Ask Dr. Business: What classes can I take on Entrepreneurship?

This week’s question:  What classes can I take on entrepreneurship?

Dr. Business:  Many colleges and universities have courses on entrepreneurship. They are good to gain a fundamental understanding of entrepreneurship, but they need to be supplemented with some hands-on practical experience to achieve a better understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

In my MBA course on “Entrepreneurship & Innovation”, since I am the epitome of an entrepreneur I share with my students what I have done and I am still doing of an entrepreneurial nature to give them a real life flavor for what’s involved. In addition to that I have selected three course deliverables: (1) develop a paper on an entrepreneur outlining what problem they identified, the solution they developed, and how they raised enough money to implement the strategy that has made their business what it is today, (2) select a relatively new website created by an entrepreneur that they currently use and get value from, and present it to the class explaining how it has evolved, and (3) take an idea that they have for a business and develop a business plan to determine whether or not it can be a viable, profitable enterprise. This project is an invaluable learning experience for any would-be entrepreneur.

As a result of taking my course, on average, several of my students have started their own businesses every semester. This blending of my actual experiences as an entrepreneur, the study of other entrepreneurs, and the actual exercise of constructing a business plan on their own idea, has proven to be a model for success in terms of teaching the concept of entrepreneurship.

What’s your question for Dr. Business?

Defining Your Value to Your Company is Crap

The problem with defining our value as a working professional is that most of us tend to do this by highlighting our credentials and allowing our audience to interpret how these accolades can benefit their situation. This can lead to misinterpretation or a downgrading of the true value you offer. More importantly, in today’s society of an instantaneous communication process, it’s more likely to deter your audience from reading your credentials altogether.
As technology expands into new horizons, it focuses on making communications faster and faster. Unfortunately, it means that we will include less and less information but we will convince ourselves that we can make better decisions that way. While I’m not sold on this idea, I think it’s important that we all understand the power of brief messages. Twitter type communications will create an impatient and “get to the point” audience. So, do you want to utilize the little time you’ll have in communicating your value by telling them about your credentials or do you want to briefly describe the benefits you’ll provide that they need?

When it comes to drawing interest from your employer, they are only interested in 3 things: making money, reducing cost and getting someone to do the crap they don’t want to do. If you can develop all of your marketing materials around these ideas, you’ll attract a lot more attention to your skill sets.

Making Money. This is your company’s purpose. There’s no greater value than someone who can generate revenue for their company. Usually, we look to sales people as the creators of growth in the company, which is why they get paid so well. But they aren’t the only ones who can demonstrate this value. You can create products, services, intellectual property, ideas, etc. I had a close friend who earned an MBA the same time I did. He took his new knowledge to the marketing department and helped them solve one of their toughest problems. He took that evidence to the CEO and got a $10,000 raise that week. It’s that easy. Don’t tell them how you can make money. Give them a little example of it. Then, tell them what it is worth to them. Once you put the money in the bank, send me some, since I gave you the idea.

Reducing cost. This is another huge activity companies engage in all the time. If they can reduce the cost to build the products and services, they can improve their margins and make more money. In my first job out of college, I asked my company to fire a contractor they had hired to do some programming for their industrial controls. You know, the software that keeps a production line running that builds products. Anyhow, my company was installing 10 new production lines in a large scale project. The contractor would program a production line, then charge my company money for putting the same program in the next production line. I told the company I could save them $30,000 on each production line. After I proved it, they gave me the project to run. Find better ways to do things with less effort and less time and you’re likely to find yourself in a much better financial position.

The Crap. This is my favorite part of defining your value. Most people don’t consider this to be of value but it’s a great skill to have in your toolbox. Businesses don’t run smoothly. I don’t care how many Harvard grads they hire (and I’ve worked under a few). They will run into obstacles. And when they run into obstacles, it costs the company money to figure out how to get around them. Why? If the problem is spotted near the top of the organization, they’ll contract a consultant to solve the problem who may know less about it than they do. Sometimes companies even create their own problems. I know…it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve seen companies buy smaller companies, then fire the sales people. Strangely, they can’t sell any products because they don’t understand the market or the customers. Step up and help out.  Opportunities for helping here are abundant.

