Entrepreneurship: The Art of Self Employment

Peter Ruppert headshot

Many people are anxiously awaiting the next big move in life. Some people are getting married or having children, and others are pursuing their dream careers. Still others are manifesting their best life hiking through Europe or taking other adventures. All these things share a common denominator: someone took on their dream and actualized it. 

One of the most interesting groups of people who have actualized a dream is entrepreneurs. Whether they’re just starting out as aspiring entrepreneurs or they’re growing their business to fruition, entrepreneurs are high-performance, career-oriented people. They aim high, striving for business success and personal fulfillment in their enterprises.

When we think about entrepreneurs, the first question many of us ask is: how? How did this person achieve this enterprise? What’s the secret to their success? How did a person like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg become not just financially successful, but the owner of a market-dominating company? These are valid questions, but there’s not much to learn from examining extreme cases like these: by definition, most of us are going to fall in the middle of the bell curve, not at the far end like these guys. There’s much more to learn from everyday entrepreneurs, people who are achieving personal and business success without becoming billionaire magnates. And, these people are everywhere in our community, making them a valuable resource for aspiring entrepreneurs.

According to America’s Small Business Development Centers, one of the best ways that entrepreneurs can support young and aspiring entrepreneurs is to volunteer to talk to them at local schools. You can even cultivate mentorship relationships with young or aspiring entrepreneurs to help get them started on their journeys. Forbes explains that mentorship is vital for entrepreneurs. The advice of a more seasoned entrepreneur can help young business owners avoid making common mistakes. An experienced mentor can also provide guidance on business strategies, major milestones, and even personal advice that will help nurture the next generation of entrepreneurial people.

Helpful Advice From A Successful Entrepreneur

Unfortunately, not everybody has the benefit of a mentor. We live in interesting times, and connecting with fellow entrepreneurs can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Happily, we’ve spoken to entrepreneur, author, and operational strategist Peter Ruppert to pick his brain for valuable insights into entrepreneurial strategies that will help any self-starter.

Ruppert grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and came from a family of six kids. When he was in the eighth grade, his father became frustrated with the public school system and had him transferred to St. Xavier high school, an all-boys Catholic school across town. Peter states that this high school held his first real-life experience with failure: he tried out for the basketball team but was rejected. This was especially devastating, Ruppert explains, as “basketball was my love at the time.” He briefly contemplated switching back to his assigned public high school, as he knew he could make the team there, but in the end, he chose to continue his education at St. Xavier. 

Early Experiences

After high school, Ruppert attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he signed up for an honors business program. During his junior year at DePauw, Ruppert’s GPA slipped below the minimum expectation for his business program. He was placed on academic probation, and the paid internship he had been looking forward to was delayed by a year with no guarantees by the University. This shocked Ruppert into action, and he immediately launched an appeal campaign and began improving his GPA. The University compromised, and it was agreed that Ruppert could pursue his internship if his GPA improved by the end of October.

With hard work, Ruppert managed to improve his grades. He took an internship in Dallas, Texas, under a man named David Morehead. Morehead liked Ruppert’s business sense and encouraged him to apply to a graduate business program at Harvard. Morehead’s mentorship changed the entire trajectory of Ruppert’s life.

Even before college, Ruppert had started small businesses. He had a lawn maintenance business and a driveway sealing business that he maintained through his early college years. While small, these enterprises helped him learn the value of putting himself out there. Just as importantly, they helped him learn to cope with rejection. His success at these modest ventures helped whet his appetite for entrepreneurship: “That’s when I got the entrepreneurial bug, that the world is your oyster.” 

Peters Accomplishments

After college, Ruppert began to work for Procter and Gamble. Three years later, he applied to Harvard Business School and was accepted. Now, Ruppert has opened a school called Fusion Academy, which allows students to flourish through emotional, social, and academic support. This school has been wildly successful, and there are now over 120 Fusion Academy schools providing equal opportunities for students. Ruppert has also written a book titled “Limitless,” a 9-step guide on launching your life goals into something attainable while achieving boundless success. He’s accomplished this by keeping focused on his dreams, even when in a bit of a predicament. His waking moment in junior year gave him a chance to reinvent himself. The floundering college student on the brink of failure has now become a successful entrepreneur.  According to Ruppert, his brushes with failure have sometimes driven him to have negative thoughts about his career choice and himself. When faced with failure, he says, “The immediate response is, ‘gosh, I’m not cut out for this, I’m not good enough.’” The secret to success is to view failure as transformational, not as a hard stop to your life. Even if your first business implodes, the world keeps on moving. One of the most critical skills for any entrepreneur is persistence in the face of despair.

Peter Ruppert Speaking
Peter Ruppert speaking to the Armed Forces / Photo courtesy of Peter Ruppert

What Does Peter’s Story Mean for Entrepreneurs and Aspiring Entrepreneurs?

