Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Boomer entrepreneur opportunity

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

Small biz outsourcing -
when, who, what, how.

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

Getting Things Done.
Direct link to micro enterprise certificate

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

10 things to do when naming your new enterprise

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

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

Guerilla marketing

Monday, August 13, 2007

Marketing startups

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

ReadyMade Magazine

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.

ReadMade Magazine

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tom Peters / Penelope Trunk interview

Tom Peters has picked up on a really cool blogger/writer/entrepreneurial activist/and a person with many other good attributes, Penelope Trunk, in an interview on his site dated 8_6_07

Ms. Trunk works from my home base of Madison, WI. I've linked to her previously and want to highlight her entrepreneurship writing more in the future.

Penelope writes a great blog. I recommend subscribing. I believe she is an important new writer discussing life from a great perspective. I'm a big fan of her writing especially her emphasis on keeping the important things (family, integrity, life) important. It's reassuring as hell to hear her voice rise out of the noise.

I recommend the Tom Peters interview linked below. Here is a sample I thought you'd like...

Tom P: This is why I like your blog; I enjoy your attitude. Yet it seems there are still massive numbers of folks going to Harvard and such and getting their MBAs. They must be jumping into the corporate ring.

Penelope: Most of them want to pursue entrepreneurship. If you look at the materials from business schools, they fall all over themselves saying how good they are at teaching entrepreneurship. Why do people want entrepreneurship? They want flexibility, control over their time, control over their workload. They want all the things that we know make work good. Whereas Baby Boomers just want some money and a title. We know those things don't make work good.

Tom P: But the reality of being an entrepreneur is that you're going to work more hours than at any other kind of job. Entrepreneurship is beyond the extreme jobs as Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes them, right?

Penelope: Only if you want to be the next Microsoft. For example, most women are solo entrepreneurs. It's a lifestyle thing. We used to say that the majority of new businesses fail. We throw that statistic around all the time. But, in fact, success as an entrepreneur today for Generations X and Y is achieving the lifestyle. Entrepreneurship is a success if you had a good time. I think very few people would want to run Microsoft. I think most people would want to sell it before it got that big. Who wants Bill Gates' life? All he does is work.

Tom P: I agree. But I think a lot of people, for some reason, are really attracted to eighteen gazillion dollars.

Penelope: I don't think that's true. I've read great real estate articles about the current glut of McMansions. Baby Boomers are selling them to retire to New York City and drive up housing prices there. Generation X is moving out to the suburbs to raise their kids, but they don't want to live in those houses. Those houses look ridiculous to us. And if we don't want those houses, we certainly don't need eighteen million dollars to build a bigger house.

Tom P: You say you need only 40 thousand dollars.

Penelope: I do say that.....

The Tom Peters interview with Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk's site

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Micro Entrepreneurship courses scheduled

I don't think I've posted the content or the class schedules for the courses I'll be teaching on line through the WI Technical College system starting next month. These are based out of Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) and will be available to anyone in the US with a telephone line and an internet connection.

There are six separate courses, each devoted to a specific subject area of micro enterprise: Intro to micro enterprise, Business planning, Organizing, Managing professionally (money and taxes), Marketing, and Preparing your enterprise (data management).

I'm even setting up free demo web sites for members of the first (Intro) class, under their direction.

I really like the way this content has developed and look forward to teaching these courses.

They will be on either Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 PM CST, taught live on the phone (toll free) and internet. I hope to have a wiki set up for each class to follow up with class members after each session.

You can see the schedule of all courses, download the info from WCTC and get registration info from the Business Diligence link below. Hope to see you there!

Micro Entrepreneurship course schedules and registration info

Monday, August 06, 2007

Radio interview on WPR

I did a very enjoyable radio interview on Wisconsin Public Radio today to discuss entrepreneurship.

Jim Packard was sitting in for the usual host. I love Jim's work and it was a real treat to spend the hour with him and the WPR callers.

The link to the show is posted below. WPR archives their shows for 52 weeks, so as this post ages, you'll have to drill down their archive list to find my slot which was today, Monday, August 6th in the 10 AM time period.

Thanks WPR!

Rick's interview on WI Public Radio - archive

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bootstrapping by the numbers

I've been thinking about ways to put real cost numbers to doing low cost start ups.

In truth, there are almost as many kinds of start ups as there are enterprises out there.

A 'low cost' franchise start up can cost many tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and still represent the low end of that spectrum.

A 'low cost' high tech start up can cost millions.

So I circle back to this concept of the citizen entrepreneur that I wrote about earlier this summer. I've been looking for representative numbers that are accurate and also that can give hope to my peers that self enterprise is not only open to the rest of us, but available in ways that are startlingly inexpensive.

A good reference came in from an unexpected source this summer. Guy Kawasaki (linked on the right and mentioned often lately in these posts), one of the leading high tech venture capitalists in the world today, started a new company of his own.

I was anxious to read about all the high tech financing machinations somebody with his experience would be able to muster. I expected the inside details of dealing with his fellow Silicon Valley moguls would be a great look under the hood at that expensive start up world.


June 03, 2007
By the Numbers: How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09

A really cool, international start up for about $12K. And a big share of that is expenses you and I wouldn't have to incur. Mr. Kawasaki is a big time venture capitalist and attracts a lot of attention, so he needed to defend his company digitally and legally. That contributed about $8K to his start up cost.

