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The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 1)

The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 1)

The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur

    With a background including successful stints with Yahoo, eGroups, and Intuit, Kevin Reeth was well-prepared to strike out on his own as a co-founder and CEO of the web start-up Outright.com, a free online bookkeeping platform for small businesses and self-employed persons. In today’s economic climate, though, more and more people are finding themselves thrown into entrepreneurship without a background like Reeth’s as their companies fold or downsize leaving them to strike out on their own.

    To help these “unintentional entrepreneurs” get their feet under them, Reeth partnered with Network Solutions to form Unintentional Entrepreneur, a website and organization dedicated to helping newly self-employed workers get off on the right foot as freelancers, consultants, and small business owners. So far, Unintentional Entrepreneur has hosted free seminars in a handful of cities, with more on the way, combining formal presentations with social networking in an effort to provide the information and social environment fledgling entrepreneurs need to start building towards success.

    After I wrote about Outright.com at Freelance Switch and on my own site, The Writer’s Technology Companion, several people at Outright.com contacted me and struck up a conversation, culminating in an offer to interview Reeth about Unintentional Entrepreneur and the challenges – and rewards – facing today’s entrepreneurs, unintentional or otherwise.

    This is part 1 of a three-part series. In this section, Reeth and I discuss entrepreneurship in general. In part 2, we’ll discuss the way that technology is changing the entrepreneurial landscape, and in part 3 what Unintentional Entrepreneur is doing to help first-time self-employed workers. The interview was conducted on July 17, just after their first event in Los Angeles.

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      Dustin Wax (DW): Let’s start with a general question: What is an unintentional entrepreneur?

      Kevin Reeth
        Kevin Reeth (KR):

        An awful lot of our customers are folks who were working in corporate America and had had paying jobs for years and had lost their job last fall or early this year, had been looking for a job, and had gotten to the point where they had to figure out something to do. And now they’re starting to hang out their own shingle to see if they can earn a living that way.

        What’s interesting is, compare them to people who’ve been small business owners or self-employed for many years, who had gotten used to it. People leaving the confines of a corporate job quickly get a pretty significant wake-up call in terms of what it means to work for yourself.

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        DW: So you have the wave of people for whom entrepreneurship has become an only option, something that came onto their radar as an option not because of an internal drive to do it but because of the economy.

        KR: Yes, I think that’s exactly right. This may not have been something that they thought about, maybe they never did have that drive, maybe they weren’t maybe wired that way or maybe they’re more risk-averse. But now they have certain practical realities that are forcing them to consider new options, and entrepreneurship is one of the options they’re considering. And so, they may have never done this before and may not understand what it means to operate as a business right now.

        DW: What does it mean?

        KR: The first focus, honestly, needs to be sales. If you don’t have people paying you, nothing else matters. You’re not going to be a very successful business for long.

        Along with that, when you first get started, it’s all about networking. Your initial business is going to come through referrals, friends and family, and coworkers and associates. It’s not going to be through advertising and promotions, and not from fancy marketing stuff. By getting out there and getting connected to people, you will have opportunities present themselves.

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        And then where we tend to focus, where Outright focuses is on helping people understand that they need to prioritize their time, that time is going to be their most precious commodity. There’s a lot of stuff you can do dirt cheap or free, but one of the worst things you can do is get bogged down in the details of stuff that really doesn’t matter. Use technology where it can be most effective. Automate the stuff that doesn’t provide value, and doesn’t grow your business. Honestly, the back office stuff, the bookkeeping – we know it’s not sexy. This is not what you want to be spending your time doing. Use the technology available to automate that, so you can be out there, doing sales, servicing existing customers, getting more repeat business, not worrying about where the money is going, whether something is deductable or not, remembering to pay taxes on time.

        DW: You said that the first focus is sales. There’s a skill set involved in sales, though, that very few people have. If you’re an engineering person or computer scientist or whatever, how can you develop or sharpen those sales skills?

        KR: I think that’s actually more daunting than it has to be. People tend to think about it as, “OK, I have to go do sales, I have to sell myself.” And the secret with networking is that, if you go out there and just meet other people, you understand that all of us are in the same boat at the end of the day, all of us need help. It’s all just building relationships.Even at the big enterprise sales level, so much of sales comes down to whether people like each other, whether they get along, and whether they have a relationship. There is a bias in decision-making around purchases that goes beyond just the rational facts. So you don’t have to be the greatest salesperson in the world, you just need to be able to build relationships with people.

