Who Do You Want to Be when You Grow Up?

When business people converse, the terms “small business owner” and “entrepreneur” are used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. Yet I discern two very different connotations. Is this a matter of semantics? Or is there an important distinction to be made?

According to government statistics, “small businesses” comprise the vast majority of enterprises across North America, most of which close their doors before their fifth anniversary. What is more interesting to me is that I have never seen a government study that discusses the flailing “entrepreneur.” Then again, perhaps the only people who write about entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs.

I have an admission to make. I expect less from a small business owner than I do from a self-proclaimed entrepreneur. Think about it this way: if you were just introduced to someone at a local networking event, and he asked what you do, which of the following answers are you most likely to give?

“Hi. My name is Joe. I’m a small business owner.”

OR

“Hi. My name is Joe. I’m an entrepreneur.”

The first statement feels a bit more comfortable, doesn’t it? The second one, however, conveys a forthrightness that seems to presuppose a certain level of professional achievement. It is too bad that so many “small business” people are reluctant to admit as much to themselves or to their colleagues.

Yet the presupposition of success-to know precisely what “success” looks like and then to act as if you have already arrived-is precisely what separates the boys from the men. While everyone around them is obsessing over interest rates; while their cohorts are fumbling over new legislation; while the competition is cutting prices hoping to win back customers; and while the world stands agog, entrepreneurs forge ahead as if such matters are but trite inconveniences. They can afford to do so because their professional endeavors were never predicated on the status quo in the first place.

I think there is an important lesson to be learned here. If you operate a “small business,” you must eventually decide who you are going to be as you walk in the world, as you sleep at night, as you transact with clients, and as you talk about what you do with your friends and family. For the world will reflect back to you whatever you expect it to. When you expect the status quo, you can do nothing but plan for and allocate resources to facilitate the status quo. You will become the quintessential, anonymous small business owner who eventually shuts his doors after discovering that the status quo generates about as much ROI as his last nine-to-five job.

So, who do you want to be when you grow up?

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