What comes to mind when you hear the word entrepreneur? You might picture the thrill of pursuing a dream you’ve had for years or the excitement of founding a startup. But even if you don’t have dreams of starting your own business someday, cultivating an entrepreneurial ethos can make you better at what you do. I want to share my story to illustrate how small seeds of entrepreneurial spirit planted when I was young have grown into a set of values that make me better at freelancing and personal creative projects.
My First Business Venture
When I was 10, my family moved to a rural area 45 minutes north of Columbus. Within a few years, I was caring for a sizable flock of chickens and selling the eggs to friends and family members. Then I made the decision to expand my operation and branch into raising broiler chicken for meat. It only took eight weeks for them to reach market weight, and with good time management, I could raise three batches each summer.
Raising meat chickens was the perfect exercise in consistency, as broilers require constant attention at every stage to keep them fed and watered, healthy, and safe from predators like racoons and opossums. During this time I also learned how to grow and maintain a customer base, plan my finances, and deliver on customer expectations. Of course, at age 12, you don’t have a strong grasp on the principles of business—that’s where my parents supported me.
By helping me handle more complex operations like balancing a checkbook, placing feed orders, and tracking flock data, my parents ensured I wasn’t in over my head. However, they also made it clear that the chickens were my responsibility. Being in charge of a small operation taught me basic business principles without thousands of dollars on the line, and I was encouraged to take initiative to improve my operation every step of the way.
By mid-high school, I put the poultry business behind me and started working on college credit. Looking back, the money I made was chicken feed compared to the amount of work I was putting in. However, those summers taught me several key values that I would carry with me through the rest of high school and throughout my pursuit of higher education.
Continued Entrepreneurial Investment
While the aspiration to entrepreneurship remained, I couldn’t act on it until I was pursuing an MA at Wright State. After getting involved in student government, I learned that there was interest in forming an entrepreneur’s club on campus. The goal was two-fold: get students interested in entrepreneurship and introduce them to the robust entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout Dayton.
Working with several advisors in the business school and a friend who was passionate about entrepreneurship, we made the club an official student organization, created a schedule of possible events, and coordinated a well-attended launch event. The rest was downhill from there.
Not to say the club was a total failure. To the best of my knowledge, it lives on today. However, in the year that I acted as president and co-founder, we struggled to draw students in and maintain an engaged member base. By the time I graduated and moved on from the club, I was frustrated and disillusioned. What were we trying to accomplish? Why wasn’t it working?
I include this example because I think it was even more important in my development as an entrepreneur than my forays into the poultry industry. In books and talks on entrepreneurship, you’ll hear it over and over again—failure is productive. However, it’s hard to truly internalize that message until you’ve lived through it. I poured a lot of time and energy into a student organization and was met with a resounding “meh.”
At the time, it may have been humiliating and frustrating, but it prepared me for what was coming next. When I graduated, I spent months job hunting before I ended up with a bottom of the barrel office gig. The work was mind-numbing, everyone was dissatisfied, and the building I worked in leaked in 15 different places when it rained. It felt like I was failing!
However, I had learned a lesson about failure. Instead of spending time griping at my office job, I spent a lot of time in introspection. What didn’t I like? Why was I so dissatisfied? Where should I go from here? After a year, I ditched the office and made the move into freelance copywriting and editing. Since then, a few entrepreneurial principles have stuck out to me as I’ve worked in a fluctuating labor market.
The Most Valuable Principles I've Learned
Would the WSU Entrepreneur’s Club have gone differently if I had been more adaptable? Who knows, but adapting to your circumstances is always a good idea. No matter how well you’ve researched and planned, what happens will probably be wildly different from how you pictured it. In my freelance career, I might be building a brand identity one day and editing a book on technology use the next. I prize adaptability because it lets me rise to new challenges and take on projects that I might not be fully comfortable with.
Consistency means putting in the work, even when you’re feeling discouraged. As a freelancer, setting my own schedule is a huge perk, but it also means I have to be consistent. One of the key entrepreneurial values is reliable effort, day in and day out. Knuckling down and doing the work is the best way to make sure you’re in the right spot when opportunities arise.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, is the willingness to take an honest mindset toward growth. We’re all imperfect, and even adaptability and consistency can’t guarantee success. When failure does come knocking, will you be leveled? Or will you learn from your mistakes and be ready to apply that new knowledge in future endeavors? I’ve been freelance writing and editing for over a year and a half, and even though I don’t have any immediate business plans for the future, these entrepreneurial principles still help me excel. Adopting an entrepreneurship mindset in your daily life isn’t hard—look for ways to adapt to new challenges, be willing to put in the work day after day, and most of all, learn from your mess-ups. If you’re interested in learning more about the entrepreneurial mindset, feel free to drop me a line so we can chat.