Do You Have What It Takes?

entrepreneurshipAre you thinking of taking the big plunge and going into business for yourself? Do you think you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? I was recently contacted by a first year business student who had to go out and interview three entrepreneurs as part of a class assignment. He had to ask them three questions. If you are looking to go into business for yourself I thought you might be interested in my answers. I have had the good fortune of being self-employed since 1998. Starting and running your own small business is not for the faint of heart. Matter of fact – in a recent Industry Canada study conducted by Eileen Fisher, Schulich School of Business, York University and Rebecca Reuber, Rothman School of Management, University of Toronto, concluded that thirty percent of all new small businesses won’t survive longer than two years, and only half make it to year five. Some of the reasons for those failures are out of your control, but most are because of the bad decisions you will make. Lack of management or financial skills are in the top five.

Here are my answers to his three questions. I hope it will give you some valuable insight into what it will take to be a successful entrepreneur.

1 – What made you decide to own your own small business? I had managed other people’s businesses for a number of years, with the idea that I wanted to own and operate my own small business some day. Being my own boss appealed to me. It proved to be a great training ground for me. I got to learn what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. The best part was I got to make those mistakes on someone else’s dime. I recommend that to anyone looking to start their own small business. Work for someone else until you’ve learned enough to start your own.

2 – What are five key characteristics that you feel are important to have to be a successful entrepreneur? I believe there are a number of key characteristics you need to be successful. Some you will do well, others you will need to learn. Here are my top five. I’ve listed them here in no particular order.

  • Time Management: Be able to manage your time well. Learn to prioritize what needs to be done so that you do the most important things first. Sometimes that will mean doing things you don’t like to do. We tend to spend our time on things that we enjoy doing or that we are good at. Be disciplined enough to complete your “A” item before you work on your “B” or “C”.
  • Open Mindedness: You only know what you know – you don’t know what you don’t know – and it’s what you don’t know that could hurt you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – and be smart enough to take it. That’s how we learn.
  • Empathetic: Be able to see things from another person’s point of view. People make mistakes. The important thing is how you react to them.
  • Communicate: You must be able to communicate in a way that others will understand. If you can’t communicate both by the written word and verbally, then you stand little chance of being understood.
  • Goal Setting: Being successful is a planned event. Put a plan together to accomplish your goals. Great plans start with the end in mind. Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and then put a plan together to get there. However, you need to be flexible enough to change or adjust your plan, if it isn’t going to help you achieve your goal.

3 –  If you could start your business over again, what one thing would you do differently? That’s a tough question because struggles are part of the learning process. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t learning anything new. There are some valuable lessons to be learned from the mistakes you make. The one thing I would do over again is to be more disciplined in managing the money side of the business. That old saying “it takes money to make money” is true. But you have to make the money before you spend the money. I would put together a realistic budget and then stick to it. Projections are just that – projections. They are a best guess. However, projections don’t pay the bills or more importantly, they don’t pay you.

Copyright 2016 (c) Brian Smith – Reformed Control Freak. Not to be reproduced without permission. Brian is a former Professor at Algonquin College’s School of Business, Top 100 Leadership Expert, Author and Speaker. To find out more about Brian and what you can do for you and your organization visit https://briansmithpld.com

Entrepreneurship – It’s Not for the Faint-of-Heart 23

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Are you thinking of taking the next step and starting your own business? Have you always dreamed of being the one that makes all the decisions – the one that calls all the shots? Are you tired of working for someone else? Before you take the plunge and jump into the deep end of the pool have you done the market research – put a business plan together – and really thought it through? Have you thought about the impact it will have on your family and your personal life?

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart. Not everyone is prepared to put in the hard work and sacrifice and do what they need to do to be successful. Without question I think I have the greatest job in the world. I get to travel around the country talking to people about how to talk to people; and about how to get the best out of themselves and others. I truly love what I do. I can’t see me doing anything else. But I’ve paid a price to get here. I left a well-paying job that afforded my family an above average lifestyle. My wife and son wanted for nothing. I went from high six figures to $18,000. in my first year.

