The word entrepreneur tends to connote images of high-tech high-stakes endeavors. Shark Tank is perhaps the best example of this. But an entrepreneur is anyone trying to solve a particular problem with a novel solution. And that solution doesn't necessarily mean inventing a new robotics technology or AI software, nor does it have to require millions of dollars in funding.
In short: Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but not everyone starts their venture with an entrepreneurial mindset. At its core, the entrepreneurial mindset involves identifying an issue, building a team, and reaching out to prospects. These are things that every organization needs to accomplish.
I like to break this process down into three main questions:
- Who am I?
- Who will help me?
- How do I reach my people?
Thinking through these questions and determining what you know and don't know - that's the entrepreneurial mindset. These questions hold true whether you're launching a startup, founding a nonprofit, or building a campaign.
Who am I?
This is defining your business. It's like creating a business plan, but a lot shorter and a lot more direct.
Your objective is to identify the, as I like to say, "hair-on-fire problem." If someone's hair is on fire, a comb and styling gel are likely not their priority. They want a fire extinguisher or bucket of water - any immediate solution. Likewise, someone drowning is not going to care about the size or color of the lifeboat coming to save them. Now, they might care about those features after being hauled on board, but until then "not drowning" is the more urgent issue.
Describing what major problem you are trying to solve sounds like an obvious step. But we've worked with plenty of early entrepreneurs who found themselves struggling with production and outreach because they failed to understand the problem from the beginning. And when you don't know what you're trying to do, it becomes very hard to do it.
Then once you have the problem defined, the next step is to define your solution. What makes your service, product, or idea different from existing options? What's unique about you and your business?
Your answers will likely start as paragraphs. The better your understanding of the problem, your solution, and your business, the shorter and more concise the answer becomes. Strive to condense your answers down to one or two sentences. And know that your answers are likely to evolve as your venture progresses.
Who will help me?
There's a need for a certain level of objectivity in entrepreneurs. I love the passion I see when working with entrepreneurs, and their willingness to jump into new fields and learn new methods in order to further their cause. It's a fantastic quality that every entrepreneur should have, but knowing your limits as an individual is critical.
Think about where your time and energy are best spent. Know what are you willing to do and are capable of doing. And let me tell you, there are so many details that need to fall into place. Not every task is worth your effort. You should focus on the big picture issues. Everything else can be done by a team member.
A team member could be a co-founder, a direct employee, a subcontractor, or even an software (like QuickBooks for bookkeeping). A team member could also mean advisors. Maybe you attend a few webinars or talks to gain more insight. Maybe you create a marketing advisory board. Or maybe you join some entrepreneurial meetups to learn from people who have stood in your shoes.
However you choose to build your team, team members should have skill sets that complement yours; they should be prepared for the ups and downs of startup life, and their goals should align with yours.
How do I reach my people?
Or rather, how do you reach your customers - the people who need your solution most? This involves getting your message right and getting your message out.
Fundamentally, your message is the same as your answer to the earlier question, "who am I?" The message is ideally only one or two sentences. It's short enough to grab their attention and long enough to be convincing. It sounds like a simple exercise but perfecting your message or pitch can be difficult. And again, it's likely that your message will evolve and change alongside your understanding of the target audience.
Getting your message out and to the right people involves a bit of research. You want first to know where they go for information, who they listen to, and what they are doing. Websites tend to be the backbone of business communication, but they're not the only sources of information people use. If the people you aim to serve to prefer social media, then post your message on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. If they're asking questions on Reddit, post something there. Send emails, create newsletters, write blogs. Keep track of what gets hits and what doesn't.
I recognize that planning an online marketing campaign can be daunting, but the earlier you can get some kind of marketing in place, the earlier you can start testing your message, the more data you gain about your target customer, and the more efficient and effective your business becomes.
From talking with plenty of first-time entrepreneurs, I've noticed two major misconceptions to the entrepreneurial mindset:
- Non-profits and for-profits operate differently
Not everyone will agree with me, but I think that treating non-profit and for-profit organizations differently is a disservice to those organizations. Both have the same challenges, the same needs, the same tools, and similar methods. Regardless of the precise nature of your venture, you start by identifying a serious issue, building a team, and reaching out to prospects.
- I'm not capable of starting my own business
The feeling of inadequacy in the face of something new, commonly referred to as "imposter syndrome," is common among first-time entrepreneurs, especially women. If this sounds familiar, allow me to reassure you that none of us are ready to do anything. We all learn as we go! And being cognizant of the knowledge and experience you lack is actually an incredible strength. I think Avatar's Mo'at said it the best: "It is hard to fill a cup that is already full."
It's scary to decide to do your own thing and become an entrepreneur. But it's also a energizing and fulfilling experience. There will be ups and downs, just like everything else in life. Just remember that you are surrounded by other like-minded entrepreneurs and it’s a matter of finding your community and supporting team.