Best known to Canadians for her roles on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, The Big Decision, and Recipe to Riches, celebrity entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson is the CEO of Venture Communications, one of Canada’s largest independent communications firms, and YouInc.com, a website dedicated to servicing and investing in the entrepreneurial lifestyle. She is the author of bestselling book Persuasion and her recent best-selling release, All In.
Your new book All In isn’t exactly your typical how-to book for entrepreneurs. Why did you decide to focus on the work/life balance side of entrepreneurship as opposed to the business side?
There are a lot of books out there that tell entrepreneurs how to run their business more successfully, but there are very few books out there that talk about how it’s a lifestyle choice. It felt to me that nobody understood what being an entrepreneur meant and how it would impact their life, and I wanted to talk about that.
People often talk about finding a work/life balance. For entrepreneurs, does that balance really exist?
Not in the way that people talk about it today. Balance implies that it’s 50/50, but when you’re an entrepreneur, your personal and professional lives are intertwined, so balance is more about the freedom to choose what you want to do with your time as opposed to feeling guilty that you’re not the 50/50 balance person.
Being an entrepreneur is a unique experience that non-entrepreneurs can often struggle to understand. What is the one thing you would want the world to understand about being an entrepreneur?
It would be that when you choose to be an entrepreneur you are choosing a lifestyle, not a career, and it is an expression of who you are. Just as we understand that artists need to be artistic all the time or athletes need to be athletic all the time, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs all the time, that is who they are, and they don’t separate business and life. They express themselves creatively through the art of business.
Is that why you created YouInc.com?
One of the reasons I created the site was to try and help people understand that they’re not alone in this, that there are people to talk to online who can help make their businesses more successful and themselves as people more successful.
What are some of the resources that entrepreneurs can find on that site?
We have experts and peer groups who are available to answer questions, you can look at instructional articles, you can talk to other entrepreneurs and hear stories about their struggles, you can follow entrepreneurs or be followed like a social network, and you can collaborate and connect with other people who are just like you. Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely, so it’s nice to have a place where you can go, “Gee, I’m not the only one thinking that.”
You are known in the Den for making deals with businesses that have a social conscious. Why is corporate social responsibility so important to you personally?
It was a belief that was instilled in me as a child — that gratitude and generosity were important characteristics to have — so when I see organizations with social responsibility at the core, I appreciate that it means there’s genuineness, and a generosity of spirit and gratefulness.
Some of your fellow dragons (who shall remain nameless) would argue that giving money to charity or building a company around social responsibility is bad for business.
I think it’s too easy for my fellow Dragons to say it’s just about money. It’s never just about money, that’s only one piece of the picture. Yes, you need to make money, because you need to be responsible as a businessperson, but what you do with that profit is what you do as a citizen of the world and a citizen of business communities and a citizen of society. If you choose to give some of that back to the environment or the community, that doesn’t in any way impede your ability to be profitable.
Republished from the Toronto Star Business Club online edition May 26, 2014.