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One speaker at the recently concluded TEDxAccra 2016 spoke passionately about the ills of the entrepreneurial journey. This is an aspect of entrepreneurship that we often don’t like to talk about, or don’t want to admit. He spoke about the uncertainty that is associated with being an entrepreneur, as well as the depression that comes with that for many entrepreneurs. This speaker addressed the need for openness and honesty in the entrepreneurial narrative. Entrepreneurs need to have a supportive community of other entrepreneurs around them to engage and share lessons with.

Passion is not enough

As he spoke, I was reminded of one thing I often hear from and about entrepreneurs. That is the need for a deep compelling passion for what you are doing. I don’t disagree with that, I will just add that passion alone will not sustain you on the entrepreneurial journey. You need strong knowledge and understanding of the marketplace in your field of work. You also need a deep appreciation of what that marketplace needs, for you to operate successfully and efficiently in the medium to long term.

To elaborate further, it’s rather like a parent saying of their newborn; “I am going to bring this child up with so much love, that s/he is going to be a gift to this world.” The child may be a gift to this world the child. But whilst a foundation of love is a vital ingredient for raising a child, it alone will not prevent the child from being bullied at school, for instance. It will not stop the child from failing at Math. That love foundation will not protect a child from the negative externalities of this world that we live in. Love may sustain, it helps in going through and coming out of many uncertain times, but it will not prevent uncertainty.

Likewise the entrepreneur.

The entrepreneur’s marketplace

For the entrepreneur, mastering the marketplace is a continuous necessity for going the long haul in business. The marketplace is that space you operate in, that space that comprises your product, your clients, your suppliers, your team, your financing, and your intellectual property. That space is intangible for some, but for the more successful and the more resilient entrepreneur it is very tangible. This is because successful entrepreneurs make it their business to know, understand, assess, learn from and develop that marketplace. It is their passion for their service and/or product that leads them to a relentless, almost incomprehensible obsession to understand their unique marketplace.

The marketplace is different for everyone. For each business, no matter how similar, there will be nuances that make you, your brand, your service and your product distinctive. However, if you have not studied or thought deeply about the marketplace, you will not know your nuance. Passion alone will not sustain you.

The key is to learn

Peter Senge in his decisive work, The Fifth Discipline, alluded that; “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” And there you have the operative word, learn. Learning must become a way of life for the entrepreneur. It is not enough to create Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages, engineer likes and exhibit your products and selfies with celebrities on social media.

The viable marketplace is less trivial. The world needs a compelling reason to buy your product. It takes learning, engagement with like-minded people, conscious conversations, mentoring and a truly informed engaged network to reach the peak of entrepreneurship. What all of that does is change you, it strengthens and grooms you to be the leader you need to be for your business, your clients, and your team. Selfies with personalities and social media likes will not get you there.

Senge also said, “Business and human endeavors are systems…we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.” By focusing on our passion alone, we focus on snapshots and in doing so may fail to really respond to the opportunity and the value of our business idea to the outside world.

We need to master the marketplace. My own response to this dilemma is a master class called “Mastering the Marketplace”. This class outlines a framework for fine-tuning a business concept. It also helps with developing a responsive business strategy and roadmap that will meet the needs of your preferred clientele and your business as a whole.

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