There are other times you can demonstrate some valuable skills, such as dealing with a “pain in the butt” customer. Companies have to show growth which means sometimes they have to work with customers they would rather not work with because they need the revenue. So they take the work. Here’s your opportunity. These are just a couple of examples of the kind of crap organizations get into in the quest for money. Most of the time no one wants to deal with such headaches. We all want the easy work that allows us to work on our “Career Plan B” during the day. I’m not saying you should sign up to handle all of the crap but it does have value. Here are a few kinds of crap dealing skills you can boast:

• Solving problems
• Dealing with difficult situations
• Creating and Leading Change
• Training and managing new people
• Working with other cultures

Defining your value can be done in just a few steps. First, consider the areas I discussed above. What skills do you possess related to these areas? Write them down. Then, take some time to think about what tangible evidence you have related to each one. What accomplishments prove you have the skill? If you don’t have any supporting evidence, go get some. Find opportunities by talking with other groups in your company about the problems they have. Help solve the issues. You might even take ownership of it and drive it to resolution. Lastly, deliver this info to those who can reward you for your efforts. That’s it….skills, evidence, and delivery.

Where do you market this value? Everywhere. Online profiles, cv/resumes, performance reviews, friends, etc. are great locations for your value. When people know what value you can provide, they’ll keep an eye out for opportunities to use your value, especially when it benefits them. Oh, and remember, getting all the crap jobs at work might not be so bad. It just might be a key definition of your contribution to the company.

Ask Dr. Business – Entrepreneurship: where do I start?

Here’s the latest question for Dr. Business.

Entrepreneurship: Where do I start?

Every business has started with a problem. An entrepreneur has come up with a solution to the problem and the rest is history. Many businesses have been started by entrepreneurs having a problem that they developed a solution for and then went on to commercialize the solution. The best place to start is to list all the problems you have all day every day driving, working, shopping, eating, etc. If you have those problems then others like you have the same or similar problems. How can you come up with a way to solve the problem, that is viable, and that you would be willing to pay for? We have had a lot of snow recently and many people would like an alternative to shoveling it themselves, but they don’t know where to find someone else to do it. An entrepreneur who had that problem developed an App called “e Plow” which allows those who need to have someone remove the snow for them to be able to contact someone else who does that – snow removal contractors and others with snow blowers and shovels. This entrepreneur has gone on to develop another App called “e Mow” for homeowners who need to find someone to mow their lawns for a week, or a month, while they go on vacation, are sick, or just can’t do it for a variety of other reasons.

Do you have any questions about a business that you would like to start, but are unsure as to how to get started? Ask Dr. Business.

Where Does Opportunity Grow?

During a recent speech to college students, I was asked several questions at the end that told me they were searching for the source of opportunity.  Who isn’t it, right?  There are so many possible career paths that this is really a hard question to answer.  I decided to take a look at my own customer base to get some idea where opportunities have come from.  Here’s what I found.

First, let me say that this is not statistically accurate.  This is only my assessment of my own business and I don’t recommend you extrapolate it too far.  It’s intended to provide some insight into possible locations for your next opportunity or, at least, provide support for a strategy.

To understand where success was coming from, I took a look at the pre and post profiles of all of my past clients.  I was particularly interested in reviewing what they wanted and how they went about getting it.  Then, I looked for commonalities in their approach.  The graph below shows the results.  Note that I grouped the opportunities by strategy.  The “sit and wait” strategy is one where a certain amount of effort is initially expended before any opportunity can be obtained.  For example, many clients come to us seeking a raise or promotion in their existing company.  They had accomplished many things in their jobs and even built a great reputation.  Yet, this effort didn’t seem to lead to any major gains in income.  So many people couch themselves in this type of situation for years; that is, they settle for a job when they want a career.  It’s a low return proposition.  If you’ve been in a company for years and haven’t reeled in any great opportunities, “sit and wait” is probably the only method that will really work for you, but why waste the good years of your life on that approach.

