I’m not a natural business person. That may seem an odd, even risky, thing to admit to, but I don’t think it’s all that unusual among small business owners, especially sole traders. And it doesn’t mean I can’t learn to run a business.
It seems to me that two kinds of people start small businesses — those with a skill worth marketing, and those with marketing abilities looking for something to market. Of course, it’s not an absolute either/or, and most of us fall somewhere between, but I think we’re usually more one than the other.
I’m one of those with a skill worth marketing, like a 21st century equivalent of the independent village blacksmith. My purpose in setting up my business wasn’t to build a thriving enterprise which I could then sell for a substantial sum, but to make a living (an affluent living, of course) as master of my fate and captain of my soul, doing what I’m good at.
I came to this from a lifelong passion for writing, but many people take a skill they’ve become supremely good at in employment and set up to do it themselves. Whichever the route, there can be a steep learning curve developing the skills needed to be a business owner, but these are perfectly learnable. Lessons I’ve learnt have ranged from how to keep financial records to how to pitch my services to potential clients.
Entrepreneurs who start from the position of wanting to start a business, any business, may focus on something they have experience of, but many businesses are set up in response to seeing a gap in the market. You may know nothing about left-handed screwdrivers, but you have the business experience to set up and run a company that makes and sells them.
In the end, though, our entrepreneur can’t just look at left-handed screwdrivers as anonymous units. The days are gone when salesmen could sell without interest in their product. A good salesperson can sell anything, but only by conveying their belief in it. For the business to succeed, the owner will need to learn about the resource or the skill they’re marketing.
Ultimately, the skill-user and the entrepreneur come pretty close to meeting in the middle. Both bring certain aspects of what they need with them and have to work on learning others. Both work to achieve success. But some differences remain.
I don’t anticipate ever selling my business. After all, what’s there to sell? My asset is the quality and character of my own writing, and everything else supports that. Unless I learn to bottle what I do, I can’t pass it on. No doubt I’d get richer if I had chosen to develop something I could build and sell, but that simply isn’t who I am. I’m happy being independent and doing what I love. Everything else is learnable.
So what kind of business person are you?