Archive for Entrepreneurs

Professional Development for Entrepreneurs

We entrepreneurs are a busy bunch. We’re usually wearing lots of hats from marketing to finance to sales to operations to new product development – well, you get the picture.

Even with the right employees or outsourced assistance to handle much of our day to day operations, the buck still stops with us and therefore we often feel like we have our hands in all pies.

Which makes for a very busy & sometimes impossible schedule.

And, no, this isn’t a blog about some great new productivity hack. It’s a blog about something that entrepreneurs tend to short change themselves on amidst all our other priorities: planning for and investing in our own Professional Development.

We know the value of Professional Development for our employees, but we often take a more ad hoc approach for ourselves. We keep up with our industry through mandatory continuing education courses, conversations with colleagues and attending industry events. But professional development for entrepreneurs needs to be broader based than that in this rapidly evolving business world.

Professional Development is Not Networking

Yes, we do we always seem to be in networking mode, don’t we? And I’m certainly not suggesting that you can’t network at a professional development event. I’m just making a case for planning and prioritizing your own professional development.

Entrepreneurs tend to be curious and willing to take on the risk of doing something differently. After all, we are often trying to disrupt an industry or create an innovative product or service. Or perhaps simply run a business more effectively than the last business we worked for before striking out on our own.

But we also spend significant time in the bubble of our own business and its related industry due to the daily realities of running and growing a business.

Which means we have to be proactive in thinking about and seeking appropriate professional development opportunities that will expand our knowledge base and encourage our ability to learn new skills or develop new perspectives.

We Can’t Afford to Operate in a Silo

We’re doing business in a fast changing, global economy. Even if our business is local, we need to understand the changing business environment we operate in and the rapidly changing nature of providing services or products.

Successful businesses are able to innovate and adapt to change. To run innovative and forward thinking companies, I advise my clients to  “always be learning” and looking for new approaches to marketing and running their businesses.

To be successful in a world where the pace of change is constantly accelerating, we all need to widen our knowledge horizons so we can effectively embrace new opportunities and understand how new business tools can build or disrupt our businesses.

The rapid spread of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in business applications is a good example. I don’t have to understand the coding any more than I need to know how to write an algorithm, but I absolutely must understand the possible impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on my business and the businesses of my clients.

Go Outside the Box to Think Outside the Box

One of the ways to promote “outside the box thinking” is to get outside of your comfort zone, which is where planned professional development comes in.

There is a wide range of topics & delivery systems available to choose among from outside your industry or type of business. And there are myriad convenient (and often free) delivery systems.

Beyond the typical professional development seminar there are many options such as: listening to a futurist’s podcast or enrolling in an online course through a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) or reading a book on a subject of interest that you don’t know much about…it’s all out there to be accessed but it takes giving it some thought and doing some research to find worthwhile and interesting topics.

Professional development obviously also includes keeping up with our industry specific skills and knowledge-base, but that’s what continuing education requirements and workshops with industry experts are designed to do.

Find something outside your comfort zone that will challenge you to consider new ways to think about your own business.  In this fast changing business world, the ability to adapt and innovate is a requirement, not an option. As a small business owner planned professional development will help you stay ahead of the curve.

So before you sign up for the next webinar on time management, consider spending some time finding a way to get out of your silo instead. It’s worth the effort to invest in yourself.


Entrepreneurs – Are We Born or Made?

In my experience, there are two types of entrepreneurs: those who go into their own business out of necessity or opportunity, and those who are born to it.

The common thread is usually boatloads of enthusiasm and optimism. And, believe me, both are absolutely necessary to succeed in one’s own business.

The Making of an Entrepreneur

An example of the “born to it” category are the neighborhood kids who knocked on my door a few weeks ago to ask if I wanted my car washed. They proudly announced that they were both entrepreneurs and inventors.

Charmed to see a couple of enterprising youngsters on my doorstep, I struck up a conversation with them about why they were doing odd jobs for their neighbors.

I learned that they call themselves the Two Musketeers. They were both enthusiastic and optimistic about succeeding & both had immediate goals.

One youngster is earning money to buy a GoPro so he can start his own Google video channel; the other “business partner” wants to upgrade his phone so he can invent video games. He proudly told me that he’s already invented one game, but he needs a better phone to do more.

