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Employees Vs Entrepreneurs

To be employed or become an entrepreneur? Which is better? Is entrepreneurship something you grow into or a naturally occurring trait, can it be learned? Can one do both? So much information out there and so much advice.

Today I cut through the piles of theory and give you a direct view into the world of the employee vs the world of the entrepreneur. Now, at this juncture I will say three things:

  • when it comes to employment or entrepreneurship, choosing one over the other is a personal choice. It is not a matter of one option being superior to the other.

  • when I use the term entrepreneurship, I am referring to the individual who develops products to solve a problem for a particular group of people while creating impact, all at scale. The key word here being: scale. I am not referencing business people, investors or self employed individuals - these are slightly different from a real entrepreneur.

  • this article is specifically for those currently in employment who are looking at stepping out into entrepreneurship and need a view of how that entrepreneurial world looks like beforehand.

When I left the corporate world after 13 amazing years of gainful employment I set out to conquer the world of entrepreneurship. I thought to myself: how hard can this possibly be? Surely it cannot be harder than navigating office politics and working in management for a blue chip company?

And so I stepped out into the unknow with a lot of energy, academic knowledge, corporate pride and a massive trove of theories to show these other entrepreneurs how it is done.

Then I failed. Again and again and again. I could not understand what I was doing wrong! I had read all the necessary motivational books, subscribed to all the top online business channels, read the

magazines, attended the fancy networking

breakfasts (in suits) at top hotels, developed a business plan even. What exactly was the problem?

Looking back I realized the issue was not with what was happening on the outside, but rather what was happening within my head. After 13 years in employment I was trying to break into entrepreneurship as an employee rather than an entrepreneur. I had an old mindset in a new situation. For all my good intentions and purposes, this approach was just not going to work.

To finally experience that entrepreneurial success I wanted, I had to shift my mindset from a typical employee paradigm to one of an entrepreneur. It was not easy but over 7 years I did it, and to be honest am still doing it.


I hope they give you insights into both worlds, and help you make knowledgeable and wise decisions as you probably transition from one place to another, without having to make the costly mistakes that I did:

1. Employees fear failing while real entrepreneurs embrace it

In employment, failing at a project or assignment can mean disciplinary action, loss of an annual bonus, being overlooked for a job promotion in future and worse still: retrenchment. In my previous work place there were adages: get it right the first time, operational excellence, best in market and so on. Failure was not encouraged. You had to do things right and do them well. I was once castigated by a senior manager for sending emails with a typo. Emails had to be perfect! It was that punitive. And we tied the overall excellence of the company to perfect delivery.

In entrepreneurship one gets better by failing and learning and trying again. Failure is the silent mentor and coach of the entrepreneur and a lot of the greatest innovations around us are as a result of numerous failures. If you go into entrepreneurship with a perfection-mindset and a belief that you are excellent, I will tell you this for free: you will fail until you don't.

2. Employees work for a salary while entrepreneurs work to deliver outcomes

Most employees are in it for the salary, let us face it. Remove that salary and no one will work for free for long. Some employees earn that salary when on leave or holiday. The salary is often predictable and smack on time, every month or so.

Entrepreneurs work with or without a salary and whilst money is the eventual output of good work put in, the entrepreneur is driven by an outcome, an objective and focusses on the delivery of these over everything else.

The moral of the story here is that if you opt to become an entrepreneur, you will have to initially adjust your cost of living. You will have to be frugal and thrifty and perhaps change your social circles. Your money will be short a lot of times and will be inconsistent and sometimes, non existent. You will have to find your creative passion with limited resources and without a salary to motivate you at the end of the month. Some of you reading this are thinking you have savings and will lean on a redundancy package as a back up plan? Well, money does run out - even back up money.

3. Employees love holidays as a time off, entrepreneurs view holidays as opportunities to grow

I hate holidays. They cut me off from my clientele and affect my sales campaigns but on the other hand they give me the needed time to develop my product offering, to hone my entrepreneurial skill.

When I was employed I loved holidays. Holidays were time for me to watch movies, eat junk food, hang out with friends and grow fat. I could afford to waste time under the pretext of work-life balance but deep down I knew I was settling for less. I just knew it.

Now I am not saying that entrepreneurs do not have time for themselves or family, no. That would be unhealthy. What I am saying is that entrepreneurs just manage their times differently.

In entrepreneurship one gets better by failing and learning and trying again. Failure is the silent mentor and coach of the entrepreneur and a lot of the greatest innovations around us are as a result of numerous failures.

4. Employees follow rules while entrepreneurs break or reinvent them

In entrepreneurship we are always looking to stand out, to be unique or give a unique delivery. This means we have to think out of the box all the times and be willing to have an unconventional approach to stuff. It means we have to challenge status quo many times.

In employment you are paid to stick to the rules, to follow the laid policies and guidelines. There is very little room for creative innovation even if on the surface it feels you have the leeway to 'do what you want'.

5. Employees appreciate steady employment while true entrepreneurs thrive in uncertainty

Entrepreneurs know that risks are the only way to reach success. Everyday is a risk and an opportunity.

