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What Is a Real Business Owner? Part 1

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What Is a Real Business Owner? Part 1

As we learn, change, and deepen our identity of “business owner”, we get advice and messages about what we’re supposed to do. From the moment we start our business to the time we exit it, there are messages about what makes a “real” business owner. This two-part post talk about how trying to live these messages undermines our peformance and can contribute to feeling overwhelmed or inadequate as well as strategies to gain clarity and spend your energy on the activities that will create the business you really want.

When I decided toBass Guitar learn how to play the bass guitar, I also discovered there are lots of opinions about what a “real” bass player sounds like. There are some people who believe that you aren’t a real bass player unless you have the virtuosity of Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) or Geddy Lee (Rush). They do have incredible chops and how they play the bass amazes me! But what about someone with a different style, say Adam Clayton (U2)? He has a gift for playing bass lines that fill out a song so it sounds complete. He also has some riffs that remind you that the bass is not simply that low sound in the background. The inspiring part of these bass players is they understand when their instrument is grounding a song harmonically and when it is part of the melodic tapestry.

Reminds me of how easy it is for business owners to get sidetracked by what a “real” business owner is supposed to do. We’re given all sorts of messages about how to be perfect leaders and managers. For example, in one day, I saw an advice column that said that business owners should be dictators and another article about the new book by Tony Hsieh ( CEO) which focused on happiness. How many gurus do you hear telling you to add products to your service-based business or services to your product-based business? It’s enough to make your brain hurt!

When a small business owner is unclear about what is most true for him or her, it is easy to get scattered. All priorities become number one and we try to do too much without clear business planning.  Fertile ground for procrastination! (There is a great meta-study by Piers Steel of the University of Calgary. He discovered that feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities and tasks is one of the major cause s of why we put things off.) The continuous messages about what makes a “real” business owner combined with all of the usual responsibilities  adds to the lack of focus and information overload.

Some of the common bad messages we receive:

  • You’re supposed to work 50+ hours per week.
  • You must be an innovative leader in your industry.
  • Failure is not allowed
  • All doubt is bad
  • You must be engaged in all social networking sites
  • You have to know everything

This list could go on and on. There are times when we reach our limits and say, what have I gotten myself into? If you’re finding your head is spinning, you’re not alone. Getting scattered can happen to anyone.  There is a client I work with who is generally very self-disciplined and focused.  And yet, she expresses feeling scattered and daunted by the prospect of hiring additional staff. So she has put off completing tasks that will lay the foundation for the next stage of her business. Her challenge? Decide whether or not to believe the message that failure is not allowed. We’re not even talking about a full-fledged, going-out-of-business failure. For her, it’s adjusting her management style and changing her in-person availability to the firm’s clients. To her, somehow not being on the job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is a failure.

Like the novice bass player finding her own personal sound, business owners have to find which messages are complete nonsense and what is truly special about themselves so they can create the business they want.

How do you describe a “real” business owner?

What messages do you believe are complete rubbish?

Growing a business locally or internationally takes a different mindset; the CEO Mindset. Elli St.George-Godfrey, a behavioral economics coach, international expansion consultant and founder of Ability Success Growth, uses her 3 Keys Coaching process to help business owners and executives in the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland to unlock the CEO within. Under her guidance, personal styles are fine-tuned allowing the senior leader to “authentically inhabit” the role of CEO and collaborate with their team more effectively. With this focus on both the people and the organization in which they work, Elli’s market-proven coaching helps leaders and their teams develop styles and capabilities which enables them to collaborate and effectively join together to optimize the business outcomes.

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  • Great post Eli. Wow, you play the bass? Cool! I play the drums. Jam session coming up!
    The problem of trying to “be in control” is huge and the way it translates into daily activities is “being at work” 24 hours (office and home). I can’t say honestly that someone told us that, but initially it feels right until it’s too much, or too late :s

  • Hi Elli, I echo Fred’s cool, you play the base :-).

    The way some people treat their biz, I’m often reminded of how some people treat their kids, they want to protect them so badly that they never allow them to grow up. I remember working with a family owned business & each member of the family treated the biz like it was their only child, it was a nightmare!

