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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

How You Can Manage Your Sense of Identity At Work

A strong and unwavering sense of identity must be important for entrepreneurs, right? Maybe not.

Robert Paddock




Our work-based identity is an interesting, and often troublesome, topic for entrepreneurs. Here’s why:

As an entrepreneur, we need to tap into a hugely diverse set of responsibilities to get our business off the ground. We’ve got to create a product or service that people will pay for, manage our team, liaise with funders and shareholders, market our product, manage our finances, create scalable systems and many other tasks that require radically different skills.

Related: Align Customer Perception With Your Brand Identity

In the early days, most businesses don’t have the luxury of appointing a specialist for every role, and even well-funded startups require founders who have diverse enough skill sets to get the business off the ground.

Then, as our business starts to grow, we realise that we can’t possibly continue to manage the breadth of responsibilities we currently have. So we start to hire specialists to take over portions of our responsibilities. It’s around this time that the issues around our own identity start to arise.

Defining our identity in dialogue

On the subject of identity, the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, says that, “We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others, the conversation with them continues within us.”

In business, our “significant others” include our colleagues. We’re used to being the people at the epicentre of the business, critically involved in most decisions, and relied on for our breadth of understanding and cohesive vision for the business.

I particularly like the last line of Taylor’s quote, “Even after we outgrow some of these others, the conversation with them continues within us.”

The way I interpret it is that even when we need to change our self identity for the good of the business, and start taking on new or different responsibilities, we continue to define ourselves by the work we used to do, and we’re perpetually drawn back to the tasks and responsibilities which have come to define our work at the early stages of the business.

Others have defined us by this work, and it’s very tempting to keep jumping back into the familiar waters of these roles, responsibilities and behaviours.

The problem is that when we do jump back in, we disempower the specialists who have now been tasked with these responsibilities – which is not a great way to create a healthy corporate culture.

This is a challenge that is repeated again and again, albeit in different ways every time, for as long as our business continues to grow.

Redefining our work-based identity

As entrepreneurs we have to constantly redefine our work-based identity based on the needs of the business. This sounds like an extreme statement, but ask any entrepreneur who has successfully started a business and they’ll tell you how the job they’re doing now bears little resemblance to the job they were doing when they started their business. These changes and adaptations often require radical shifts of perspective and identity, which can be incredibly challenging.

Related: Are You Full Of Mojo Or Nojo?

So how can we make these constant transitions throughout our entrepreneurial lives without feeling like a slave to the needs of the business? Here are five points that have helped me:

1. Our identity is transient

The first, and most important point, is to accept that our work-based identity is transient and will change – guaranteed. Don’t hold on too tightly to the things that defined you in the past or you might stifle the growth of the business. You might even get left behind as your business grows in spite of your clinging.

2. Self-identity is about your potential

One of the online dictionaries defines self identity as, “the recognition of one’s potential and qualities as an individual”.

The second point is to recognise that self identity is about potential, and the implication is that what we’re doing today doesn’t define us nearly as much as what we’re capable of doing.

3. Empower others

Empower others in your business, especially in areas you used to manage yourself, with specific KPIs and allow them to do their jobs – only get involved when you need to.

4. Manage yourself outside of work

Finally, proactively manage your identity outside of work. The entrepreneurial journey can be all encompassing, and it’s important to have other lenses through which you define yourself.



  1. Wiseoldmonkeyman

    Sep 27, 2015 at 21:22

    Getsmarter is a joke. 128 million in revenue riding off the brand of UCT, People are buying the courses only because its UCT nothing more not because of getsmarter

  2. Billy J

    Oct 8, 2015 at 18:30

    “Even after we outgrow some of these others, the conversation with them continues within us.” Spot on! Thanks Robert.

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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Build Solid Back-Room Basics For Business Success

What do South African entrepreneurs really know about what goes on behind the scenes building of businesses?

Marc Wachsberger




South Africa has a vibrant start-up culture with great ideas starting out with a bang, but closing down with a whimper because entrepreneurs picture the glory at the destination, but not the nitty gritty of the journey to get there.

Be smart about scale

When I started out, I literally did everything myself. I negotiated and signed leases, I arranged the furnishing for our apartments and managed the interior décor process. When guests started using our apartments, I signed them in at reception, and then carried their bags.

At that stage, there was no money in my business to pay for attorneys, interior designers and decorators and there certainly wasn’t enough money for porters.

However, when we got to 70 apartments, it didn’t make sense for me to be a porter any longer, so I hired someone to do that job, explaining clearly what I expected of him. Before I did that, though, I spent time designing incentives for him so that he would be more affordable for me, and so that he could earn as much money as possible.

Related: Training Is A Two-Way Trick

Know your talents – and your limitations

There are certain things I’m really good at, but I know without a doubt that sales isn’t one of them – and without sales, you don’t have a business. I couldn’t afford a top-flight salesperson, but I knew that I could attract the right talent with the right business model. I set some high targets for Pamela Niemand, but offered her one third of the business if she met them. We both won: she earned a share in a successful, trend-setting business, and my trend-setting business became successful!

Use your skills – but know when to hand over

My background in corporate finance meant that I had all the accounting skills I needed when we first started out, but I knew that the time would come when I would need someone focused on that side of the business full time. Doing it all myself first meant that I could brief my first full-time accountant clearly and with a deep understanding of what would be required – and that I could help that person find and fix any challenges based on my experience.

