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Know what you are: entrepreneur or employee?

I see it all the time: employees complaining about their jobs. The spiel goes something like this…”what’s the point of working so hard, when we don’t see any of the gains? Poor old me just gets her miserable salary, minus deductions, while the owners of the enterprise pocket the real money.”

It’s a common whine, heard across the land every single day. It turns otherwise good people into work-shy dodgers. It means customers don’t get served properly, and often leave in frustration. It means employees don’t engage with their work, and see it as a humdrum chore for which they must demand “compensation.”

It is why good businesses are so very hard to find, wherever you look.

Let’s cut to the heart of the matter. The owner of the business is the one who risks his or her capital. The owner has sleepless nights worrying about whether the money will ever come back. The owner frets over the business as though it is her child. The owner is deeply committed, and will lose his shirt if the business fails. And many businesses do fail.

Is it therefore any surprise that the owner keeps most of the profit – if it’s made? As an employee, you signed up to a different deal. You undertook to offer your labour, your expertise, your time – in exchange for a steady income. You did not become an entrepreneur yourself, because you valued stability over volatility. You want a predictable income, not one that shoots up and down erratically. You don’t want to worry about making the school fees and mortgage repayments every month. You’re not investing, you’re transacting.

If this deal bothers you, then perhaps you should reconsider. Perhaps you should take all your savings out of the bank and prepare to risk them. Get out there and plead with family and friends. Have discussions with banks. Raise enough capital to get started.

After that, you should prepare never to sleep soundly again; worry incessantly about whether your market will dry up and your customers will abandon you;
and whether the auctioneers will someday come for your property. And oh, you’ll also have to worry whether your employees, whose salaries you pay come rain or shine, will actually give a damn about their work.

Because that’s what being an entrepreneur is like.

If you’re cut out for it, please take the plunge. The more, the merrier. The economy needs more risk-takers and tryer-outers. But don’t kid yourself that it’s an easy or privileged thing to do. And after many missteps and much capital burnt, if your business’s owners strike it big and make serious money, don’t be too begrudging. There’s a cost to it, too, and it’s borne every day.

Equally, if you’re a business owner sitting atop a gang of demotivated and disengaged employees, may I ask what it is you think YOU’RE doing? Is this any way to run an enterprise, one in which your people hate coming to work, hate serving customers – and hate you in the bargain?

What role do you play in this disenchantment? Where is it that you fail to engage them properly? It is sadly true that most of our organizations skew rewards too heavily towards the top. The bosses are kept cosseted; the underlings are treated like expendable pawns. And too many owners are just awful at instilling purpose and drive in others.

Businesses would be a whole lot better if more of us were at ease with our choices. And remember, they ARE choices: most entrepreneurs in the world are not born into money – they choose to find it, invest it, risk it and make it. Most employees are not wage-slaves because they lack options – they would choose predictability over volatility even if offered ownership opportunities.

We can do this better, if we think harder about the our roles and the returns they deserve.

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