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Don’t Even Think About It: Some People Just Aren’t Cut Out To Be Entrepreneurs

May 22, 1995

For many entrepreneurs, the biggest mistake doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of financing or misreading the competition. It doesn’t involve a botched marketing strategy or flawed products, runaway expenses or government red tape.

No, it’s more basic than that: The problem is they should never have been entrepreneurs in the first place.

Carol Vincie may be one of those people. In 1992, Ms. Vincie was in her 25th year at International Business Machines Corp. _ and feeling disillusioned and unappreciated. So, at 47 years old, she quit her job as a marketing manager to start her own company, as an agent for people who run business-training workshops.

She had no idea what she was in for. Although she expected the long hours _ 18-hour days, six days a week _ she never expected the psychic drain that comes with running a small business. Having sole responsibility for clients meant they never left her thoughts.

``The job is so much more with you, it’s like sticky paper,″ says Ms. Vincie. ``I couldn’t let it go.″

After two years, Ms. Vincie returned to the corporate fold, working as a consultant for an outplacement firm.

The small-business world is filled with people like Carol Vincie _ refugees from Corporate America, some pushed by downsizing, others pulled by the allure of entrepreneurship. It all sounds so appealing: no boss, no rules, no limit to profits.

But the simple truth is this: Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Some people have a need for a secure and structured environment, or an inability to think small. Others are unwilling to work long hours _ many of them alone. And many don’t have the patience that small business requires.

``Today, we have the Nintendo generation of entrepreneurs,″ says Roger Melansson, a small-business consultant in Nashua, N.H. ``They want the perks right away.″

Adds Tanya Korkosz, a psychologist who works as a management consultant with Leadership Consulting Group in Belmont, Mass.: ``For someone who is a perfectionist or a security seeker, it’s better to stay away from small-business ownership. The high risks can paralyze them.″

For the would-be entrepreneur, then, it’s important to do a lot of soul-searching before moving forward. And perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning: Why are you even contemplating the move?

Marge Lovero, president of the Entrepreneurial Center Inc. in Purchase, N.Y., says it’s a mistake to start your own business if your chief motivation is simply to have a job _ or to leave the job you’re in.

``People from the corporate world come in here with great energy, but they get frightened when they have to market themselves,″ she says. ``They were more comfortable selling someone else’s product or service.″

John Challenger, an executive vice president for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm, tells of one client, a woman in her 30s, who had worked for a large corporation as a computer analyst. She had lost her job as a result of a restructuring, and found the search for a new job frustrating and humiliating. Finally, tired of being rejected, she decided to get out of the corporate world entirely, and she opened an arts-and-crafts boutique.

It was a failure, Mr. Challenger says, and for a fundamental reason: She started the business not because of a passion for entrepreneurship, but because she was afraid she could never find a corporate job she would love as much as her first.

``It was clearly a mistake for her to leave the computer industry,″ says Mr. Challenger. ``She was blaming the corporate structure as a whole for her unhappiness, when a similar position might be wonderful for her. She was running away from a field she truly loved.″

The entrepreneurial lifestyle is also not for everyone. Specifically, it isn’t for people who are unwilling to put their savings at risk, watch every penny they spend, give up the creature comforts of a corporate life, and spend many hours a day by themselves.

Consider Jeff Young. After spending 12 years as a software engineer in Digital Equipment Corp.’s Nashua, N.H., office, Mr. Young felt stifled.

``The atmosphere wasn’t so great,″ he says. ``Morale was low because they kept laying people off. There seemed to be a lack of corporate strategy, and my long-term prospects didn’t seem positive. Basically, I had no future there.″

So, Mr. Young quit last year to run his own educational-software firm. He has had a lot of second thoughts.

``It’s hard working at home,″ says Mr. Young, 41. ``My office is a 10-foot-by-12-foot space. I’m a people person, and I hope someday I can go into business with others. I need the resources of co-workers. There are always software design problems that I’ll run into, and there is no one to bounce ideas off of. There’s a lot more pressure when you have to constantly rely on your own judgment.″

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