As longer term goals, they are planning to add additional services like weeding & garage organization to their services list, so they already have expansion plans.

I thought those were pretty well defined goals for a couple of middle-schoolers and promptly hired them.

How Life Circumstances Foster Entrepreneurship

All of this started me ruminating about why people start their own businesses in the first place. I was an early entrepreneur – my neighbors hired me to mow lawns, shovel snow & wash cars when I was a kid and it absolutely helped make me more independent.

I didn’t know then that I would ultimately choose the path of a serial entrepreneur, but I did like the financial ability to buy things independent of my parents’ choices.

My parents were expecting me to be a doctor or a lawyer, so they probably didn’t think I’d be bitten by the entrepreneurial bug either but looking back I think there has always been a part of me that knew I wanted to be my own boss. And a desire for independence is another common trait of “born to it” entrepreneurs.

As a serial entrepreneur, I know why I started the businesses I did. But then I started thinking about commonalities of purpose that motivate entrepreneurs to take the risk of leaping into their own businesses.

I’m not talking about entrepreneurial personality traits. Rather what do entrepreneurs believe will be better in their lives if they are in their own business? What makes it worth the risk?

It’s one of the first questions I ask clients. I ask because in order to help them start or build their business, it’s important for me to understand what energizes them about being an entrepreneur and what motivates them to be in the particular business they own.

I came up with a few common threads.

5 Reasons for Being an Entrepreneur

Over the years I’ve received some interesting & heartfelt answers, but they mostly break down into some variation of these five:

  1. Independence – not answering to an employer holds out the possibility of being more in charge of one’s own destiny & schedule
  2. Finances – keeping more of the monetary benefits of one’s work can seem like a much better road toward financial security than working for someone else
  3. Flexibility – having flexibility in where, when and how one is working is extremely appealing in the very busy lives we all lead
  4. Necessity – a change in employment or personal circumstances requires finding a new professional path
  5. Legacy – being part of the next generation in an existing family business combines elements of both familial duty and the opportunity to build on an existing business foundation

Working with Entrepreneurs and Business Startups

There are as many variations and combinations of the above as there are entrepreneurs. I love what I do because I enjoy working with folks who are energetically and enthusiastically working toward creating & building their businesses.

Entrepreneurs embody hope for the future and embrace taking a risk for a goal that is important to them.

I’m grateful to have meet a lot of interesting business owners with a variety of perspectives. They are passionate about what they do and I’m never bored because I work in all types, stages and sizes of businesses.


New Year’s Resolutions – waste of time or worth the effort?

As we head into the second half of January, how is it going with your New Year’s resolutions so far?

Are you meeting all your lofty intentions or have a few of them already fallen by the wayside?

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone.

We’re a nation geared toward self-improvement, but changing habits is hard work & resolutions are usually about big changes – lose weight, quit smoking, stick to a budget, save money, get a new job, maybe even start a business.

Statistically, about 30% of people who make resolutions fail to keep them through the first week of the New Year and around 80% fail to achieve them by the end of the year. Not such good stats.

Setting Business Goals vs. Making Resolutions

As both a small business owner & a business coach for entrepreneurs, I know that those stats would spell disaster if applied to meeting business goals. Missing your goals just doesn’t work if you want your business to succeed. Sooner or later it spells business failure instead.

As entrepreneurs, we set our own goals and are responsible for meeting them without anyone else pushing us to do so. That takes discipline and self-motivation both of which are key traits of successful entrepreneurs.

Why Do Goals Matter?

A common trait of high performing small business owners is that they set clear business goals and meet them consistently. Goals help us to move our businesses forward and to periodically assess whether we’re on track to build the business we envision.

They also give us useful guidance when we’re making daily decisions.

There are so many business challenges entrepreneurs deal with daily – operational challenges, vetting new opportunities, managing financial pressures, employee retention – that having clear goals as guideposts keeps us focused on what’s important for building our business’ success. They also help with us to keep focused on our most important tasks and help us to avoid business distractions.

