The Entrepreneurial Mindset vs. Business Skills

15 Jan

A World Bank study – jointly released in September 2017 with the National University of Singapore Business School and Leuphana University – reveals that psychology-based entrepreneur training programs are outperforming traditional business trainings amongst microentrepreneurs in West Africa, translating into increased firm profits by 30% compared to 11% for traditional business training.

“This psychology-based training aims at developing key behaviors associated with a proactive entrepreneurial mindset such as self-starting behavior, innovation, identifying and exploiting new opportunities, goal-setting, planning and feedback cycles, and overcoming obstacles,” said Michael Frese, Professor at the National University of Singapore Business School and Leuphana University. Frese developed the alternative approach of personal initiative training and co-authored the study.

However, the findings of this study (in my opinion) do not negate the need for entrepreneurs to have a solid foundation in traditional business training focused on accounting, marketing, and other basic business skills. See my previous blog post for more insight on traditional business training.

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5 Steps for Starting Your Business (Revised for 2018)

2 Jan

starting a businessIt takes more than just a good idea to launch and grow a successful business – it requires patience, determination and a willingness to start small and to plan, test and revise your business idea. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the early stages of starting a business. Here are five key steps to starting your own business:

1. Connect with an SBA Resource Partner: There is no reason for a would-be-entrepreneur to try to start their business alone. The Small Business Administration (SBA) directs a national entrepreneurial network that provides business assistance to more than 1.2 million entrepreneurs and small businesses each year. These SBA resource partners (SCORE, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs)) provide quality training, one-on-one counseling and networking opportunities that can help you start, grow and compete in the marketplace. And they have helped small businesses across the country to raise start-up and growth capital and sell billions of dollars in products and services world-wide. You can find the SBA resource partner nearest you at https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance

Note: If you started your business without seeking guidance or without a plan, you should still reach out to an SBA Resource Partner. There is no magic bullet for fixing a struggling or failing business, but an advisor can keep you from spending even more money on bad ideas with limited results.

2. Do Your Research: There are two great myths in the start-up community – 1) Everybody wants/needs what I’m selling and 2) My business is different/unique – and so potential business owners fail to do the proper market and industry research. I highly recommend using The Lean Start-up Method (http://theleanstartup.com/) and The Business Model Canvas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks68qw5cBMc) to conduct Customer Discovery and build a Business Model before taking any other steps in starting your business. Here is another great resource to help you through the research process: https://steveblank.com/tools-and-blogs-for-entrepreneurs/

3. Educate Yourself: You probably have a fair amount of expertise in your chosen field (IT/cybersecurity, consulting, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc.) or you wouldn’t have the passion to start a business based on it. Equally probable is that you lack the requisite knowledge to turn your passion into a successful business. That’s not an insult – most of us are not born with an innate understanding of business entities, small business taxes, registration and regulations, finance, accounting, marketing, etc. You don’t need an MBA – your local SBA resource partners offer monthly classes on all these subjects and more.

4. Draft a Business Plan: Once you have determined that your idea is feasible as a business, you want to draft an action plan. Most lending institutions will want a 3 year financial forecast which is absurd at this point. Instead, this first draft (that’s right, the first of many) should focus on only those actions you need to take to start testing your business. If your plan calls for half a million dollars in funding or signing a 5 year lease for office space – STOP! See step 1.

5. Test Your Plan: Repeat after me: “think big, START SMALL!” Too many times I meet entrepreneurs who were overly ambitious in the startup phase and are now struggling to generate revenue to cover all of those unnecessary fixed costs. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I test this idea without spending a lot of money?” Again, opt for lean. Start a home-based business or use a business incubator for part-time office/meeting space, prototyping (http://www.techshop.ws/) or as a commercial kitchen (http://www.eater.com/2016/2/26/11110808/food-incubator-accelerator-small-business). Try selling on-line, at the local farmer’s market or try a pop-up (http://www.dummies.com/business/start-a-business/just-what-is-a-pop-up-business/). Can you test your services (and build past performance) by teaming, sub-contracting or forming a joint venture with another, established, business? Not only are you testing your business idea, you are building brand awareness and, hopefully, generating revenue.