I want to use this start up example as a true to life, in the trenches, publicly validated example of how you can start up inexpensively.

I've done my own start up this summer for under $2K, but I, like Mr. Kawasaki, know how to do many of the steps myself. I have also started successful companies out of a loose change jar in the past.

Do I subscribe to all his thoughts 100%? I think you have to read everything carefully. Sure, Guy starts out saying he had zero business plans, but at the end he also acknowledges that he had 24 years of skinning his knees and banging his head in this subject prior to launch.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful post from Guy Kawasaki and I think you can use it to stir up not only hope, but reality as you design your own new enterprise.

Go get 'em, friend.

Guy's bootstrapping post

Guy's Truemors site

Friday, August 03, 2007

Deming does Detroit

I think car manufacturing in North America will rebound. Someday.

However, I've spent the last decade working inside car plants of GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, and a number of others. I know what I'm talking about when I tell you what it's like to sell to each of them and then subsequently work in their plants installing equipment and training workers and managers to operate the hardware.

The headline from the Washington Post yesterday is well deserved.

"Foreign automakers surpass Detroit for the first time."

(story written by Scholln Freeman)

"Led by Toyota, foreign automakers captured more than 50 percent of the US vehicle market in July - yet another bitter milestone for Detroit's beleaguered auto giants."

One of my heroes is W. Edwards Deming. He was an engineer, a statistician and mathematician who turned his knowledge toward business management. The world has forever been made better.

We used Deming's knowledge during WWII but got fat after the war and abandoned the rigor of process and quality control for the gluttony of newly available worldwide profits.

Where did Dr. Deming find himself? In Japan. Helping the postwar reconstruction initially, then advising the core group of Japanese scientists and leaders who were working to rebuild their own society.

He talked to them about quality control and they listened.

For start ups and emerging enterprises, your job is to continuously improve the quality and value of your offering. It's that simple and it's that hard. Everything you do in the early days is an experiment, not a conclusion. You need to study and learn from failures, then act to fix your enterprise accordingly.

Your solutions must come from your own life not the latest management fad on the internet.

When you hear big shots pontificating about, well, anything, take a pause and consider one of my favorite Deming quotes.

"We are being ruined by the best efforts of people who are doing the wrong thing."

Today's auto headlines bear this out.

wiki Dr. W. Edwards Deming

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Startup vs Commercial Launch

I launched Business Diligence on line in late Dec '06 when I realized I wanted to go in this direction.

I marketed and networked but didn't do any commercial transactions.

I tried different biz model configurations on the site. While I had some eMail links included, I did not put up a 'Contact me' page until 6 months later, after I'd honed the model, done the test marketing and organized the process.

During that time I was able to get the accounting and banking stuff in place, and start to wire up the marketing network. Plus all the little steps needed to create a new enterprise that drag on no matter how hard you push or pull.

I didn't launch commercially until I was ready in late June, '07.

I don't think this is unreasonable. In fact, it's an enjoyable, measured pace for launching a new enterprise. If you can give yourself some time, it can be gold.

If you don't start now, where will you be 6 months or a year from now. Same old, same old? Likely.

Start taking the little steps soon. You'll thank yourself later.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Business plans and so much more

I'll start by saying I just can't keep up with Guy Kawasaki's blog. It is jammed with valuable entrepreneurial storytelling, guidance and fun every time I open it. I've posted references to his blog, and link there permanently from this site.

Guy just did an on line interview with Tim Berry, the founder of Palo Alto Software that sells a software program called Business Plan Pro. This is probably the most widely used software program out there for writing business plans.

They discuss in good detail the merits and challenges of writing business plans. I recommend it.

Here is one question and answer I think has special resonance for small, self-funded or micro-funded start ups...

Question 6: What are some of the common mistakes (in writing a business plan)?

Answer: The worst by far is focusing on the plan instead of planning. This generates the idea that you create a plan as a document, and the related misunderstanding that the plan is for somebody else. You don’t postpone life while you’re developing a plan; you’re always developing the plan. In the meantime, “Get going.” Here are some other common mistakes:

• Blue-sky blurry: lots of strategic thinking without any hard facts. Planning requires specifics: dates, deadlines, responsibility assignments.

• Trying to do everything. I use the rule of displacement: everything you do rules out something else.

• Thinking that being the lowest price option is important. It isn’t. The price and volume thing they talk about in economics classes is for 200-year-old lumps of coal, not your business. Use price as a statement of quality. Leave the low-price strategies for Walmart and Costco.

• Mistaking profits for cash. Profitable companies go broke all the time. You don’t spend profits. Plan your working capital well.

Mistaking the plan for the planning. Amen. This is the easiest mistake for new entrepreneurs to make. It's not the document. It's doing the document.

Incidentally, Business Plan Pro is what my new teaching venue, Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) uses in their business courses. WCTC is making this software available at a really good discount to any class members of my new courses.

Now as Mr, Berry so aptly says about start ups, "Get going!"

Guy Kawasaki's interview with Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software's Business Plan Pro.

Tim Berry's blog. Excellent writing about business plans and planning, as well as a perspective from deep in the trenches.

Business Plan Pro software.

My training courses for new start ups at WCTC