In a recent column for SmartCompany Xero managing director Chris Ridd argued the definition of entrepreneur is unfairly restricted to a highly visible group of men and women, rather than all small business owners.
According to Ridd an entrepreneur is a person who “sets up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”.
However, others see it somewhat differently; even those who perhaps traditionally fit the definition of entrepreneur.
WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum hit the headlines after explaining why he hates being called an entrepreneur.
Co-founder and director of Sydney-based Bicycles Online, James van Rooyen, thinks the word is overused too.
“There are a couple of words or phrases that tend to be overused in the industry, ‘entrepreneur’ is definitely one of them,” van Rooyen told SmartCompany.
“There is some humility in simply being a small business owner - just like everyone else.”
In that vein, SmartCompany went in search of some of the words and phrases that can really get under a small business owner’s skin.
We asked some of Australia’s most successful SME owners about their pet hates when it comes to different overused phrases and expressions.
Here is a list of the top five types of phrases to avoid in small business.
1. “Mumpreneurs” are just entrepreneurs, okay?
Kim Graham-Nye, co-founder of gDiapers, is forthright with her pet peeve: “mumpreneur”.
"I hate the word mumpreneur. I find it demeaning, as if mothers aren't real business women or real entrepreneurs,” Graham-Nye told SmartCompany.
Collaborate Corporation chief executive Chris Noone also thinks the term is demeaning to women, calling it a hackneyed phrase.
“It’s this idea like you wouldn’t expect a mum to be an entrepreneur,” he says.
“You don’t have ‘dad-preneurs’ for men with children or ‘short-preneurs’ for short people.”
Founder and chief executive of Rare Birds, Jo Burston, takes it a step further, saying she dislikes any augmentation of the word entrepreneur.
“I truly believe you are an entrepreneur or you are not. 100% yes or 100% no. It is a mindset, not a lifestyle and not determined by your demographic persona,” Burston says.
2. ‘The Uber of’ anything and everything
If the startup world had a dollar for every time “It’s the Uber of x” got trotted out, well, it would probably not need any further equity raising.
Chris Noone, chief executive of Collaborate Corporation, knows a good deal about the sharing economy and its buzzwords and puts the proliferation of “the Uber of…” pitches down to fundamental problems with the business idea.
“It shows the proposition you’re trying to put forward either can’t be put forward quickly or at all,” he says.
“Everything about your business needs to reinforce your product’s positon, not just comparing that to other businesses.
“I think people don’t want to spend the effort in positioning their own business. It’s a very short-sighted strategy, a quick win.”
Noone says he also has a particular “passion for ridding the world of companies that claim to be the Airbnb of something”, especially those that put the word ‘air’ in front of their name.
“I think for Airbnb it made sense, for them it’s totally relevant,” he says.
“But people think ‘air’ means a certain thing so we’ll put it in front of our business.”
Noone thinks the trend likely comes down to the way startups are trained to pitch their ideas in comparison to something else, but says “hijacking” another’s business name is not effective in the long run.
Jason Graham-Nye, co-founder of gDiapers, told SmartCompany he agrees the coaching startups receive about positioning that is likely contributing to the trend.
“You’re taught you’ve got to position yourself in comparison to something, such as ‘well it’s Pretty Woman meets Top Gun’,” he says.
Graham-Nye says he understands why businesses position themselves in such a way but suggests it’s a “very limiting” thing to do.
“Exciting companies are that which have true innovation,” he says.
“You’re demonstrating you’re not that innovative if you can be that easily pigeon-holed.”
3. ‘Fail fast’, ‘game changer’ and other cliches
WINK Models founder Taryn Williams can name a few clichéd expressions she’d like to see used less, one of which is the term “fail fast”.
“(It’s) one of my personal pet peeve sayings,” Williams told SmartCompany.
“You shouldn't be aiming to 'fail' at all. Sure, you might have things that don't go well along the way, but if you've done your market research, planning, cash flow projections, then you shouldn't be on the path to failure.”
“Game changer” is another, Williams says.
“How often do you hear this used, and how regularly does the product or service actually revolutionise an industry or the way business is done?” she says.
“The smartphone did. The automobile did. Your app that connects girls in the eastern suburbs with a personal stylist? Not so much.”
Daniel Werzberger, director and co-founder AreYouSelling.com.au, says the cliché “think outside the box” is a “pointless phrase”.
“Anyone in life, business, sport - anything - has to think laterally to get anywhere,” he says.
4. ‘No’, ‘can’t’ and ‘impossible’
No surprises for guessing business owners hate the term “no” and most iterations of it.
Wink Models’ Williams says for her this means a ban on words and phrases such as “that's impossible" or "you can’t possibly do that".
“A negative mindset like this will never breed a positive outcome,” she says.
“I need solutions focused people in my world, who love working on challenging projects, ideas and embrace finding solutions to problems that could otherwise be deemed 'impossible'.”
For Williams, overcoming the impossible extends to staying on top of the inbox as well, with "Sorry, I haven't checked my email today" not cutting it.
“If you have time to update your Facebook status, and post a selfie to Instagram, you have time to check your email,” she says.
“Unless your profession requires you to be 'hands on' in your career - like a surgeon - I expect a turnaround time on emails in less than eight hours.”
Vanessa Bennett, chief executive of Inside 80 Australia, says the word “busy” has become one of her biggest no-nos.
“It was while I was working in corporate, it was used so often and was glorified, and it's even more of a pet hate now,” she says.
“Of course ‘busy’ people now keep me in a job – although [they] pretty quickly stop referring to themselves as busy once they start working with us.”
5. Buzz-kill buzzwords
Bicycles Online founder James van Rooyen thinks changing job titles to trendy phrases like "chief fun officer" , "growth hacker", "accounting ninja" is short-sighted.
“These titles can go out of fashion quickly, and there is a loss of credibility that goes with it,” he says.
For Mark Tanner, co-Founder of Qwilr, the buzzword which vexes him the most is the industry word “unicorn” to describe startups with a valuation of $1 billion or more.
“It comes down to people confusing early-stage funding with success,” he says.
If by chance you need further inspiration about what buzzwords not to use when naming your next project, look no further than Name My Product, a site that spoofs some of the worst business-speak out there.