors, and clients. In the end, they build a business they can be proud of that provides a meaningful service or product, employee good people who enjoy their work, and see themselves as a facilitator for the business – not the business itself. They prepare the business for their departure and sell the business. They gain closure and a deep level of personal satisfaction. They made a decision years earlier and studied, focused, and cut off all other possibilities.

What I Believe

There are literally hundreds of research papers about entrepreneur personality types, skill sets, environments that breed entrepreneurs, and theories galore about what makes the mysterious entrepreneur who they are.

I don’t believe it is that complicated. I believe, for 90% of people, entrepreneurship can be learned. I believe YOU can be a successful entrepreneur. I wrote a book called DISCIPLINE STRATEGY® (January 2020) that outlines a process that works for life change, goal accomplishment, and becoming an entrepreneur. The process tackles all of the issues identified in this article. I also have a video based training course that is long and detailed about each step in the DISCIPLINE process. For someone who claims to want to be an entrepreneur, I can easily predict whether or not they will be successful by how they digest my training course. If they start it and then stop after a few lessons – I can easily predict that they will never make it out of the cubicle. If they digest the material with enthusiasm and email me questions and make it to the end of the course – they will succeed. I have no doubt.

Do you want to be an entrepreneur? Are you sure? Can you discipline your mind and your life so as to create the capacity for perseverance and focus that will be required?

I believe in you. I know you can do it. And, I’m backing up my belief by offering you my DISCIPLINE STRATEGY ® training course free.  But I warn you – this is a lot of material. You will have to work and think. You will have to apply the lessons to your own life, make some major decisions, and walk through each step in the DISCIPLINE process to learn how life change and success are created. I know you can do it. Below is the link to a free coupon for the course. This is only available for a limited time. 

NOTE: Training offer has expired. Please visit the Book page on this site for information about the release of the DISCIPLINE STRATEGY book.