Are You an Entrepreneur or a Small Business Owner? (and Why the Difference Matters)

While the two overlap, Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners are not always the same exact people. There are qualities that make you more of an entrepreneur and qualities that make you more of a small business owner, and knowing the distinctions can be valuable to you. Essentially, understanding where you are as a business owner can help you to know whether you are on track for your goals: there are wildly successful people in each space, but their definitions of success are often different in small but meaningful ways.

Qualities of a Small Business Owner

Focused on a Specific Niche

Usually, a small business owner has found something they can do well, possibly better than anyone else in their community. They’ve poured their heart and soul – or at least a lot of hours! – into being the best at it, and in so doing, they’ve found a reliable target market and some opportunities for growth. 

Building a Sustainable Lifestyle and a Business

One of the focuses that matters most to a small business owner is balancing their life goals with their business goals. Yes, they want the business to be sustainable and strong, but that is more in service of continuing to have excellent revenue even if a surprising challenge comes around the bend. They aren’t as focused on selling the business or on the business for its own sake: the work they do and the life they get to live take precedence.

Practical Minded Even if It Takes a While

Just because you haven’t found your perfect space yet doesn’t mean you aren’t a great small business owner; in fact, they are characterized by a patience in the process of getting to business success. When they reach success, they may decide to take on an employee or expand their production, but not without thinking it through, counting the cost, and anticipating any potential hurdles. Slow growth is the name of the game, whether you are just launching a small business or hiring your 50th employee tomorrow.

Qualities of an Entrepreneur

Flexible and Prone to Pivot

On the other hand, when an entrepreneur encounters a lot of adversity in a business idea, their first impulse is to cut their losses and start fresh. This doesn’t mean they aren’t persistent: these are some of the most tenacious people you will ever meet! They just hold individual business ideas loosely, rather than having a single headlong passion. They learn what they can from ideas that didn’t pan out and they use those ideas to make the next idea even better.

Focused on Building the Business

While entrepreneurs can care about work-life balance, the typical entrepreneur is less concerned about home life and more concerned about what they can do to build the business. They aren’t necessarily trying to create a company where their kids and grandkids can eventually work; they want to create a company that has such an excellent core value proposition that someone else sees its potential, buys it, and scales it up themselves. Sometimes entrepreneurs stick with their businesses for longer and sometimes for shorter, but that decision is more driven by the best moment to sell the business than by them just wanting to make sure they keep getting to work there.

Ready for the Next Big Thing

When they get the chance to pass the reins and cash in on their success, entrepreneurs tend to do so. They get a real joy boost from building something from the ground up but never stagnating in a single role. Once they have that seed money from the sale of a business, they use it to leverage their next exciting idea to get better traction. It’s an exciting path, but also one that doesn’t “rest” very often.

Qualities They Share

The above descriptions may make entrepreneurship sound seductive and exciting, or alternatively, may make it seem stressful and overwhelming. These descriptions may make small business ownership seem slow-paced or comfortable, depending on your personality. However, the two share very important core qualities: whether you privilege the steadiness of small business ownership or the big dreams of the entrepreneur, you both share these two items. 

Deep Rooted Independence

Being your own boss, no matter whether you want to create a tech start-up or a hometown dry-cleaning store, requires you to have a lot of independent thinking and to trust your own gut. You have to be a self-starter, whether that “self” is getting up to pitch venture capitalists each morning or developing a faster way to package your arts-and-crafts for shipment through your online store.

Inventiveness and Problem Solving

Tied to independence is ingenuity: neither entrepreneurs nor small business owners have a corner on the market for problem-solving skills and inventiveness. Both kinds of businesses tend to require tons of thoughtful consideration and the ability to think outside the box.

Are You Crossing Over to the Other Side? Why it Matters

Maybe you’ve always seen yourself in one box or the other, but reading this post has made you realize that you may be changing toward the other direction. What matters is self-knowledge: if you keep tracking your successes based on entrepreneurial goals even when your own goals have changed, you’ll feel like a failure when you are really a super-successful small business owner. Ditto for the other way around. 

  • If you find yourself becoming more like a small business owner: congratulate yourself for having found a business that gives your restless, searching, ambitious mind a break! This business has, for whatever reason, become a place where you feel appropriately challenged and where you feel comfortable expanding slowly and with care. Congratulate yourself for this change!
  • If you find yourself becoming more like an entrepreneur: it turns out you have some big opportunities on the horizon, and to your surprise, you are excited to follow that fast-growth curve as far as it will take you. Don’t grieve for your localized goals or the calm you used to enjoy; recognize that this is your season to throw your whole heart into making this business ready for the world. Congratulate yourself for finding the right path for you!

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