I’m not an entrepreneur and I don’t head a startup

I carry a love/hate relationship with networking events. Among the methods I have come to love is the 2-minute swap networking as carried out during the 2012 ATA Conference in San Diego last October. Dreading the worst —we introverts dislike gatherings with large groups of strangers— I sat in one of the long tables facing another colleague…one more stranger.

When the whistle blew, we acted as instructed: talk with your neighbor in front of you for 2 minutes, then stop and move to the next seat to your right. I didn’t need any prompting: just the thought of introducing myself and asking my colleague facing me what he or she did was enough to keep the ball rolling. Sometimes, 2 minutes were insufficient to wrap up an otherwise interesting conversation. Business cards and smiles were exchanged. The entire affair was over before you knew it.

I attended an annual business meeting/networking event at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History last Thursday (January 17), hosted by COSE (Coalition of Small Enterprises), an organization that connects its members with more than a dozen chambers of commerce. The business meeting highlights: a professionally made video and the awards ceremony. However, the networking that followed was not my cup of tea. I was looking to spend up to 3 hours with strangers. In this and other similar events, I noticed that, regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will find that most people are already engaged in conversation by the time you approach them to strike up a discussion.

A solitary home office

A solitary home office

This is the Upper Midwest, after all. People are cordial, courteous and willing to meet you. But the format for this networking activity is all wrong. You can’t possibly network with even a 10% of all of the people there. I did, however, manage to encounter a fellow translator who lives in Vermillion, as well as representatives of a couple of ad agencies, with whom I discussed a bit of typography and graphic design topics briefly.

Another contact I made was a COSE staff member who is involved in the marketing committee. He mentioned that his committee is going to introduce new services in March 2013 for startups and entrepreneurs, all COSE members. After listening to him for a few minutes, I volunteered my thoughts about the words “startup” and “entrepreneur.”

-I think these words are being overused today. I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur or a startup, even though I have my own small corporation.

He considered my words carefully and went on to expand how COSE had thought about using a word other than startup to refer to small businesses, to avoid the former’s negative connotations. He added that COSE had started to use the word “solopreneur” (a cringeworthy term in my book) to replace “entrepreneur.”

First and foremost, marketing people are not etymologists or linguists, nor should they be required to be. But so-called ordinary words, such as business owner or company manager or even sole proprietor carry more proven weight than faddish words such as mompreneur, solopreneur or any other feeble attempt at me-too linguistic pioneering for marketing or sales purposes.

How do other business owners see a startup? An IT outfit? A young company? What about their view on an entrepreneur? In the eyes of a well-established business owner, does the word entrepreneur carry the cachet of motivation, creativity and inspiration…or a can-do attitude? The more we use an otherwise particular or special word, the soon it becomes stale and obsolete, yielding an anemic impact. Which brings us to a topic of import: writing. Say what you want about the printed media or the impending death of newspapers and magazines, but no amount of slick YouTube videos or well-crafted Facebook page likes will ever replace a well-written message. Even if that message is a one-word label that you choose to apply to yourself or your company.

We may think it’s all semantics, but words, the written word, is the second most important invention since the wheel. We live and die by the word.

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4 Comments

Filed under Branding, Buzzword, Etymology, Marketing, Networking, Public Relations

4 responses to “I’m not an entrepreneur and I don’t head a startup

  1. artislinguabooks

    I can really identify with this! A thoughtful post!

  2. I have found that the title “freelancer” works best in many situations. It’s a bit hip, but well established. Of course, you say freelancer and people think you are a writer, journalist, or the like (Jessica Parker in Sex and the City?). Close enough… I deal with words, and language, and I’m a writer, so I guess it fits. But to me, the real issue lies in the fact that, at least in the US, translation as a profession is completely misunderstood. So, saying “freelancer” catches my interlocutor’s interest, but as soon as I mention “translator”, they demote me. Of course, the opposite is true: then people get really interested and picture me “translating” in a booth in the UN. I regain my audience when I start talking about well-known companies and the projects I’ve done for them. I have also tried (as an experiment) the “I have my own company” label and it seems to work ok. But in truth, my freelance persona betrays me and takes over.

    • I’ve tried those approaches —and seen the same results, Daniela. Since I started going to some networking meetings at the regional council for small enterprises here (COSE, http://www.cose.org), I’ve learned to refine my intro and spiel. I’ve been partially inspired by Chris Durban’s book as well.

      The thing is, we are different than marketeers, marketing people and salesmen. As wordsmiths, we should know better than going for reductibility and choosing one word to describe us or what we do.

      I’m shying away from ‘freelancer’ right now and going for ‘writer’ instead, but I say ‘I write translations’ or ‘I am a text engineer’ (my soon-to-be used new phrase).

      I agree on the use of “I’m a translator” and people knee-jerk reaction to it, so I try to avoid it, not out of shame, but motivated by a customer’s need for precise yet intriguing information that will open the doors to a conversation, and possibly a business relationship.

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