What do you think of when you hear the word “entrepreneur?” It’s probably reasonable to say that most people associate entrepreneurs with business ownership.
A dictionary definition.
Many dictionary definitions make that implication as well. I believe just about anyone can be an entrepreneur. You may even be an entrepreneur while you're working as an employee for someone else’s business. In fact, I created one of my most rewarding entrepreneurial ventures while someone else was signing my paycheck. It’s an experience that helped shape my future and one I still value as a platform for developing my Skills of Business.
Do you have work/life balance?
I had been employed for about three years as the engineering director at a large manufacturing firm. It was a good paying job, but it was burning out my entire team from crazy long hours and insufficient resources at our disposal. The business model was chaos, but it didn’t seem to faze the top-level leadership. The higher ups priorities were elsewhere, which I accepted as their prerogative, but I couldn’t see maintaining the status quo for me. The situation had created an unacceptable life balance and my health was at risk.
What advice would you give for this situation?
I was ready to make a career change when a good friend and successful businessman shared a piece of pivotal advice. He encouraged me to develop a comprehensive plan for my area of responsibility within the business and present it to the top-level leaders. The idea was to show them a better way to organize and utilize our valuable human capital assets as well as establish superior communications, systems, facilities, and organization that would optimize our performance.
I began to see this advice as an opportunity to break through barriers of our current situation. I was hopeful I could make an impact to our business size, value, position, and importance. Looking back at it now, I was formulating a vision much like every entrepreneur should do if they expect to have clear direction and purpose for their business.
I made a firm decision and commitment to create a strategy for real change to the approach and achieve the success we deserved. My first step was to establish the specific goals and objectives that I wanted my team and I to accomplish. Not having done something like that before, it was an exciting process that seemed to flow quite naturally.
I suppose my methodical engineering mentality help me derive clear goals and objectives by quantifying my vision for the future. I’ve since learned that our business goals and objectives are often monetary, but in this case, they were more about the structure I wanted, facilities and resources I needed, and performance I expected to attain.
The second step was to develop the plan of attack. I knew what the destination was from my goal setting exercise, so planning would define the path we would take to get there. It didn’t take very long to realize planning in a vacuum was not ideal.
Having my team participate generated a lot of great ideas by leveraging their valuable knowledge and experiences. On top of that, I noticed my team was enthusiastically buying into the plan they helped to create. I learned that a plan backed by team support is meaningful and effective.
A compelling pitch.
The next order of business was to prepare and deliver a compelling pitch to the powers that be. The intent was to get their acceptance of the plan and approval to proceed. Of course, the most challenging part was going to be authorization for funding to hire new people, to buy assets, and for other critical expenses that would make the plan succeed. I knew the pitch was going to have to convey a low risk investment with a very high yield return if I was going to be taken seriously.
My compelling pitch was constructed in a narrative format, very much like I would prepare for a potential investor. The idea was to engage my audience with a captivating opportunity and convey a realistic business strategy.
I laid out the big idea of my plan and why it was necessary if we were to excel in our market. My pitch was specific with the current problems my team faced and the proposed solutions that would benefit our entire organization. Of course, the financial impact was spelled out in clear black and white terms with a return on investment that represented huge value for the stakeholders.
I closed my pitch with a clear vision of what the exciting future of our business could be if my plan was implemented. By the time it was done, my confidence was soaring and I was totally prepared to share what was sure to be a game changing approach.
A hard reality set in when my strategy was shot down before I could even finish delivering the pitch presentation. The top-level leaders adamantly rejected any notion of investing money, let alone changing a scenario that was not their own idea. They didn’t want to consider another point of view and essentially squashed any further discussion on the matter.
It was a discouraging moment in my career, like what many entrepreneurs feel when they’re rejected by investors or lenders in their attempts to raise capital. I thought about reverting to my original plan of a career change, but this challenging experience brought out a new level of focus and determination.
I felt compelled to take a new course of action in pursuit of my goals. I became empowered with a sense of purpose, direction, and a reason to carry on.
My plan and pitch didn’t change, but my approach to selling it took a strategic turn. Fortunately, I had cultivated great relationships with my peers within our organization. These were mid-level management staff like myself that were as hard working and dedicated as they come. They wanted much the same for our company’s growth and success.
As I shared the details of my transformational plan with each of my colleagues, I received enthusiastic support. As momentum for my plan was building, so was the noise getting louder about the need to implement these positive changes. It was no longer just me trying to sell my ideas. It became a mission that core management team of our company believed in.
The power of shared teamwork.
With the power of our team united behind my plan, the mindset of our top-level leaders began shift. They took an interest in our ideas and engaged in constructive dialog about taking our business beyond the next level. To my surprise, they adopted my entire plan with a full funding commitment and support.
What I didn’t anticipate was the paradigm shift that occurred with the entire business culture. Changes were developed and improvements implemented just about everywhere in the organization. Almost immediately, our company began to experience exponential growth with extraordinary results.
Over the next three years, the company quadrupled its revenues, and they stayed on an upward trajectory long after I ventured out on my own.
Nothing learned is lost.
The knowledge and skills of business I acquired from that chapter of my career have been applied time and again as I’ve launched and built my own businesses. I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, but I was thinking and behaving like an entrepreneur as I performed my role as an employee of others. We all ended up winners and the personal value I gained can never be taken away.