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Column: Tough, lonely and very risky – welcome to life as an entrepreneur

Unemployed people who start companies are branded “involuntary entrepreneurs” – but they should be hailed as heroes, writes business owner Peter Faulkner.

Peter Faulkner

OUR MEDIA ARE to be praised for the recent trend of highlighting the stories of new start-up businesses in these recessionary times. And they have tended to put a high emphasis on job losses being a major driving factor in the rate of start-ups.

I have heard of people who start a business because they can’t find a job being tagged as “involuntary entrepreneurs”. I am amazed that they could be held to be in some way suspect, as if of less-than-pure motivation. How can it be that because they joined the ranks as they had no other choice, they are perceived as some kind of conscript?

As a mere corporal of industry myself, I see them as the ultimate entrepreneurs, starting mostly from a sub-zero position financially and very often having had to overcome the devastation caused by the loss of their livelihood in the first place. Anyone who can dig themselves out from under this avalanche of doom and get to a creative and positive state of mind that allows them to even consider starting their own business probably always had the stuff in them to make it on their own.

Starting your own business can be for a huge variety of reasons. But no matter what the primary motivation, the fact that people do makes them heroes in my book. They are every bit as much to be admired and feted as some corporate whizz-kid who set up on his own. “Involuntary entrepreneurs” are the real deal, along with those other great heroes who have tried before, failed, and now pick themselves up and start again.

Much has been written as to the characteristics that make an entrepreneur. But the only common characteristic I can discern, after over forty years of observation since leaving school, is a commitment to hard work. I do not know anybody who has been successful without it. I know people who are successful and pretend not to work hard, but the truth is rather different – it is an act, just their way of dealing with the world.

‘The theme of that old movie, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, is shared by all owner-managers’

I spent many years involved with the SFA and was later one of the founders of ISME, nearly 20 years ago. Probably the greatest thing I learned during those years was to understand the theme of that old movie, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, is shared by those owner-managers who risk all to employ themselves and others.

Only others in the same position actually understand – not your family and not your friends, even those in high-powered jobs. It is often the loneliest place on the planet. You will have lots of worries that you do not want to share with or unburden upon your loved ones. The business and its attendant concerns are with you all your waking hours. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to manage, and primarily you must be able to manage yourself. You must constantly seek to find a rational balance between your business life and your wider life including your responsibilities to yourself and others who rely on you.

Time is every owner manager’s enemy; my own life motto was pinched from a New York taxi bumper sticker: “So many pedestrians, so little time.” But if I could proffer one piece of advice it would be this: Find a person to be your business confidant and make the time to talk with them. They must be absolutely trustworthy and have the real life experiences of business themselves to be able to understand your issues. Only someone like that can help you work through and deal with your issues and concerns. A great listener is best.

These are your issues and at the end of the day, it is you who must call the solution, you cannot subcontract decision making to anyone else. Having to explain a problem to somebody else compels you to explain it cogently, this very exercise will often yield the answer you seek.

I just wish that the right thing to do was not always the hardest option.

Peter Faulkner is chairman and owner of Faulkner Packaging, which was founded on Friday 14th September 1860. He lives in Dalkey and has three adult children. He is a former chairman of the SFA and was one of the founders of ISME. He was a member of the government Taskforce on Small Business. His sites include www.discountpackaging.iewww.snazzybags.com, www.snazzybags.co.uk,  www.faulkner.iewww.alububble.iewww.95kpabags.com, plus a bunch of micro sites.

Read more columns by Peter Faulkner on TheJournal.ie>

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