Sunday, December 30, 2007
We voted with our feet and chose the area of Madison, WI to raise our family and to grow our businesses. Next to getting married, it was the best decision we ever made.
What higher recommendation could I make? I'm still thrilled with that choice 30+ years later.
I've started a number of new enterprises from this region since then, and now I get to work from here, helping folks launch their new businesses.
The eight counties of South Central Wisconsin have been rolling out a unified front for economic development in this region and I'm really delighted to see the progress being made. This area is a fabulous platform for creating new enterprises and improving your life.
That's why I really like the name they recently gave their new organization, Thrive.
For anyone looking to launch or grow a tech based enterprise, this is an ideal place. The research support and connections here are world class.
For those of us working as independent entrepreneurs (IEs), this place is perfect.
In both of the last enterprises we ran from the Madison area, we had customers on 5 continents. There are just no limits to the transportation and communications resources available here for the independent entrepreneur.
And yes, while we worked globally, I was also able to readily build an excellent regional economic base because of our easy access to Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities. All the early, sustaining, pay-the-bills, orders arrived from this hub. And we were in the middle of it, in a really lovely, invigorating environment, doing great startup work.
The world is only so virtual. You also need to show up. Being in the middle of this very valuable, and economically diverse region puts you on the doorstep of millions of people, representing countless different markets and industries, with relatively quick drives. And you get to be virtual the rest of the time, in one of the most beautiful and dynamic places on earth.
I believe that knitting together all the stakeholders in a project like this is tantamount to herding cats. The folks that have brought the new Thrive organization to this point should be thanked heartily and congratulated.
With the launch of the new name, Thrive has also named a new Chair. He is John Biondi, who I had the great pleasure of meeting with last fall. John has a rich and interesting track record working with science based high tech firms. After talking with John I am also firmly convinced he is strongly committed to independent entrepreneurs doing sustainable work.
I knew I would like John, when I showed up at his office and he was the only one in jeans, surrounded by suits. John said it was casual Friday, but that seemed to have caught everyone else off guard. John seems fully capable of declaring casual days all on his own, which I greatly admire. Also seems like a great metaphor for the kind of work we do in our region.
While Thrive rolls out and begins to focus on its key sectors, they will also be making resources available for anyone interested in starting or growing their enterprises in our smart, beautiful region.
If you would like help from the perspective of an IE that lives and works in this region, get in contact. Better yet, visit one of the gems of our region, Monroe, WI on Jan 7th. I'll be sharing a talk that evening with their Entrepreneur and Inventor Club meeting. The focus of this talk is on innovation and invention for the independent entrepreneur. I'll link info below. Stop by and let's meet.
When I think of all the wonderful cities, towns, villages, open spaces, natural treasures, coffee stops, pie places, great bowls of soup, and all the inventive, amazing small businesses I know about in our region I can't imagine a better place to work from. I've started thinking about all of them as 'Thrive-Points'.
Thrive is a great new name for a wonderful region to live and work. Get in touch with Thrive (below) or meet me in 'Thrive-Point' Monroe!
Thrive the newly named regional economic development organization for the best place on earth to locate and grow yourself and your new enterprise.
Download the Green Co. Entrepreneur and Inventor Club press release here. From Idea to Manufacture: The Process of Invention.
C5-6 Technologies John Biondi is the President of C5-6
Friday, December 28, 2007
I really love these photos (click to enlarge), and their stories below.
The top photo is Ms. Chantal Dolou from Togo.
The bottom photo is Mr. Allahverdy Kuliyev from Azerbaijan.
I met them through a Christmas gift I received last year. It was a gift certificate allowing me to invest the value of the gift in loans to small, independent entrepreneurs working with the organization, Kiva.
Kiva lets you lend to specific entrepreneurs in the developing world - empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty. If you like, you get to follow the stories of these entrepreneurs and track their repayment rates. When the loans are repaid, Kiva gives you the opportunity of investing that money in other entrepreneurs.
Loan requests are small by the standards of the developed world. You can sort through Kiva's introductions to aspiring entrepreneurs on their web site. After choosing one or more, you apply the amounts you wish to loan. Your loans are aggregated with those from other Kiva sponsors. When the requested loan amount is achieved, the loan is distributed to the entrepreneur.
I've posted the stories about the entrepreneurs I chose below. I especially like the photo of Ms. Chantal Dolou. I would take Ms. Dolou to any business meeting on any continent and feel confident she would succeed. I know that look. Mr. Allahverdy has a wonderful story that engaged me immediately.
The best part of that Christmas present is the news 1 year later, that both loans are nearly 100% repaid. I will soon get to look for more great stories and wonderful ideas to support. A gift of entrepreneurship that keeps on giving!
I believe Kiva is providing the world with a great service. Like all true entrepreneurs, they have found a problem and are helping fix it. In Kiva's case, the execution of that fix is very well done.
There are many other great organizations worldwide working on micro entrepreneurship and micro finance. I'm in contact with some and receive newsletters from many. I will put up posts about these in the future.
Let's also remember that there are many micro entrepreneurs among us here. In fact, they/we are everywhere.
When you make your choices for all manner of decisions, choose to support the innovators. Choose to support hard work, diligence, vigilance, and courage.
The renaissance age of entrepreneurship is here, and it's just beginning - around the world and, hopefully, around your kitchen table.
Ms. Chantal Dolou. Ms. DOLOU, born in 1972 in Gbodjomé in the Prefecture des Lacs in southwest Togo, is single with two (02) children and one sister in her care. She comes from a very poor family and did not have the chance to pursue thorough studies. She became involved then, by her own means, in the trade of basic need food products. To strengthen her business, she benefitted from a loan of $350, which she managed well and repaid without incident. Today, this business continues to grow and necessitates increased loan capital which is unavailable.
Mr. Allahverdy Kuliyev. Allahverdy Kuliyev has been engaged in this business since 2003. Before he rented this tea-house. Having borrowed the loan amount of $400 he bought tea-pots, chairs, tables and this tea-house. He has a lot of clients. His tea-house is a small and he wants to expand the area of his place. All in Absheron region talk about the taste of his tea. Clients have rest over a traditional cup of refreshing Azerbaijani tea in his tea-house. His tea help to people to forget about their problems. He supports to his family with this business. He is 52, married, has 3 children,
Friday, December 21, 2007
"The primary asset of any business is its organization." -William Feather
I've enjoyed meeting many new small businesses this year. Watching the newest ones launch is just flat out exhilarating.
But I've learned something unexpected from existing small businesses. When you work in your own enterprise exclusively, you assume most of the rest of the world is facing the common types of issues you can read about in most business magazines.
Now that I can talk and work with any number of other small businesses, I'm finding many are coping with a very serious problem that doesn't get much press.
For many, their management lives, the bread-and-butter, back office management stuff, is in free fall.
At the very beginning of their enterprises, they could keep up with the flow of data. As that flow increased, they rigged a patch to keep up. They cobbled together different places to keep different kinds of data. Then another patch, then another, and so on.
As they became more successful, their ability to assimilate more details effectively decreased.
There is a true threshold here. Those that can find a way to organize themselves make it through. Those that can't, don't last long.
Coming from the silo that was our last startup, I assumed everyone was using databases to organize themselves. Now that I get to poke around in other silos, I find new and emerging businesses don't know enough about controlling their data with these powerful tools.
Small enterprise databases need an evangelist, and I'm volunteering.
Here's what I know about databases and how I've learned it.
Long ago, when we first started Banner Graphics, I thought we'd conquered the world of enterprise with our arrival. Customers loved us, orders were growing, yada, yada.
Then customers started loving us too much. Orders picked up in number, velocity and complexity. This was just Mary and I, with two very young kids.
We took a roll of our banner paper and cut a long length that we taped along the living room wall in our duplex.
On the far left side I drew a box for prospects who didn't know us and that we didn't know. On the far right, I drew a box for wildly enthusiastic repeat customers who recommended us to everyone (relevant to our banner biz) they knew.
