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The Wrong Reason To Become An Entrepreneur

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I don’t have the statistics pertaining to this, but I have a strong impression that many people dream about starting their own business, and many who do have this particular daydream are inspired to consider what this life would be like because they don’t like their boss. Or maybe they don’t like working for someone else in general.

All the late-night infomercials and spammy or scammy websites promising riches with tantalizing come-ons like “Work from home!” and “Be your own boss!” certainly point to the idea that there’s an innate desire to storm out of the boss’s office, slamming the door on the way out, with a huge grin on one’s face as one sticks it to The Man. Commercials like this appear on late night for an obvious reason: insomniacs and others staying up late at night are tired and more susceptible to misguided, illogical, or poorly reasoned suggestions.

I can’t criticize either the entrepreneurial spirit nor the process of meeting with one’s boss and handing her a craftily worded letter of resignation. I left my corporate job to work for myself.

Although I’ve known for a long time that I don’t mindlessly bend to authoritative figures, particularly those whose awarding of authority is based on something I consider unworthy, this wasn’t my particular driver for forming a business. I came upon my business by accident, spending almost all of my waking free time in a manner most would consider a waste of that time. It wasn’t a business at first; I wasn’t trying to make money. It just worked out that way, and I was able to fit that into my worldview wherein I don’t particularly care for working for others.

This in itself is the wrong reason to become an entrepreneur. But what does it mean when someone says he doesn’t like working for other people? It has to be a combination of the following:

  • The lack of autonomy.
  • Having responsibility without authority.
  • Being part of a system that is not a meritocracy.
  • Superiors who don’t have either the knowledge their position should entail or the people skills required in management.
  • The lack of advancement opportunities.
  • The lack of compensation growth opportunities other than incremental.
  • A certain level of anti-social tendencies.
  • The disdain for adhering to someone else’s schedule.

Perhaps this clip from the Coen brothers’ film The Hudsucker Proxy, wherein a green hire at the bottom of the ladder of a nebulous corporation receives his orientation in the mail room, epitomizes why working for a corporation can be anathema to so many people who have a mind tuned towards independent thinking and humane treatment of other people. Be sure to watch the entire excerpt.

There’s bad news for those whose sole reason for starting a business comes from the attitudes towards working described above. None of these attitudes would be beneficial to anyone, whether working for another individual or working for oneself, and if you disdain these types of situations in a corporate situation, working for yourself isn’t going to be that much better from a psychological standpoint — but maybe you’ll have more of the benefits for yourself, outweighing the potential annoyances.

An entrepreneur has more bosses than any other type of worker.

You can call yourself President, Chief Executive Officer, Owner, or Grand Poobah. Titles like these give the impression you answer to nobody else. The buck stops here, with you. They may well be accurate titles, too — well, except for the meaningless “Grand Poobah.” Those titles work best when you have other people working for you; without someone to order around, there’s really no point in having any title anyway. They imply you’re the boss, not to be trifled with, and they tell the world that you make the rules.

You don’t. If you want to own your own business, whether you hire people to help you or not, you have many bosses you’ll need to answer to. Your entire job will be based around making someone happy, or else your business won’t last long, and your days as an entrepreneur will be numbered.

Your new bosses could include your customers, your clients, your Board of Directors, market conditions, your shareholders, your private investors, and government regulators. They might not be telling you what time you need to open your email in the morning, but you’ll need to listen to their feedback and understand their needs in order to have a successful business. In many cases, the combinations of new bosses will be more demanding that have higher expectations than your former corporate boss in the corner office or the larger cubicle ever was.

If your new venture creates products and services — and what business doesn’t, in some form — you need to listen to your customers. In fact, doing so might alter the mission.

Personal finance start-up Budgetable started as a way to help customers create and stick to spending plans, but after determining that their customers were more interested in finding coupons and saving money through spending rather than actually saving — or determining that this is the more profitable route — they changes their focus towards finding the latest deals. I don’t know if this is a great example of listening to one’s customers, as it seems more like the customers they initially had weren’t profitable and turned towards those who are, but if you believe the press releases, they needed to listen to their customers.

Customers provide feedback in many ways — sometimes it’s as simple as refusing to buy the product, but a good entrepreneur can perform the research and adjust to the needs of their customers. This is best done by firmly believing that the customer, while perhaps not always right, is always the boss. Sometimes you have to convince the boss he’s wrong, and that can be a daunting task, but if you don’t listen to your customers as if they were making the rules, you won’t have your business for long.

If you create your business as a consulting firm or as an organization that provides some kind of service to other businesses, you have clients. The clients are your customers, and the same rules apply. It’s just a question of terminology.

Depending on how your business is organized, as an entrepreneur, consider yourself employed by your Board of Directors, investors, or shareholders. If you do not meet the expectations in your role as C.E.O., they will kick you out and replace you with someone who does listen to their demands. They may not care whether you work regular hours, but if you don’t like working regular hours and your stakeholders are doing their jobs, their expectations of you will be high enough that you’ll need to manage your time well.