Seeing Ruppert’s self-stated thoughts of failure is vital for future and current entrepreneurs to help them understand how normal that feeling is. According to a 2021 study from Guidant Financial, 30% of entrepreneurs only have a high school degree. While it may seem that being an entrepreneur goes hand in hand with higher education, the truth is that anyone can be an entrepreneur. All it takes is a vision, goals, and putting in the work to attain those goals, which we saw in Peter’s story. In fact, according to The Hill, there are over 582 million entrepreneurs in the world. With a number that significant, current entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs should know that it’s realistic to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. Being a successful entrepreneur is not a one-in-a-million job. 

A critical element of entrepreneurship is to gain deep knowledge and acceptance of failure. Ruppert has been faced with loss many times, and it is very typical for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to experience failure in their efforts. In a late 2020 study from Fundera, 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% fail in their second year, 50% fail after their fifth year, and 70% fail after their tenth year. The number of failed businesses in the first year is small, compared to the statistic that 80% get through their first year, but every entrepreneur needs to understand that failure is typical

It’s also important to understand that failure looks different for every business. Failure does not necessarily equate to a foreclosure of a business. A 2021 study done by Investopedia discusses some of the most common forms of failure in companies. The first comes from financing issues such as pricing business goods, funding (paying employees or attaining enough funding to thrive), and the inability to establish realistic budgets. Money management is an absolutely essential skill for success in any business enterprise!

The next kind of problem comes from improper management, which comes from a lack of experience. The best way to combat this is to outsource help when those running the business do not have the time or resources to do a task themselves. Can’t do your own accounting? Get an accountant. Need web content? Hire a content writer. Need a great logo? Graphic designers often work freelance at reasonable rates.

The third major road to entrepreneurial failure stems from ineffective business planning. In other words, operations are not expressed adequately to consumers, or competitors manage to outmaneuver you. The final form of failure comes from improper marketing. Improper marketing can stem from a lack of audience outreach and a lack of proper budgeting. Any of these four mistakes can torpedo your business – it’s good to think hard about these things and be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. 

Another element of Ruppert’s story that is important for aspiring and even current entrepreneurs to know is that loans can be necessary when starting a business, even though they are deemed scary. When Ruppert was in the process of creating his driveway blacktop sealing business, he needed a truck to carry around his tools. He ended up taking out a loan with his dad, who bought the truck for him to help his business succeed. While taking out a loan with a family member is not a luxury that most people have, the act of taking out a loan with a bank is pretty routine. In a 2017 employer firms report from the Federal Reserve Banks, it is stated that the most common application that a business owner files is for loans or lines of credit. 87% of financing and credit reports saw a loan or a line of credit in small employer firms, and the application rate for business loans was at 47%, and lines of credit were at 42%.

In a 2021 report from the Federal Reserve Bank, it is mentioned that the 2020 pandemic impacted the loans that businesses received. The most common loan that companies filed for in 2020 was a Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan. 96% of firms that applied for that loan got at least some funding. According to this same report, 89% of financing applications were for loans or lines of credit, with 45% of those being business loans. Understanding the importance of loans or lines of credit when owning a business is vital. Whether you need equipment or you’re coping with an unforeseen disaster such as the 2020 pandemic, there’s a good chance your business will need a loan. Even before the pandemic, business loans were highly popular banking products among both big businesses and small entrepreneurs.  

Colorful light bulb and business icons
Business idea sketch / Adobe Stock

Peter Ruppert’s 5 Actionable Tips for Entrepreneurs

1. Write down your vision

Ruppert believes that writing down a firm, concrete vision of what you hope to accomplish is essential not just in entrepreneurship but also in life. Entrepreneurs of all stripes should visualize their desired professional achievements and visualize the character improvements we want for ourselves that will help actualize those visions. This form of visualization (some might call it manifestation) is crucial for kickstarting your goals. The Huffington Post explains precisely why visualization is so valuable. When visualizing plans, people begin to see their preferred future, which allows them to understand what steps they need to take to achieve those goals. Visualization also hacks your brain. When we visualize something, our brains think it is some version of reality, so it then tells our neurons to perform a certain way that allows our actions to lead to our goals.

An example of this can be seen in athletes. Studies have proven that visualization increases an athlete’s performance, and it aids in relaxation while also reducing fear and anxieties. It is also important to note that visualization is not the end-all-be-all. There is still work to be done to achieve the goals. However, visualization is a significant first step, especially for entrepreneurs. It changes people’s mindsets to think about the end goals more feasibly, rather than longing for something out of reach.  