The second bar on the graph was from business owners who chose to invest in SEO, online marketing, etc.  It does provide results, 6.5% in this case, but you can’t make huge leaps and bounds with it.  You might think I wouldn’t be saying that this since my company does offer such services.  I’m just letting you know what we’ve learned.  That’s what a coach does.  As for job seekers, we see many of those.  However, their results of creating ideal profiles in social media space don’t provide those huge returns you may read about on the web.  There’s just too much competition.

When you look at the graph, you don’t really see big success until you reach the “Go Get It” strategies shown in Green.  In reviewing these clients, their strategy involved two very important things:  people and action.  It was striking to see the improvements in success as our clients engaged in activities directly with real people, not the virtual ones.  Opportunities are more likely to be found or created when you are directly in front of people, not connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook.

People do business with people they know and trust.

With our entrepreneurial group, we’ve seen considerable success creation when business owners are connected, such as with partnering to sell complementary services to expand their customer base.  Each owner could easily chase new customers on the web, but it’s much faster when you directly engage with a known group of buyers.

Lastly, action is a big key to building greater success.  Earning a degree, starting a company or getting a new job in a new industry seemed to give our clients feelings of great success.  I suspect much of this is due to the fact that these very intentional and all-encompassing activities put the full use of their power and talents to work.

opportunity

One of my favorite speakers, Jim Rohn, once said “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”  Constant action with people will bring you your greatest success.  Remember, people will allow you to do anything you want.  If you want to sit and wait, they’ll let you do just that.  They might think that’s what you want to do.  If building greater success in life is what you seek, you have to define it and then go find people who can help you get it.

Opportunity is everywhere.  Where are you looking?

Here are a few lessons from my analysis to keep in mind as you consider how to approach new opportunities.

  1. Be active. I know updating social profiles and networking online are touted as the keys to greater success. They are important but it really isn’t an active process because it relies on someone finding your profile and viewing it.  Most people on LinkedIn are looking to receive opportunities, not give them away.  What are you doing today?
  2. Engage with people. Business started out with direct interactions between people.  It’s still the most effective way.  You can ignore an email but it’s a little harder to ignore a face-to-face request.  Who did you reach out to today?
  3. Change methods. If your current methods aren’t working for you, change them.  Don’t stay in a job for 5 years waiting on a promotion.  Go find one somewhere else.  What changes have you made today?
  4. Consider a coach or mentor. Most people use coaches and mentors because they push them to action.  Find someone who will help guide and push you to do what you should be doing on your own.  Eventually, you’ll build the habits you need to manage your career.  Who is helping you find your opportunity?
  5. It’s a lifestyle. Pushing yourself to build your dreams into reality requires constant effort.  Most of us create new goals once we achieve old ones, encouraging ourselves to move onward and upward.  The habits you create in chasing opportunity will serve you well your whole life and create the perception that others will develop of you.  How do others see you?
  6. Assess your surroundings. Having studied high performers for many years, I’ve found that they level of success you achieve is a function of the success achieved by those around you.  If you surround yourself with high achievers, you’ll become one or they’ll kick you off the team.  Who is on your team?

Your opportunity is out there. 

What are you waiting for? 

Go Get It!

Why You Aren’t Building Social Capital

Very few will argue that creating a quality personal network is the key to a long and prosperous career.   These networks are formed by the quantity of connections, quality of the connections and the resources available between the connections.  The value you get from these connections is called Social Capital.  Our friends at Harvard University suggest that “Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”].”  The major benefits in these types of social interactions are information flows, reciprocity, collective action and a broader sense of solidarity.  These benefits lead us to new opportunities, which, in turn, provide us a sense of growth in our lives.  The idea of social capital is quite old (first published in 1916) but the methods for engaging in social interaction on a global scale are fairly new.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other social networking tools have popped up over the years to provide individuals with a method for creating more value in their lives (and their connections).  Unfortunately, many of us still haven’t mastered the art of building social capital.  Here are a few things we get wrong in building our social capital.