I guess I've been filling in the empty space with new boxes ever since.
That exercise allowed us to identify the key individual steps required to process a sale, produce the products, deliver, and measure our results.
That sounds like a small, simple step. I'd agree, but I'd also suggest that those simple steps are most often the ones that get overlooked or poorly executed in the face of the increasing chaos that can be the daily life of a small, growing enterprise.
If you work for a large organization, the following will be relatively meaningless. If you have been in a small enterprise where you were required to fulfill most or all of every step of a process, the following example will have meaning.
By the time we hit our stride in the 80s and early 90s, Banner Graphics would be receiving 75 to 80 orders per day. These would come from many different customers. They would most always be shipped to multiple different locations. Every order would arrive in a different format. Many would require us to have specific purchase orders; others came in on the phone or fax; still others in the mail and eventually eMail. We would have to capture all that data.
Then we would have to organize the data so that we could quickly and efficiently print 75 or 80 different orders, all with specific colors, most with specific logos, every one with a custom message that had to be spelled exactly right.
Then we had to prepare 75 or 80 orders for shipment every day. If you haven't done this, it's harder than you think. It would mean producing our own custom shipping labels, or, very often, drop shipping under a customer's label. Tracking numbers had to be captured. Shipping confirmations, along with dates and tracking numbers had to be accurately sent to customers for every single order.
It was only then you could start the process of invoicing each order. 75 or 80 orders per day. Each invoice requiring perhaps 25 to 50 individual component pieces that had to be accurately inserted or the invoice would be rejected.
Then you watch - in aggregate - 75 or 80 orders per day fall into the paths of paid, overdue, long overdue and damn.
Do this with two people and a couple of small kids.
How did we do it and not drown in the details? A database.
I wrote our first database in a program called Hypercard. We were a mom-and-pop shop (literally), so I called that first program MacMom. Hypercard is no longer available, but I still have the screen shots and miss it dearly.
A database is simply a place to put all the boxes you draw on your banner paper.
My last startup, SmartSkim, faced similar data capture issues on a much larger and more complex scale.
What happened there? We were able to execute all those micro steps in such a way that we won multiple state and national new product awards, with giddy customers on 5 continents. When I mention this in the talks I give, I follow by injecting some fake 'Oooohs and Ahhhhhs'.
What's important is NOT that we won those awards. What's important is that we won those awards with 4 people. That's national and international sales to some of the largest and most complex business organizations on the planet, and all the indescribably obtuse paperwork that entailed. That meant designing and manufacturing custom, heavy equipment with zillions of parts. That meant inventory. That meant shipping using every method imaginable to every place you can think of, all with different requirements for documentation that had to be right every time. That meant custom installations in factories all over the world. That meant training and retraining, live and on the internet. That meant keeping a big, global population of stakeholders efficiently and transparently informed.
The information flow was like a fire hose on steroids.
What makes me the proudest? We did all that with 4 people. Mary, my wife, Dave, my biz partner, Dan, the best Inside Sales Manager I have ever had the privilege to know, and me. Four people, and a kick-ass database.
Some people would call the daily crush of variable data flow stressful and unpleasant. If you're not prepared, that doesn't begin to describe it. Dan called his experience enjoyable. He said it was like dancing with the database. I will never forget that line.
Which brings me back to the small businesses I've met this year through teaching or talks. In many cases, their back-office management stuff is in free fall because they are applying patches on patches to their initial methods for capturing and using their data.
I will here admit to the title of this post. I've been dancing with databases once again.
I know what a good structure for capturing data can do for these folks. I don't just know it. I know it in my marrow. I know it in my genes. I've learned it from the battles, won and lost, which have been my lifelong effort to efficiently identify and fill in all those boxes on the banner paper.
When I first started writing these posts, I wrote down the goal that was most important to me. I thought a big idea was appropriate so I said I'd like to help start a million new businesses. This year has been a lovely and encouraging beginning toward that goal.
But it has also showed some limits. A million is a big number, and I need to move faster. I've decided that creating a database for the rest of us is what's needed.
The small businesses I see that claim to be in free fall, are only falling down in information capture. Typically, the rest of their enterprise is flourishing. Customers love them. They are providing solutions to people who are happy to pay. They are creating jobs, better lives and more economic independence for our society. They just need to get a grip on the fire hose.
I'm writing the newest iteration of my enterprise control database. I think it can get me to my million number faster than anything else, based on what I'm learning.
To proof the solution, I've belly flopped my own new business into it and am sculpting the results accordingly. I didn't hold anything back from the test. All of it is there - marketing, sales, contact management, quoting, order generation, execution and shipping, purchasing and a killer dashboard. I really love this database. At this writing, I think I can share it with users over the web.
Clients and friends should get it by early next year. I'm giving my first public presentation about it in Madison in mid January.
I love naming things. It's so biblical. I'm riffing off the name of my day job and calling the new database Diligence. Version 1.0 is working like Banner Graphics in its heyday, and I'm just getting it tuned in.
When I say I'm dancing with databases, I really mean it. I see the solutions they can offer. I know the flat out joy that can come from the organization they can deliver. It's not that hard. You just have to capture the data and use it effectively.
I see a new class of databases that will become tools for a new class of independent entrepreneurs. These tools will turn their organizations from chaos to calm, allowing their good ideas and hard work to make the world a better place.
2008 is going to be a good year. I'm going to put these Diligence databases in service of my goal of 1 million new enterprises.
In my mind's eye, it's a lovely picture. Good people, good organizations, and, like Dan, changing the world while dancing with their databases.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I taught a class this week and did a fun talk about how to do startups and how to keep them organized.
I asked for feedback and found the responses this week connect nicely to the feedback comments made following the online Micro Enterprise courses.
Many people seem to like hearing about the mistakes I've made.
Those are easy classes to fill with content.
The gist of the this part of the presentations is that it requires a lot of mistakes to find a unique path. I call this sailing into blue water.
To me that means sailing toward the unknown. Run to what scares you. Not competing with anyone, but just trying to solve more problems. Mistakes will seem like the least of your worries.
I was recently talking with my friend Roy, who is retired from Harley-Davidson, about the inventions my partner Dave and I built and installed at their plants in Milwaukee. I was talking about how simple it all was, basically learning from mistakes.
Roy's response was perfect. It sums up my approach to getting things done by well informed trial and error.
He said, "Sure, Rick, any idiot could have done that. But you're that idiot!"
Independent entrepreneurship REQUIRES mistakes to find new ground. To be safer to innovate. To be farther from competitors, and unproductive, daily dogfights.
The more mistakes you make - and learn from - the farther you are into blue water.
Get your new enterprise started. Take some steps along the learning curve - they're going to happen no matter what, so just start learning.
I suggest this is a good resting place for this discussion. Here is a great quote from the Wizard to take us out...
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work" - Thomas Edison, inventor and scientist
Harley-Davidson I owe an unmeasurable debt of gratitude to Harley-Davidson. Long before any of the green movement was glamorous, the wonderful folks at Harley-Davidson gave me the time and the space to get it right (a euphemism for making mistakes). As a result, Harley-Davidson prevents millions of gallons of wastewater every year and has eliminated a previous air pollution source. In fact, the photo above is from the presentation of the Governor's New Product Award. That's Dale Swenson, P.E., from The Harley-Davidson Motor Company, presenting our 2004 Small Business New Product of the Year Award. That year we were lucky enough to also be chosen First Place and Best of State. To my independent entrepreneur friends, please note that our little enterprise accomplished this with only 4 people. Thank you to all my friends back at Harley-Davidson!
Terrific Travel Ideas My friend Roy retired from Harley-Davidson. He and his wife started a really cool small business focused on useful ideas and products for travelers. Roy and I met through one of my courses. I love what they're doing. Buy something and say 'Hi' for me.
Wikipedia Thomas Alva Edison
Today is my Dad's 87th birthday! Happy Birthday Dad!!!!!!
