Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rural entrepreneurship

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.

Top that.


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

Begin it now

"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 great risk in NOT starting your own enterprise

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

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

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 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. post

Business Week Magazine piece

Stacy Perman bio at Business Week