Why ‘entrepreneur’ has become a dirty word

I’ve been meaning to write this article for some time, but I’ve always held back through fear I wouldn’t be able to adequately convey my reasoning and simply look bitter. But sod it, let’s go for it anyway!

One of my specialist areas is consumer behaviour and trends. Particularly in the digital space. As such, I have taken a huge interest in the shift to the Millennial era and have been producing guides, articles and education on how to understand and market to this new breed of consumer. With the rise of Generation Z on the horizon I’ve already started weighing in with my view on how things will change again but not as dramatically as some of the market seems to think. While I have deep concerns for our futures given the trend towards unfounded senses of entitlement and a scary rise in general narcissistic cultural tendencies, what really bugs me is the overuse, misuse and general attitude that comes with the term ‘entrepreneur’.

Now, I’m a little younger than most people think, life working in media and on the rugby pitch, has left me prematurely aged and partly broken. But believe it or not I just about qualify as a Millennial myself. So, I do get it. The rapid innovation of technology I have witnessed in my life so far is inspiring. Tech innovators and business visionaries have become celebrities and millionaires practically overnight and we all have access to or use their creations on a near daily basis. I mean Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs have both had movies made about them. I understand the sense of optimism and I’m all for a bit of ‘the sky is the limit’ attitude but unfortunately, I think it’s gone too far and the wrong way.

I have never seen the term entrepreneur used so frequently and without consideration. I’m not going to go really old school and whip out the old Oxford dictionary on you but the term entrepreneur at its most basic refers to individuals who take financial risks on multiple endeavours of business for profit or to create radical change addressing a consumer or cultural issue.

So, no, that guy on your Instagram feed selling fake followers is not an entrepreneur. Miss Johnson from down the road who set up her own nail and beauty salon and drives a Range Rover, she isn’t an entrepreneur either. Now, in the same breath as the above and to try and combat the taste of bitterness I am no doubt creating at this point, that does not mean that these people are not successful in their own right. It doesn’t mean they’re not making good money either. All I am saying is that this does not make them an entrepreneur.

What is now happening is that there is a misguided stigma that entrepreneurs now include anyone with substantial wealth, anyone who has started a business and anyone who is able to live an enviable standard of life while doing minimal work for it. This morphed idea that to be an entrepreneur means running your business from a laptop in the Bahamas and telling everyone on social media that you’re doing it. And now that new view is what every other Millennial and certainly Generation Z era youngster is striving for.

It’s almost as if having a job, a real job, makes you some sort of failure. I think that might be the part of it all that gets to me the most. Working a job for a salary has become almost looked down on by modern society youngsters and they feel as if this belittles them. Having a boss to answer to is below them. Having to be at work for a certain time is too much hassle. Zuckerburg wears hoodies and flip flops to work and he’s a billionaire so why should I try? My friend just bought a new car from his Bit Coin investments on his smartphone, I’m going to quit my job and do that instead. The world has gone mad and the attitude that comes with it is a big concern for our future economy.

Let me lay some home truths on you. Being a successful businessman or woman to the level that most aspire to is about as likely as becoming a popstar. For every successful business you see, thousands have failed, costing their would-be creators a great deal of time and money in the process. Starting a business, a real business is hard. The reality is most business owners pay themselves less than the average person in that industry earns in the interest of growing their business. They also work double the hours and probably do more donkey work than some of their employees because quite frankly that’s what it takes. Earning less and working harder than the average job in the same industry.

There is an unfortunate stigma that passion and drive is all you need to be successful. It is not! You also need to be prepared to work and work on little pay for that matter. You also need the skills and the knowledge to support what ever your vision may be.

People ask me about or refer to me as being an entrepreneur from time to time, to which my usual reaction is “HELL NO!”. I run or take a major part in more than one business sure, I even have some of my own ecommerce brands but ultimately, I have a job. I am a director and strategist for a marketing agency. That is what I do, that is what I am good at and I suppose ultimately, it’s how I define myself professionally.

Now I didn’t walk into this. The move to running my own business and defining an agency brand I believed in came after 10 years working for some of the largest and most successful media agencies in the country. A combination of WPP and Omnicom agencies as well as a popular independent. I specialised in PPC and SEO at a time when big agencies were crying out for talent and I simply worked my way up through continuous on the job education adding display, mobile, RTB and ultimately social media to my roster of channel specialisms.

What’s more is that I had some superb mentors along my journey that taught me what it was to build and maintain client relationships. They also taught me what integrity and handling pressure in the work place meant. All skills I would never have acquired if I had decided I was too good to work for others and ventured out on my own too soon.

What’s more is that I still even after extensive training, mentoring, preparation and 10 years of refining my skillset, I still couldn’t face the idea of going it alone. There was still so much I didn’t know. Those who know me would soon tell you my general admin skills are severely lacking. I would have to look after client billing, tax records and somehow keep my cool when a member of my team calls in to say she can’t make it to work because there is no one at home to look after her cat (a story for another time).

So that’s where luck and opportunity meet to combine with all I had learned. The other director and original founder of Dakota, Rebecca, takes care of everything I cannot do. And she does a damn good job of it while in her own way still teaching me new things. Like patience! She completes me from that perspective and keeps me on track. Without her I’d crumble.

So, let’s recap. 10 years of varied experience in senior roles in some of the most innovative agencies in the country working on global brands. A series of valuable mentors and inspirations I was able to witness doing what they do first hand. And an invaluable business partner and friend is what it has taken for me to be able to achieve what I have done. Which when you look at the other individuals we have mentioned in this article, is pretty microscopic in comparison. My ‘passion and drive’ during this long journey has come and gone based on changing circumstances. It’s everything else that allowed me to take on something bigger as an individual. All skills and experiences I learned from being in a job.

Before you rush in to becoming an entrepreneur at the expense of a reliable income and the valuable learning experience that comes with being employed and having a job, give serious consideration to how ‘complete’ you feel you are as an individual and your ability to deal with all that it requires to be successful at what ever it is you’re striving for. Because all the passion and drive in the world isn’t going to guarantee you success if you don’t understand what it is to really work.

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