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April 26, 2010

Book Learnings: Entrepreneur is a thorny word

(image courtesy of leaping gazelle)

When we set out to interview women for this book we were hoping to see examples of the 8 themes that we are going to write about in the book. These themes illuminate various aspects of growing a business or what we have referred to as best practices in the business of building your business.

So far, after interviewing more than 33 women (business owners) we have found incredible examples of how different women have addressed the process of growing their business. In addition, we have been able to hear how thoughtful and deliberate they have been in structuring their business in a way that makes sense for them.

We have been sharing many takeaways as we have been going along in the form of “Interview Tidbits” and will of course share more lessons in the book.

Along the way, however, we have frequently been asked what has been surprising about the interview process? What have we learned?

Many things have begun to stand out, and they feel worthy of sharing. One thing in particular is women’s relationship to the word entrepreneur.

We have discussed repeatedly the need to expand the definition of an entrepreneur. We have made calls for more women to use the word because in our minds it seems like they should give themselves the credit they are due!

However, it is quite clear that many if not most of the women we have talked to so far don’t identify with the term entrepreneur and have reactions such as:
"it's so corporate"
"I picture men in a suit"
“it seems too tech-y or startup-ish for me”
"I am not on a high growth fast track"

This is coming from women who are clearly enterprising, often pioneering, and who are running profitable and long-standing companies! Many have employees.

Nevertheless, they often prefer to think of themselves instead as small business owners, or according to their trade (designer, consultant, engineer, etc).

We also put out the question “When did you start considering yourself an entrepreneur?” through HARO and received more than 50 interesting responses that in essence ranged from always to never.

This all really begs the question of the importance or relevance of expanding the definition. Should we be emphasizing a word or term that doesn’t feel reflective or appropriate?

We are also aware that we aren’t the only ones talking about this.

In Rework, Jason Fried’s new book, he calls for the retirement of the word entrepreneur because it is outdated, limiting and not descriptive enough for many of the ventures and enterprising folks out there.

True. It is quite difficult to come up with one definition that encompasses all the various permutations and ventures that seem entrepreneurial.

On the other hand, Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happen encourages more people to consider themselves entrepreneurs, because as he says, "It is your responsibility to make your ideas sustainable. For an idea to thrive over time it must be treated like an enterprise."

Also true.

Overall, we are reserving judgment for now, but are excited to continue the conversations.

What do you think? Time to go? Time to expand?

- posted by Adelaide Lancaster & Amy Abrams

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