In closing, I want to address three issues:

  1. Start-up Capital: You are an unknown would-be entrepreneur with an unproven business model, so traditional lenders are going to be reluctant to fund your venture. Instead you are going to have to count on self-funding, microloans and crowdfunding. You want revenue, not debt.
  1. Start-up Timeline: Building a successful business takes time. If you are planning to start your business in 2018, I suggest planning to take the whole year to work through these 5 steps. It takes time to conduct 100 customer interviews, attend small business classes and test your business idea. The most important thing to do is to start. Too many would-be entrepreneurs spend too much time refining and re-writing their business plan without ever testing a prototype, talking to a potential customer or teaming partner.
  1. Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself – and Your Business): It’s great to have passion, a positive attitude and confidence in yourself; but arrogance can be the death of a business. You can choose to take business classes or not, take advice or not, conduct research or not. At the end of the day, it’s your business. If you find yourself blaming your advisors, your business partners and even your customers for issues with your business, then it’s probably time to consider a career change.

Now, go forward and thrive!

Why I Say “Happy Holidays”

24 Dec

I grew up in a small-ish city in the middle of Montana in the 1970s/80s. And this time of year was all about Christmas – picking out and decorating the tree; going shopping for presents for my parents and siblings; our downtown lit by thousands of lights and Santa ornaments with big, red, bulbous noses; and Christmas music being played everywhere you went.

A kid in my school was Jewish and so we also had a menorah – and I remember thinking, “8 days of presents? How cool is that!”

OK, there wasn’t a whole lot of ethnic and cultural diversity. But there was “Schoolhouse Rock!” On Saturday mornings, in between “Super Friends” and “Scooby Doo” there would be these cartoons about our American heritage; and one I distinctly remember was about the “Great American Melting Pot.” My family is Irish, Italian and Polish (with a few other ethnicities thrown in for good measure) so the “melting pot” concept made sense to me. And when I joined the Navy, I got to travel around the globe and experience the people and the cultures first hand. I’ve had Christmas goose with Christians, latkes and applesauce with Jews, and celebrated the sunrise with pagans at Stonehenge.

And now I live and work in the metro Washington, DC area – which is just a tad bit more diverse than where I grew up. Our country as a whole is undergoing some profound changes in demographics. We are more religiously and culturally diverse than ever before; and this diversity will automatically evoke some strong reactions. Plus, we have a rising population that does not feel affiliated with any religious tradition and this too contributes to the new cultural landscape.

I may not know the ethnic, cultural or religious background of all the people I meet at work, or out and about on the streets. What I do know is that there are several holidays that fall during December including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice and the recently minted secular HumanLight. They all would like, and deserve, to be acknowledged and respected.

This brings me to the “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays” debate – that for me is not complicated and is solved with basic etiquette. If I know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas I say to them “Merry Christmas.” Likewise, I say “Happy Hanukkah” to a person I know is Jewish, etc. I’ve even said, “May the Force be with you” to a guy at a play wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. This courtesy and respect should be part of what it means to live in a pluralistic society and it is easy for all of us to offer.

However, if I don’t know the spiritual tradition of a co-worker, a friend or stranger on the Metro, but I wish to offer them a ‘”Season’s Greeting” – a simple “Happy Holidays” is not at all an insult or a denigration of Christmas, or any other tradition. To me, it is an appropriate and inclusive salutation that recognizes that there are many ways that people are observing the season and that I may not know enough to be specific. If they respond with, “Merry Christmas” – no problem – “Merry Christmas to you.”

So, let’s have water-skiing Santa and dreidel games, Kwanzaa lessons, HumanLight celebrations and Pagan solstice rituals – let’s do it all. And if you don’t want to do anything – I get it. It’s so much more fun to cast a wide net where all can celebrate our traditions together rather than strip everything away to protect the delicate sensibilities of some very prickly few.

Happy Holidays!

Giving Thanks…

23 Nov

It has been awhile since I wrote a blog post and I am thankful for having the time now to do so.

I am thankful for all of the great events that I’ve been able to be a part of the past several months including hosting a 2-day agribusiness workshop (during National Veterans Small Business Week) to bring together a variety of local farmers, federal agency representatives, lenders and resource partners to provide insight and guidance on the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and getting started in agribusiness. Other events included the Greater Springfield (Virginia) Business and Economic Summit, the Capital Area Franchise Fair, a Veteran Entrepreneurship webinar hosted by AARP, a Veterans Storytelling graduation showcase created by the Armed Services Arts Partnership (www.asapasap.org) in conjunction with Story District (www.storydistrict.org) and hosted at the Drafthouse Comedy Club in DC, a Small Business Boot Camp hosted by the DC Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs, and a Veterans Social Entrepreneurship panel at George Mason University compliments of the Mason Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the Mason Enterprise Center (www.masonenterprisecenter.org).

