Entrepreneur Or Ne’re Do Well?

A boyfriend I had in my early twenties was a hard worker but did not like his job. He had no interest in going to college, and he was unimpressed by how long it took most people to build businesses from the ground up, so he looked into various get-rich quick-schemes. He purchased a series of books on how to buy a house with no money down, fix it up and rent it out, then use equity in the first house to help buy another, and so on. The idea was not to earn income through rentals but to sell after a few years and reap a profit due to market appreciation. The system the books described supposedly made people into millionaires. Though I earned barely more than minimum wage myself and wasn’t a business or finance major, I enjoyed reading personal finance books (a little odd for a college student, I know), but the ones I read were far less sensational and less expensive, as I got them at the local library. (I’ve been a fan of libraries all my life, as I wrote in a previous entry.) I had serious questions about the scheme. It’s hard to imagine now, but mortgage interest rates then averaged around 13%, and reputable lenders required 20% down in cash. But the author, my boyfriend assured me, was a millionaire, so the system must work. When I found out the books cost over $700 and the author also offered seminars all over the country for an additional thousand or two, I suspected I knew how he’d become a millionaire, and it wasn’t by selling houses.

My current favorite writing space/office.

That experience is one reason I had mixed feelings when, about a month ago, I considered updating my profession on Linked In and other social media sites to include the word “entrepreneur.” For so long, for me that word called up images either of the boyfriend who preferred not to work or the salesperson hawking pricey no-fail systems for becoming a millionaire. The people I knew who did well in life worked hard at jobs or professions and saved and invested little by little. As I entered my thirties, my view of entrepreneurs didn’t change. A good friend married a man who ran various businesses and was always evading bill collectors and always on the verge of the one big deal that would make him rich. Though eventually it meant losing their house, this entrepreneur refused to take any job unless it paid well over a hundred thousand a year. No such job was ever offered to him. I also discovered that if someone described himself in an online dating profile as an entrepreneur, it quite often meant he was a guy who couldn’t or wouldn’t hold a job–one my mother would have called a “ne’er-do-well.” Such men were often charming, but could rarely pay their bills.

I’m sure decades ago there were many actual entrepreneurs–as opposed to people who adopted the label as a cover–I simply didn’t do the kind of work that brought me into contact with them. Now I do. As an author who independently publishes my own work and an attorney who runs my own law firm, I keep up with the business world and am on email lists of various entrepreneurs. Today, running a business is probably more common than ever. The Internet empowers many people to work anywhere at any time and to sell products and services all over the world. Yet still there are times I wonder. Some Internet businesses remind me of the house parties my mom went to when I was a kid. Everyone “made money” or got free items attending everyone else’s Tupperware/Pampered Chef/Mary Kay parties. But eventually the circle of friends was exhausted, the round robin ended, and no one was any wealthier, though their kitchens were more organized. (Not an entirely bad thing, but not a basis for a business.)

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Also, while some author/entrepreneurs I’m familiar with offer a lot of helpful information for free on blogs or in reasonably priced books (say, $3.99-$9.99, not $700), I also get offers from “entrepreneurs” who seem to be making a lot of money selling books about how to sell books or, worse, by giving expensive seminars on how to sell books. When I try to trace back to some other type of book, product, or service the author successfully created and sold, I find only vague references to business experiences that sound suspiciously like college internships. Not to say a college intern might not know something I don’t. I’m just not willing to pay upwards of $500 to find out.

On the other hand, I’ve been enjoying running my own businesses for years, and I hope never to have a job again. Soon after I started my law firm, heavy layoffs during a recession underscored the risk of working for just one employer. And I love that the Internet makes it possible for many authors to sell to the public, offering their work for less than a traditional publisher would charge, but earning more than a traditional publisher would pay while doing so. Also important to me is that running my own writing business means choosing the strategy and making the decisions. Or, as entrepreneur and author Joanna Penn puts it, never having to ask permission. If I think something is a good idea–say, writing and publishing a religious conspiracy thriller series without adopting a male pen name–I can go ahead and do it without seeking anyone’s approval. Yes, I take the risk it won’t work, but if that happens, I learn from the experience and try something else rather than, as usually occurs as an employee, being discouraged from innovating again. And if things do work out, I gain the reward.

Most of all, it’s fun to wear different hats throughout a day, week, and year. Nearly every job I’ve had, my main reason for leaving was that I got tired of doing the same thing over and over. Now there is always a new book to write, an innovative marketing approach to learn, an emerging creative outlet to explore. So, in the end, I decided to embrace the term entrepreneur.

What are your thoughts on entrepreneurs? What do you associate with the term? Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? Please share in the comments below. Also, if you’d like to keep up on my creative and business endeavors, you can join my email list. No pitches to buy $700 books, I promise.

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Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you’d like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.