        DW: We’ve talked about the challenges facing new entrepreneurs, but what are some of the benefits of being an entrepreneur, especially in today’s economy?

        KR: One, I think it will become one of the most empowering experiences you can ever have. It’s one of those things where it is a personal journey for anybody who tries it. A lot of things are going to go wrong. You’re going to fail at a lot of things. But you’re going to learn an awful lot about yourself. You’re going to find out what you’re capable of, and that’s invaluable.

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        Another great thing is that you will extend your network dramatically. You are going to get to meet so many new and interesting people that no matter what the future holds, you’re going to build relationships that are going to last.

        And there’s the education component. You’re going to be forced to learn more in the first three months working for yourself than in years working for someone else. And at the end of it, you will have that knowledge, you will have that experience. It’s going to make you better not only working for yourself but if you ever go back and work for someone else, you’re going to be significantly better at it.

        These are not easy things, they’re not free, awesome things that just happen to you, you have to work for them. But the value you get out of that journey is immense.

        In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss some of the ways technology is changing today’s small business and self-employment landscape, and the tools that Reeth recommends for new entrepreneurs. See you then!

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        Last Updated on October 18, 2018

        10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

        10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

        When it comes to starting your own business and pursuing your dream of becoming an entrepreneur, it can be advantageous to go all in and embrace the flexibility of finally quitting your day job.

        Keep in mind, though, that it takes a special kind of person to take the business world by storm: a person who has cultivated the key characteristics of entrepreneurial success.

        People with these characteristics are likely to succeed, whereas people without them have difficulty moving forward with even the most brilliant business ideas.

        These characteristics of an entrepreneur are so important that I’ve decided to cover all 10 of them in detail so that you can start your business with your best foot forward.

        1. Successful Entrepreneurs Practice Discipline

        Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline.

        To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun.

        Andrew Carnegie, one of the most financially successful Americans of all time, grew up working dull and difficult jobs in factories. Despite going to bed hungry some nights, he continued doing his best work. He was eventually hired by a railroad company and continued to move up the ladder until starting his own successful businesses. Carnegie is a fine example of an entrepreneur dedicated to discipline and hard work. He truly earned his dreams of prosperity and success.

        When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there’s no short-term consequences for skipping out early.

        Sure, if an entrepreneur plays hooky enough he knows that the business just won’t happen, but it’s very hard to convince someone that ‘just this once’ won’t hurt (and to keep ‘just this once’ from becoming a daily occurrence).

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        2. Successful Entrepreneurs Keep Calm

        Things go wrong when you run your own business.

        Most entrepreneurs go through crises with their businesses — and more than a few wind up with outright failures on their hands. But when you’re responsible for a business, you have to be able to keep calm in any situation. Any other reaction — whether you lose your temper or get flustered — compounds the problem.

        Instead, a good entrepreneur must have the ability to keep his cool in an emergency or crisis. It may not make the problem easier to solve, but it certainly won’t make it harder.

        Honestly, losing your calm is a quick path to becoming the kind of person who gives up in the face of adversity. Instead giving in to frustration, remember classic entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin.

        Franklin kept his calm as he experimented and tweaked his inventions again and again in pursuit of success. He didn’t give up during his many failures – he chose to innovate. You can choose innovation, too.

        If an entrepreneur can handle failure without frustration or anger, s/he can move past it to find success.

        3. Successful Entrepreneurs Pay Attention to Details

        Restricting your attention to the big picture can be even more problematic than ‘sweating the small stuff.’

        As an entrepreneur, unless venture capital has magically dropped out of the sky, a small expense can be a killer. It’s attention to detail that can make a small business successful when it has competition and it’s attention to detail that can keep costs down.

        Attention to detail can be difficult to maintain — going over ledgers can be tedious even when you aren’t trying to pay close attention — but keeping your eye on a long-term vision is just asking for a problem to sneak in under a radar.

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        After a business grows, an entrepreneur might be able to hire someone to worry about the details. In the beginning, though, only one person can take responsibility for the details.

        Skeptical about the importance of details? Look no further than Howard Schultz, who grew a small coffee shop called Starbucks into one of the most globally successful coffee businesses in the world through his extreme attention to detail.

        He is famous for taking all aspects of growing a business into account, paying attention not only to financially smart business decisions, but also focusing on socially responsible business decisions. Details can take you far.

        4. Successful Entrepreneurs Embrace Risks

        No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money s/he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business.