  • Anonymous


    Good post. I used to be a bit musical myself in my younger years. Could be a BT band hitting the charts for a Christmas No.1. I have added some comments to the “bad messages” you outlined.

    1. You’re supposed to work 50+ hours per week

    Don’t agree even though I find I do. I guess it is because I don’t feel like I am working. If you really use 35-40 hours productively it should be enough. Perhaps when you are a start up it is different and more input is required.

    2. You must be an innovative leader in your industry

    No don’t agree. I have run two businesses in the last 10 years. Neither of the businesses was particularly innovative and I would not describe myself as an innovative leader. You can be very successful by taking someone else’s idea and doing it better 🙂

    3. Failure is not allowed

    I don’t believe in failure so I guess I don’t agree with this. These are learning opportunities and we all like to learn 🙂

    4. You must be engaged in all social networking sites

    I don’t agree. Better to do little well. Social Media is time consuming and I see too many people spreading themselves too think achieving less impact.

    5. You have to know everything

    Lucky for me I do 🙂 BUT this is not essential. Stick to your knitting and bring in experts to support where you are lacking.


  • Hi Elli,

    There will always be others telling you how you should or should be doing something. Success is the right approach for you – it doesn’t neccessarily have to work for everyone, just you.
    Its great to hear the experiences of others and great to be experimental, BUT we are all unique. We all have a way of working, strengths, skills etc….for the weaker areas we can talk to others, learn and make a decision.

    So don’t compare your bass playing; you’re not competing. You find your unique style and run with it girl!


  • Anonymous


    I love your point about competition! These messages for business owners seem to either be about playing a game that has no winners or to bring you down so don’t excel. Like playing music with soul (yes, even if it is classical music), being a business owner is about finding your own voice and sing out loud what is special about how you design and deliver what is special about your product or service.

  • Anonymous



    You know everything? Ah, I am in the presence of a master! LOL

    The trouble with these messages is that they are given to us as if they are set in stone for ALL business owners. Like you pointed out from your experience, there are times when the messages reflect what is true and necessary to build the business you want. And then, there are just bad messages that make one feel inadequate.

  • Anonymous


    What an experience! Good example of what not to do?

    It’s interesting how we take messages that are out there and then act as if they are the only way to operate. The messages we receive about what it means to be a “real” business owner takes on other dimensions when it is a family business. In a family business, it’s quite possible to have either one person acting too much like a dictator or there are too many chefs stirring the pot. Underneath it all, we are trying to express an identity and the norms that go with that identity.

  • Anonymous


    Yep, a jam session is in order! Looks like I’d better get over there soon!

    It’s fascinating how you picked up an underlying theme about control. Is a “real” business owner in control of his/her business? Does this become a strait jacket or simply commitment and dedication to executing so well you build a successful business? The messages are sometimes overtly stated (I’ve heard them discussed within groups of business owners while networking) or in the ether and we absorb them. Like you, Tina, and Paul pointed out, each business owner has to find the way to run the business that suits him/her best.

  • “Practice makes perfect”, Elli, and you just keep getting better. I’m willing to bet the same can be said of your bass playing. And your business chops.

    Sorry I can’t add more to the conversation than adulation. But that’s an indication of just how excellent I thought your post was.


  • HI Elli. I think you have a solid list here of the “advice” we all get at some point.

    Regarding the failure. That’s an interesting one for me because I suspect there may be some cultural differences. Failure, to me, is only failure if you don’t learn from it and move on. We will all “fail” i.e. not achieve something we wanted to at some point in our professional lives. The trick is to understand what went wrong by being open to that understanding and trying to stop “it” happening again.

    The US attitude and Irish attitude to business failure is very different – alot of this is driven by our archaic bankruptcy laws which prevent us doing business again for 12 years (I think!) vs the 1 year in the US! People in the US that I have dealt with see a business going under as a learning opportunity and it’s not frowned upon as a failure in the same way it is here in Ireland. (Just my views of course 🙂 ).