Every successful entrepreneur I’ve known has put more time in than one might consider required. Those who put in extra effort and time in a corporate job answering to someone else are more likely to have the work ethic required to excel as a business owner. “Nine to five” as a concept for getting work done doesn’t exist when you own your own business. It may just be a question of motivation. You may hate being asked to work overtime when you don’t see the benefits (other than overtime pay), but working for yourself, you may be more willing to put in extra time. But in my experience, the best attitudes for successful business ownership carry over into other aspects of life, like working for other people.

It takes a special passion to be successful starting a business. You have to be ready to make a commitment and ready to prioritize the needs of that business. The needs of the business relate directly to the needs of the new bosses, the customers, clients, and investors, as mentioned herein. The same traits that prevent a person from overachieving while working for some other company might cause problems when that same person decides to become an entrepreneur. Many of the same skills that allow a worker to impress others in a corporate setting will translate well to owning a business.

It’s a myth that people who can’t function well in corporate settings due to the lack of desire to work for others have what it takes to be successful entrepreneurs. There are exceptions, of course; I know a good number of bloggers, for example, who were able to quit their day jobs, but in the grand scheme, that is very rare. Starting your own business won’t necessarily help you excel if you are unsuccessful in a corporate setting.

Photo: Flickr

Updated February 5, 2013 and originally published January 31, 2013.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

If you’re ditching corporate America and starting your own business just because you don’t like having a boss, I agree, you have another thing coming. Customers are who you work for and sometimes they can be bosses. The good news is, you can fire customers (nicely of course) and still have your business and other customers (hopefully). This freedom doesn’t exist with just one customer (your boss).

I’m wanting to start a business and this obviously makes me question my motivations. I think it’s a combination of many. I want to be my own boss. I want to diversify my income sources so that one person can’t make a decision to change my life. I also want to work on what I’m passionate about instead of what my boss wants me to. I want to build a business around my life instead of building my life around my job. I also want to work my butt off. I understand how long and hard you must work for little to no money to get a business going. I’ve been working at it for a year now and have nothing to show for it but some website traffic and a lot of hard work.

I still want this either way though. It’s super important to me and I’m not giving up. I think there are some of us out there like this, but many others are in it for only one or two of the reasons you mentioned.

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avatar 2 Ceecee

Having tried a very small business, I recommend that you have a good savings account before making any attempt at this. The money may not roll in at the outset, and it’s hard to get used to changeable amounts of income. Also, the part I hated the most was doing my taxes, as I did not make enough money in order to pay someone to do them for me. You have to not only be good at whatever the business is, you have to be good with numbers.

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avatar 3 Luke Landes

That’s a great tip, Ceecee. Best to have a plan, including a cash cushion, before venturing out with an unsure source of income.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

side comment: I think the primary reason infomercials show up in the middle of the night is that is when there is cheap airtime to fill. They don’t show in prime time because thats expensive airtime.

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avatar 5 Luke Landes

That’s very true. Buying a half hour spot during the day would be practically impossible.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

Love it. I have seen quite a few people quit their jobs to become their own boss only to be slapped in the face by the reality of it all, the time it takes, how many other ‘bosses’ you now have, how much responsibility there is and for some the stress of not having a regular pay check nearly killed them.

I think a cash cushion is great. In Australia we get a lot of holidays/annual leave/long service leave, so some people build this up and can take 3 – 6 months paid while they set up their business or see if they like working for themselves.

I love being self employed and would struggle severely to be properly employed unless it was a very flexible job that I loved. I laugh when people tell me how lucky I am, with no concept of the work I have put in to be able to do what I love. I don’t think most people are cut out for it though.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

The only people who think owning a small business is easy are the ones who haven’t tried it.

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avatar 8 Donna Freedman

This +++. Sometimes it is devilishly hard to be an entrepreneur. After all, what are you gonna do, fire yourself? ;-)
If the money doesn’t roll in, if you get tired of stumping for assignments/sales, if you can’t deal with taxes and business paperwork…Well, too bad. You’re the only person to do it, unless you can rope a spouse or partner into helping.
And if you fail? No unemployment to tide you over until you get another job.
That said, I like working for myself. Most of the time.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

My biggest reason for wanting to become an entrepreneur is because I am sick and tired of being forced to deal with other people’s poor decisions because I’m being “paid to do it.” If I have to live with a poor choice, I want it to be my own.

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avatar 10 Luke Landes

Great point. I can tell you I’ve had to live with some poor choices on my part regarding my business, and it has not been easy.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I’ve had all sorts of self-employed jobs–from novel-writing to web design to dance instruction to tutoring to nonfiction/how-to writing–and there’s another angle to the “don’t want to work for someone else” thing: Kids!

I’m a homeschooler of 2 (almost 3!), and working outside of the home on someone else’s schedule is very difficult.

In addition, for people with chronic and at times debilitating health issues (also me….) working from home can allow you the freedom to take care of yourself and still make ends meet. If I’m in so much pain I can’t get out of bed, I can still get a couple of pages hammered out, minimum. And if I’m doing “okay,” being able to get a day’s worth of work done whenever during the day makes a huge difference, too.

Biggest things that stink: Variable income and taxes. :)

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