Friday, January 18, 2008

Stalin on entrepreneurship

I had a chance to do a private seminar this week at a CPA firm in the Madison area I really like. The topic was 'How to control your enterprise life'.

It was for new and small business owners and the goal was to get some 'rubber meets the road' tools into their hands.

In listening to their stories, and concerns, it's just painfully obvious that many of them are frozen out of the help systems because they are too small.

Don't get me wrong. There are many wonderful, dedicated people working the system of helping entrepreneurs. In my home state of Wisconsin, I would specifically point to the county economic development directors I've worked with. These folks strike me as tireless advocates for entrepreneurs at all levels of development.

But then you step back and you look at the environment they work in. Funding for all government programs is tight and there is a great deal of competition for those resources. The higher up the food chain you go, the more decision makers have to focus on what keeps headline writers happy.

That's code for government and investor funded companies.

If you are a new or existing independent entrepreneur, my recommendation is that you look for help as close to your operation as you can. There is plenty of support at the local and regional level, but unless you seek it out, in many cases you probably won't know about it.

Don't expect state and federal programs to help you directly. Sure, lightening can strike, but their benefit to independent entrepreneurs is indirect through larger policy actions.

The wider world sees your plight much the same way Joseph Stalin saw his world. It's a brutal, dangerous, and frightening world out there. We wish you well with your enterprise, and good luck against those odds.

Sure there will be individual tragedies, but those are the odds you picked.

Uncle Joe said it this way, "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

The folks at the seminar this week were a diverse group of small businesses, all independent entrepreneurs. Their stories are just amazing. The potential to grow many of these stories into great enterprises is obvious to me.

But where are they looking? Too often to the feds, or at the state level.

I counsel them to skip all that and look for tools and resources close to home that they can have some control over, that they can have ready access to, that can maximize their chances for survival and growth.

Certainly helping introduce entrepreneurs to professional accounting and financial managers is as valuable as anything I can do to keep them alive and growing. I insist my advisor clients use CPA firms, and it's in every course I teach. I've done accounting every way you can imagine and I will never do it again without using a CPA firm. When my kids were very little, we worked from home. The first two 'outsider' names they learned were those of our CPA and our UPS driver.

Another great joy I get from doing these talks and seminars is being able to convey the idea that an inverse of Stalin's approach is not just possible. It's happening all around us.

One sustainable enterprise is of great value. A million sustainable enterprises is a culture.

And from me, good luck with those odds.

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