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OWNER'S MANUAL

The One Question Every Entrepreneur Asks

Sooner or later every entrepreneur, no matter what industry, wants to know the same thing.
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I'm a guest on a radio show and everything is going swimmingly--in my case "swimmingly" means I haven't said anything that caused me to cringe--when the host says, "One last question."

Cool, I thought, already patting myself on the back. That went really well.

"You've talked to hundreds of entrepreneurs," she continues. "So tell me: What one question does every entrepreneur ask him or herself?"

Crap. One? I quickly rifled through my mental file cards. What is the real problem I will solve, maybe? How can I delight customers? Is there a viable market? Ugh. All I could think of were clichés.

So I punted, stammering through something goofy like, "Since every individual is unique then every person asks different questions so there could never be just one single question every entrepreneur asks him or herself..." and what had been a decent appearance staggered to a painful close.

I thought about it for the next few days. Is there one question every entrepreneur asks?

Finally it hit me.

Success--no matter what the endeavor--is difficult to achieve. We all fail sometimes. When we do, it's easy to feel down, and in our (however momentary) self-pity ask ourselves questions like, "Why doesn't my boss recognize my unique talents?" "Why don't I ever get the opportunities other people get?" "Why aren't my friends more supportive?" "Why can't I ever catch a break?"

In short: "Why me?"

Every entrepreneur asks him or herself a different question:

"Why not me?"

Entrepreneurs will start a restaurant in the same location where five other restaurants have gone out of business; those other guys may not have succeeded--but why not me? Entrepreneurs will start a software company with nothing but an idea; sure, the competition has deep pockets and a huge market share--but why not me?

Entrepreneurs don't assume those wildly successful people possess special talents or some gift from the gods. Entrepreneurs look at successful people and think, "That's awesome. Why not me?"

By asking that question, entrepreneurs embrace belief and ignore self-doubt. They put aside any feelings that they might not be smart enough, or experienced enough, or adaptable enough.

Every entrepreneur at some point looks in the mirror and says, "Sure, lots of other people don't succeed..." and then turns the question into a bold statement, "But why not me."

Because entrepreneurs believe in themselves.

IMAGE: Kaytee Riek/Flickr
Last updated: Oct 11, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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