I have been giving some thought lately to the idea of what it means to be entrepreneurial. An obvious answer is when you own your own business and generate your own income. But another definition could be to take full ownership and responsibility for your work experience, no matter how you are getting your paycheck.
This philosophy can be extremely helpful for those of you who are in a place where you need to work for another year or two or five to either more fully develop your business plan or to bank up enough cash to go out on your own.
It is very easy to bash the Corporate Man and complain about how hard it is to get things done inside a large bureaucracy. I fully realize that there are some very unattractive things about working in a cube, otherwise I would never have taken the entrepreneurial path, or written this blog.
However … there are some great entrepreneurial behaviors you can practice while employed in a corporate job:
- Say "I choose to work here." Why is this so hard to say? Every time you utter the term "they made me do this," you are telling a lie. No one can make you do anything without your permission. If you didn’t choose to work as an employee, you wouldn’t work there. Assume responsibility for your employment choices and feel a bit more swagger in your step.
- Always know the 2 things you want to learn each quarter. If your goal is to open an import-export food business and you work for a large computer company, see what you can learn about distribution channels and global tax laws from people in your own company. Maybe you will have to do lots of presentations to get funding and partners for your new venture. Identify the best presenter in your company and see if you can tag along to a presentation so you can take notes. The next time you do a presentation, ask if she would be willing to give you feedback about what you do well and what you could improve.
- Learn about the business of your company. Do you know all the factors that go into your company’s profitability? What are the 5-year strategic goals of your company and what are the threats in the market to realizing these goals? What keeps your CEO up at night? Who are your company’s prime customers and what do they care about? I don’t care if you are an engineer, a marketer or an accountant, you could learn truckloads about running a business from the one you are in. How do you find this information out? Ask! (CEO included)
- Build your network. It can be much easier to build relationships with a diverse group of people while you are an employee at a company rather than sitting at your home office. Get to know your vendors, colleagues, business partners and customers. Don’t fall into the bad habit of lunching alone at your desk all the time. When you have the opportunity to go to a conference or business gathering, go! Talk with interesting people and make sure to get their business cards.
- Take a risk. This can be something small like volunteering to give a presentation at the next staff meeting to proposing a radically different way to complete a task or process. If you are in sales, take a big leap … don’t use PowerPoint at your next customer meeting. After you get through hyperventilating, you may actually find that you have a much better customer interaction. And here is one of my favorite suggestions: invite the person you absolutely can’t stand to lunch. If you are a salesperson, this may be the curmudgeonly engineer who always heckles you at presentations. If you are an engineer, maybe it is the smooth-talking person from HR that you feel is completely clueless. Maybe it is the person in finance who refuses to pay your expense reports if you have a $.01 discrepancy. The only ground rule is that you must only ask non-work related questions at lunch. Find out what kind of books, movies and music this person likes. What do they do in their spare time? After they get over the shock of realizing that your lunch proposal is sincere, you may find out some surprising things about your perceived "enemy."
The more you focus on learning as much as you can in your corporate job, the more powerful you will feel. And the more powerful you feel, the more likely you will transfer this confidence into doing something about your business idea. Whining is fun sometimes and venting relieves pressure, but if that is all you do in your corporate job, you are missing great opportunities to learn how to be more entrepreneurial.