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What do you call a 21-year-old who makes sugar-free gummy bears out of her kitchen and sells them on social media? Side hustler? #Bossbabe? Studentpreneur?
Now, what if I told you last year she sold her company, SmartSweets, for $400 million to a private equity firm? Would your labels change?
These days, more people are engaged in the act of entrepreneurship than at any point in history. The SBA estimates that more than 600,000 new businesses are being established each year in the U.S., and Millennials and Gen Z are on track to start more than twice as many businesses as previous generations. An overwhelming 81% of these business owners are “solopreneurs,” working from the side of their desks or at home.
But for all of the innovation we’re seeing from enterprising small business starters, we’re still not calling them what they are: entrepreneurs. We’ve got legions of “mompreneurs,” “passion-preneurs,” side hustlers and gig workers. There’s nothing wrong with identifying with a proud community of course, but it shouldn’t preclude you from recognizing this truth: If you’re running your own business — big, small, after work, online, on Instagram, whatever — you are an entrepreneur. And it’s critical you start owning it. Here’s why.
Why your business label matters
Simply put, words matter. Studies have shown even the slightest nuances in language can correspond with biased beliefs. When we prequalify entrepreneurship or delegitmize it with a different term, we may be sending a message to ourselves and others that our endeavors aren’t to be taken seriously… even though small businesses account for 48% of American jobs and 43.5% of the GDP.
Even if you don’t truly feel it, “faking it til you make it” with positive self-talk is scientifically proven to help shed imposter syndrome. It’s your mental prompt to go all-in and follow through — just like how telling someone you’re going to run a marathon makes you more likely to actually do it.
There’s also a practical benefit to making a linguistic commitment to your “side hustle.” When you start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur, you’re more likely to benefit from the opportunities that come with the label: government grants, bank loans and services that aren’t designed for content creators or side hustlers, but are for small business. It’s also a chance to capture the attention of entrepreneur-focused venture funding.
If personal benefit isn’t enough motivation, then think of the next generation. Gen Z and A will learn about what professional paths are possible by what they see in the generations that come before them. In fact, 43% of entrepreneurs in a recent survey by 99Designs reported that they had at least one parent who ran their own business: living proof that entrepreneurship has a powerful ripple effect.
Entrepreneurship needs an image overhaul
Part of the problem is that our perception of entrepreneurship is outdated. There’s still this legacy understanding of what it means to run your own business, and who can run a business: an elitism that presumes you need a business plan, an MBA and investors knocking on your door. This has been glorified by Silicon Valley’s prototypical techies, who seem to be in a perpetual state of scaling and funding rounds. The implication? Entrepreneurship takes big money and big connections.
But the reality is entrepreneurship is no longer limited to those who have access to the one percent. Twenty percent of small business owners use rollovers of their retirement savings to fund their companies; a full 10% get investment from family and friends. Others, like SmartSweets founder Tara Bosch, bootstrap while experimenting in their kitchens until they have a viable product to build a market for online.
Covid-19 only accelerated this trend of DIY business ventures. When the pandemic hit, my company, Later, saw a huge boom in content creators using our visual marketing platform to kick start their own income opportunities. This is what business looks like in 2021: no boardrooms or inventory (or Silicon Valley connections) required.
Today, barriers to starting a business have never been lower. Thanks to technology, educational and financial hurdles have fallen. We no longer need to know how to manufacture and distribute — you can outsource that. Expensive TV ads are not a blocker to building a market. Any single one of us can tap into audiences directly, outsource supply chains and start a company — all from our phones.
Despite this massive sea of change, for many, the definition of what an “authentic” business is hasn’t evolved. We use dismissive terms because we think our projects don’t meet outdated standards — that unless we have a dedicated office, team, business degree, or a brick-and-mortar shop, our business isn’t real. But this is internalized elitism at play. The reality is that entrepreneurship is the shortest path to your passion, and owning your place within it may just help you build a business that fulfills you, personally and professionally. If you don’t believe me, just look at Bosch: proof positive that thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur can be a pretty sweet deal.