  • Facundo

    I’m with you Elli. I’ve only been a business owner for about 3 years, which means that I’ve been exposed to what others say a lot (I mean online due to the social media/ blogging/ constant update effect). Little by little I’m letting go on comparing to others, but it is hard. One thing that works for me often is to think about traditional businesses like a garage or a greengrocer. I imagine those successful ones and then decide if they would have thought too much about others’ opinions. Probably the greengrocer worked 65 hours per week because he had to but not because it defined “entrepreneurial practice”. That is a bit in line with Paul’s thoughts, letting go on that silly pressure from the so-called gurus.

  • Danielle Keister

    Great article. I blogged recently about some similar sentiments here:

    Personally, I’ve never felt that being a “real” business owner had anything whatsoever to do with knowing everything, never making mistakes, etc. For me, it’s more about the intention behind being in business.

    In my industry, there are a lot of people who really aren’t there for business. They often don’t have any conscious thought about being in business. They don’t depend on the income. It’s rather just a way to make some side money, some pocket cash, a little extra to the family income. And for them that’s cool. But that’s not really a business. That’s a hobby.

    The reason that distinction is important, to me at least, has to do with those poor women who actually are trying to create something where they can earn the kind of money they can actually live and pay the bills on, who are the primary breadwinners and who have children (especially single moms) to take care of. Betty Lou, spouting off about how $10 an hour is just fine with her, is not helpful in any way to Sarah Lee who is a single mom trying to build a real business that will allow her to work from home, be independent, take care of her kids, pay the rent or buy a home, and really, dramatically change her life (for the better).

    So getting clear about the distinction between running a “real” business and simply indulging in a hobby have real importance to outcomes and achieving objectives.

  • Anonymous


    Thank you so much! Your encouragement is deeply appreciated!

    As for the bass playing, well, let’s just say I’ll keep practicing.

  • Anonymous


    Thank you for your comment. Even in the coaching industry, we hear about how people are not doing the work for the money. Your distinction is actually very important for freelancers in software, PR,and many other industries. There is great power in choice, as in, “I choose to run my business as a business” or “I choose to let go of rules or stories that don’t apply to me.”

  • Anonymous


    Thank you for brining up the point about cultural differences. There are differences between US and Irish attitudes about failure and not even for outright, go-out-of-business failure. Certainly the bankruptcy laws are adding complications. The important part here is if we tell ourselves that ALL failure is not allowed, how do we make adjustments to prevent the really big disasters?

  • Anonymous


    Good for you! Define how you want to be as a business owner. I tell everyone, even with my advice, evaluate for yourself. Does it fit your personality? Does it fit with your business model? We often forget our own experiences have taught us a great deal and to use our own wisdom.

  • Love your story Eli, I know a bass player who is also the lead singer in his band, quite uncommon I think. But that is what works for the band – and he has two great talents.

    “what is truly special about themselves so they can create the business they want.” I LOVE LOVE what you said here – creating the business you want. We all seem to think we have to create a business that follows certain rules.

    I say make our own rules, make our own business, and that will create niches, markets, opportunities, but most of all – harmony 🙂

    A great read, thank you!

    I am not very musical historically, put might manage the sound production for the Bloggertone jamming session (or better still, organise the party to play at)

  • Hi Satheesh, welcome to Bloggertone! I really like your point about establishing an IT steering committee that approves technology based on the needs of the business and the marketplace. I would envisage that this would multi department approach, rather than just the techies? Great post!

  • Facundo

    Hi Satheesh, welcome o board. I was actually looking today at Siemens’ new definition of their Team and solutions as “Business Technologists”. I’d say they see this need for ROI regarding IT and several of the points you raise so they are selling their services very cleverly providing that vision/ guidance that companies who spent money unnecessarily or don’t have that steering team require so much.

  • Satheesh Vattem

    Thanks Facundo. That’s really interesting point you bring up there. I am sure we are going to see a lot of consulting opportunities where some of these companies would start offering IT consolidation services aimed at optimizing IT investments. All the talk about GreenIT is also going to be driving this exercise.