Too few quality connections.  Our personal network is the source of our opportunity.  Our connections have resources that are beneficial to future progress in our career and life.  What resources do they have that are helpful?  That’s a question you should be asking to your current and potential connections.  As you might suspect, the more quality connections you have, the more potential you have to create social capital.  You just need to make sure these new connections are ready, willing and able to be an active participant in the relationship and that they have resources that are beneficial (e.g. connections, knowledge, skills).  You need to constantly assess the value of each of your connections.  If you’ve been connected for years and never shared a word with your connections, obviously they aren’t doing you any good.  And collecting a lot more of these connections won’t help either.

Too passive.  Creating a profile on social networking sites isn’t sufficient for building a network.  To reach the benefits of social capital, you have to first build trust and then a reputation with your connections.  Both of these factors require interactions and effort.  If you are just sitting and waiting for opportunity to come to you, you should plan to be waiting for a long time.  Your strategy should be to give your efforts and resources to others to build their trust in you and to build your reputation as a solid supporter of such relationships.  Then, you’ll invoke the sense of reciprocity in your connections.  Very few people are willing to give their time if they don’t see something in it for them.  By giving first, you put that question to rest for good.

Your network isn’t diverse.  One of my favorite motivational speakers, Les Brown, once said that you make within $6000 of those you hang around with.  In other words, we have a tendency to associate with others who are very similar to us in occupation, lifestyle, financial status and personality.  I think it makes us feel safe.  But this sense of safety comes at a price.  People who are in the same situation we are in most likely have the same resources we do (e.g. network, knowledge, skills) and, as such, can’t provide any considerable fuel to our progress.  Branching out of your safe zone to others outside of you occupation, financial status and knowledge base will give you insights that will certainly fuel your growth.  Remember the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD?  It’s about mice in a maze and an experimental movement of the cheese.  Some mice stay where the cheese was put every day, even after it doesn’t show up anymore.  If you don’t have a diverse network, you might be asking the guy beside you, who is also staring at the missing cheese, “hey, where’s the cheese?”  You should be finding the guy who found the cheese.  Aim for diversity.  You won’t be sorry you did.

Lack of brand power.  As we look to our connections for resources to help build our future, others will do the same with us.  Building a profile that enhances trust and respect is a quick way to invite others to connect with you.  Building a better brand requires three things: defining what you have to offer, providing evidence that your offering is real and tangible, and communicating your value clearly so that others understand what you offer.  If I can’t discern what you’re good at by looking at your profile or from a short conversation with you, I probably won’t push to make a real connection with you.  For example, a writer will clearly identify his genre in his profile (e.g. non-fiction).  Then, he would list or provide links to his published books so that you can validate his claim to authorship.  Once it’s validated, the relationship can move to the next level; that is, reputation.  How well have the books sold?  This is evaluated at many levels, meaning that it will not discourage people from working with you, but it will likely ensure that those who engage will have less experience in writing than you do.  If you want to connect with those with more experience, you’ll likely have to seek them out yourself.

The development of social capital requires the ability to network efficiently and effectively.  It requires a lot of work.  There is sufficient research to show that you can build a better network through mentors.  If you don’t know how, take time to get help with it.  If all else fails, give.  Offer others your time and energy.  There’s no better way to invoke reciprocity than giving people something without asking.  After a few iterations, you build trust.  After a few more iterations, you build a reputation.  Then, people will want to be connected to you.  Their skills and resources become yours.  They deposit their value in your bank.  Then you have plenty of capital to achieve the goals you want to achieve.