        It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that without developing an ulcer, you have to have a good tolerance for risk.

        You don’t need to channel your inner frat boy and take on absolutely stupid risks, but you need to know just how much you can afford to risk — and get a good idea of how likely you are to lose it. If the numbers make you uncomfortable, the risk is too great.

        Embracing risks is essential for growth and additional success, as well. Walt Disney, for example, could have stayed comfortable with his advances in the film and animation industries, but decided to expand his brand with a new dream: a theme park that soared above the competition. Without taking this risk, the incredibly successful Disney theme park empire would never have come about.

        An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.

        5. Successful Entrepreneurs are Balanced

        You can take any characteristic too far. There’s a point at which attention to detail can become obsession or calm can become unemotional response.

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        As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to balance your characteristics, getting the most of them without going over the edge. But balance for an entrepreneur goes far beyond keeping your characteristics in check, though.

        Just as an entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to keep them at work when necessary, they don’t have one to send them home when they’re done. If you are working for yourself, you have to decide how to balance your work and home life — and if you have a day job to add into the equation, balance just gets more complicated.

        Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs out there, understands the importance of balance. Winfrey has a lot going on; she runs her own media kingdom, acts, produces films, publishes print, and more. In an interview with Fast Company,[1] she talks about her efforts to balance priorities and self care, saying that she must ask herself what is truly important in each limited day.

        You may or may not have as much on your plate as Oprah, but learning how to balance whatever you have going on in life will certainly help you farther along down the road as you learn to be a great entrepreneur.

        6. Successful Entrepreneurs are Passionate and Motivated

        In order to develop any of the above characteristics, you must have a foundation of passion. Staying disciplined day after day during the building of your business takes unrivaled motivation.

        Before you start any business, ask yourself if you can sustain true excitement about your idea during even the darkest days ahead of you. If the answer is yes, then good for you! Nurture your natural motivation by taking these action steps throughout your business journey:

        • Commit to making short and long-term goals. Check in with them often to stay on task.
        • Have a plan in place for the inevitable days when you feel discouraged. Make a list of things that will help keep you motivated and focused.
        • Share your ideas with trusted individuals who are just as excited as you are. They will help keep your enthusiasm rolling even when you are feeling down.

        By being prepared for apathetic days and holding fast to your authentic passion, you can actually enjoy your journey to success.

        7. Successful Entrepreneurs Adapt

        Remember this one word: flexibility. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that change is not only a part of life, but also a part of the business world. Expect change and choose to adapt.

        As a new entrepreneur, it will be tempting to cling to your original business plan with no exceptions, even if you notice it isn’t working. Good entrepreneurs know that it’s okay to make smart, informed changes in order to ensure efficiency.

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        8. Successful Entrepreneurs are Marketing and Sales Experts

        No matter what kind of business you are starting, a knowledge of marketing and sales will save you many headaches. A passion for creating a beautiful handmade lifestyle product is not enough to run a successful lifestyle brand; it is critical that you understand key business principles in addition to your natural skills or great product line.

        Not sure how to start? Taking business courses is a great idea, but you can also easily brush up on sales and marketing through free online resources. Check out these 10 Sales Skills Everyone Should Master To Be Successful to begin now.

        9. Successful Entrepreneurs Have Strong Money Management

        Along with sales and marketing skills, money management is a very useful tool in the box of the entrepreneur. Understanding how to best manage your money can be the difference between early success and early failure in the business world.

        If money management isn’t your strongest skill, prepare to hire a financial expert to help you with any tricky business that comes up. Financial guidance and knowledge is never a bad idea.

        10. Successful Entrepreneurs Ask Questions and Continually Improve

        Pride is a natural human quality, but it’s important to humbly conduct some constructive criticism every now and again on both yourself as a leader and your new business as a whole.

        Assess how things are going and be willing to make positive changes if necessary. Here’re 15 ways to cultivate lifelong learning.

        If you are always improving, then how can you ultimately fail?

        The Bottom Line

        Let me remind you of one important fact: the qualities of an entrepreneur listed here are not exclusively available to some people and elusive to others.

        Although some people may have natural strengths and weaknesses, these qualities can be learned by anyone interested in taking up the entrepreneurial challenge. It might not be easy to change old habits, but it is absolutely possible to cultivate these characteristics in yourself.

        Whether you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, with hard work, you can train yourself to develop the qualities that truly determine the entrepreneurial spirit and future success.

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

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