Entrepreneurship is a way of life. It is a way of viewing the world. Jim Collins, best-selling author and business guru, summed it up well in an interview in Inc.: “We all make choices about how we live our lives. You can take a paint-by-numbers approach, or you can start with a blank canvas. When you paint by numbers, the end result is guaranteed. You know what it’s going to be, and it might be good, but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece, but you could also blow up. So, are you going to pick the paint-by-numbers kit or the blank canvas? That’s a life question, not a business question.”
This is a golden time of opportunity to answer this life question by being an entrepreneur. I recently sat down with John Evans of Lemeuria Bookstore. Most readers are probably familiar with Lemeuria, which has a well documented history of being a leading independent bookseller in this state. John Evans founded the company in 1975 with a vision of fulfilling a need in the community for an innovative independent bookstore.
John and I discussed the current economic climate and the opportunities he saw for entrepreneurs. He noted the confluence of factors that made this a great time to be an entrepreneur including — low interest rates, lack of other job opportunities, a consumer that is in a state of flux, new technological capabilities and multiple channels of advertising including social media. We discussed the state of change both with today’s consumer and in many industries. For example, Evans’ industry of bookselling is certainly in a state of transformation. He is a consumer, as well. His suppliers in the publishing world have to continue to add value and earn his business just like he has to continue to earn the business of his patrons.
Similar to Collins’ description above, Evans made a lifestyle choice at age 25 to be an entrepreneur when he opened his store in the Quarter 35 years ago. This choice was an outgrowth of the revolutionary ‘60s and the economic difficulties of the early 1970s. Evans chose the blank canvas versus the paint by numbers route in life. For him, this alternative path has paid off. He has worked hard and followed his passions to build a great business. It has not been easy, and even today he stands at a generational crossroads. As his loyal customers also enter their fifth, sixth, and seventh decade of life, he also is innovatively marketing to younger generations of book lovers, as well.
Evans points out that to be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be authentic to yourself. You have to really know who you are and what you are about. It is too hard a route to pursue if you are not clear on your passions and goals. In addition, people are not inspired to follow leaders who don’t know where they are going. Evans clearly sees his work as a lifestyle choice. Whether this current journey ends tomorrow or years from now, he is content because he has and continues to pour his time, talent and energy into fulfilling his authentic dream. This is a great way to view your life and work. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
For Evans and other committed entrepreneurs, they are comfortable waking up each day to face the ambiguity of a changing marketplace because they know they are pursuing their vision. They stare at the blank canvas and paint the creative vision that is on their hearts. While it may seem risky to some, entrepreneurs know that not pursuing the call of the entrepreneurial path is the greatest risk of all.
Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.