Employees prefer a predictable day, week and month and peg their self worth and peace of mind on what they feel is their most predictable metric: a salary.

6. Employees take some responsibility for decisions while entrepreneurs make all the decisions

Employees have the benefit of working with teams and can always off-load a responsibility to a 'boss' somewhere. An employee can leave work and go home.

Entrepreneurs no matter how big their team, take all responsibility for the business. In fact, in the early stages as an entrepreneur you will have to perform all the business functions just to get your vision off the ground. You will be the CEO, secretary, errands-boy, cleaner, HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales and Procurement manager all at once.

7. Employees get paid for their role while entrepreneurs get paid for results

By and large, most employees get a salary whether or not they deliver fully on the job. The scale may vary but the salary arrives.

Entrepreneurs are not so lucky. As an entrepreneur, if you do not work, you will not eat and the extent to which you earn money is directly proportional to the amount of sacrifice you have been willing to make, over time.

8. Employees avoid risks while entrepreneurs live for risks

Being safe and not taking risks works for organizations. Bank employees for instance stick to rules, they really have no choice. A deviance from this cold have high ramifications.

Entrepreneurs as explained, need risk and failure to find success.

9. Employees are often specialists while entrepreneurs are generalists

No matter what they tell you, there is no degree in entrepreneurship that will make you Jeff Bezos. You may have the highest Honors in entrepreneurship (from a top university) and be able to develop the best business models but if you cannot sell a solution and make money from it consistently and at scale, you are just a theorist at best.

Employees work based on a specific role in a specific department courtesy of a specific educational qualification. Entrepreneurs work based on personality, opportunity, gut-feel, inspiration, creativity and natural gifts.

10. Employees have the benefit of social circles, while entrepreneurship is quite lonely

Networking. This is the lifeline of the employee but for the entrepreneur how far you go in business is less about who you know and more about what you have done. A portfolio and not a resume, is the lifeline of an entrepreneur.

When you start off as an entrepreneur, no one will truly believe in you. They may tell you they do but you will find out over time that people believe in results and not dreams. Family, relatives, friends and even former corporate workmates will not come to the aid of your business. The sooner one embraces this reality, the better for their initial entrepreneurial journey.

Employees work based on a specific role in a specific department courtesy of a specific educational qualification. Entrepreneurs work based on personality, opportunity, gut-feel, inspiration, creativity and natural gifts.

11. Employees seek direction while entrepreneurs create a way

Employees tend to look for help when a problem arises at work and most are quite good at pointing out problems, debating problems and worrying about problems.

Entrepreneurs on the other hand do not have such comfort and must create the solutions that keep a company afloat. An entrepreneur must have a solution-mindset and cannot afford to spend time worrying about what could be and what isn't happening. The solution is the business.

12. Employees speak while entrepreneurs listen

When engaging customers, a lot of employees are quick to pitch a product to a customer without fully understanding the customer needs. Insurance agents and banking officials we see you. Employees are paid to push a product which often times they do not fully understand nor use.

Entrepreneurs understand that before they can introduce any product to a customer, they need to first listen to the customer needs and that this in turn is a daily process. A complaining customer is a blessing to a real entrepreneur. Feedback is crucial. Customer surveys are sacred.

13. Employees strive for work-life balance while the entrepreneur's life is their work and vice versa

Many employees jump from employment to escape a crazy boss and the 8am to 5pm grind under the impression that entrepreneurs have more freedom.

Yes, entrepreneurs have more freedom but they also have more responsibilities. An entrepreneur's dream will only be realized to the extent of the personal time he or she is willing to sacrifice and most entrepreneurs work long, tiring hours with sacrifices made on socializing, sleep and relaxation.

An employee can leave work at work but an entrepreneur carries their business wherever they go, and in their head. This is the reality of the entrepreneur's world.

14. Employees are always working while entrepreneurs are always selling

By this I mean, desk work. Employees are heavy on desk work, reports, meetings, PowerPoint presentations, Zoom webinars and endless walks to the coffee dispenser.

Entrepreneurs cannot afford to sit behind a desk too long or have endless meetings and chats with colleagues. They need to connect with their customers on the daily. They need to keep in touch with their clientele and this is how they create scarcity and defend their territory. And exhausting as this can be for the entrepreneur, it is a necessary requirement to remain relevant in the market place.

15. Employees like silo-structure while entrepreneurs like infrastructure

As an employee my focus was on my Marketing department and our monthly targets. These were crucial to our annual bonuses. I could care less what was going on in the Finance, HR, Procurement or HSSE departments. That was their cake to handle.

As an entrepreneur though I had to understand my finances because I could see how they directly impacted my earnings. Entrepreneurs not only have to be everyone in their companies in the initial stages, they also have to have a good understanding about how everything works together, irrespective of departmental function.

Family, relatives, spouses, friends and even former corporate workmates will not come to the aid of your business. The sooner one embraces this reality, the better for their initial entrepreneurial journey.

The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.

Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.

Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE


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