Xero to heroes: Why aren’t we calling small business owners entrepreneurs?

Xero to heroes: Why aren't we calling small business owners entrepreneurs?


The business world is not afraid of celebrating the ingenuity and hard work of entrepreneurs. While tall poppy syndrome does undoubtedly crop up from time to time, by and large we give innovators the credit they deserve.

The focus of our adoration is squarely focused on those that create change, often with the help of technology, which benefits the day-to-day lives of businesses and consumers. The founders of popular companies like Slack, Uber, Dropbox, Airbnb and Snapchat are usually celebrated for their success and innovation.

But the public and media alike almost exclusively restrict the definition of entrepreneur to this highly visible, small group of businessmen and women.

An entrepreneur is a person who sets up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

Yet, we generally reserve this label for technology entrepreneurs. Why don’t we adorn the hard–working, risk–taking, innovative small business owner with the same label?

Think about your local small business owner– whether it’s the grocer you get fresh produce from, the dry cleaner that helps you look good at work, the cafe that helps you wake up, the gym that keeps you fit, the corner store that satisfies those late night cravings, or the restaurant or bar where you celebrate and unwind.

They not only own the business, they’re likely working in it. Walk past a cafe or restaurant (very) early in the morning and you’ll see a small business entrepreneur getting ready for the day’s trade. Glance into a small office late at night and you’ll see an entrepreneur burning the midnight oil.

Think about how this small business owner got to where they are. They probably learnt a trade, studied, or worked as an employee for a number of years. By saving up enough money, borrowing from family and friends, or securing a loan from the bank, they took on a huge financial risk to pursue their dream. They not only wanted to be their own boss, they wanted to create something from scratch that never existed before.

They took four blank walls and turned it into something special.

It’s the pouring of emotion and passion into a project that turns an idea into a thriving business. As the customer base grows, the small business entrepreneur starts hiring people, teaching them valuable skills, and growing their operation. Perhaps they open up more locations, or they stay where they are for decades. Either way, they have taken on a risk, they have produced something new and they are happy.

And those are just the successes that you see every day. For every success there are many failures, which deserve to be acknowledged.

It’s all the more reason to call these people entrepreneurs. Success is by no means guaranteed. If you are opening a cafe in Surry Hills in Sydney or Fitzroy in Melbourne for example, you are facing the challenge of competition with not just tens but hundreds of other entrepreneurs. But the best ones will thrive.

These people are just as entrepreneurial as Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey or Rod Drury. They don’t always have billions of dollars in capital to back them, or the technological prowess to scale globally with few overheads.

Some indeed do — Gelato Messina, the small Sydney gelato parlour, has grown from Australia to London, Las Vegas to China, off the back of one small business owner’s dream.

But for every one who expands globally, there’s the dry cleaner whose aspirations and financial risks are more modest — a couple more locations in surrounding suburbs or an expansion to the building next door.

These founders and owners underpin our economy — the more than 2.1 million small businesses currently operating in this country employ 4.4 million people and contributed a third of private industry value in Australia in 2013. That’s worth noting.

You likely have up to 100 interactions with small business owners each week. You won’t have the time (nor will they) to dive into a deep and meaningful discussion about their entrepreneurship every time. But do ask them how their business is going, how they got started or what their plans are. Treat them like the entrepreneurs we celebrate in the media day in, day out. You will uncover absolutely fascinating, heart-warming, inspiring stories.

It will take time, but I hope 2015 is the year this starts to change. Let’s call small business owners entrepreneurs and give them the respect and praise they deserve.


Chris Ridd is the managing director of Xero Australia.




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