I asked him today what he was up to and he told me he had a good new idea. Those of you who don't know my Dad may be dubious. Those of you who know Dad will recognize that he wasn't mentioning the other 10 new, good ideas.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
My next speaking stop is at the Green County Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club in beautiful Monroe, WI. The date is Jan 7, 08. The times are 6:30 to 8:30.
The Club meets at the Monroe Clinic, 515 22nd Av. in Monroe. Please call or eMail if you would like further directions.
The title of this talk is "From Idea to Manufacture: The Process of Invention."
Talk promo from their brochure: "Rick Terrien, owner of Business Diligence, holds patents on several products he designed and built. Rick has successfully navigated the process of getting ideas from his brain to a working prototype to a working machine. Rick is the two time winner of the Wisconsin New Product of the Year and 2005 United States Small Business New Product of the year Award. Rick's passion is helping entrepreneurs and inventors take the next step to success."
To my knowledge, Monroe, WI is the only place in North America still making Limburger cheese, so the trip would be worth it just for that! Come early and look around beautiful Green County and Monroe. This would be a wonderful place to start or grow your enterprise.
The economic support and wonderful quality of life bonuses available in our region would make this area an ideal place for new and growing enterprises.
See you in Monroe!
Green County WI Economic Development office. Better yet, call their office and ask for their Director, Anna Schramke. 608 328 9452. If you want to grow your enterprise and grow your life, our region is the place to do it and Anna can show you the benefits of Green County better than anyone I know. You're going to love our region!
Go to Baumgartners Tavern and cheese store on the square. Wonderful! No link available at this writing.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
A newly released paper from Harvard economist Edward Glaeser reinforces a theme regarding startups and emerging enterprises that I'm finding to be true everywhere I turn.
Professor Glaeser's paper, "Entrepreneurship and the City", was discussed in the online forum, The National Dialog on Entrepreneurship, a Kauffman Foundation site. The abstract is available from the Harvard Institute of Economic Research. I have purchased the full article, but it's not here yet. However, the abstract and NDE discussion is enough for me to make the point of this post.
While this research looked specifically at what made cities more successful, I have no doubt that the same findings can be said for any region and probably any country.
The paper concludes that it is the culture of entrepreneurship that is critical to the success of a city. Specifically, cities don't have entrepreneurial cultures by some magic stoke of good luck. They succeed because they support and educate the widest number of people who then become entrepreneurs.
Professor Glaesser finds that cities with a skilled and appropriate work force tend to have higher rates of self-employment and relatively higher proportions of small firms.
The paper also concludes that, "There is a strong connection between area-level education and entrepreneurship."
There is no mention of advanced business school training, only education leading to a "skilled and appropriate work force".
Yes. Absolutely. The culture of success is built person-by-person, startup-by-startup, new enterprises becoming small creative, valuable contributors to their cities and regions.
Does that mean all these small new entrepreneurial ventures are going to succeed? Of course it doesn't. Just the opposite. The vitally different - and better - way of asking that question is why is the idea of failure universally seen as nothing but negative by so many people?
Why can't failure be seen as the valuable learning step it can be? In successful entrepreneurial cultures, you aren't looked down upon for failing. You're looked at as someone that's working hard and could use an introduction or two, maybe a referral to a needed link in their next chain.
Now, if your failures involve lots of money and little planning, the value of that lesson is dimmer and can be hard to locate.
If you fail by losing important money in some high risk gamble, that's not failure, that's stupidity.
But if you roll out your startups following the ideas in the slow startup movement I've been writing about and you fail, congratulations! You've learned something valuable without paying much for it. You now know one small thing better than most of the population of the planet. String a few of those together, and you're gold. Nobody can catch you now. You'll know one specific set of things that virtually no one else on earth knows. If you launch your new startup by spending more time than money on it, the world of enterprise becomes an entirely different and more welcoming place.
But you need the culture of support for innovation that only comes from doing it not talking about it.
In many of the circles I travel in, I hear all kinds of supportive talk for entrepreneurship.
This week, I was fortunate enough to see this kind of culture-building support for innovation actually being done.
Was it valuable to for the entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs? There are a few metrics I could use to define success, but let's use one that should have obvious meaning. I saw a large group of people come out on a cold November night in Wisconsin, at the very same time the Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys (both with records of 10 and 1), to share and support their entrepreneurial ideas. Value? Hmm. I'd say.
This was an Inventor and Entrepreneur Club meeting in beautiful Juneau County, WI. Wow. The stories, the mutual support, the flat out usefulness of the entire process was really fun.
Terry Whipple coordinates the meetings. No, that's too orderly a word… Terry mobilizes the meetings. These are very peer-to-peer driven. I'm excited for their organizations. Terry and Sue Noble from the Vernon County Club, and I got to meet before, during, and after the meeting. Talk about getting it! Talking about building entrepreneurial cultures for all the right reasons.
I also came away from a recent Green County I&E club meeting with a similar sense. There are wonderful, low-cost, effective, and highly supportive ways to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, one person at a time.
This is new enough for a Harvard professor to be writing about it, and yet surely is as old as commerce itself.
The folks working at these grassroots levels in my state are not counting business plans and filtering them for their high tech/biotech/nanotech sex appeal. They are building cultures of entrepreneurship one person, one relationship at a time. They are building networks on networks, one network at a time.
Sue Noble told me a story about her I&E Club which almost had me in tears. I'm headed to one of their Vernon County meetings ASAP, and will post that story soon.
Professor Glaeser writes that "local entrepreneurship depends mainly on having the right kind of people". And I would suggest that to create the most efficient and widespread effects, the right kind of people would be those that are respected, supported, and trained to learn from failure and to grow in sustainable ways. That's a real culture of innovation.
Terry had posters all over the room reading 'Catch the Culture!'. I got it but didn't post it to my notebook. The next day I read about the Harvard study, stating that regions that create systems for supporting small scale entrepreneurship build successful cultures. Terry suddenly seemed smarter than he'd ever claim.
There is a tantalizing reference in Professor Glaeser's abstract for my boomer entrepreneur buddies. "Self-employment is particularly associated with abundant, older citizens and with the presence of input suppliers." Yikes. Boomer biz with lots of small operations. The research paper is ordered. Stay tuned.
I love studies that agree with me. They seem so prescient. Yet the truthfulness and the timeliness of these ground-up ideas makes perfect sense. The idea of building successful, entrepreneurial cultures from the bottom up has to be true.
Is this a knock on other kinds of enterprise creation? Of course not. Those high tech, biotech and nanotech models can be wonderful and produce spectacular results. What I do intend to say is that those models aren't the only valuable kids on the block. The entire entrepreneurship movement needs support and respect for the whole culture to grow and prosper.
This Harvard study focused on two measures of entrepreneurship: self-employment and the number of small firms. "Both of these measures correlated with urban success."
You do the numbers. Any region needs more entrepreneurs and more small enterprises to be successful. That is NOT the same as more headline grabbing this-tech or that-tech venture funded firms. It's sheer numbers. More entrepreneurs and more enterprises make the culture succeed. From this perspective, risk in the economy of our regions gets spread around and diversified, more people get to contribute, and more people become engaged solving problems. Tell me something bad about this approach.
Thanks, Harvard. More importantly, thanks Terry and Sue and all the other good folks working from the bottom up to create a culture of entrepreneurship for all of us.
To anyone considering their own startup or new enterprise, I'd say "Welcome aboard". We all need you.
Juneau County, WI Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club
Contact Vernon County, WI economic development folks to learn more.
Abstract "Entrepreneurship and the City" (October 2007). Glaeser, Edward L., Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 2140
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The new issue of Rural Life Magazine (Winter 2007) has a very good article called "The Rise of the Rural Entrepreneur", by Candace Krebs. The subtitle is, "A 'creative economy' spurs opportunity for rural start-ups". This is a subject dear to my heart and the subject of this piece.
The article brings in author Richard Florida, a professor from Carnegie Mellon University, whose book, "The Rise of the Creative Class" did a lot to predict and identify this trend. They quote him emphasizing what seems so important to the general discussion of entrepreneurship and sustainable commerce everywhere now.
"The American dream is no longer just about money. My research and others' show another factor emerging: The new American dream is to maintain a reasonable living standard while doing work that we enjoy doing."
The ability to exercise this dream from rural areas has never been more available.
We all have skills and talents. We're all capable of making a contribution. Now the tools and techniques for interfacing with the general economy from rural communities are becoming better, cheaper, and more reliable every day.
Importantly, those of us working from small or mid-sized communities are all learning the techniques of outsourcing to one another, building strong networks of independent enterprises that, together, are much cooler and - personally - more economically secure than most vertically integrated behemoths lumbering about out there.
Can you do this successfully from a rural area? The article cites a fish broker who easily moved operations from Oregon to Nebraska. Don Macke, founder of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Lincoln, NE says, "A big part of the economy has moved from people being producers to being facilitators of services".
That's largely true, and new services are emerging every day that can be done remotely. While not in a rural community, I was starting capital equipment in Johannesburg, South Africa earlier this year with little more that a modest ability to explain things over the internet.
The work force of capable people is crashing. The ability to participate, contribute, and grow your own enterprise from a beautiful, rural county has never been more feasible.
There are tough and necessary questions that need asking when the subject of rural entrepreneurship is discussed. A reliance on outsiders to solve problems seems wishful and risky. Growing our own entrepreneurs from people already in place, on the ground in rural areas seems much wiser. Developing the skills to empower those would-be entrepreneurs is vital to the larger economies of rural areas now more than ever.
I'm not going to be a mask the fact that rural life in many areas can be economically challenging. I am going to tell anyone looking to develop a new small enterprise that rural life in my state of Wisconsin is strong, vigorous, and welcoming to new ideas and new people.
According to the Rural Life article, people working in the creative occupations include such job titles as engineers, designers, artists, writers, planners, micro-production specialists, web workers, and my favorite, small scale ag entrepreneurs. I would also include everyone in a rural community that has the gumption to reach out and engage the wider world with their entrepreneurial venture.
I'm working with several new friends that specialize in economic development in the rural counties of my wonderful state. They are working hard, and working very creatively, to help you establish your new enterprise in some of the best areas to live and work in all of the United States. I think this trend is beginning to occur in most rural areas of the U.S. Their doors are open, friends, and you are welcome.
The Rural Life article included these stats about the new creative professionals: "Creative-sector workers today outnumber blue-collar workers, and the creative sector of the economy accounts for nearly half of all wage and salary income - $1.7 trillion per year."
Richard Florida concludes, and I agree; "The economy will prosper again when more Americans can do the work they love".
Yep. And it's never been easier to do work you love from a place you'd love to live.
Here are just a few of the beautiful rural places in my state, which are looking to have you live and work and live out your dreams. I'd highly recommend getting in touch with these folks if you would like to learn more. If you are already living in one of these places or would like to, get in touch with the folks below. You'll never launch your own enterprise without taking the first step. Just start!
Juneau County, WI. Terry Whipple has built a program to support entrepreneurship and innovation that is unmatched. All this from a beautiful rural location you'd love to live in.
Vernon County, WI. I think it's among the most beautiful rural areas in the world and don't want to see it overrun. Sue Noble and friends will help their beautiful county develop with your needs and their beautiful county in mind so please call her.
Green County, WI. This county is among Wisconsin's best kept secrets. It's a beautiful rural setting with excellent access to Chicago, Milwaukee, Rockford and Madison. Anna Schramke and her team can get you all the information you could want about starting or relocating your new enterprise in this really lovely setting. Some of my very best new startup clients are based in Green County and the support there is excellent.
Sauk County, WI. Sauk County contains some of the most beautiful rural settings in Wisconsin, yet is bustling with commercial vitality. Not only that, this wonderful Wisconsin county hosts a community baseball park known as a national gem. Call Karna Hanna to learn more.
Monday, November 12, 2007
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now."
This is a quote variously attributed to Goethe, and to the Scottish mountaineer William Hutchinson Murray.
Whoever said it, good on 'ya.
It often seems like the hardest thing you can do is beginning something new. Yet the most rewarding, life-enhancing thing you can do as a human being is to begin something new, and productive in your life.
The slow startup movement solves this dilemma better than any other scenario I can imagine. I've done it myself many times and I've watched friends employ it to build wonderful new lives. Now I'm fortunate enough to be doing a slow startup once again, and watching clients not only doing them, but loving the process.
Boldness does have genius, magic and power in it. So does dreaming about, planning, and then taking those first new steps.
That's what makes the difference. Don't sweat the small stuff. Just start. You'll be better for it.
Friday, November 09, 2007
The old way of thinking about starting your own business said that it was very risky.
The newer, smarter way of thinking about startups is the exact inverse.
It is much riskier to NOT start your own enterprise under these economic circumstances.
I am not a doomsday guy. Just the opposite. However, everyone I know that works in large organizations, especially those that have been through a few years of that grind, know that these are rough times and getting worse. The security that used to be the hallmark of large companies is long gone in the U.S. economy.
This broken macro economic mess is a risk to all of us. However, broken stuff is also the surest place to look for opportunities that I know of.
The security we all want is in our own hands. Everyone has marketable skills they can deploy in the service of fixing problems.
Who knows where this current credit crisis will lead. It's certainly a big correction. The Dow dropped by the largest amount since 9/11 this week, led by the gang of big financials. The front page of the biz section of the NY Times on Thursday Nov 8th was dominated by G.M.'s $39 billion write-down for the quarter, yet another multi-billion dollar mortgage related loss, and decreased holiday spending. Great, a crummy Christmas too.
Yet on that same day, parked back at page 10, there was a story headlined, "Small Business Flourishing Despite a Weakened Economy". It was a good piece by Brent Bowers, that highlighted the emerging reality that small businesses are the engine for job growth, especially in troubled economic times. My local paper, headlined tonight's business section with a story about leaders of Wisconsin's emerging biotech firms enthusiastically speeding forward, full speed ahead.
I'm not going to tell you that small business startups are all an exercise in skipping off to a happy ending.
I am going to tell you that if you don't plan and start your own enterprise, your financial security will be at greater risk in the coming years. Period.
You may make less money. You may make more. You will have more control over your time. You will have more personal say over your own economic security.
You tell me what's risky about that. You can do it friend.
What Economic Slowdown? by Brent Bowers
Brent Bower's article links at the NY Times
Brent Bowers, a longtime small-business editor at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, is author of The Eight Patterns of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs, now out in paperback (Doubleday).
His column In the Hunt scrutinizes the changing world of small business and the colorful characters who inhabit it.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Here is that nature vs nurture argument applied once again to entrepreneurship.
Can you learn to become an entrepreneur, or must you be born with the entrepreneurial gene?
I will state up front that I believe anyone can - and should - become an entrepreneur. I'll tell you why and how at the end.
First a short piece just reported in Business Week (Oct. 29, '07), then posted on BusinessWeek.com by Stacy Perman.
The title asked, "Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?" This is an exploration of a new book by Professor Richard Goossen. The book is, "Entrepreneurial Excellence: Profit From the Best Ideas of the Experts" (Career Press; 2007). "My motivation was to talk to the top researchers and instructors in the world who teach something that a lot of people think can't be taught," he says.
There are a number of good quotes, in both Business Week links below that are worth perusing. I thought Richard Goossen's summary was spot on: "Goossen came to the conclusion that while there are several elements that can be taught to enhance the knowledge and success of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship is something one can learn only by doing."
Yes. There is real truth in that from where I stand after decades of entrepreneurship. To me that confirms my mantra of, "Go! Get out there and start!". Quit thinking about it. Quit fretting. Bruise your knees and skin your knuckles. Make as many mistakes as quickly as you can with the least amount of financial risk.
You can teach entrepreneurial tools. I do it. The biggest payback I get is when I see and hear people throw off their self-doubt and embrace what's possible. That's where Richard Goossman's thesis and my genetic propensity kick in... accept the uncertainty, assume you'll make mistakes. We all do. But never let that stop you from trying, and doing, and trying again and again. That's how you learn entrepreneurship. That's how you learn life.
However, here is my reality check. You can teach people to be entrepreneurs. You can't teach people to succeed as entrepreneurs.
Why? I believe you need to love what you're doing to succeed in entrepreneurship and in life. I don't believe you can teach people what to love. Therein lies the nature part. The nurture stuff is easy.
You can teach someone who loves something how to grow it into an enterprise. I watch it day after day now. It's inspiring and humbling and profoundly exciting.
What do you love? Learn what you can then get out there and do it.
Your enterprise awaits, my friend.
Business Week Magazine piece
Stacy Perman bio at Business Week
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I had not heard the term 'encore careers' until I read a commentary by Marc Freedman in the Nov. 2007 Ode magazine.
Marc is the founder and CEO of the think tank, Civic Ventures (Helping society achieve the greatest return on experience) has written a book called Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life. I have it on hold at the library but judging from the commentary piece in Ode, this looks to be a great premise.
I'd like to use this post to highlight some quotes from Marc's commentary...
After setting up shots of dreamy seniors on sailboats and golf courses...
"But wait a minute: Who looks forward to endless retirement anymore, 30 years of R and R? Who can afford it - even with the most diligent savings plan? For reasons of money and meaning, the golden-years vision being peddled by the financial and real estate industries is already obsolete. Stretched from a justified period of relaxation after the mid-life years into a phase lasting just as long, this version of retirement has been distorted into something grotesque, something that no longer works, for individuals - or for society."
"But this troubling conclusion amounts to scenario-planning through the rear-view mirror. Retirement as we've known it is far from an eternal verity. In fact it is already being displaced as the central institution of the second half of life, soon to be supplanted by a new stage of life and work opening up between the end of mid-life and the eventual arrival of true old age. Indeed four out of five boomers consistently tell researchers they expect to work well into what used to be known as the retirement years."
Here's the part that I find most inspiring and I see it clearly in the wonderful boomer launches I work with...
"...boomers should be encouraged not only to continue contributing, but to rethink the purpose of that work - in short, to dust off their idealism of the '60s and '70s, and get to work making the world a better place. It is the perfect opportunity for the generation that set out to change the world and got lost along the way. Now, as tens of millions of boomers careen toward what were once the golden years, I believe more and more people are interested in living out a distinct and compelling vision of contribution in the second half of adult life, one built around an 'encore career' at the intersection of continued income, new meaning and significant contribution to the greater good."
Good words from Marc Freedman of Civic Ventures.
The service economy is growing without pause through all kinds of economic turmoil. The wisdom accumulated by older workers can be applied in unlimited creative and valuable ways.
I see small, smart, self-funded, boomer enterprises emerging everywhere to fill this need and to take advantage of this growing opportunity to serve.
These new enterprises do not have to fit anyone's model but our own. They can operate at a pace and scale we choose. I've written before about the slow startup movement, and I think it's a perfect fit for boomer entrepreneurs and this enormous opportunity. Start early and start slow. Plan carefully and launch at your own speed. What's important my friends, is that you start.
You should consider this more than just an interesting idea. It's a big, big social trend. Welcome aboard!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Commercial social networking has a tawdry history.
Many of us who have been in the game for long enough have memories of walking into a room full of self-certified financial planners and 'business brokers' drinking cheap beer in a stale hotel banquet room all looking for the keys to your money.
The misery that these events brought on was deep. Mostly because of all the time you'd wasted by falling for another come-on for business development socializing.
The Small Business Center at the Technical College (WCTC) I've been teaching through has done a very nice job of bringing these events into the 21st century. If anyone reading this wants some good suggestions for what I think works here, send me a note.
When a new course at the college opened up called 'The Art of Networking' I was asked to teach it. My first inclination is that I didn't want to do it because of the memories from the old days.
But when I watch new - and seasoned - entrepreneurs feeling their way through the newer, better versions of networking events put on by the Small Business Center, I sense a need for some one-on-one, interactive training for the way these things work in the age of Tom Peters and web 2.0
WCTC gave me a blank sheet of paper. I can't wait, the more I think about this. For anyone who has read these posts for a while, you'll know my approach to networking is finding ways to help your network. That's what I'm quickly filling in on those blank sheets of paper.
A good primer on my approach was summarized by Guy Kawasaki who I link to on these posts regularly. Always good stuff. Guy quoted author Darcy Rezac as someone he thought had the best definition of schmoozing: "'Discovering what you can do for someone else.' Herein lies eighty percent of the battle: great schmoozers want to know what they can do for you, not what the you can do for them. If you understand this, the rest is just mechanics."
These courses are the classroom variety and will be taught in Waukesha, WI from Mid November through Mid December, once per week on Wednesday evenings. There will even be a large group networking 'Connections' meeting sponsored by the Small Business Center on one of the class nights that we'll all immerse ourselves in.
If anyone comes looking for short term, easy money strategies we'll have a dunce cap on hand.
For everyone who comes looking for ways to work with a wildly changing and diverse marketplace in an honorable and valued way, I'll have extra gold stars.
The link for information and enrollment is below.
Thanks to the Small Business Center and WCTC for the opportunity and the blank sheets of paper. This will be fun for all involved.
Info about Networking Course at WCTC
Guy Kawasaki's blog on The Art of Schmoozing
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Your life as a new entrepreneur will bring you to the crossroads of 'I need the money' and 'I don't want to do this work', more often than you think in the early days.
When we started SmartSkim my first year's income was well below the poverty line, a statistic my daughters now wear as badges of honor because they lived through it with us as young people old enough to recognize what was going on. Startups can be financially challenging, but you don't need me to tell you that.
What you may need me to tell you is that as a new entrepreneur you don't have to take every job or every client that appears. The goal of smart startups is just the opposite.
I turned down a potential client this week even though the money would have been great. As Business Diligence rolls out, all new additions to the client list are helpful.
My problem was the client. He was a new economy guy who wanted to start a business in such a way that he could 'monitize it' by automating a web site to generate income. He assured me he'd read all the articles about gaming Google and been to several 'keyword seminars'.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge believer in using the web to communicate the stories and values of small enterprises. There has never been a more powerful tool in the history of the world of entrepreneurship. Back at SmartSkim, we were a very small manufacturing company, yet we had devoted customers on 6 continents. We did it with only four people on the payroll, due largely to our ability to leverage the web.
But this new world of monitizing web sites by generating keyword searches and selling Google ads while having very little content of value leaves me cold.
Small business startups are like making meat loaf. You've got to plunge in. You've got to commit to mixing up improbable ingredients. You've got to clean up the resulting mess. The process is not automated or done without effort. Yet the results can be wonderful and nourish you well beyond the event.
I turned down this potential client. He will not be the last.
The way to make Google work for you is to choose a truly great name that Google can find quickly and then build out your site with great content and a great offering to your end users. It's your job as a marketer and a salesperson to then make that name known. I helped several new clients pick names and launch last month. Within 2 weeks Google had found them and put every one of them at the top of searches with hits numbering in the millions because they had a unique name that served their offering well.
It's not keywords. It's content.
The world needs startups that solve real problems, not ones that are launched to scam Google algorithms.
SmartSkim™, my last startup
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I've tried to keep these posts tied to entrepreneurship and will continue to do that.
But I'm a Wisconsin guy and one of us, Brett Favre, last weekend set an NFL career touchdown record. 422 Touchdown passes. Bret has many other notable records embedded in this statistic.
What is most impressive is what those of us in Wisconsin have known to love about the guy. When all hell is breaking loose, when nothing is going right, when everything is lined up against the Green Bay Packers, they call one play.
It's the most dangerous offense any competitors could face for the last decade or so, and your thinly veiled entrepreneurship lesson.
The play they call... Brett Favre alone in the shotgun.
They tell everyone on the team to support the playmaker, and let him do his thing.
The playmaker accepts maximum personal risk for the right to move the game forward at their disgression.
Favre alone in the shotgun.
Records are there for your taking, so long as you work and train like a fanatic and show up for every detail and follow up on every possibility in real time.
Brett was typically humble in breaking this records, as you need to be for every accomplishment you achieve.
But while being humble and doing everything right, please think of yourself as an entrepreneur in this picture....
Favre alone in the shotgun.
Congratulations from all of us on a great carreer and great mentoring Brett.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Tom Peters has written many great books and hosts an especially valuable web site and blog that I recommend you visit often for information and inspiration.
I noted with great interest that Tom has initiated a seminar series based on one of my favorite books of his called Brand You 50. This is the one business book I insist my startup clients and students read.
I call Brand You 50 'the book that can not be excerpted'. If you took out all the valuable stuff, you'd be left with the blank pages and copyright stuff.
This book was first published in 1999 during the precipitous rise in the economy, yet Tom used this work to focus not on big picture, meta stuff, but on the role individuals can and should play in their own commercial lives. If you haven't followed or read Tom before, you'll need to adjust to his writing style. Tom's free flow of street level wisdom will hook you.
The substance here is clear and demanding: you'd better matter. Quickly.
I believe the book was initially written for people working to advance their careers within organizations,. However, I make every one of my startup clients get this book and absorb it as early as possible in their emerging lives as entrepreneurs.
What's so valuable to me about this lesson in entrepreneurship is that you not only matter, you have to change the world. It will likely be in small incremental ways (or perhaps Ghandi-esque proportions), but you need to participate. We need you. You need to get in the game and help the world grow better.
Here's several pieces that I really think are clarion calls to entrepreneurship...
(On vanishing job security)... "My answer: Return to Job Security! (Not the answer you expected, I bet.) But it's New Job Security. Or, actually, Very Old New Job Security. It's what job security was all about before - long before -! Big Corp. Before Social Security. And unemployment insurance. Before there was a big so-called safety net that had the unintended consequence of sucking the initiative, drive, and moxie out of millions of white collar workers."
"I'm talking about job security in the Colonies and in the first century after our country was founded. Which was: Craft. Distinction. Networking skills."
"Craft = Marketable skill.
Distinction = Memorable.
Networking skills = Word of mouth collegial support."
"It's as old as the colonial blacksmith. (And his modern counterpart, the housepainter, or local CPA) As new as Hollywood. Or the peripatetic web programmer in San Francisco, or Austin, or Raleigh-Durham... or Tahiti."
"It's about being so damn good and meticulous and responsible about what you do (and making sure what you do is work that needs to be done) that the world taps a T1 speed path to you."
Bingo! Be responsible and authoritative about what you do and make sure what you do solves a real problem. There's an elevator pitch for entrepreneurship if I've ever heard one.
Let me take one more piece from Brand You 50 and hoist it up the flag as a shout out to everyone (and a flat out demand of my boomer peers!) to embrace and honor the entrepreneurial instincts within all of us...
"Master bootstrapping. From UPS to Marriott, most of the companies we most admire were founded on a shoestring. Literally: Less than a coupla thousand bucks."
"You don't need a silver (corporate or personal) spoon to sally forth. You do need passion, commitment, a few pals... and a Consuming Desire to take the next, usually wee step"
- you do have 'space'.
- You don't need 'permission'.
- You don't need 'power'.
- You don't need a 'big' task.
- You don't need money."
"Money kills (or at least it can). With big bucks, you're too soon beholden to the funder... which can prevent us from taking the truly WOW leaps. But mostly, history is on your (poverty stricken) side. Most cool stuff - products, and companies and revolutions - was started in basements and garages, for (literal) pennies. Sony, UPS, Marriott, Apple, HP, Pizza Hut, Microsoft, FedEx, etc."
"Consider: Imagine Ghandi's budget. He merely created Earth's Largest Democracy."
When I train or mentor new entrepreneurs virtually all have the desire to launch, but many are too ready to back away from barriers they have only assumed were there. These barriers are of our own making. In fact, as Tom Peters indicates, most barriers are resources to build on, seen from the right perspective.
Get this book by Tom Peters, then read all the rest he's written. Visit Tom's web site often. Go to the Brand You seminar if it lands near you.
If you need a book to inspire your entrepreneurship goals, Brand You 50 is it.
This is the renaissance age of entrepreneurship, and it's just beginning.
You are important to all of us. You are vital to all our futures. You belong in the world and you can make an entrepreneurial contribution that is compelling and valuable. Don't wait for a time when things are just right. Take your "WOW leap".
We need your contribution as an entrepreneur. Your time is NOW, friend.
Tom Peters web site
Friday, September 21, 2007
Even better, it's free.
The web seminar folks at WebEx have lined up Guy Kawasaki to do a presentation on the art of evangelism Next Tuesday Sept. 25 at 11 AM PDT - 1 PM CDT for my Great Lakes area startup friends.
For anyone who has worked with me on their startups or taken one of my courses they know that the main job of the entrepreneur is evangelizing.
It's a wonderful word and an even better day job.
The concept was likely around before Guy defined the role, but it's certainly never been the same since he helped bring the early Apple systems to life back in the day.
Birthing new enterprises and new products is the essence of entrepreneurship and there is no better evangelist drawing breath than Mr. Kawasaki.
This is free. Not sure if there is a limited registration, but I'd recommend registering ASAP.
As entrepreneurs, you'll be better off doing this than anything else you could put on your plate for that hour or so. I rarely say this, but, trust me on this one.
You need more Guy Kawasaki in your life and here's a great opportunity.
Guy Kawasaki's blog discussing this, with link to registration at WebEx
Friday, September 14, 2007
I had a wonderful week.
I taught the first of the online classes devoted to startups. It was a very enjoyable experience with a great group of entrepreneurial class members.
This was the initial 'Intro to Micro Enterprise' course, but one gentleman in the class was so enthusiastic he launched the next day. Set up his LLC, grabbed the domain name and lit the fuse. Very cool. I met with him for coffee today and his model looks great and we're going to work out his details through the coming courses.
These courses have limited enrollment but there are still open slots. Even though they are being taught through the WI Technical College System, you can take the courses from anywhere in the US. They are taught live, online using a toll free telephone line and the content is on the web. If you have an interest please eMail me for details and I'll help get you to where you need to go. You can also download course descriptions, dates and sign up details from the home page of the Business Diligence site.
I asked the first class to rate the value on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent and the average came out to be 9.6. Thanks to all the class members for a very exciting evening!
Another client launched commercially this week and took her first orders. Ring the bell! Congratulations Heirlooms Again! May the commercial winds be always at your back.
As the Friday work load wound down late this afternoon, and the phone and the eMails slowed, I took some time to watch the bird feeders out the office door at a more appreciative pace. The hummingbirds are gathering in Southern Wisconsin for their migration south. I inched myself closer and closer to their feeders over time until I got less than an arms length distant. They were squabbling with one another and flying so close to my face to check me out that my cheeks were cold from the beat of their wings.
In the background, the raucous sounds from a flock of Sandhill Cranes that live in the nearby marsh rose and fell in waves. Aldo Leopold described their calls as clangorous, a perfect word for a language that's been used by the cranes in some form for at least 9 million years. By comparison, humans have had language for no more than 300,000 years at best estimate. It makes you wonder how deep and primal the communication among cranes must be.
It also strikes me that clangorous is a pretty good word to describe entrepreneurship.
Much to ponder, much to celebrate. A great week.
Be well, friends.
Rick's entrepreneurship class info taught online through the WI Technical College System at WCTC. Join us!
A good description of the hummingbirds' story
A good place for hummingbird science
Sandhill crane info from the Cornell Bird Center
The Aldo Leopold Center
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
The Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network (WEN) is a good organization in my state, working to focus resources where they are most needed in the world of entrepreneurship in Wisconsin.
I'm thankful to have recently received certification from WEN as a resource provider for our Wisconsin entrepreneurs and look forward to making a contribution to our new startups and small enterprises wherever I can.
My resource page at Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network
Monday, September 03, 2007
Is this a bad time to start your own enterprise?
Are there things that could go wrong? Did you see the stock market last month? What if there's a recession, or interest rates wig out, or what if consumer confidence drops, or what if...?
My daughter and I went to a film festival debate/seminar a couple years ago that included Philip Gourevitch, one of my favorite writers (The New Yorker) and now Editor of The Paris Review. Mr. Gourevitch's writing about Africa is especially worth searching out.
Someone asked him about his fear of going forward given the chaos of the world.
He responded in a very unexpected and creative way, I thought. He said this:
"Barbarians have always been at the gate.
Barbarians will always be at the gate.
You just need to do what you do."
Both of my grandfathers started their own businesses. My Dad started his own business and my Mom worked for tech startups before that word was remotely fashionable. Computers in refrigerators stuff.
They all did it in times of significant chaos. My last start up (a manufacturing company) was launched right into the teeth the largest downturn in manufacturing since the Great Depression.
Times are always chaotic, for ever and ever, amen.
People have been creating new enterprises in times of apparent disorder and danger for millennia.
Guess what? Remember the opening question, 'Is this a bad time to risk starting your own enterprise?' The answer is, thankfully, yes.
If times are bad, then you have ready access to the key raw material for all startups… problems. If you can provide a real solution to a real problem, opportunity is limitless.
In a global economy this big, and this integrated (and this is just the start of the start of global integration), you can plug your new enterprise in easier than has ever been possible in the history of the world.
Your enterprise can be for-profit, non-profit, social entrepreneurship, screaming-cool high tech sprint, or a beautiful, slow-mo boomer launch. I don't care. If you want to create an enterprise to support yourself and build some sustainability into your life, the time is now.
This era will be looked back on as the renaissance age of entrepreneurship, and it's just beginning.
You need to refine your contribution to the industry, or the markets you know best and where you have the authority and the skills to compete.
Then you need to put one foot in front of the other no matter the seeming dangers.
Are there barbarians at the gate? I don’t care what neighborhood you live in anywhere on the globe, the answer has been, is, and always will be, yes.
Can you create some measure of control over the outcome? Yes.
Is this a bad time to start an enterprise?
Only if you don’t try.
Wiki Philip Gourevitch
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Mr. Gourevitch's great book on the Rwanda genocide.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
I've been using StumbleUpon for a while now and find it a great way to focus and wander at the same time.
You can choose the subject areas that most interest you. Then, using the toolbar you install in your browser, you can click through to 'stumble' on sites other users have found, within the subject areas you've specified. Nice stuff. Entrepreneurship category is good. Please click my StumbleUpon link if you find this site helpful and help me grow my reader base. Thanks!
A little piece of economic data from the US Census Dept. did not make the Madison, WI papers. It's probably because the business press in my town is smugly admiring the press releases from our biotech, nanotech and high tech start ups and wondering why the rest of the state can't get it.
Well, a very good biz reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught that Census economic data as it went by, and got it on page one above the fold in the business section of their paper on Friday, Aug. 17.
Rick Romell did the analysis and found that our Wisconsin entrepreneurial climate may look good on paper, but it's wallpaper for what's happening with real economic development at the entrepreneur level.
The meta numbers say we're gaining jobs and big establishments are locating here in numbers above the national average. Big establishments meaning branch stores of firms headquartered elsewhere.
For the local entrepreneur, the situation is much different as Rick Romell parses out the numbers. In fact, we're tied for the eighth worst spot in the US for new entrepreneurship with the likes of Alabama, Mississippi and Nebraska.
Worse, Wisconsin ranked fourth worst in the US for birth rates of new businesses.
There seems to be an inverse relationship as Rick Romell has identified it. We're low on the start up numbers, but better on our ability to keep them alive. Playing it safe seems to be the model.
One gentleman who is well respected in this field, David Ward of Northstar Economics, is quoted as saying the lagging pace of business creation in WIsconsin is "a persistent, nagging problem" that has been discussed in several economic summits. "But it's hard to move that number," he said.
The reality on the ground at the individual startup level, where I work, is that there is a huge increase in the number of people turning toward entrepreneurship to support themselves and their goals in Wisconsin (this is the same with residents of most states in the US, and it seems most every other country in the world).
Yet the entrepreneurship support systems and the people behind them just aren't getting it. They love to tout entrepreneurship but are content to encourage jobs at branch outlets of big box stores. Sure those jobs count, but that's not entrepreneurship. Perhaps that's just the nature of the bureaucracy beast.
There was a very significant economic development report released recently called the M7 Report. It looked at the 7 counties around Milwaukee and South East WI and came to the conclusion that this area needed to change from being "the machine shop to the world" to the "design shop to the world". Hell yes.
If ever there was a clarion call for entrepreneurship, it's this kind of report. Get the tools into the hands of smart, hard working people with new approaches and new ideas. It's the same with all the other areas of the state and the country for that matter.
Unfortunately, the follow up and execution from these reports doesn't look to the street level. Official solutions providers tend to work at the meta level. Entry level startups with the potential for modest gains get trampled for glitzier headline-ready projects.
Starting up small, micro-funded startups is a messy, unglamorous process. The official support systems barely even notice these kinds of enterprises. It's much easier to count other, related numbers and declare success.
Mr. Ward from Northstar notes, "It's hard to move that (startup) number".
Yes, it is when our support systems are tripping over themselves to attract branch office stores and glossy high tech startups, while leaving the rest of us as something discussed as problems at economic summits.
This isn't a Wisconsin thing. It's typical across the US. As I talk to my startup friends and clients across the country, getting anyone's attention for smaller scale, micro financed, individual or family based startups is like selling foot odor.
The response is, "Somebody should do something about that, but it's not my job."
Isn't it about time we stopped fretting about this at economic summits and made it someone's job?
You can read Rick Romell's article here. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article original can be purchased for $2.95 here. Search for Romell and take Rick's story dated August 17, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I'm in contact with folks setting up a pilot for a really cool sounding TV show.
It's going to be geared toward boomer entrepreneur couples that are considering, or are in the early stages of leaping from their prior lives into the world of entrepreneurship.
As many of you know, I've got something of a specialty beginning to emerge with boomer entrepreneurs. The producers of this show have asked me to suggest additional candidates. They are doing casting for the show right now.
Here's how they describe who they are looking for:
"Have you always wondered how wonderful life could be if you started that business, took that hobby more seriously or changed your career? Is there anything you always said you'd do once your kids got older?"
"For many people in their 40’s and 50’s, the time has come to restructure their life and do something they’ve always dreamed of…….it could be anything from owning a Bed & Breakfast to running a Scuba Diving School in the Caribbean."
"Our show, “Life Begins at 40” will give a husband and wife team an opportunity to Road Test their Dreams."
Please send me an eMail if you're a reader that matches this description. It looks like a great opportunity and a lot of fun!
And by all means you're not alone. Dr. Gene Cohen, M.D., PH.D. who is a scientist and researcher at George Washington University discussed the huge trend of adults taking on new challenges and discovering new meaning in their lives in the Jan 16, 2006 issue of Newsweek.
In an article titled, "The Myth of the Midlife Crisis", Dr. Cohen said only about 10% of the people in midlife that he studies describe this time as a crisis.
"Far more say they're filled with a new sense of quest and personal discovery. 'I'm looking forward to pursuing the career I always wanted,' one 49-year-old woman told me. 'I'm tired of just working on other people's visions, rather than my own, even if I have to start on a smaller scale.'"
