Before I started my first business in 1974, I went looking for all the information I could find. I haunted my local library trying to find something that could help me start the kind of business I envisioned: small, at home, creative. The scant offerings on starting a business all assumed that the reader intended to have employees, pension plans, real estate and so forth. I wanted to market ideas; the books assumed I’d be manufacturing a product for wide distribution.

I attended a Start Your Own Business seminar hosted by the SBA. That was more discouraging than illuminating. I began to wonder if I was setting myself up for a huge disappointment since my vision didn’t seem to align with anyone’s notion of what it meant to be an entrepreneur.

Eight years earlier, unbeknownst to me at the time,  Paul Hawken was opening one of the country’s first natural food stores in Boston. A dozen years later, he started Smith & Hawken, a mail order business to offer tools and garden ornamentation.

Both of those operations were more conventional than mine, but he shared my confusion.

He still feels that way. I read a recent interview with Hawken and was both surprised and relieved to see he shared my experience. He said,  “When I started the natural food business in Boston, my business knowledge was scant. I did the best I could and began reading everything I could lay my hands on. I subscribed to The Wall Street Journal. It confused me. I read the major business magazines. Their Fortune 500 world seemed irrelevant. I sneaked into classes at the Harvard Business School. Their case studies were lunar in their usefulness to my enterprise.  The more I searched, the more confused I became. The more exposure I gained to the ‘official’ world of business, the more I began to doubt that I was in business at all. I seemed to be doing something entirely different. I get that same feeling today when I read most of the standard business literature believe that most people in new businesses, and some in not-so-new businesses, have the same problem. They don’t feel connected to the conventional wisdom..as if a small business is just a flake chipped off the larger corporate world.”

 I was thinking about this the other day when someone posted a link on Twitter to a round up of marketing books. I clicked on the link and as i scrolled through the list had that old feeling. “These books don’t have much bearing on the kind of business that I run.” While the books might have been a good fit for a large, conventional business, the ideas didn’t really transfer.

Since this new breed of entrepreneur has come on the scene, it’s been obvious that our notion of building a business is noticeably different than that of a corporate empire builder. Fortunately, there’s a growing array of tools to help us out. We may have to work a little harder to discover them, however. 

Making your way through that gigantic information hardware store can be confusing. It may involve some experimenting in order to get the right tools you need to build the business of your dreams. Make an effort to connect with others who are running solo or tiny businesses. Audition organizations to see where you feel a connection before you commit. Learn to synthesize good ideas and ignore those that don’t work for you. 

When building a business or a life or a family or an adventure, you want the best tools you can find. As Abraham Maslow warned, “When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, you tend to see life as a nail.” 

After all, you wouldn’t use a toothbrush to build a house. You can’t build a business with the wrong tools, either.

The other day one of my Twitter friends posted a message that said, “Listening to two 50-year-old men complaining about their boss Never want that to be me.” I’ve eavesdropped on those kinds of conversations myself and am always reminded that such grumbling would never happen in a chat with my joyfully jobless friends. 

It’s not just conversation that’s different, of course. Entrepreneurs develop a different mindset. So why was I perturbed when I saw another Twitter post that said, “EMPLOYEE MINDSET=accept what you can’t change. CEO MINDSET=change what you can’t accept”? For starters, CEOs are often not true entrepreneurs. They are, however, the chief perpetrators of the employee mindset. 

Unfortunately, most of us have had far more training on how to behave like an employee than on how to behave like an entrepreneur. Even after we make the transition to self-employment, that old thinking– which may have served us well when we worked for someone else–follows us into our own enterprise. When that happens, it can wreak havoc with our best and brightest dreams. 

Often, employee thinking is sneaky companion. Take the oh-so-emotional area of money. If we spent years justifying staying too long in a bad job by convincing ourselves that the money compensated for our misery, we may have a hard time accepting money for doing something we find deeply pleasurable. 

As Paul Hawken warns us, “Owning a business and working for one are as different as chalk and cheese.” The good news is you can learn Entrepreneurial Thinking and put it to work building the business of your dreams. While it does require effort, it’s easier than learning a new language or Texas Hold ‘em. 

One of the best ways I know to accelerate that process is by spending a day in my What Would an Entrepreneur Do? seminar. (The next one is happening on June 19 in Madison, WI). 

Even if you’re thousands of miles away from Madison, you can consciously build an Entrpreneurial mindset. Make an effort to listen and learn from the successful. Follow successfully self-employed people on Twitter or Facebook and notice what they find important enough to pass along. You’ll start noticing inspiring quotes, interesting articles, success stories about other entrepreneurs. Soak it up. 

Hop over to my book page and you’ll find several great reads written by entrpreneurial thinkers. There’s Lynda Resnick’s Rubies in the Orchard, Anita Roddick’s Business as Unusual, Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner’s Shameless Exploitation: In Pursuit of the Common Good.

However you choose to build your  entrepreneurial mindset, don’t wait. Initiate. That’s what an entrepreneur would do.

1. Do not take advice from uninformed sources.

2. Do not confuse an expense with an investment.

3. What I don’t know can be learned…or hired.

4. Personal growth is a daily discipline.

5. Do not confuse a project with a dream.

6. Do not declare failure just because you’ve run out of patience.

7. There’s a difference between risk and calculated risk.

8. Negative thinking makes everything harder.

9. Authentic gratitude makes everything easier.

Here in Las Vegas, we post the odds in our casinos. They are not in your favor. That does not seem to dissuade people from attempting to beat them, of course.

I learned about  more favorable odds from my sister Margaret. Years ago, I was fretting about something–earthquakes or tornadoes, perhaps–and she said, “Barbara, don’t you know the odds are in your favor?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. She patiently pointed out that even in large disasters, most of the time more people survive than don’t. I’ve lost track of how many times that little tidbit has calmed me down in all sorts of nerve-wracking situations.

With our present economic situation, many people seem to be holding their breath. The media brings us new stories daily of lack and loss. Consequently,  I’ve had my share of e-mail from people wondering if this is a bad time to start a business. While there’s no definitive answer to that, I remind people that the current crisis seems to be most deeply impacting people who have put their trust in others for their financial serenity. At the same time, people who have not exercised their capacity for thinking creatively, may feel that their options are dreadfully limited.

On the other hand, people who have been creating small, thrifty, solid little businesses and have learned to be flexible and build an option bank, are far more relaxed. They know that the odds of surviving the current economic chaos are better for them than for their job-dependent friends. Many of those in Joyfully Jobless Land also are quietly certain that changing times bring with them fresh opportunities. Nice odds.

I’m not the only one to think so. In the past few days, I’ve been polling other self-employment experts and career coaches and there’s been a strong consensus that self-bossers are going to come through this more gracefully than those who accepted the myth of job security. Although I mentioned it earlier this week, if you haven’t seen Seth Godin’s blog piece called Too Small to Fail, I urge you to read it asap. 

Of course, if you want the odds to be in your favor, you also need to participate in stacking them. According to the National Business Incubation Association, 80-90% of businesses are still operating after five years where the founder has received entrepreneurial training and continues with a network group, as compared to a 10% success rate for those who do not receive training and support. 

Those are odds I could bet on.

We must participate relentlessly in the manifestation of our own blessings. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert