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Entrepreneur or Self-Employed? Why it Matters.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been interviewing Silver Starters about their businesses, and a surprising trend has emerged. From what I’ve heard, and reflected in one of our surveys, it seems like the term entrepreneur doesn’t feel like a good fit for most Silver Starters.  The terms I’ve heard used instead are business person, self-employed, contractor, inventor, and consultant.

If entrepreneurs are the key to our economic recovery and a whole slice of small business owners don’t relate to being entrepreneurs, aren’t we reducing our chances of success?

What is an entrepreneur?

Let’s look at what an entrepreneur is. According to several online dictionaries and business magazines, an entrepreneur starts a business and takes on the majority of the risks of doing so. They also, enjoy most of the rewards. 

Entrepreneurship is about seeing a need and starting a business to try to fill that need. Indeed, the inventors, consultants, contractors, and self-employed business people I spoke to are filling a need. So, why don’t they feel like they are entrepreneurs? 

Three reasons why Silver Starters Don’t Feel Comforatble With Being Called an Entrepreneur:

1) They don’t feel like they fit the myth we tell about entrepreneurs: self-made, young, techie, charismatic, innovators. 

The Silver Starters I have spoken range in age from early 50 up the to early 70s. They often say that they don’t “know” tech (to which I reply, it’s not you who needs to know the tech, it’s the tech that needs to help you), looking to deliver substantial value from an experienced perspective.

2) They haven’t clearly articulated the need they fill. While Silver Starter businesses solve real problems, they often start because they want to solve an internal problem. These internal problems include wanting to work more from their purpose or passion, wanting to give back, or needing to generate income after a layoff. Sometimes a combination of these three. 

3) Being a self-employed consultant or contractor is often viewed negatively in discussions about entrepreneurs and even in a small business context. With its deep connection to venture capitalism, start-up culture has very much skewed the view of a “real” entrepreneur to someone driven by growth, exit strategy, and investment. Silver Starters tend to be more concerned with impact (what good can I do in the world?), legacy (can I leave something lasting behind?), and connection (have I helped someone?).

Why does it matter if Silver Starters don’t feel comfortable with the term entrepreneur? Our economic engine relies on entrepreneurs and their confidence in the market. If an entire segment of business owners does not feel like they are entitled to that term and we don’t see them as being a part of the entrepreneurial engine, what does that mean in terms of policy? Loans? Their confidence to consider growth? Hiring? Programs? Passing on their knowledge? Ultimately to productivity?

Reimagining Entrepreneurial Culture

That’s why SilverSTART wants to reimagine entrepreneurial culture. We want to change the myth so that it includes incredible people like Pam Magee of MageeCloth.com. We want to point to the more profound need to share wisdom and insight that people like Joe Tansersely bring. We want to reframe the entrepreneurial vision so that we celebrate the drive, creativity, and powerful message that people like Fabienne Jacquet deliver. (check out our meetups page – you can find the video and transcripts of all our past meetups here, along with info about upcoming meetings.

We look forward to meeting you at our online meetups. Stay tuned for more Silver Starter focused services coming soon.

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