Establishing timelines and breaking Goals down into measurable objectives helps to define projects, strategy and operational targets. When it comes to goal setting, I’m a true believer in the concept of SMART Goals:

S – Specific
A Attainable
R Realistic

Goal setting is both “art and science” in my experience. Look for my future blogs with tips on effective goal setting techniques as this skill is critical for achieving business success.


Should You Hire a Bookkeeper?

bookkeeping ledgerThe answer is probably yes – particularly if you don’t have any knowledge of accounting or how to deal with more challenging topics such as payroll taxes. Bookkeeping software can make it deceptively easy to think you are keeping good quality accounting records, but accuracy involves much more than the ability to enter checks and deposits. Cleaning up a badly organized or incorrectly set up file later can be both costly and time consuming; much better to get it off to the right start when you set it up.

Spending the money to hire or outsource quality bookkeeping services is some of the best money you can spend. Not properly accounting for your revenue, expenses and capital expenditures can cost you money in any number of ways, including:

  • missing expenses you can deduct for tax purposes, effectively raising your tax bill
  • not sending invoices and statements out on a timely basis means it will take longer to be paid and negatively impact your cash flow
  • falling behind on the bookkeeping will result in you not having an accurate snapshot of the financial state of your business
  • spending so much time on the details may blind you to the strategic issues for your business – the old “can’t see the forest for the trees” analogy definitely applies here
  • errors with mishandled payroll or sales taxes can result in significant fines and penalties
  • using your time to do bookkeeping probably isn’t the most productive use of your time from a business growth standpoint

Use a good quality bookkeeping software program such as QuickBooks and hire or outsource the task of using it to someone qualified to do so and who understands how to use the program to its best advantage for you. QuickBooks also offers you the opportunity to backup your data online so that you are protected in the event your business suffers a disaster. If you can’t find someone locally, consider the options available on a “virtual” basis from services like Elance. You don’t have to lose control of your data, just provide access to the file for the person providing the service.

And using a bookkeeper will also provide you with someone who can keep all your financial records in good order so that you don’t have to and make it easier to prepare for your taxes at the end of the year. If your books aren’t accurate, you can’t effectively manage your business, so don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish about this.

Doing it Yourself Isn’t Always the Smart Move

woman & PC frustratedMost entrepreneurs have a do-it-yourself streak…after all, if we weren’t confident in our own ability we probably wouldn’t have the chutzpah start our own businesses in the first place. This go-it-alone tendency, plus the tight budget constraints that start-ups usually have, means that we often try to do too many things ourselves.
This can be a poor business strategy for a variety of reasons. It tends to delay things…and time is money. The longer a product takes to create & sell, the longer you go before you have a revenue stream. Also, it can give a competitor a jump on you if they are faster to bring their product or idea to market, thus enabling them to garner market share.
We can’t all be good at everything. Using an expert can save you time & money because it is done right the first time and you don’t waste time with a learning curve. Focusing on the things you are really good at and putting the bulk of your time into those pursuits is the surest way to build your business. 
Outsourcing specific tasks or projects can make you much more efficient at what you truly should be doing and will keep you from squandering your time in areas you aren’t knowledgeable about. It is extremely flexible: you can hire for a specific project, such as, designing your website. Or, you can find a virtual assistant to give you support with a variety of tasks on an as-needed basis.
There is a financial concept known as “opportunity cost.” In this context it means that you are losing money because you are missing the opportunity to build your business by wasting your time on things that other people should be doing for you. While you are spending time doing an administrative or other task that you could hire someone else to do, you could be out selling or promoting your business. So you’ve lost an opportunity to make a sale and build your business.  And if you’re doing the bookkeeping or administrative tasks at midnight, you’re losing sleep which is another type of lost opportunity.
Outsourcing is easy to do these days, especially using services such as Elance. It is an easy way to get global access to expertise in a wide range of fields – from virtual assistants to programmers to engineers. And they will be competitively bidding on providing services for you, so it’s a cost-effective and easy way to find assistance with everything from bookkeeping to programming.
Work smart: be realistic about how much you can effectively do, concentrate on what you do well and always look at the potential cost to the business of doing it yourself rather than hiring someone with the needed skill to do it for you. Don’t just look at the cost to outsource, consider the return on that investment for your business. Outsourcing can help you to build your business faster by providing a  cost-effective way to get the assistance you need.