  • Satheesh Vattem

    Thanks Niall. I always believed that Technology is just an enabler of business although it some times opens up new business avenues. But even then technology needs to be backed up with proper business sense. Techies on their own I believe would make fancy systems that just may not have any business relevance. This is actually based on my own personal experience where some of the guys I worked with created an application to capture time sheets of service personnel in a fancy technology and interface that had to be thrown in the bin because the service personnel found the actual process of entering the time sheets was creating more inefficiency 🙂

  • Satheesh Vattem

    I think differentiation by price is more a strategy for getting a foot in the door for many Indian companies Fred. It worked to an extent where it has become an USP now. But there are Indian companies which operate on quality of offering also. But they do not get attention / get reported as much as the cheaper options. And any company which is evaluating a solution purely on the basis of cost would be aware of the quality implications also I guess. When you buy from Pennys u don’t really expect high quality because the whole business model is based on cost advantage and you are taking the cost route based on certain considerations obviously. And Pennys will have its own set of customers who believe in cost and there would be a different set of customers who would believe in quality who would go to M & S. I believe a lot of companies now realize that they can not continue to keep competing on price alone and they would need to offer more. So you would see the market evolving where I am sure a new differentiator would be found pretty soon. And I believe tools that enable quality output with less costs are what we are moving towards.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Sharon. Glad you finding them useful!

  • Anonymous

    Wider Implications >>nnIt’s not just going to be Google who will be affected. Every session controlled by a cookie will too. That includes Ryanair, Aer Lingus etc. All you have to do is browse through the cookie list on your own PC.nnSomebody recently discovered that each time they went back to check the price of an online flight, the price kept going up. Then they deleted and cleared their cache and price dropped. This is 2nd hand information and I can’t say I’ve tested it.nnReal Answer >>nSession Tracking without Cookies isn’t new and we had built our own tracking system in 2004 that didn’t require cookies. This makes a lot of sense as you only need a cookie for when the user’s session breaks and tbh – Analytics has many faults in calculating Bounce Rates, actual “Unique” visits anyway!nn

  • Hi David,nnI think the wording of the directive means that first party cookies will not be affected so sites like Ryanair and Aer Lingus should be fine if the cookie is set by them and not a third party. Also as the directive is conerned with privacy then a tracking system that did not use cookies might also be affected as it is the tracking of the person that the EU seems to have aproblem with. The wording is so vague that I’m sure there are ways around it and we don’t even know yet how different countries in the EU will apply the directive into law.nWould be interested to hear more details on the faults of Analytics, I think many people would be interested to know more about this as the information given by Analytics is so valuable to people.

  • This may be an issue with European Region but not with other Regions. However i find GA an extremely useful analytics service which is offered free for all

  • This new directive, (and other changes to EU privacy laws further down the line that amend this and expand it to cover non-cookie user session tracking) will probably require a test case to clarify it’s scope.n nPlacing a simple form visible above the fold that allows visitors to “Turn off cookies” will ensure compliance. I’ll be recommending that my clients also add a “What’s this about?” link that pops up an explanation of the advantages of keeping the cookie enabled – tracking user behavior allows businesses to tailor the website to the visitors needs, rather than what they perceive as being the visitors needs. Improving the businesses return on investment, via feedback from website analytics to streamline the sales process, will enable the business to invest more in the quality of its products and services and/or to offer more competitive prices. Either way the customer wins by having cookies turned on. nnThis is an opportunity for businesses to educate their customers, by being transparent about their use of analytics. Some will just be scared off using analytics and remove them (most businesses seem to ignore the analytics data anyway). But those who make the effort to inform their prospective customers while providing an easy “opt out” will win in the end – by having analytics data, and educated consumers. Even though the analytics data will not be complete because fo the missing data from those with cookies disabled, it will still be useable – after all it never is complete anyway.

  • i’m not a techie, so can someone explain why google says they only set first party cookies?

  • Hi Colin,nnWhere does Google say they only set first party cookies? This may be true for some of their products but as far as I am aware, using Google Analytics on your site sets a third party cookie as it is set by Google and not the domain the site is on.

