Group of unidentifiable business people

I’ve read more media call-outs this week for entrepreneurs to share their secrets of success.  I realise now how dangerous these stories can be if they don’t present a balanced view of the life of a business owner.  Yes, hero stories have their place, but let’s keep them realistic.  Last year I was fortunate to cross paths with journo Tony Featherstone. Tony writes for the Sydney Morning Herald Small Business section and other related Fairfax media mastheads. Tony is an advocate of telling the truth about real entrepreneurship, and I was grateful to be able to share my story with him. Business writers are as guilty as women’s magazine editors who perpetuate the myth that real women are, in fact, stick figures. Too many business writers like to reinforce the ludicrous idea that entrepreneurship is about glamour and rewards unreachable to most. Move over Adam and Jamie, it’s time for me to bust a few entrepreneurial myths…

I would consider every small/medium business owner an entrepreneur. In fact, I would consider anyone who stands out and takes a risk in their chosen field to be an entrepreneur. Did you know that there are around two million small/medium business owners in this country? That’s two million entrepreneurs. How many of those do we get to read about in Australian popular media? About five. The five same business super hero stories; the five same rags to riches (therefore motivational?) stories; the five same “you can do it too” lists. When I started Billie Goat Soap, I wanted to join that list…it was a case of “I’ll have what she’s having”. In fact, with every public event I was asked to speak at, I became one of those people spruiking the same silly ideals. Anyone who has been at one of my presentations lately would recognise how much my words have changed. Here’s why…

MYTH #1: All you need is passion and you can achieve anything.

Passion is helpful, but it won’t put food on the dinner table. That takes innovation, education (in its relevant form) and money. It costs money to grow a business and if you don’t know how to raise capital or can’t reinject profits back into your business it won’t grow. In all the wannabe business stories I have read, I’ve rarely read where the hero entrepreneur explains the challenges that often come with capital raising. Somehow their business just prospers and money doesn’t enter into it. Realities are glossed over. Yes, passion for the business can make getting out of bed in the morning a pleasure, but too much in the face of failure can also keep us there.

MYTH #2: There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just work hard to get it.

If you think entreprenurship is about working to death for a few years in order to retire early and reap rewards you are deluded. Most small/medium business owners start  their business venture and still work in their business for the years to come. This notion of putting in the hard yards early to reap rewards later is a fallacy. Even our current business heroes are still working on or in their business in some form. In fact, many business owners never switch off – they’re mentally on the job seven days a week. An entrepreneur never gets to go home and switch off, no matter what role they may end up taking in their company.

MYTH #3: Just surround yourself with good staff and they’ll make the difference.

When do these business super heroes ever talk about being able to afford good people? When do they add that you also need to be able to afford their workers comp, their superannuation, their holiday/sick pay, and any additional benefits? Do they ever pick the wrong people? I was fortunate in that I found some fantastic people to work at Billie Goat, but boy, I picked a few not-so-hot people too along the way. Recruitment is not an exact science, no matter how entrepreneurial you are. Then, after poor hiring choices (yes, my responsibility) I then had to either manage them in or out of the business. Why do we never hear these stories in the hero tales??? Also, no matter how wonderful your team is, the buck always stops with the boss. ALWAYS. Yep, it can be lonely at the top.

MYTH #4: Rule out negativity – there’s always a solution.

Try telling that to the 10,000 (approximately) small businesses (and therefore owners) that faced insolvency last year. This myth can be the most dangerous because all it does is reinforce the notion that failure is not an option. I wish every media business hero was asked this question…What has been your biggest business failure and what did you do to recover from it? Don’t let them get off with some fluff answer like not exporting to their chosen country, or not delivering on time. Ask them about real, stay awake at night concerns because I guarantee you they have all had them – they just don’t admit that in the press because it doesn’t help their image. In other words, lets start telling our entrepreneurs that IT’S OK TO FAIL…IT’S PART OF LIFE AND YOU WILL BE OK AFTERWARDS.

I know I risk sounding like Negative Nellie with this post. Believe me, I love celebrating business success stories (I’ve revelled in it myself over the years!) but someone has to take a stand and remind us that not all stories are grounded in reality.  C’mon the 1,995 million other aussie entrepreneurs out there…lets start telling the media the truth about business life so we can get a sprinkling of normality into the tales they tell. These stories might just prove to be the most motivational of all…