Alexa Seeger

Lessons Learned: Entrepreneurship Without Being an ‘Entrepreneur’

Photo used with permission from Sam Manns on Unsplash. Text added by Alexa Seeger.

The truth is, I’ve learned I don’t want to be an entrepreneur.

What I’ve learned
I’ve come to realize that I’m not willing to devote my life to running a business. I like my 9 to 5 job that lets me come home to my husband at the end of the day. And while I do aspire to run something of a graphic design business out of my attic, I’ve realized I want to act more as a freelancer than an entrepreneur.

Shanley Pearl, who we met on our Detroit trip and I wrote about here, taught me that it’s okay to define success in your own way. She’s a one woman show, with a full client docket and she’s happy that way. She’s not scaling, at least for now, so she can enjoy her work and set her own schedule. She’s allowing herself the freedom to be content where she’s at.

My definition of entrepreneur is influenced more by Mark Zuckerberg than Pearl. And I’ve learned that I’m kind of wrong; entrepreneurs all come with different dreams and goals, and they’re all worthwhile.

I’m more in favor of Pearl’s method, or rather her scale. It’s always been my goal not to change the world, but to change my portion of it. For Pearl, that’s Detroit. For me, it’s Lansing. She’s building buzz for the local restaurant renaissance. I’m communicating conservation, education and stewardship to an urban audience. Oh, and designing my friends’ Christmas cards and wedding signs.

But still, by the third week of class I had learned all the reasons not to be an entrepreneur from the PMARCA Guide. Even Pearl faced the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, the pressure put on you to succeed or fail, and she’s experienced how hard it is to hire someone and blend their individuality with your brand.

By the time I got to reason number six, the hours, I had learned I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. It’s not what I want. And that’s okay.

But I’ve learned so much more.

What I’ve really learned
Entrepreneurship teaches valuable lessons that more people in the workforce should know. Especially how to solve problems.

Every business is, essentially, in business to solve a problem. Meijer provides groceries, Kristy Photography captures images of important times in your life, Fenner Conservancy connects people to nature. They all solve a problem. But every business should also constantly be evaluating their audience, their products or services and their success.

By performing market research and by conducting surveys, businesses can evaluate how well they are solving their customer’s problems and what problems aren’t being solved. Then, they can use the Lean Startup method to test, pivot and retest until they are successful.

Pivoting and testing may be more difficult for established companies than entrepreneurial startups, but it may be even more critical. It can keep them disrupting their own market rather than being disrupted themselves.

Entrepreneurship also teaches you valuable observational and organizational skills. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be able to see problems in the world and know how best to fix them for your customers, especially when they don’t know how to fix it for themselves. And you have to then be able to tackle that problem. As Tamara Kamara, the City of Detroit’s web team supervisor, said, you have to be able to break lofty goals into a manageable timetable.

As an entrepreneur or an entrepreneurial spirit within a company like Kamara, seeing a path to success is a covetable skill. For entrepreneurs, it’s a question of how do we fix campus news, how do we define our audience, how do we ascertain their interests, how do we deliver it to them, how do we market it to them and how do we make money?

For me, it’s a question of how do we add weddings to the nature center’s offerings? How do we craft attractive packages? What services do we provide? What vendors do we partner with? How do we market it to brides and how do we make money? Different questions, yes, but the same problem solving process.

And the class has even helped me answer some of those questions. I’ve learned how to research which advertising platforms are most successful with different markets. (Hint: for 22-35, it’s YouTube and Facebook). I’ve learned how to create geo-targeted ads on social media. And I’ve learned how to present and prove my strategies.

From Peter Shankman, I learned to use your differences to your advantage. Make you work for you.

From Amy Haimerl, I learned that you can’t let fear of failure stop you. Sometimes it’s best to jump in and learn to swim once you hit the water.

From Nextdoor, I learned about unintended consequences and taking responsibility. Your creations don’t live in the vacuum of your imagination, and ultimately, you are responsible for how people use it.

From AirBnB, I learned that design can change the world. Design, with proper thoughtfulness, can change social norms. It can even get you to stay in a stranger’s house. Or let a stranger stay in your house.

Though I’ll still be working for someone else, and happily, I will take these lessons with me. I’m confident I’m more marketable and useful as an observant, organized and research-savy internal entrepreneur.

Okay, you got me, I guess that’s kind of like being an entrepreneur. Just don’t expect me to be adding it to my business card any time soon.





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