  • Hi Beatrice,nnI just finished the Google Analytics Conversion University (I even passed the IQ exam…yea!) and it says so several times at the Conversion University courses … i also found it on page 23 of Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics where he says in a pull quote box: “Google Analytics uses first party anonymous cookies only.”nnEager to hear why some would consider this a third party cookie.nncheers.nnp.s. nice blog

  • Thanks Beatrice – the wording is confusing and you’ve put it very eloquently!nnConsidering it both our lines of thought further : If Ryanair leave a cookie on your PC to see what you’ve done earlier – that’s tracking by any sense. Also, if a shopping cart leaves a cookie to chart your progress through a shopping cart (say, to help recover if your browser crashes) – then thats the same level of tracking/stalking really!!nnThe faults and limitations of Google Analytics cause many issues at meeting tables around the country. I’d be happy to share some and the understanding we use behind them somewhere if you wanted and to hear others’ stories!

  • If you look in your cookies list you will see the analytics cookies set by Bloggertone for example, so the Google Analytics ones are first party cookies. You can see more at I’ve heard that about Ryanair too, though it could be urban myth. nnBut it’s a great example of how people don’t understand how cookies are used and what the law is in relation to them. Are Ryanair doing that? Is it within the law to do that? nnThe technology is changing business practices faster than the law can keep up. nnAn interesting resource about online privacy issues is and IAB site:

  • The non-techie reasoning behind why they are first party and not third party cookies is that the javascript that you embed on your site from Google Analytics is executed on your site and the cookie is returned to your site and not to Google Analytics. In other words, your site is setting the cookie and doing the tracking, not Google Analytics – which makes it a first party cookie.

  • Hi Jannie and AP, thanks for the info. I see what you mean about the Google analytics cookie technically being a first party cookie but I am still wondering if the reading of the EU directive will consider this as being outside the terms of what is allowed, considering the data is sent to a third party i.e. Google. It is certainly true that the law is not keeping up with the technology. I know that German law does consider the use of Google Analytics without the consent of the website user, as a violation of privacy – see nIf the EU directive was applied like this in other countries in Europe then it being a first party cookie would not make a difference.

  • AP Clarke

    Hi Beatrice, I read the directive concerning cookies and it’s worth quoting part of it – nn”Third parties may wish to store information on the equipment of a user, or gain access to information already stored, for a number of purposes, ranging from the legitimate (such as certain types of cookies) to those involving unwarranted intrusion into the private sphere (such as spyware or viruses). It is therefore of paramount importance that users be provided with clear and comprehensive information when engaging in any activity which could result in such storage or gaining of access. The methods of providing information and offering the right to refuse should be as user-friendly as possible.”nnIf I’m reading this right then the Google Analytics issue is really about the line that reads “or gain access to information already stored”. Interestingly enough, this question has been asked of Google – if a website uses first party cookies, then how does GA get the information from the website? (No answers so far). So I think you’re right Beatrice, there may well be a case to answer.

  • Torihawthorne

    Thanks Sian,I think Salaried Sales Staff have a place, but when Businesses are in their first few years, salaries for sales staff just aren’t there. Sometimes they comm only agents are left to fend for themselves and that’s where the bad reputation for comm only has come from. Sales is an investment to any business and needs to be treated the same way we would treat our printer or web developer; given all the information necessary to do their job and close communication all the way.
    Thanks so much for your comment Sian

  • Sian, I agree, commission system works, although it needs to be properly implemented into the company’s structure. 

    I have seen many sales teams on salary doing only the base minimum to keep their jobs…. At the same time, I have also seen companies with commission structure organized so badly that the rotation of the staff was practically ridiculous. 

    I guess the middle ground will be different for every company, but the key is to actually find it and implement it.

    Oh and you’re right, showing appreciation is a must too 🙂 

  • Torihawthorne

    So True Pawel,Thanks for your comment,
    But, I also know salaried Sales Teams who have worked exceptionally hard to ensure they keep their jobs and receive no bonus, no commission and not even a yearly pay rise.. It comes back to ensuring we have the right sales people for the right sales job.I really truly believe the middle ground is ensuring we train our sales teams from the start. We have to train them in effective sales and customer service techniques.

