Risk. I don't care for it. Never have. And yet, here I am, an entrepreneur. As it turns out, every dictionary definition of the word entrepreneur and its awkward variants — neither entrepreneurship or entrepreneurialism exactly rolls off the tongue — cites risk. If you don't believe me, ask Merriam-Webster.com:
Main Entry: en∑tre∑pre∑neur
Etymology: French, from Old French, from entreprendre to undertake — more at ENTERPRISE : one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise
" ... assumes the risks of a business ... " Nothing about being your own boss, working your own hours or keeping all the money, just "assumes the risks of a business."
How, you might wonder, did a risk-averse gal like me find herself assuming the risks of a business?
My father, as an attorney in private practice, has been an entrepreneur most of his life, and despite the requisite ups and downs, a successful one.
My father always urged us to be our own bosses. Today, no one is the boss of us.The sole breadwinner, he supported a family of six, four of whom he put through college. As one might expect, Dad has offered up some good advice over the years. In addition to "You can't argue with a crazy man" and "Never put your face that close to a dog's mouth," he always urged us to be our own bosses. Today, no one is the boss of us.
Still, I long defied his advice; I've wasted a lot of time arguing with crazy men (and women). I still spend the occasional interval cheek-to-cheek with an irresistible canine. And despite my father's positive example, I spent many years unable to imagine being my own boss.
That is until I got laid off. For the second time. I did not jump into the world of entrepreneurship; I was pushed. I was downsized twice by the gaping maw that is the Universal Music Group. First it swallowed Geffen Records, where I was the publicity editor, then it swallowed DreamWorks Records, where I was the publicity editor. And I can't say I wasn't warned. Shortly after my position was created for me at Geffen, a wise man I'll call Roy Trakin said to me, "I was a publicity editor at a major label, but then I got laid off. They did hire me back, but then I got laid off again."
(Of course, by all rights I should spend years in therapy determining why someone as risk-averse as I would chose to become a writer, consigning myself to a largely freelance life, but we'll save that for the special headshrinking edition of "Editorializing").
My understanding had always been that the particulars of the to-be-or-not-to-be-an-entrepreneur equation are freedom and security. The entrepreneur chooses freedom; the employee chooses security. Now freedom is all well and good, but security had always been my drug of choice.
What that second lay-off taught me, however, is that security is an illusion. Sure, the record business is struggling to carve a niche for itself in the post-CD era. But Citigroup recently found itself bracing for a massive restructuring that could trim as many as 15,000 jobs, and as far as I know, we are not in a post-financial services era. Is any industry immune from this menace? Do you expect to receive a gold watch when you retire after 25 years with your current employer?
So, instead of taking another job from which I could be laid off, I decided to start my own company. When I apprised my boyfriend (now my husband) of this plan, he asked if I were looking for a partner (he, too, had been laid off from a well-paying, benefits-conferring music-industry job). Thus Editorial Emergency was born.
His emergence as my co-entrepreneur has been critical to the success of our business. We are a team. Partnership is not for everyone, of course, but every entrepreneur needs a team. Our extended team consists of a bookkeeper, an accountant, a financial advisor, an IT guy (see "IT Guy Tells All"), a graphic designer, and various volunteer marketing, publicity, sales and business-development consultants, bless their hearts.
As my partner recently wrote,
You know how to write. But do you know how to write persuasively? Do you have the perspective required to write a compelling story about yourself and your business?on behalf of a client who'd enlisted him to craft some re-branding copy, "Stop wearing so many hats; all you need to wear is your strong suit." In fact, much of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing how to delegate. We could keep our own books, but each hour we spend working on our books is an hour we cannot spend working for our clients. Our bookkeeper handles our accounts much more efficiently than we ever did, and her hourly fee is less than ours. A successful entrepreneur must constantly ask herself, how much is my time worth? When you do the math, we are saving money — and a world of hurt — entrusting our books to this incredibly valuable member of our team.
It's no different with your promotional materials. You almost certainly graduated from high school and likely from college. You know how to write. But do you know how to write persuasively? Do you have the perspective required to write a compelling story about yourself and your business? Do you understand the call to action and how to convey it so that your customer takes that action? Do you have the time to write effective, stylish, attention-getting content for your Web site, your company bio, your corporate communications, your ads, your pitches, your brochures, your newsletters? How much time is that? How much of that time could you be spending doing what you love, exercising your creativity, making money?
Editorial Emergency is an entrepreneurial enterprise. We assume the financial risks of the business, but because we have a team of gifted, motivated, professional people at our side, the risk feels manageable.
More importantly, taking this risk daily for something we love dearly feels right, feels like our mission on this planet. Paying our mortgage is a reason to take this risk, but helping our clients is our raison d'√™tre.
Decades into my working life, I still found myself wondering what I should be when I grew up. At times, this uncertainty took on the gravity of an existential crisis. That fundamental problem was solved the day my partner and I put out the Editorial Emergency shingle. I no longer wonder what I should be — I am an entrepreneur.