I am thankful for all of the classes, counseling sessions and outreach events we’ve been able to offer this year including:
• 40 Boots to Business Classes and 6 Reboot (https://sbavets.force.com/s/) workshops in Northern Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
• Our 12th annual Veterans in Business Conference (www.veteransbusinessconference.org) that sold out once again this year.
• 50 additional business classes on subjects ranging from government contracting and franchising, to business financing and creative thinking.
• 405 hours of 1-on-1 specialized counseling with 345 clients.
• 50 outreach events throughout the DMV attended by over 5,000 attendees.

I am thankful for everyone who made all of this possible: the staff at Community Business Partnership (www.cbponline.org), our incredible group of volunteer instructors and counselors (thank you!), the Small Business Administration (and other federal agencies like the USDA) and the vast network of SBA resource partners, our sponsors and all the supporters of economic development, and the families and friends who support us.

And most importantly, I am thankful for all the small business owners out there – all 23 million of you! You are the reason we do all of the things mentioned above. Thank you for working the long hours it takes to start and grown your small businesses. Thank you for your courage, creativity, innovation and resilience. Thank you for providing your goods and services to the community. Thank you for solving problems, realizing opportunities and creating lasting impact by employing our communities and contributing to our tax base. Thank you for volunteering and sponsoring local events. And thank you for sharing your successes as well as your challenges with us.

November 25th is Small Business Saturday – get out and support your local small businesses this Saturday and throughout the year. I’ll be at Business at the Brewery co-hosted by Fair Winds Brewing Company and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

(www.springfieldchamber.org/events/details/business-in-the-brewery-4474)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Make Your Bed

11 Nov

http://www.businessinsider.com/navy-seal-commander-explains-why-you-should-make-your-bed-2017-4

Long Live Books!

4 Sep

Saturday, September 1, 2017, was the kind of chilly, rainy and overall gloomy day that’s perfect for staying in bed with a cup of coffee and a book or two.

Instead, I showered, dressed, packed my book bag (journal, paperbacks, Kindle and poncho), grabbed my umbrella and made my way to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the 17th Annual National Book Festival. The large turnout – organizers say tens of thousands were on hand – was balm for those who worry that serious and committed readers and book lovers are a disappearing breed. Perhaps most encouraging was the large turnout of families with their children – many of whom seemed more interested than their parents in this year’s subjects and authors.

Shetterly, Stavridis, Friedman, Lewis, Herrera, Barnhill, Lu, Dyson, Saujani, Kitamura, DiCamillo, McDermott, Rice and Bohjalian – those were just a few of the more than 100 authors who drew crowds of book lovers into Washington, D.C. on a Labor Day weekend.

The first National Book Festival took place on September 8, 2001 at the Library of Congress and on the east lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Founded by First Lady Laura Bush and James H. Billington (the 13th Librarian of Congress from 1987 to 2015), the event featured more than 60 award-winning authors, illustrators and storytellers from across the country including Stephen Ambrose, Natalie Babbitt, Robin Cook, Billy Collins, Sue Grafton, Larry L. King, David Levering Lewis, David McCullough, Walter Mosley, Katherine Patterson, Richard Peck, Gary Soto and Scott Turow. Additional activities included book-signings, musical performances, storytelling, panel discussions, demonstrations of illustration and new technologies. The first National Book Fair attracted between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors.

More than 200,000 people attended the 2013 National Book Festival and the number of visitors caused damage to the grass on the National Mall. So after 12 years on the National Mall, the National Book Festival moved indoors to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in 2014 – I don’t think anyone minded not being outdoors on Saturday. The move indoors allowed the Festival to expand into nighttime events, cookbook demonstrations and screenings of film adaptions of books.

I’ve been a voracious reader from a very young age; and while I carry a Kindle with me wherever I go (mostly for fiction and internet access), nothing beats the feel of a paper book. I remember living in Monterey, CA in 1999 and repeatedly hearing the doomsday scenarios for independent bookstores now that Barnes & Noble and then Amazon were on the rise. Things looked bleak for a while –the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. bottomed out at 1,651 in 2009.

