There is no such thing as a “self-made” business owner. The mere notion of a self-made person—someone who came from nothing, had a great idea, exploited it completely on his own, and now has everything—is mostly an American myth.
Certainly, successful entrepreneurs and business owners are smart, opportunistic, perceptive and adept at assimilating information. Yet in mentoring many of them for over 40 years, and having been an entrepreneur myself for so long, I can say with confidence that none succeeded on their own. Instead, everyone had an “MBA” – mentor, confidant, and advocate.
So if you’re about to strike out on your own, know that you’ll also need an MBA. Why over here
I give at least 80 percent of my success to two great gurus – my father and my elder brother. My father was a lawyer and a judge. Before his untimely demise, at the age of 60, when I was just a teenager, I had the privilege of seeing him at work.
On the bench, my father never failed to deliver common sense justice. Whether he was sunbathing naked or a shopkeeper, he did justice in equal proportion, always balancing the law with everyday reason. Similarly, in his legal practice, he was relentless in serving people, whether they were “paying customers” (as he called them) or not. I have heard him say countless times that if a client asked him to push a nickel across town with his nose, he would do the same.
I learned many invaluable lessons from my father’s guidance and living example—most notably, the value of justice, fairness, common sense, service, and hard, tireless work. His morals and ideals, in fact, became part of my own DNA.
My brother, Mike, 13 years older and also a lawyer, became my mentor after our father’s death. His mentoring style, while rooted in love, was heavy-handed, with a drill sergeant-like accuracy (and usually salty language to match). When I was in college, our phone calls often ended like this: “You want to go to law school? You’d better do your own thing.” [expletive] grade up. ”
Mike was the managing partner of a large Cincinnati law firm. His efficient handling of his harsh corporate clients as well as his skillful intervention of the business personalities of his partners make his advice and advice incredibly valuable.
I spoke to Mike almost daily, from starting his accounting practice in 1984 until his death, in 2001 at 58. And to this day, not a week goes by that I don’t find myself repeating his mantra: “Nothing defies logic in business.”
So if you don’t already have a mentor in mind, start looking for one today. Find someone who is probably older, who is experienced and successful, and who you trust and respect. Also, look for a truth teller. You want someone unafraid to give it straight to you.
“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just like you. You are all learners, doers and teachers.” Huh.” – Richard Bacho
Becoming a successful entrepreneur requires taking your customers and prospects on a journey that, over time, building stable relationships, and earning trust, results in them becoming believers. But you can’t do that without believing in yourself first – your talents and abilities, your product or service, your values, and more.
However, it can be tough in the beginning, as you lack a solid track record to point people to. This means that you have to tell a story that will allay their doubts or uneasiness. And to re-spin this thread, you really have to buy it yourself. If not, why else?
It may sound counterintuitive, but when I first started my accounting practice, I found it a lot easier than it was later—when I built a more established firm to tell my story. Although really concise and clunky, it worked. In fact, I doubled my earnings in my second year itself.
So even though you are not a natural born salesperson, and some are, you need to be able to tell your story and “sell” yourself in order to make believers. The good news is that it’s easier than you think, especially if you don’t over-analyze things, keep it real, and go out of your way.
Believers may be great, but advocates are even better. Furthermore, when you nurture and serve your believers well, they almost always turn out to be supporters. Seeing that their faith in you was rewarded, they enjoy converting others to faith as well. This kind of evangelism often turbocharges a new business, resulting in so-called hockey-stick development, where revenue grows exponentially in a hockey stick-shaped curve.
Now, if all this talking about mentors, believers, and advocates sounds like too much work, no problem. Maybe hitting on yourself isn’t for you. In fact, I have come to find that some people can be great agents, but they are not ready to be principals. Similarly, the opposite is also true: great principles usually make for poor agents. Consider a longtime client of mine, who I’ll call Tim.
a free-range entrepreneur
For background, Tim had run his own, successful advertising agency for nearly 20 years. But due to a combination of challenges in the business and what he thought was a great outside opportunity, he was tempted to take an executive-level position at a big-time, publicly held company.
Tim began working at his new company at a corporate retreat at The Greenbrier, a renowned luxury resort located in West Virginia. He even traveled with the company’s CEO, in the CEO’s top-of-the-line Mercedes, with only two of them.
According to Tim, The Greenbrier’s five-hour ride went swimmingly. The CEO repeatedly praised Tim’s experience and entrepreneurial dazzle, remarking repeatedly that he was the perfect person to lead the company’s marketing and advertising teams through some significant new initiatives. Suffice it to say, Tim was like a kid on the sugar rush. And – spoiler alert – that’s exactly what it turned out to be. His shocking high was short-lived, with a “crash” in mere hours.
After a brief afternoon session, the executive team gathered for dinner, followed by cocktails and cigars in a private courtyard. It was then that Tim saw an entirely different side to the CEO, behaving more like a long-reigning king (Louis XIV came to mind) than a collegial corporate leader. Worse, other executions followed along, acting like the boss’s tools, without brains or backbone. The longer the evening went on, the more frightened Tim became. If there ever was one, it was a visceral punch.
Later, Tim told me that he had effectively stepped down at the time. However, he did manage to show off and dutifully lead his team in what would become a long and excruciating 18 months under the CEO.
Tim’s lesson, while painful, was that it was nearly impossible for him to execute someone else’s demands and instructions, let alone acting on his whims. As he puts it, he is “a free-range entrepreneur”. Yes, he landed a perfect job with a big title, lavish salary and perks, and the cachet of working for a well-known, NYSE-listed company. But the fact was that he could not force himself to perform on demand.
To be clear, being an agent or principal is neither good nor bad. Yet one thing is certain, the membrane between the two is much more impermeable. Thus, before taking the leap into entrepreneurship, make sure to consider your personality, temperament and optimal working style.
All this to say, if you are feeling ready to become an entrepreneur or business owner, remember that you will need an MBA. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the “self-made” people who came before you.