Ad Scheepbouwer: Entrepreneurial blues

Not everyone who becomes a freelancer has all the skills needed to succeed, so why not work together, says Ad Scheepbouwer.

A long time ago I had a holiday job in a pickle factory. Tins of pickles would whizz by which I had to fill up with vinegar with a hose.

The tins came thick and fast and sometimes I had to pick out one or two to prevent them falling off the conveyer belt. The tins had sharp edges to them and it would be a mixture of vinegar and blood that ended up in the tins. ‘It doesn’t matter’, my boss would say. ‘No one’s going to notice.’

‘At least now you know what you don’t want to do when you grow up’, my father said. The hidden threat was this would be my future if I didn’t work harder in school.

This experience taught me that young graduates could do worse than spending some time doing a job they are overqualified for. Nothing wrong with that at all.

But this advice cuts no ice when you’re past fifty. By that time you know what you want and that is to keep doing what you have been trained to do. But if you are striking out on your own, because you have to or because you want to, chances are you won’t succeed.

Web diagram

Last year an acquaintance of mine, a 53-year-old IT expert, became self-employed. He registered at the chamber of commerce and did a test for entrepreneurs.

His scores were set out on a so-called spider web diagram. He did well on focus, insight and creativity but not on financial management, marketing and acquisition. The chamber of commerce coach didn’t look very happy. My acquaintance understood his future didn’t look too bright.

And it was true. He’d done all sorts of things but not the ones that mattered. The following Monday he quietly de-registered himself. It was a case of entrepreneurial blues.

Middle management

According to chamber of commerce figures, 36,000 freelancers gave up in the first six months of 2012. At the same time, twice as many signed up to get started. A report by staffing agency Randstad is predicting a new influx. Between now and 2020 a lot of middle management jobs will go.

This will result in an enormous mismatch. Thousands of self-employed people wanting to concentrate on their core activity will have to waste their energy on the entrepreneurial tasks surrounding it. And there are thousands of others who are twiddling their thumbs but would love to tackle exactly those tasks because that is what they do.


It doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that a dynamic exchange could take place between all these people. The more people are self-employed, the more jobs they can generate amongst themselves. If I were an administrator for a medium-sized company I wouldn’t wait for the axe to fall but offer my services to all those self-employed who need my specialism.

Perhaps social media could play a part in bringing this about. The chamber of commerce and benefit agency UWV can help as well by polishing up their old role of intermediary. At present they are offering ‘top-to-job’ coaching but I would suggest they specialise in promoting partnerships.

Then registering at the chamber of commerce will become a breeze. If the scores of the test disappoint, the coach doesn’t have to look glum. ‘Don’t worry about your weak points’, he will say. ‘There will be lots of other people to do the job for you’. It will make the budding entrepreneur happy and the coach will have something to smile about as well.

Ad Scheepbouwer is an investor and former CEO of KPN.

This column was previously published in the Financieele Dagblad

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