Then, a funny thing started happening. The left-for-dead victim started stirring. The number of independent bookstores registered with the American Booksellers Association grew by nine in 2010 and 163 in 2011 – and kept going. That number has grown for seven-consecutive years to more than 2,320. http://www.bookweb.org/member_directory/search/ABAmember

I think author David McCullough (whom I met for the first time at this year’s festival – fan squeal!) offered a sage perspective from the Main Stage at the start of the festival, “If you ever get down about American culture just remember there are still more public libraries than there are Starbucks.”

Share in the comments – what are you reading?

Veterans Business Outreach Center Supports Veteran Entrepreneurs in the U.S. Virgin Islands

24 Aug

USVI B2B Reboot 2017 Day 6 005The Veteran Business Outreach Center (VBOC) at Community Business Partnership in Springfield, VA, recently held two 1-Day Boots to Business Reboot workshops on St. Thomas and St. Croix for 22 members of the military community. We were delighted to provide the training in collaboration with the local SBA office and their resource partners from the University of the Virgin Islands SBDC network (http://www.sbdcvi.org/).

Boots to Business|Reboot (https://www.sba.gov/offices/headquarters/ovbd) is an entrepreneurial training program designed for Veterans and their dependents that have already made the transition back to civilian life. The curriculum includes steps for evaluating business concepts, the foundational knowledge required to develop a business plan and information on SBA resources available to help access start-up capital and additional technical assistance. Veterans of all eras, plus Service members (including National Guard and Reserves) and their spouses are eligible to enroll in classes.

This was the VBOC’s second trip to the Virgin Islands in the past year and we have provided small business start-up education to nearly 50 attendees representing: Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, National Guard, active duty, Veterans, reservists, military spouses, and their families. It’s gratifying to see first-hand that word is spreading throughout the military community on the islands about all the programs and services that the SBA and its partners offer. We were thrilled to learn that they have started a local SCORE chapter and are working with the Defense Logistics Agency to open a Procurement and Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) in the near future.

Now I know what you may be thinking – what a boondoggle!  But wait – when you consider that the Caribbean islands are home to more Veterans per capita than anywhere in the U.S. – it makes sense that the VBOC would be there to support our military community. The economy on the islands is struggling with an unemployment rate of 10.6 (and increasing) and it’s going to take local entrepreneurs (and those who support them) to chart a path for recovery and success.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is best known for its powder-fine beaches and turquoise bays, a constant draw for the tourists who frequent this tiny American territory. But away from the beaches the mood is depressed, as government officials scramble to stave off the same kind of fiscal collapse that has already engulfed its neighbor, Puerto Rico. While the public debts of the Virgin Islands are much smaller than those of Puerto Rico – which effectively declared bankruptcy in May of this year – so too is its population; and therefore, its ability to pay down the debt places a larger burden on the residents. This tropical territory of roughly 100,000 people owes nearly $6.5 billion to pensioners and creditors.

For decades, this distant cluster of islands in the Caribbean have played a critical role as American listening posts, fueling and staging grounds and practice bombing ranges. The military presence buoyed their small economies, and a federal tax subsidy made it relatively easy for them to issue bonds. Over the years, they have collectively borrowed billions of dollars to build roads, run schools, treat drinking water and fund hospitals.

Now, a combination of factors – insufficient tax revenue, a weak pension system, the closure of military bases and loss of a major employer, and a new reluctance in the markets to lend the Virgin Islands any more money – has made it almost impossible for the government to meet its obligations. In January, the Virgin Islands found itself unable to borrow and nearly out of funds for basic government operations.

For entrepreneurs: problem + solution = business opportunity.

Many local entrepreneurs see new chances to reverse historical patterns, and to address issues with food, health, education and infrastructure while bringing new industries to the islands. Agribusiness and sustainability, ecotourism, recycling and alternative energy, and a growing interest in fusion cuisine offer opportunities for new ventures.

We worked with several active business owners, while supporting other students who were in the initial phase of thinking about what product or service might be feasible.  Businesses ranged from fashion and food-makers to coffee roasters and fitness and nutrition consulting to agricultural suppliers and government contractors.  These entrepreneurs face a long and challenging road ahead – but the SBA and its resource partners will be there to assist them.