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Senior Correspondent

Not everyone is a born entrepreneur. I don’t know if it is something that’s in your genes. But I know some people are more natural entrepreneurs than others.

Yet if you look on the internet these past few years, all you hear is that it’s easy to build an online business. Just come up with a concept, build a website, drive people to it and make money.

Like at Staples®, it’s an "Easy Button."

Well, the Easy Button isn’t as easy as you think.

And this article will make some of my readers uncomfortable.

Take this scenario:

Marilyn’s husband Pete had been the breadwinner from the time she gave up her Human Resources job to have kids. And four months ago, Pete was let go from his job and hasn’t been able to find something else in this tough economy.

They had saved, but those savings are getting eaten up rapidly by their living expenses. And, yes, they’re being careful.

So, individually or together, they need to find a solution to the lousy job market. Maybe they’ll start an online business.

Or here’s another:

Marcella’s been divorced for a number of years, and with the child support she was getting, she could make ends meet.  Now her daughter Tina is over 21, so that extra money is no longer there each month. 

These past few years Marcella has gotten more and more interested in personal development. She’s been reading books forever, starting back with "A Course in Miracles," and has invested in virtually every related conference that comes to the Seattle area.

At the last conference she attended, her friend Sue said, “Marcella, you could be teaching this stuff! Why don’t you put up a website and start building a business around all you know?”

“You’re right, Sue. I’ll look online and see if there are some courses I could take on how to build an online business.”

Two factors have led to what looks like the California Gold Rush of 1849 … masses of people rushing to build businesses on the internet.

First, the apparent barriers to entry look so low. After all, all you need is a domain name, a hosting account, an idea and a website. Second, so many of those selling “how to build an online business” say it’s so easy.

I see two problems:

Number one, regardless what you call it, it’s a business. It just happens to use the internet as one of its marketing tools. But it still requires a winning concept, a plan, a budget, a learning curve and all the elements of traditional business.

Let’s compare an online business to a brick-and-mortar T-shirt printing business. For the latter, you’d rent a space on Main Street, fix up the inside, bring in silk-screening equipment and learn to use it. The UPS man would bring the blank shirts you ordered, you’d find customers to order them, you’d print them and the UPS man would come pick them up to deliver to your customers.

In relative terms, in an online business, you’d rent a space on the internet (hosting), fix up the inside (your website), bring in equipment and learn to use it (Word Press, social media, graphics, SEO, etc.). But to have an online product to sell, you’d not just print the pre-made t-shirts.

You’d have to start at the beginning: till the soil. Then grow the cotton, and spin the yarn. Then weave the fabric, and finally make the actual shirt. In online terms, that means first finding out what your potential clients want. Then coming up with a solid idea. Then learning to write effective copy. Then generating the content and writing the sales materials. And eventually pulling the actual products together to sell.

Because, unless you’re running an affiliate business online where you’re selling other people’s products, that’s what you’re going to have to do to have something viable to sell. Plus all the normal tasks of marketing, accounting, customer service, etc.

And number two, starting and running any business requires certain skills not typically developed when working for others.

It requires entrepreneurial skills. That means being a self-starter. It means not just being focused, but knowing the critical path to get from bright idea to successful enterprise. Knowing what’s important and what’s not. And it means knowing how all the parts fit into the whole.

Some people are born entrepreneurs. Others absorb the entrepreneurial spirit and necessary skills by osmosis, working for other effective entrepreneurs. And, lastly, some learn through conscious training with a genuine, capable mentor.

But none of it comes from an "Easy Button."

And it pains me to see the masses of people floundering in online businesses that do nothing but drain precious time and even more precious monetary resources, month after month, without any return.

The economic downturn has put so many good, caring people in the vulnerable position of having to be what they are not … entrepreneurs … in hopes of providing for themselves and for their families.

The big question is how one decides if the efforts are actually going to result in a successful business or not. When is it time to stop investing? When is it time to accept that it’s not as easy-peasy as it’s made out to be … and the one making the greatest amount of money is the one selling the Easy Button?

I don’t know the answer. It’s different for everyone. But I do know that the question has to be asked.

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