I love beginnings. The beginning of each season, the beginning of a new project, and of course, the beginning of a new year. What will our businesses face in 2016? More consolidation and closures? Most likely.

Start Off the Year by
Embracing Your Inner Entrepreneur

More challenges getting new lines into jewelry specialty retailers? Probably. More discussions about the changing demographics of the jewelry industry and what lies ahead? Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve exhausted that topic yet.

What do I think we should focus on in 2016?

Entrepreneurialism. Not just how to operate a small business (important), how to manage one’s financials (very important), or how to create and follow a sound business strategy (critical), but how to approach business as an entrepreneur. To succeed in the new normal of business, you must wake up as an entrepreneur every single day.

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Michelle Graff of National Jeweler wrote a blog in November suggesting that a big reason for many of the closures of jewelry stores in 2015 was that jewelry store owners, close to retirement and without successors to the business, preferred to liquidate and get out with what they could over taking business risks at that point in their career. As Graff put it in the article, “I can’t say I blame them.”

For those of you for whom retirement is not interesting or an option, it’s time to invest in your entrepreneurial skills and start running a modern business that takes some risks, tries new things, and takes nothing for granted.

What Does it Mean to Be an Entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Every time a consumer purchases a product it’s to solve a problem. The problem may be as simple as boredom or as profound as commemorating a loved one’s death. It could be as basic as making sure there’s milk for cereal in the morning or as complex as purchasing medical equipment for a new surgical wing. But every single product must solve a problem. Entrepreneurs are as interested in the problem as they are in the product itself. Entrepreneurs constantly look for, label, and solve problems with services or products for sale. Consumers typically cannot name their problem, but a good entrepreneur will frame it for them.

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Entrepreneurs are challenge junkies. Case studies have demonstrated that entrepreneurs are consistently positive and enthusiastic about discovering and overcoming obstacles.

Entrepreneurs have a bias toward action. Some business people err on the side of thinking too long (even forever) about an idea without taking action. Entrepreneurs often err by taking action first and thinking about it later.

Entrepreneurs see opportunity everywhere. Entrepreneurs do not let themselves get corralled into the same pen out of which everyone else is working.

To be an entrepreneur you must cultivate a combination of skills and attributes. Three of the most important skills are:

  • A nimble understanding of the financials of running a business—not just the financials of your current operations, but an ability to assess opportunities from a financial frame of reference. Whether you do this yourself or hire someone to prepare these numbers for you is not important, you must be able to assess opportunities through this lens.
  • The ability to pull together expert resources to pursue opportunities that have a potentially high return but that you lack the skills to do on your own.
  • An acute understanding of your current market and the lateral markets into which you may be able to reach.

Cultivating personal attributes can be more challenging. Flexibility, determination, creativity, the willingness to take risks, leadership, and enthusiasm are all characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. All of these can be developed and improved with attention and commitment.

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Why Must I Be an Entrepreneur?

Why now, you may be asking. Why must I be an entrepreneur now, when being a small business owner, a designer, a small manufacturer has always been enough? Why am I saying you must now become an entrepreneur, when being consistent with good products and services, was always sufficient before?

Because the world changed. Because consumers can buy anything they want from anywhere they want. Because local means very little to the next generation of buyers, but interesting, innovative, ethical, responsible, and high value mean a lot. Because there is no longer a series of separate experiences; at home, at the mall, at work, at the gym, at a wedding. Because instead, all experiences are somewhat blended together; shared with people who aren’t there, enhanced by online apps, endured by shopping on Amazon instead of listening to a series of toasts or completing a work assignment.

In this new world, only the innovative, the energetic, and the relevant get noticed. Your business is no longer competing with other businesses. Business in 2016 is just another form of entertainment (or not) in a sea of things demanding a customer’s attention. When I say you must be entrepreneurial every day, it’s because in this new world you must make yourself relevant and interesting every day.

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Throughout 2016 I will discuss various aspects of entrepreneurialism in this column and in my blog. You can become an entrepreneur, or a better entrepreneur, when you put your mind to it.