Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to be a Ninja Mouse.

With all the hoop-la these days about being an entrepreneur, we are glamorizing the concept to the point of not telling the truth. So here it is.

An entrepreneur is an owner or manager of a business who makes money through risk and / or initiative. Being an entrepreneur is frightening, lonely and risky. There are real life changing opportunities and risks at hand when one embarks on a new business venture.

But still we forge ahead, fueled by that feeling deep within our gut that calls out to us to be . . . . .  

The entrepreneur's quest is always inspiring. We aspire to be financially successful, unique, innovative, creative and doing work that is meaningful and worthwhile.  Magazines articles about real life entrepreneurs tell stories about people who followed their love and found success.  

Nobody aspires to be poor, mediocre, same old, same old, stuck in a run, trapped in a job you hate, and bored to death.  But somewhere along the way, that is exactly what can happen, and this once inspiring adventure becomes a ball and chain. Sometimes we exhaust our personal resources, burn out, or bail out.  

Statistics say that 80% of small business owners give up within 5 years.  I can see that. Even in a well established corporation, five years is a long time. For the entrepreneur, that can mean five years of dipping into family time and money, working long days and nights juggling managing, creating, delivering, marketing, and innovating.  

So how do the successful entrepreneurs do it?  How do they move from mice to elephants?  How did Bill Gates go from a computer lab being one of the richest people in the world? How did Mark Zuckerberg know that Facebook would revolutionize the way we interact?  

Both of these super ninja entrepreneurs were essentially at the right place at  the right time, with the right idea and the right support. 

Using the analogy of mice and elephants to compare small business to big business, mice are nimble and can move like ninjas, where as elephants are not. Mice can turn on a dime; elephants, not so much.  

But mice and elephants both require the same skill sets to be successful.  The difference is that elephants have the resources at hand, and mice tend not to.  

For example, every business needs expertise in accounting, technology, marketing, strategy, communications, human resources and operations. In a large corporation, this combination of skills comprises most executive teams. 

The challenge for mice is to be resourceful to take advantage of their ninja-like capabilities. There is no rest for us if we are carrying the weight and responsibility of a large organization without the resources. Eventually we become exhausted, frustrated and paralyzed. As one of my readers put it, "I feel like the elephant, and I can't move". 

We tell ourselves stories that keep us going and we read Inc. Magazine relentlessly studying great entrepreneurs and wonder what's wrong with us. When we feel like we are sinking, we quote what I call entrepreneur dogma: "I would rather work 20 hours a day for myself than 20 hours a day for someone else", and "I am investing in my future", and my favorite, "but I am free".  

We are the architects of our own misery when we do not tell the truth about what is keeping us up at night.   

The truth is, we are afraid because of what's at risk. There. I said it.  Fear of losing everything. Fear of failure. Fear of others perceiving us as failures.  The good news is, these fears are legitimate and possible for businesses of all sizes and types, so why not talk about it? What keeps us trapped in this spin cycle?

Brutal honesty is the only way.  Failure is imminent when we go into business with our eyes shut.  Anyone who says differently is not being honest.  Understanding risk is about seeing the road ahead in 2020. 

As an extrovert, it has been my experience that starting a business is L.O.N.E.L.Y.  I believe we spend too much time alone and in our own heads, so we are not in the practice of talking about these issues. We work out of home offices, telling ourselves we need to keep the overhead low.  As a result, we don't ask for help, nor do we have the network of helpers that those working in corporate settings do.  So we sit alone on our island and wait for our ship to come in. But that only happens in the movies. 

I believe that there are some things we, the mice, can do to overcome the perils and become the ninja mice that we are deep down inside:  
  • First, we need to create a community of our own, where people of common values and complimentary skill sets can work together  and help each other. 
  • Second, we need to get out of our home offices and share professional space and management services so that we can focus on the real work on creating something that adds value to the lives of people such that they will part with their time and /or money to have it. 
  • Third, we need to take time to incubate the idea instead of jumping to execution and working like a dog to keep up before we know where we are going. 
  • Fourth, we need to create a plan that will take us to that place and allow ourselves to explore that which does not yet exist. 
  • Fifth, we need to evolve our ideas and grow in a managed way as mice, not elephants.  

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