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How to Figure Out If Entrepreneurship Is for You

Most advice for aspiring business owners on whether they're cut out for entrepreneurship is nonsense, claims one founder, who offers alternative guidance.
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Just about everyone dreams of being an entrepreneur at some point, and why not? The attractions are obvious – the independence, flexibility, passion and pride of starting your own business sound great.

But, of course, not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurship. Some lack the dedication, others the work ethic, still others the tolerance for risk or financial insecurity. 

So if you have entrepreneurial dreams but are unsure about whether you should pursue them, how should you go about deciding whether to take the leap?

It's 2012, so probably your first stop would be Google, and lo and behold, the internet certainly as always has plenty of advice to offer (including, of course, from here at Inc.). But, be warned, it's mostly crap, according to founder R.C. Thornton, who recently took to his blog Decoding Startups to argue that most on the guidance out there on how to decide whether to start your own business is nonsense.

Most advice on the topic, he writes, amounts to general questions about your interests and character. Things like:

Are you “unfazed” by risk?

Are you a “decision maker”?

Is it your “dream business” and your “passion”?

Unfortunately, answering yes to these questions is a pretty poor guide to whether you should actually take the plunge, according to Thornton.

"I’m pretty sure literally everybody is 'passionate' about starting their 'dream business'…but why is it that only some small fraction of people are actually able to do so successfully?" he asks. "In my more excitable, pre-entrepreneurship days, I would have answered an emphatic 'YES!' to all of the questions mentioned above.  Little did I know that my answer there had zero impact in my ability to succeed–or fail–in entrepreneurship."

So assuming Thornton's right and the Cosmopolitan personality quiz approach to figuring our whether entrepreneurship is a good fit for you is unlikely to yield much in the way of real insight, what approach should we use instead? He suggests a more hands-on decision-making process:

1. Try entrepreneurship on a small scale instead of just speculating about it. Just start on a small scale: get some alone time in between classes or during lunch and brainstorm some business ideas and set a plan to get business idea feedback.  Give yourself a few weeks to solicit feedback and refine your idea. After you’re done… did you like doing that?  Going up and talking to people?  Validating business ideas?  Constructing business models? I imagine you’ll not only learn more about yourself in your three weeks of doing this than you learned in the last year. 

2. Go figure out what entrepreneurs in your field of interest actually do, and see if you like doing those things (and if you can do those things). Let’s say your business of choice is web development. Go out and talk to some freelance web developers. Ask, “what do you do?”…”how do you make money (get clients)?” The goal here is to see not only what the specific craft needed is (in this case, web development), but also how the business is built (where do the customers come from?).

3. Make a decision based on your research. So, for example, you interview a few web developers, and you conclude that they do a lot of programming (duh) (this is the part you like)…but they also have to attend a lot of courses on web development (you like this), they have to do a lot of sales (you don’t like this) and presentations (you loathe presentations), and they have to be good at customer support (you aren’t very good at this). Now that you essentially know what’s involved in this entrepreneurial venture, what are you going to do?

Check out the complete post for much more detail on each of these steps. Or, if you're looking for more voices backing up Thornton's point, how about this pithy recent blog post from marketing guru Seth Godin that argues, "studying entrepreneurship without doing it is like studying the appreciation of music without listening to it."

Do you agree that the only way to know if you're really cut out for entrepreneurship is to actually give it a try?

 

Last updated: Mar 27, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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