Small Business Owner or Entrepreneur?

A confrontation between two men

I’ve been in quite a few discussions about definitions of the term “entrepreneur” in particular, and how it relates to the term “small business owner.”  Of course there is a constellation of other related terms that get thrown about in these discussions, like “solopreneur” and “micropreneur” and so forth.  But those first two are the main ones that get discussed.  And here’s what I’ve found.

Some people differentiate (often with very strong and clear opinions and definitions), and others couldn’t be bothered.

I’m in the latter camp…which is strange because I usually have pretty strong opinions when it comes to linguistic things.  (Ask me about the Oxford comma, for example, or why you should put two spaces after a period.)  But I am aware that there are those out there who do see “entrepreneur” and “small business owner,” which I’ll call E and SBO from here on out, as two clearly and distinctly different things. Now, since it’s important to understand how people are using words if you’re going to understand them, so here’s how most of the people who care seem to break it down.

E represents the sexier, daring, and glitzy risk-taker side of things.  An E is someone who gets a business idea, develops it, plans it (sometimes), and launches it.  This is the key bit of the definition.  Notice there’s nothing there about running the business.  To those who differentiate, an E is a creator of something new, like a poet or an inventor.

A SBO, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily need to have created anything new at all.  A person who buys a car-repair franchise shop can be a SBO but not an E.  A SBO is someone who is a maintainer not an inventor; a person who sells a product or service for money, not the engine of innovation and economic development.

Now, you may note that I’ve worked in a bit of judgement into those paragraphs about which of the two it’s better to be.  This is on purpose.  I’ve found that those who make the distinction seem to clearly prefer E, and see it as a superior role than SBO.

But that’s not my take.

I see these two things as intertwined.  That’s why image I used for this post comes from a poster for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—they’re different and yet the same. Sure, one person may come up with the idea and someone else carries it out.  But that’s simply because those tasks require different skills.  As Michael Gerber describes it in The E-Myth Revisited, there are three skills needed to start and run a business: the Technician (the person who can do the service or make the product), the Manager (the person who can keep the ship running efficiently), and the Entrepreneur (who maintains shared vision and makes long term strategy decisions).  He says the ideal business person has all three in roughly equal proportion.  But that’s pretty rare—often times people are predominantly one.

The point, however, is that these are skills, and they’re skills that are needed.  Which is why I use the terms E and SBO more or less interchangeably.  Because I define them both as “someone who has some responsibility for and vested interest in the success of a business.”  I don’t get too precious about which contribution is more or less important.  Frankly, a mediocre idea with great execution can sometimes be more successful than a great idea with mediocre execution (think Chia Pets, for example).

What is important, though, is the success, and that depends on doing everything at least well enough.

What are your thoughts?  Do you differentiate?  Do you define things differently than I have here?  Let me know in the comments.  Thanks!

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Tools & Terms

About Michael J. Coffey

Michael started learning about online marketing as the web store manager for a scrappy little game retailer during the "dot com bubble" of the 1990s. Since then he's helped fitness companies, tea wholesalers and retailers, lawyers, clothing designers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs in many other fields. In his spare time he drinks very high quality tea, writes letters with a fountain pen, and reads literature.

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