In summary, my simple advice to anyone starting out would be to bootstrap your business yourself without investors or staff for as long as you can, but don’t over-extend yourself. Know when to delegate tasks away so that you can focus on what you’re really good at – but don’t do it before you have a solid understanding of what’s required. Know what you’ll never be able to do, and bring in that resource from the beginning – but do it based on performance-based incentives, so that your fledgling business doesn’t lose out if your early hires don’t perform.

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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

The Myth About The Relationship Between Entrepreneurs And Taking Risks

This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.

Lisa Illingworth




“I can’t be an entrepreneur or start a business. I don’t have the appetite for risk.” This line is spoken regularly to brave few that leave the perceived safety of a job, take the plunge and venture into the unknown world of being an entrepreneur. However, there is a gross misunderstanding in the appetite for risk that entrepreneurs are believed to have innately inside of them.

The little-known truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs don’t like taking risks and according to Luca Rigotti and Mathew Ryan in their paper that explores a model for quantifying risk and its translation into enterprising action, the results were very interesting.

Risk is explained by these theorists as taking action where the outcomes are unpredictable as well the factors leading to that outcome are unknown. One of the theorists in this area, Saraswati, who coined the term “tolerance for ambiguity” has a more accurate description of what the outside world deems taking a risk.

In simple terms, entrepreneurs don’t go head-first into the shark infested water because they like the idea of danger and potentially being eaten alive; or the thrill of being able to say that they survived whilst others perished in a pool of maimed flesh. They carefully calculate that the sharks have been fed recently, some of the sharks are ragged tooth sharks that whilst looking like they are set to devour a human being, are actually incapable of opening their jaws wide enough to bite. For those sharks that still have space or who smell blood and can’t resist the urge to kill, the entrepreneur has a cage set up that he can retreat into quickly and a knife with which to protect himself.

Related: 5 Infamous Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Face

Tolerance for ambiguity is the careful evaluation of what is known at the moment where a decision must be made and an open-mindedness for what is not known. This, coupled with the agility to change course when new information is presented, has earned the label of high risk appetite. The appetite is not for the risk, but it is the ability to move down a path, when all the information is not known.

I likened it to a person moving around in the dark holding a candle. The candle casts a light that illuminates a limited parameter around the person holding the candle. What is beyond the light that the candle casts, is unknown and potentially a risk. But as the person moves forward, the light reveals what was unknown and in the shadows. As the light reveals new information and new challenges added to what they have already learnt, the person can make better informed decisions. The tolerance is in not knowing what lies in the shadows yet to be illuminated by the candle and then the confidence in his or her own ability to act on what new information is discovered.

None of this behaviour is risky or irresponsible. There is careful consideration for what is known and a tolerance for what is unknown. And once there is more information available, a calculated next step is taken and more information is assimilated into what is now known. This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.

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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

7 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs To Adopt Today

Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…

Nicholas Bell




For some people, becoming an entrepreneur is as easy as stepping off a bus. They have a big idea, they bring it to life, they hire employees and the next thing they are in a building smothered in branding and living the business dream. For others, the idea and the passion are there but they are unsure as to how they can make these into a sustainable reality. Entrepreneurial spirit isn’t like instant coffee – you don’t add ideas and suddenly get all the skills you need to thrive.

Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…

1. Believable vision

Make sure that your vision is believable and achievable. It has to live in the realms of possibility, not as a blue-sky idea that looks good on paper but wouldn’t work in reality. You need to be able to live this vision so make it realistic and achievable. This will not only keep you on track, but your employees as well.

2. Be inclusive

You need to ensure that every person who works with you feels as if they are part of your vision and understand it. They need to relate to where the business is going and how it plans to get there. Many leaders don’t understand why employees are not engaged with their business and it’s because many of them don’t actually understand what the business does.

Related: 4 Ways To Improve Your Budgeting Skills

3. Communication is critical

If you don’t have fantastic communication skills, then now is the time to hone them. When it comes to building employee morale, commitment and engagement, nothing works as effectively as constant communication. The same applies to client relationships. You need to repeat the vision and ethos of the company at every opportunity and you need to be part of the team that does this communication.

4. Be visible and transparent

You are communicating, now you need to make that communication genuine by being both open and clear. People respond incredibly well to transparency. They feel as if they are part of something that recognises their value and contribution and it fosters a more inclusive company culture. Often toxic cultures come about thanks to a lack of communication and visibility. People know when things are being kept secret and react negatively to it, regardless of whether they’re an employee, a customer or a manager.

5. Be practical

You aren’t going to build an empire in a fortnight so focus on a realistic and practical business strategy that has clear benchmarks and even clearer goals. Communicate these with the company and keep everybody on the same page. Practical and achievable means long-term success.

Related: Crucial Skills You Need To Be An Entrepreneur

6. Build opportunities

As people become immersed in your company and part of its growth they will also need opportunities to grow. You need to tie their careers to the business and create opportunities for them.

7. Be human

It takes people to build a culture, a company and a future. It’s essential that you are human in your interactions and your treatment of others. The impact that a down to earth and authentic attitude can have on a company is extraordinary.

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