Last year, I watched the movie, “Fifty”, at the cinemas. In one of the scenes, a woman accused her husband of being financially irresponsible. She complained that he was unemployed and that he needed to get a job. The husband replied that he wasn’t unemployed, rather he was self-employed. This scene got me thinking about the concept of unemployment and entrepreneurship. At what point does self-employment degenerate into unemployment?
In this era more than ever before, the drive for entrepreneurship has increased tremendously. There appears to be a culture of “appreciating” entrepreneurs and despising employees. We are often fascinated by the story of the self-made man who started from nothing and became something. The man who took the risk and had the drive to become who he is today, from zero to hero. It gives us hope that one day, we too can become like them. Perhaps, one of the reasons for the sensationalism of entrepreneurship is the fact that, they are credited with providing jobs for the rest of us.
It is this glorification, I guess, that makes entrepreneurship so alluring and somewhat seductive. It feels pretty “cool” to be called the CEO or the COO, but the heat and pressure that come with the position do not feel quite cool.
While the desire to make profit is the major goal for many entrepreneurs, in other cases, some people simply lack the discipline or humility to be answerable to someone else for their actions, so entrepreneurship or self-employment appears to be the only plausible alternative. The truth is, it is not easy to be an employee too!
As appealing as the idea of entrepreneurship may seem, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. There are certain traits successful entrepreneurs possess that set them apart and young people who desire to start their own businesses should honestly evaluate their abilities and predispositions before embarking on that route.
First and perhaps most importantly, successful entrepreneurs are good managers of money and resources. They understand how to use little to achieve much and are quick to identify opportunities where others only see challenges. They have a healthy appetite for informed risk and are extremely comfortable with uncertainties and change. People are generally afraid of change and would rather remain in familiar territories than explore unfamiliar terrains; so, if one is risk averse, entrepreneurship may not be the best route for such a person.
Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of skilful negotiation. They know how to hold their end on the other side of the table. They separate their business lives from their personal lives, and so they know how to get family and friends to pay for goods and services rendered. Entrepreneurs are not just great thinkers, they are also great executors, they do not just talk, they do. They are not afraid of asking, demanding, trying and pushing. They react well to failure and have a high tolerance for frustration and disappointment, they are resilient and tenacious.
Attending an entrepreneurial course or obtaining an MBA qualification from an expensive business school outside the country, as most wealthy Nigerians like to do, does not guarantee that your business idea will succeed. Some of the most astute business people in Nigeria are those market women at Oke-Arin and Balogun and they do not possess exotic business degrees; some of them are not even schooled at all! The truth is, the best way to learn how to work for yourself is to learn how to work!
Really, there are no standard rules or templates on what the characteristics of a good entrepreneur are. The truly smart entrepreneurs are the ones who identify all their weaknesses and partner someone who has the corresponding strengths. So, if you are an introvert who does not like attending social events that may help bring new businesses, it is wise to have an extroverted “rainmaker” who brings in the job.
Young people seeking to be entrepreneurs or self-employed must realise that for every successful entrepreneur, there are millions of others who thrive by working with and for others. Working in traditional organisations, has many benefits, you get to acquire some of the most invaluable skills that will help you succeed when you start your own business. Some of these benefits include learning to work with a team, acquiring good interpersonal skills, being accountable for your actions, and most importantly, having self-discipline and a sense of responsibility- showing up at work every day whether you feel like it or not requires a bit of both.
While being an employee may not be as glamorous as entrepreneurship, and one may not have all the sophisticated titles and awards that entrepreneurs have, employees are some of the most hardworking and diligent people in the world, they truly are the ones who make the world go “round”.
Nigerian employees, particularly those living in traffic-prone cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt, really do deserve special acknowledgement. Aside from facing the hectic traffic situations every day just to earn a living, most employees work under the most awful conditions and are paid meagre salaries, they put in the hours and deserve recognition and commendation.
People who claim to be self-employed, like the young man in the movie, need to conduct a “reality check” on their lives. If you run a personal business that has not generated income within the preceding six months, with no prospect of getting income in the next six months, you are technically unemployed, get a job.