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The Entrepreneurial Difference

Who would ever have imagined that going door-to-door in my neighborhood selling figs from a bright orange shopping cart would have been my entrepreneurial beginnings? I surely did not. But, now that I look back and also look around me at other business owners, I see clearly that so many of the traits common to entrepreneurs are present at a very early age.

Think about your own childhood and youth. Did you sell lemonade in the front yard? Rake leaves or shovel snow for a few extra bucks from neighbors? A lot of us did.

Unfortunately, the drive and ambition associated with those youthful undertakings are often not developed or encouraged by our school systems, parents, and society as a whole.

For generations, people were raised to think that success required doing well in school, going to college, and pursuing a career with intentions of making a long-term commitment to a company. We see this in the older ranks of the baby boomer generation and our parents. Did your parents work for an employer for 20-plus years, whether they were happy and fulfilled or not?

Work often overshadowed any urge to go the independent route, since society often frowned at mavericks who followed their own path. Compound that negative stigma from a by-gone era with the fact that the 40-hour per week commitment to one's employer left little time to even turn a hobby into a part-time business or to express the entrepreneurial creativity in other ways. People just went to work.

Now don't get me wrong, many people pursued the entrepreneur's route in earlier generations, but not to the extent they are today. This trend is, in part, due to the fact that times have changed and companies no longer employ people from college to retirement nor do employees feel the loyalty to stay. It is not frowned upon to leave an employer after a year or two, as it was in the past. The trend can also be attributed to a growing desire to feel self fulfilled and enjoy life (including work), even though as a society we work many more hours per year than our European counterparts who recognize the importance of "holiday" or vacations (and even siestas).

For these two reasons, there is an epidemic of people starting businesses in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Women start 424 new enterprises every day. Nearly half (46%) of new female business owners fled corporate America for the freedom to set their own hours according to the Center for Women's Business Research. In addition, 65% of women who have started businesses in the past decade honed their skills from being managers in big corporations.

Now you may ask, what are these attributes that distinguish entrepreneurs from other people? While this is not scientific, it is based on years of interaction and observation with business people.

Entrepreneurs are courageous. As Julia Cameron expresses it in her book, The Artist's Way, "Leap and the net will appear." That's what entrepreneurs do. They trust and take calculated risks to start the business and then every day after that. This was my mantra when I was leaving my former employer after 17 years.

Entrepreneurs are passionate. They believe in what they are doing and pursue their vision with gusto. They immerse themselves fully into the project or idea.

Entrepreneurs are tenacious. A study of 1,165 self-made female millionaires over a three-year span shows "their defining characteristic to be perseverance," according to Thomas J. Stanley, author of the book Millionaire Woman Next Door: The Many Journeys of Successful American Businesswomen. He concedes that women are more goal-oriented and have had to work harder than men. Anyone who makes cold calls and adheres to a good follow-up program knows it takes tenacity and perseverance.

Entrepreneurs are visionary. The true entrepreneur sees a big picture?a goal at the end of the rainbow and then devises a plan to get there. They are proactive about conveying their vision and enrolling others in it.

Entrepreneurs are creative. The very nature of taking an idea and turning it into something of value requires creativity. Whether your idea is the development of a product, launch of a service business, or even the creation of an event or program for a non-profit, creativity is the root of all entrepreneurial efforts starting with the vision itself? all the way through the implementation.

So, are you an entrepreneur? If you've ever had a dream or an idea that you wanted to pursue with passion and are willing to take the action to make it real, I'd say you're off to the right start. Maybe you're an entrepreneur at heart and just never pursued your dream because you're scared? I encourage you to move toward your passion rather than let your fear rule you. I did when I quit my commercial real estate job after 17 years and I haven't looked back. In addition to the universe, there are people to support you such as your family, friends and coaches. If you have all of the other qualities, and only fear is holding you back, go for it. Remember, what's the worst that can happen? Believe in yourself and others will too.

Mary Ann Masur, CCIM, president of Synergy Consultants, LLC, is a professional coach, who brings 20 years of diverse business experience to organizations and individuals. She was one of Maryland's Top 100 Women in 2000. She can be reached at maryann@synergy-consultants.net or at 410-377-7323.

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