The Entrepreneurial Frame : A Simple Checklist

I’m sure you’ve heard an entrepreneur say: “if you took away my business, I could build another one from scratch.” 

More than anything, the statement refers to a way of looking at the world: the entrepreneurial frame.

One you have it, finding some kind of success with your projects becomes profoundly easier.

The good news? It’s not so hard to get it for yourself.

The entrepreneurial frame helps you to balance distant goals and big dreams with the simple and routine actions that lead to them.

If you’ve got a project or business idea that you care about, I encourage you to run it through the following checklist. If you can mange to say “yes” to most of the questions, you’ve got the entrepreneurial frame (there’s a scorecard at the end!).

In my experience, the entrepreneurial frame is also extremely effective in areas like art and non-profits.

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(Y/N) – “Making a living by doing the type of work I want to do is my top priority.”

If you are over-focused on your end product, what you want to see in the world, or are unwilling to draw clear lines to when and how your project could make you a living then you are hurting your chances of sustaining that kind of work.

A common example of this is writers and bloggers who insist on writing whatever comes to their mind and meets their tastes, rather than looking to do a useful service to others via their writing. Bloggers will, for example, avoid choosing a focused niche for their writing because they “don’t want to be pigeonholed.” Ask yourself: what marketplaces (or groups of people) cares about your pigeonholedom?

I appreciate the idea of visionary entrepreneurs being passionate about a particular product and making a million bucks off of it, but noobs too often see guys like Kevin Rose, Steve Jobs, or some mega-blogger and confuse the result with the process. If you are obsessed with some lofty product ideal to start, you are in a dangerous position of ‘knowing what the world needs’ without knowing anything.

When you are getting started, you need to be a servant, not a visionary.

Another way to put this: find the processes (work) that you love, not the products (particular instances of product or art). 

(Y/N) – “I don’t need that much to live.”

You only need the opportunity to do the work and enough money to pay the basic bills. If you need more than that, you are putting your work at risk. If somebody asked me what’s an easy way to get tons more personal freedom, I’d say: “spend much less money than you currently do.”

(Y/N) – “I have defined in hard terms what it means to fail.”

A project is already dead in the water if it doesn’t have a fail point. One of the reasons personal blogs consistently fail is there is no particular reason they exist, no way they can fail, nobody they serve, and so eventually they just get forgotten about.

(Y/N) – “My work is focused on a particular problem that people (or organizations) have.”

And you solve it in a unique way. Most amateur projects are based on a ‘great’ idea or the artists’ immediate need for expression (or income!). I’ve noticed many personal projects cash out into having nothing more that ‘entertainment’ ‘participatory’ or ‘inspirational’ value. If that is the case, they’ll probably fail. It’s just not compelling enough, in general, to get people’s money at a small scale. You’ll need a huge audience if you want to sell ‘inspiration’ or some other product with a soft value.

(Y/N) – “My best 20 hours of weekly work are aligned with my desired trajectory.”

Most normal humans have 20 super productive hours a week. How you spend those 20 hours will be the single most important factor determining how you make a living in the future. Many people have a central career while cultivating side projects that utilize very different skill-sets. This is a poor startegic decision. If you have a career, best to start side projects that leverage the strides forward you are making in your best 20 hours. If your job is taking you in a direction you don’t want to go, re-claim those 20 hours immediately by finding work that builds the skill sets you need to do the work you want to do.

(Y/N) – “Although I enjoy encouragement, I’m looking for ways to get better critical feedback.”

Again the idea of doing something bigger than yourself, getting out of your own head, and building something with its own identify. Refuse to get all pissy when somebody says something offensive about your work. Try to evaluate what they are getting at, and decide if it’s worth working to address. Your project deserves it.

(Y/N) – “I can explain my project in clearly with the format: I help x do y.”

It’s easy for people to join up, subscribe, buy, follow, and share. Don’t listen to your friends’ opinions about this stuff. Look at the numbers, and know why they matter.

(Y/N)- “I’m willing to suck it up for a few years to make this shit happen.”

A few weeks ago I was blabbing similar advice across the dinner table and somebody jumped in saying“that could take a few years to implement!”

No shit?!

Think about it this way: in a previous life you probably would be willing to spend 4 years in college paying a bunch of money to sew the seeds of long term employement.

It only takes 1000 days to sew the seeds of having an unprecentended (in human history) amount of control over how you spend your time, where you are a located, how often you move, and how much money you make.

It’s probably worth a few years.

So how did you do?

Scorecard (# of yes’s)

  • 8+  – “Entrepreneur.” Add your own? You’ll spend your life doing the kind of work you enjoy.
  • 6-7 – “Craftsman.” Do you really like your job that much?
  • 4-5 – “Middle manager.” Martyr to your ideas, and those of your boss.
  • 2-3 – “Guitarist in band.” Hey did that A&R guy show up to your last show?
  • 0-1 – “Sandwich artist.” Smoke breaks rule and you make a mean espresso.



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