C'mon my boomer friends. You know you want to make this leap. Here's the nudge you've been looking for!
Send me an eMail to nominate yourself and your idea for the show.
Newsweek article on boomer brains and what we can do with them
Dr. Cohen is also the founding director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University Medical Center. This article is adapted from "The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain." It's now out in paperback, and you can read more about it at Amazon.com
I read a good blog by Pamela Slim called "Escape From Cubicle Nation".
Her subtitle is "How to go from corporate prisoner to thriving entrepreneur."
I find Ms. Slim's positions on entrepreneurship to be well reasoned and realistic. She accurately describes the step by step approach it takes to start new enterprises, which is a breath of fresh air amid the blowing winds of you-can-get-rich-quickly nonsense typical of most startup writing. She also has a really nice, personal writing style that makes her subjects easy to approach.
Ms. Slim posted a great piece this week (Aug. 28, '07) called, "It takes a village to raise a one-person business."
She opens with an idea that all of us working in entrepreneurship can identify with. "Some entrepreneurs have a hard time asking for help, preferring to do everything themselves, from computer software and hardware installation to billing to licking stamps."
Following that opening, Ms. Slim breaks out the key areas entrepreneurs need to think about when considering outsourcing solutions.
- When to use an outside resource
- Who to use
- What to use
- How to use
I especially liked the subset of info under 'Who to use', because it's an area that bugs me. Ms Slim herself has good credentials for advising startups. What I often see among clients and startup friends is the over-reliance of entrepreneurs on government support programs staffed by people with little or no relevant history or results as startup entrepreneurs
When looking for entrepreneurial advice, Ms. Slim recommends judging the provider by the following criteria:
I recommend reading the full text of this specific post, and all of Pamela Slim's good writing over at "Escape From Cubicle Nation"
It takes a village to raise a one-person business, by Pamela Slim
Friday, August 24, 2007
Have you read David Allen's great book called Getting Things Done? The shorthand is GTD.
I realize now that I've been tracking this wonderful book as I've put together the new online courses I'll be teaching through the WI Technical College System next month.
The official link to these courses along with the description of the Micro Enterprise Certificate you can earn is posted below.
These courses are a GTD map for what to do first, what to do next, what to do after that, etc. to effectively create and launch your own small enterprise.
The order of march is a bit surprising, and not typically what you find in the biz books, but I've used these techniques successfully many times myself, and I'm using them right now to successfully launch a number of new businesses for my clients.
Think of these courses as a smart, fast, 'Getting Things Done' map for self-enterprise.
See you online!
Micro Enterprise courses taught through WCTC
Saturday, August 18, 2007
If your new biz is some kind of gotta-have-it, Web 2.0 breakthrough, it really won't matter what you name your enterprise (my hat's off to Wufoo.com).
If, on the other hand, you'll be among the 99.99% of us that will need to convince our potential customer base that our new biz has merit and value for them, I've found that you have to start selling your proposition immediately. This starts with the name of your enterprise.
It's the first thing your potential customers hear. I recommend you weave what you do into the name. Be subtle or not, just get your value proposition stated so that the target audience gets it and wants to hear more.
I apply this test to all kinds of enterprises... for profit, non-profit, social entrepreneurs, everyone.
My ex business partner Mary just told me about a GREAT name along these lines, called Bag, Borrow or Steal, the name of a new firm that rents designer handbags. It's fast, funny, hip, and gets the value proposition into the first moments of contact.
So, here's a short 10 step test I take clients through when naming their new biz:
1. Make the name say what your enterprise does. Use subtlety, humor, in-your-face shock or drama, but get the value proposition stated in your name.
2. Check that the domain name is available before you name your biz. You need a domain name equal to the name of your biz. Period. It's not as daunting as you think. Unexpected word combinations that describe your project will be laying around.
3. Make sure the name is legally available in your state. Most states have the name registration done through the Secretary of State or their Dept. of Financial Institutions, etc. You need the legal name as well as the domain name. Do these in parallel and do this quickly. When you find you have availability for both, and you REALLY like the name, jump on it.
4. Search the name online and see how many direct and closely related hits you get. If it's going to take you generations to climb the search rankings with a generic name, consider something more specific. I've had clients show up within 2 weeks at the very top of Google searches just because they named their enterprises wisely.
5. Say it out loud to see if you REALLY want to introduce yourself with that name, as in, "Hi, I'm Helen from Jumbledoodle Widgets". You're going to be (hopefully!) saying this a lot, so make sure you like the way it sounds to you and gets your meaning across quickly to your potential customers.
6. Answer a pretend phone call with that name in mind to see if it works for you, as in "Good Morning, Unsightly Undershirts, this is Bill"
7. Type out the name inside the space of a business card (2" x 3.5") to see if it fits, as in "AAA Articulated Angles and Architectural Anomalies of Albuquerque, LLC". Anything left for a URL or a phone number?
8. Put your new name into an elevator pitch, even if the content of th pitch isn't in place yet. Can you live with that name in that venue? "Hi. Scientific Sausage Products makes the best hot dogs for kids parties ever created." Hmmm. Perhaps reconsider if that's the market. What about, "Wacky Wieners will make parties so weird and so fun, that every kid in attendance will remember it 30 years from now."
9. Type up an imaginary eMail signature using your proposed name. Do you like the way that works?
10. Does the name attract attention in a press release. All small enterprises rely on guerilla marketing (link below). You need to snatch the interest of people who are being pitched more than you can realize. "Acme Products announces new flavors" does not hold a candle to "Flavor Explosions breaks Richter scale with new taste treat".
These are good tests. I do them with each start up for myself and for clients. Importantly, it helps set me up with a name I can be proud of and speak confidently about as I launch it into the world.
That confidence is priceless for a startup.
Choose well, and go get 'em friend.
Bag, Borrow or Steal
Monday, August 13, 2007
I've been helping a new client launch his enterprise. It's one of those situations where the marketing possibilities are almost endless.
What I was having trouble expressing is that, especially for bootstrapped startups, too many possible markets is a problem.
My friend was having trouble getting his head around my suggestions that we ignore most of those possibilities for now and focus on the art of the possible (which, by the way, are code words for cash flow)
Then I remembered a great quote from Bill Cosby that made my point better than any business book or management theory could ever do.
Here is Dr. Bill Cosby's approach to success..
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
wiki Bill Cosby
Saturday, August 11, 2007
I went to a business gathering last week. There were people from many types of businesses visiting for their monthly meeting.
There were about 10 people at the table I was at. As an icebreaker the host asked us to introduce ourselves to one another and tell everyone what your favorite magazine or periodical is.
As we moved around the table with these introductions, the magazine choices kept getting more financially heavy and more glacial in the entrepreneur sense. All the usual subjects, Barrons, Financial Times, stock market stuff.
I was getting a little nervous as my turn approached. I like to thumb through these and they sometimes have good, applicable stuff, but that's not the rule, at least for startup firms.
I thought about faking an interest in some dense financial journal, but couldn't bring myself to it. I blurted out, "You should see ReadyMade. These young people have got it going on. They're reusing, recycling, not buying into the same old-same old, and making the world a much better place. Not only that, they've got a rockin' web site."
My new business acquaintances nodded gravely, looked away, and after a few moments, the next guy said, "My favorite is The CFO Journal..."
I really do like ReadyMade. Their tag line is, "Instructions For Everyday Life." Another good tag line could be, "Great sources of new business ideas every month."
I quoted a cool piece from ReadyMade when I first started these posts, because I wanted to make the point that this writing was not about financial density but intelligent, good work, done in smart new ways by interesting people following their dreams.
Every issue of ReadyMade illustrates a wide variety of items that they show you how to create inexpensively. I always see several ideas in every issue that could be turned into a new enterprise.
I've got a long list of favorite magazines, to be sure, but ReadyMade is well entrenched there. I've got a secret hunch that a few of the fuddy duddies at my business table went home and asked their kids about it.