    Business in general can be nervous of sales people, and with the snaky slimy portrayal of sales people on TV etc I can see why. But with the right direction, training and appreciation our sales teams can be the best investment to any business.

    Thanks again Pawel

  • Your 8 step plan is ingenious in its simplicity – it’s getting the balance right as you say in your article. I think as business gets more social, the snake oil will slime away to the hole where it belongs, and transparency, respect and honesty will shine through.
    Yesterday I heard a comment that it doesn’t matter what sales people “think” of the product they are selling – this goes against my gut judgement – I personally feel more inclined to buy from someone who is genuinely passionate about the product or service they are selling, and not just a good liar. I feel this works the other way around too and I should feel my agents are excited about my products/services. 

    I love this post Tori! And I love the idea of advertising to those who are already advocates 🙂

  • Torihawthorne

    Thanks so much for your comment Elaine,

    I truly agree with you.It really does matter what your sales team think, and its really ok for them to be honest too. A long time ago I knew a product I was selling (1 in a range) wasn’t the best, so when asked, I was honest, but tactful to my employer and tactful to the customer. She appreciated my honesty, spent a fortune and promptly recommended me to her friends as I was trustworthy in her eyes. We must give our sales teams, the tools and confidence to build honest relationships.. They have strength and longevity in comparison to snake oil slime techniques (or lack there-of) ;)Thanks again Elaine

  • Daryl

     45 years selling, managing sales US and North America, muscle building teams, writing comp plans, building 5 companies from year zero(two public), and a multitude of accolades for ‘making it happen’……I have never seen such oversimplified touchy-feely commenting passed off as business advice.  The only part of your article that makes sense is the knowing that a well constructed compensation plan drives business.  Note that any seasoned salesman will see a 100% commission pay plan as a disguise of outsourced labor.   It means you as an individual are financing the sales side of the business 100% for your semi-employer.  Furthermore, straight 100% plans cause the smarter ones to focus on hunting elephants and ignore smaller (perhaps faster, more profitable sales).  Then they quit.  The cost of turnover for sales is easily 3X annual $$ target income for poor salesmen and 5-7X for good ones.  Hire right and pay them to stay.  Hire wrong and make your competition stronger.

    Straight commission doesn’t work in long sales cycles.  Straight commission won’t work in  true consultative or enterprise type business models.  Straight commission tends to ignore margin control.  For perspective; the more times you say “if” and “when” in discussing my pay…the less I sense I really make….you come off as if you want to control my income instead of the other way around.  If you have a consumer product, what is clearly a fast turnaround sale, your ‘one call close’, you may get a few good people to work for you…but not for long.

    Daryl Lucien

  • Torihawthorne

    Hi there Daryl,
    Thanks so much for commenting. It’s an interesting insight, thank you. I would not suggest it as a long term or permanent option for a company’s sales team (unless the business suited that model as some can). And I am not advocating that any commission only sales agent should finance the activities they undertake. I was looking at the planning, training & support aspects.

    I will take on board your points, its great to see sales from another persons perspective. Thanks again, much appreciated.


  • anumalik81

     Yes, Sian. If you want to increase sales activity, you need to have experts sales team. They must be smarts and industrious. Also you should treated well with a better bonus.

  • Good credit card report is one of the key factors when you go for business loans. So,It’s very important to maintain a good credit card report. As you suggest some of the very nice point. I think it will be helpful for business owners to maintain their credit report.

  • Thanks for your feedback. Yes It’ll surely help business owners to maintain their credit history and this will help them to get a mortgage easily.

  • Agree with you Anika. Thanks for you feedback.

  • Ali Nshakirahe Mfitundinda

    Some companies face challenges dealing with commission agents whereby they end up fighting for one i thing for the company that are just growing Bonuses and good salaries can do better in order the company to grow first.Because when most of staffs get to know that sales team is getting too much commission all the departments will love to fight for selling and at the end of the day the whole company will be in mess.

    Best regards

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