For many of us, the word “entrepreneur” conjures a vision of an individual working tirelessly to grow an idea into a business. This is certainly one type of entrepreneur, but there are other types of entrepreneurs, too. There are those who serve an entrepreneurial function in corporations, those who chose to buy a franchise, those who acquire established businesses, and those we mentioned earlier who start a business from nothing (Rogers, 2014). Each of these individuals is an entrepreneur, albeit with different skill sets and arguably a different level of tolerance for the financial risk in entrepreneurship. Understanding basic financial principles and the role these principles play in entrepreneurial ventures might help entrepreneurs balance their risk-reward tolerance when considering new opportunities.
Financial management is a valuable discipline for entrepreneurship, regardless of the entrepreneurial type. It is the single most useful toolset for mitigating business risk. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs cite financial management as their weakest skill (Rogers, 2014). Why? It may be that some entrepreneurs see their strength as creating their venture’s product or service. In these situations, they may abdicate the responsibility of the venture’s finances. It is likely that the type of entrepreneurial activity factors into the value an entrepreneur places on the need to understand the underlying financial aspects of the venture.
Let’s look at each entrepreneurial type in a little more detail from the lowest to the highest financial risk related to entrepreneurial activity:
Corporate entrepreneurs, or intrapreneurs, are those who perform entrepreneurial functions within an organization. The work these individuals do can range from creating new lines of business and developing new opportunities from within an organization (as I did for the Boy Scouts of America’s National retail operations) to starting a separate venture with funding and direction from an organization. In both cases, the greatest challenge for the entrepreneur is walking the line between organizational culture and the entrepreneurial mindset needed to grow and develop the new venture (Gavin & Levesque, 2006). The business culture often does not allow for the level of out-of-the-box thinking necessary to get the new venture off the ground. While this approach might provide for the lowest financial risk for an entrepreneur, failure in this environment may well have different risks. The risk of an individual’s corporate social capital, the risk of advancement opportunities, or the risk of employment to name just a few.
Those entrepreneurs who purchase a franchise are buying into a system, methodology, customer base, and support network for starting and growing a business. The entrepreneur’s advantage in the purchase of a franchise is that theoretically all of the mistakes start ups make were identified and corrected in the franchisor’s concept development stage and therefore the business risk is minimized for the franchisee (Brown, 2012). Theoretically, the financial risk is lessened, too, if the franchisee follows the model. Although, demographic changes, cultural shifts, changes in consumer attitudes, or perhaps public-relations-related factors (think Jared of the Subway chain) not quickly addressed by the franchisor could significantly increase a franchisee’s financial risk. Still, the bulk of the financial risk is borne by individual franchisee’s business acumen, and that often falls outside the systems and models established by the franchisor.
Many people become entrepreneurs through the acquisition or inheritance of an established company. Acquiring an existing company might provide some distinct advantages for an entrepreneur including, an established customer base, fixed working hours, and a revenue stream. Plus, the entrepreneur gains the flexibility of being self-employed and his or her success is dependent in large part on the ability to manage and grow the business (Ruback & Yudkoff, 2017). This approach can be appealing for those entrepreneurs who are skilled with business management and who want some flexibility and responsibility but lack the desire to build a business from scratch. Although there may be systems and processes in place, the financial risk is greater than that of a franchisee because there is no franchisor network or formalized “learning community” to whom the entrepreneur may turn for specific advice and direction. The financial risk is less than that of a start-up entrepreneur because the venture is already running and presumably profitable with positive cash flow.
The start-up entrepreneur builds a business from the ground up. He or she starts with an idea, creates a product or service, develops a framework for delivery, acquires and retains customers, and hopefully, builds a successful business over time. Unlike the corporate entrepreneur, the start-up entrepreneur does not have a financial backing and functional support of a corporation. Moreover, the start-up entrepreneur does not have the systems, processes, or support network of a franchisor, nor the benefits that come with acquiring an existing business. The start-up entrepreneur does not have the safety nets possessed by the other types of entrepreneurs, even with sufficient start-up capital. The financial risk, then, is greatest for a start-up entrepreneur.
Each type of entrepreneur encounters some level of financial risk. Risk management is an entrepreneur’s responsibility and understanding entrepreneurial finance is the key to minimizing that risk. Considering knowledge of entrepreneurial finance is so often the difference between success and failure, all entrepreneurs should devote themselves to understanding the key financial indicators for their particular business. Regardless of the type of entrepreneur one may be, it is important to realize that successful entrepreneurs must have more than an excellent idea, the willingness to work hard, business experience, the financial backing of a corporation or the support of a franchise system. Successful entrepreneurs must have a solid understanding of financial management and put that knowledge to use in business every day.
Brown, P. (2012, September 19). Franchisees are Entrepreneurs. Retrieved September 09, 2017, from forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2012/09/19/franchisees-are-entrepreneurs-let-the-debate-begin/#cb962052bf3e
Gavin, D. A., & Levesque, L. (2006, October). Meeting the Challenge of Corporate Entrepreneurship. Retrieved September 09, 2017, from hbr.org: https://hbr.org/2006/10/meeting-the-challenge-of-corporate-entrepreneurship
Rogers, S. (2014). Entrepreneurial Finance: Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Ruback, R., & Yudkoff, R. (2017, January). Buying Your Way into Entrepreneurship. Retrieved September 09, 2017, from hbr.org: https://hbr.org/2017/01/buying-your-way-into-entrepreneurship
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David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.
In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.
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