2. Every day, journal three things that you’re grateful for

Journaling is a well-known practice that some people already partake in. Gratitude journaling is different from everyday journaling because instead of writing down any thought or feeling, you are supposed to write down the things that make you happy and what you are grateful for. In a blog post by NPR, gratitude journaling is said to have many positive impacts on a person. Gratitude journaling can help people sleep better, lower stress, and improve relationships. It is stated that letting positive thoughts flow more than negative ones also helps people become more positive and changes how their brains think about certain things. In terms of being an entrepreneur, a gratitude journal can, of course, make you a more positive thinker, but it can also make the job more pleasing, rather than feeling like you are far behind those who are more established. The article also warns that gratitude journaling cannot simply stop someone from experiencing pain and loss (if applicable). So, it is essential to understand what gratitude journaling can do for you as an individual and set realistic expectations from expressing gratitude. It’s not going to make you a successful entrepreneur overnight, but it can help you maintain an upbeat attitude and apply that to your business practices.

3. Make your positive thoughts the loudest thoughts

Similar to how gratitude journaling can help your positive mindset, Ruppert adds that keeping your positive thoughts as your loudest thoughts is critical. One of the easiest ways to win the battles in our heads is to keep positive thoughts at the forefront of our minds. He explains that he does this by actively choosing his positive thoughts over his negative ones and being mindful of what he is thinking. According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thoughts impact health, such as lower levels of stress and depression, better psychological and physical well-being, and better coping skills during stress or hardships. While the reasoning for this is unclear, Mayo Clinic believes that positive thinking allows the brain to have a clearer outlook on situations and approach problems in a more productive way. Entrepreneurs can benefit from this for obvious reasons. For example, when faced with inevitable rough patches and even instances of failure, it’s easy to succumb to negative thoughts. Being mindful of these thoughts in cases of difficulty and failure helps you process them in a healthier way that allows for change and productivity. Acknowledge the bad, then focus on the good. Think about your strengths, what you learned, and how you can be resilient. Focusing on positive thoughts isn’t denial of the bad; it’s making an active choice to focus on the good even in challenging times.

4. Define your core values

The act of understanding who you are and what you stand for allows you to be in control of your energy, and it paves the way for how your business will succeed. Ruppert says that this is necessary because you can choose how you want to live your life, rather than living the life that other people think you should live. An article written by Forbes analyzes exactly why core values are so crucial for business owners. First, defining core values allows you to reflect on how previous businesses made you feel and determine if you want to feel that way again. For example, suppose the experience was good, then awesome! Identify that specific thing as a core value. But, if the experience was bad, identify what made it bad and find a value that makes it better for you. Second, Forbes states that the core values are the moral compass of the business, meaning they tell other people how to feel about your business. This can be tricky because the whole point of having core values is to choose what makes you thrive in your business, but it can also set the tone for how other people view your business. Forbes recommends overcoming this paradox by identifying how consumers/clients are to be treated. Are they supposed to come first? In what ways can they feel valued? That is to be determined in your core values. Otherwise, Forbes concludes that your business is your own, and you should feel proud of the values you set for the company.

5. Foster key relationships

Ruppert’s final piece of advice is to cater to the relationships that are around you. He conveys that the critical relationships in our lives, whether friends, family, spouses, partners, etc., are meaningful because those people will go on this entrepreneurial journey with you, even if they are not entrepreneurs. These are the people that will be supporting you. In a very real way, they will be sharing your successes and losses with you. Without having people in your corner, the journey to entrepreneurial success can become lonely, treacherous, and even stress-inducing. Even some major companies encourage their workers to take time for their relationships because of their importance to our overall well-being. One company in particular, Foundation Title, has an entire list of ways for their employees and clients to manage their at-home and even at-work relationships. They state that one-on-one time and proper communication are vital to ensuring that all parties are happy and that the relationship is thriving. They emphasize how important mutually supportive relationships are to unlocking our highest abilities: a stable and happy personal life helps us be more productive. With that in mind, progressive companies encourage people to find ways to support their loved ones and give back by expressing appreciation for that support. Of course, building good relationships is important, but so is trimming the deadwood. Sometimes, relationships go toxic or become unrewarding. If a relationship is draining you and not helping to build you up, let it go. Managing your social energy will help you thrive.

Communication concept
Female entrepreneur / Adobe Stock

Go Forth And Make Money

The road to entrepreneurial success is paved with hard work and failure. That’s not to say that every entrepreneur is doomed to fail, but rather, that small individual failures can often provide valuable learning experiences which entrepreneurially-minded people can grow from. If a client stiffed you, look for the red flags, blacklist them, and don’t get fooled again. If a business venture fell through because of financial mismanagement, take the opportunity to learn more about money management or find a financially savvy partner or mentor to help you out. Even in the face of overwhelming odds, we can be successful. People like Peter Ruppert have made a lifestyle of entrepreneurial success, and the valuable insights we can glean from their tips and knowledge will help any aspiring business leader to thrive in our wild and competitive world. Know what you’re doing, know why you’re doing it, and know how you want your business to make you feel. Build relationships, put in the work, and watch your business grow. You’ll be amazed at what you can do when you put your mind to it.

View this article in the February 2022 issue of MP: Day 1.