Thursday, April 2, 2015
Advice from an Entrepreneur Want to BeFor my capstone project in school I was asked to write lecture with advice for entrepreneurs. I thought this was kind of a funny assignment since I am not a successful entrepreneur…yet. So I have decided to write about what I have learned, and hope that something might have relevance to “would be entrepreneurs” like myself. The first question I would want to ask myself is, what qualifies me to give advice? I am a forty something year old woman who has started four different businesses while being a stay at home mom. I have almost raised five children, (I still have an eight year old at home) and have over twenty five years of life/work experience. I am currently seeking my degree, and have just barely touched on subjects such as business, economics and entrepreneurs. With these traits, I would consider myself a dabbler, and far from an expert.
As I pondered the advice I would give, what came to mind is the trait of integrity. An entrepreneur’s word is his bond. Understanding the value of honesty is the key to being successful. Building deep trusting business relationships leads to success. Integrity and trust are what develop your reputation. Important questions to ponder as you embark on building a business are: How do others perceive me? Am I a person others can trust? Do I say what I mean, and mean what I say? The second part of being successful in business is surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Frank Levinson a well-known entrepreneur and venture capitalist said, “It is better to build people around you that are honest and loyal above all other attributes. Intelligence is nice, but honesty is better.” He also suggested to begin with trustworthy people at the start of any business decision and stay the course. Never make unethical decisions. For me, this is the most important advice. Just be honest…period.
In addition to integrity there are other traits that most successful entrepreneurs share. A quote from Earnest Hemingway sums up these traits nicely when he says, “Before you act, listen. Before you react, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait... Before you quit, try.”
What does it mean to listen before you act? In business this is where you do your homework. To develop a competitive advantage you need to evaluate your own assets, understand your aspirations, and listen to the market realities. You also need to understand the market you are in, your competition, and most importantly the consumer. Finding a need in a market, all come from listening. Understanding where you are individually before you act will help you valuate your own strengths and weaknesses along with your personal desires and standards. Many entrepreneurs react to a market surge or trend. This approach might work out in the short term, but trends end, and if you want a lasting business it would be wise to think before reacting to the hype of a get rich quick idea. In an essay by Charles Handy he talks about the “why” businesses are successful. “The purpose of a business…, is not to make a profit. It is to make a profit so that the business can do something more or better. That “some- thing” becomes the real justification for the business. Owners know this. Investors needn’t care.” Lofty goals such as “Changing the World” are what drive entrepreneurs and successful business owners.” I have a good friend who is a wonderful baker. She noticed the hype surrounding cupcakes and decided to start her own business. She ended up making a lot of cupcakes, and losing a lot of money. She jumped onto the trend at the tail end, and is now a landscaper by trade. Not only is important to think before you react, but it is important to understand yourself and your own passions. Are you starting a business to make money or are you starting a business because you love what you do?
The next statement Hemingway offers says, “Before you spend, earn.” Entrepreneurs for the most part have scarce resources. They build something out of nothing. In fact, it is usually because of these scarce resources that they get creative and utilize what little resources they have. Most entrepreneurs start their businesses out of a need to provide for themselves and their families. There are very few of them who have money to lose, and time to waste. In the book, “How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution” by Daniel J. Isenberg he explains how having scarce resources actually enables the entrepreneur. He refers to a concept called “Stress the Roots.” The concept teaches that hardships make people grow and stretch. The article uses the example of a grape farmer. The farmer withholds water from the plants so the roots have to grow deeper and longer to get the water they need to survive. It is a proven concept in agriculture. Making the connection between the roots and entrepreneurs is brilliant in my view. Self-reliance, in business can really be defined as self-preservation. When we have that do or die attitude, an investor can trust the entrepreneur.
I remember once when money was tight and we had a strict budget, I made a banking error. Because of that error, we would only be able to make half of our rent. Our roots were “stressed.” I had just given birth to our fourth child and our other children were home for the summer. Instead of contacting the landlord I decided I would find a way to make up the difference (self-reliance). I ended up finding an ad in the paper for temporary work. I loaded up all four of my children in the family van and delivered heavy phone books door to door. We spent hours in that van, and the kids were not too happy. But after two weeks, I had made up the difference in our rent; book delivery by book delivery. I believe I was paid .50 cents a book. It was hard, but because of that experience, I now know that I have what it takes to get things done, even in the most stressful situations. So entrepreneurs “earn” their place in an economy by hard work.
Hemingway’s fourth statement says, “Before you criticize, wait”. Compassion, patience and long suffering are all encompassed in this small statement. Understanding how the tide of negativity flows, Hemingway’s advice not just benefits entrepreneurs but everyone. It is usually after our initial reaction or overreaction, that we gain our senses back. When you are quick to criticize, you jeopardize all your hard work in building relationships. You might even sever the roots you so carefully planted. Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “It is hard for any one of us to find heroes among our neighbors when our pleasures seem wrapped up in fault-finding. Probably the greatest discovery for mankind can be found in ordinary neighbors. We generally find that for which we are looking. We need to speak the good word, build our associates, and cease finding fault. We need to thank God for life, opportunities, and His love.” This quote also ties in the attribute of gratitude. I believe that showing gratitude is essential in business and network development. Acknowledging others contributions will help ensure you stay positive when building your business.
The last and final piece from Hemingway says, “Before you quit, try.” This is the purpose of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are considered a resource in any economy. The difference between an entrepreneur and an employee is quitting. Those that succeed in starting a business do so; not because they are smarter or better at something, but because they simple chose not to quit when things got difficult or tough. In the book titled, “Mastery” by George Leonard, he defines success through “mastery.” However “mastery” in the traditional sense focuses on a goal or an end result. This is why so many potential entrepreneurs quit. Our society’s values have changed over the years. With promises of learning a new skill quickly to the get rich quick schemes, we now value “easy” instead of hard work and effort. He counters this concept very well and teaches that there is a rhythm to mastery, which focuses on the process rather than the product. I absolutely love and agree with this concept. If we really learn to appreciate the process of building a business, as we focus on what we love, we will find success and more importantly happiness.