It seems like there are many viewpoints -- sometimes conflicting -- about who millennials are and how they operate. The same is true for millennial entrepreneurs. When we look at this fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in our economy, we should take care to separate facts from myths about the members of this generation who are building businesses and creating jobs.
It’s a fact, for instance, that those born from 1981 to 1997 are the largest generation in the workforce today. About half to two-thirds of millennials are interested in entrepreneurship, and more than a quarter (27 percent) are already self-employed, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
What motivates and drives millennials to start and build businesses? That's a question many members of older generations would like to better understand. It’s the reason Wells Fargo sponsored a recent study of 1,000 millennial small business owners. The findings not only help us better comprehend how this segment is growing, changing and reshaping the small business landscape, but also help us dispel a few myths:
1. Myth: Millennials are focused only on the short term.
Contrary to popular perceptions that millennials are focused on the short term and more apt to be serial entrepreneurs, the Wells Fargo study found that this generation of small business owners is in it for the long haul. They see their business endeavors as investments in the future, with many already looking ahead to the next generation.
In fact, 80 percent of millennial small business owners surveyed said they hoped to grow their businesses over many years, potentially even passing them down to their children someday, in spite of the fact that most (59 percent) have not yet had children.
2. Myth: Millennials won’t take on business debt to invest in their future.
While the economic environment is still gradually improving, and most small business owners -- including millennials -- are wary of taking on debt, many of the millennial small business owners surveyed said they believed that business debt and financial risk are necessary for the future growth of their businesses. About two-thirds of those surveyed said that some amount of business debt is necessary for growth, or said they were willing to take financial risks in order to grow their business.
They also expected to take on business debt in the future, with 38 percent of the millennial small business owners surveyed saying they planned to take on some form of business debt in the coming year -- either opening a line of business credit, taking out a business loan or carrying a balance on a business credit card.
3. Myth: Millennials are knowledgeable about managing their businesses' finances.
There’s no doubt that millennials are one of the most entrepreneurial generations, but they still face challenges. Nearly half of the millennial small business owners surveyed described themselves as only “somewhat” knowledgeable about handling their business finances. Slightly more than half, 52 percent, rated themselves as successful in managing their finances. Millennial small business owners are, however, on a mission to seek out knowledge that will help their businesses grow.
They said, for example, that they were more apt to look for help outside their business than were their older counterparts; the millennials cited friends and family, peers and competitors, social media and other online information sites as resources for their businesses' financial success.
Additionally, most of them (76 percent) said they would be willing to pay more for products and services to help themselves run their businesses more successfully.
4. Myth: Millennials don’t feel optimistic about their future.
In thinking about the future of their business, millennial small business owners surveyed tended to have an optimistic outlook, with 77 percent saying they expected improvement in their businesses in the next year, compared to 51 percent of older small business owners. This positive, ambitious outlook supported their plans to grow and scale their business, with 71 percent expecting profitability to increase over the next 12 months, and 70 percent anticipating growth in revenue or sales.
As more millennials enter the small business landscape and launch their ventures, it’s as important as ever for us to understand how they operate, what motivates them, what level of willingness they have to take risks and what their challenges and needs are. This knowledge will provide the right resources and guidance to help them succeed financially.
By separating facts from myths, we can better focus on helping more millennials establish businesses for the long term and make meaningful contributions to our economy.
Working with small business owners is one of the most important things that we do, and it is encouraging to see millennials wanting to invest in their businesses and look at entrepreneurship as a way to secure their future.