If you are contemplating getting into business for yourself you might be interested in my answers to a series of questions I was asked recently by a former student of mine – who was thinking about starting his own small business. I hope my answers provide you with some valuable insight into what I think it takes to be a successful business person. Of course, success is totally subjective. It all depends on how you define success. It all depends on why you’ve decided to get into business for yourself in the first place.

What made you decide to get into business for yourself? Timing – it really boiled down to timing. I knew I wanted to make a career change. I was beginning to feel stuck and unfulfilled. For me – it’s never been about how much money I made. Now don’t get me wrong – money is important – but if it’s your only reason for getting into business for yourself – then you’re going to be disappointed – especially in your first few years. I had an opportunity to get involved in a new venture as a contract trainer and consultant so I took a leap of faith and jumped in. For me – the fun part of being a general manager was working with others – helping them become better managers and supervisors. So this was a great fit for me. I got to travel around the country delivering customer service workshops. At the same time  I was doing that I started teaching entrepreneurship, skills for success and professional selling at a local business college.

What are some of the challenges you faced in starting your own small business? I faced – and continue to face some of the same challenges everyone else faces day-to-day. The added pressure for any self-employed person is realizing that if you aren’t selling a product or delivering a service then you aren’t getting paid. And if you aren’t making money it’s tough to keep a roof over your head, food on the table and the creditors away from your front door. Self-employed persons don’t have the luxury of a steady pay-cheque coming in. That puts a great deal of strain on your personal life. Everyone must give up something to get something. Before you take the leap of faith and get into business for yourself you need to decide what you and your family are willing to give up so you can live your dream. Everybody needs to be on board. You need to be committed to doing whatever you need to do to be successful. If you and or your family aren’t willing to pay the price – then it’s best you stay where you are.

Any lessons learned that you can pass on to anyone wanting to start their own business? You need to be able to stand up in front of a group of people and have them “buy” into what ever you are saying or selling. You need to be really passionate about what you are doing. You need to be prepared to work 80 hours a week for very little money. You need to be willing to continue to improve and hone your craft. And you need a thick skin to be able to take rejection. Look at everything as a positive by taking something away from each negative so that you can build upon it and do better the next time. Network like crazy. You are the “Brand” – somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who has a need for your product or service. Have a budget and stick to it. Don’t spend money you haven’t generated yet. Find your nesh. Become an expert in something not a generalist in everything. What do you know or what product are you selling that someone else will pay you money to learn or have?

Food for thought: The two major reasons businesses fail are (1) Lack of management skills – and (2) Lack of financing. Most businesses fail within the first three years of start-up. (When I say most I mean over 90% fail) How much income will your business need to generate to sustain you, your family and your business? We have a tendency to over-estimate revenue so divide your sales projections by half and run it by those numbers. You need to live and die by the numbers. Make business decisions – keep your emotions out of it. Always think worse case scenario. That will help keep you grounded. If I haven’t talked you out of getting into business for yourself after reading this article – then maybe – just maybe you have what it takes. That maybe – just maybe – you’ll make it to year five.

One last thing: I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been self-employed now for 14 years. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-of-heart – but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. And in spite of all the pitfalls, missteps and personal sacrifices I made along the way – I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.  But that’s me – it may not be you – and that’s OK. – Cheers 🙂

Copyright (c) 2013. Brian Smith – Author, Communications Expert and Management Consultant specializes in soft-skills training and leadership development. Brian can be reached at briansmithpld@gmail.com – To find out more visit http://briansmithpld.com

Move Over Gents – It’s The Ladies Turn To Lead

In the words of Bob Dylan – “The times they are a changing” – And I for one – applaud it. Frankly it’s about time. I’m pleased to see that more and more women are now taking back their right to choose; the right to choose when and if they want children – without feeling guilty if they choose not to have children at all. I’m pleased to see that more and more women are now taking back their right to choose when and if they want a career outside of the traditional family model. (Try managing the family home on your own and then tell me that’s not work.)

It’s great to see that more and more women are now managing and leading Fortune 500 Companies. That more and more women are now starting their own small businesses. Matter of fact they are out pacing men in that category. They’ve taken the management skills they developed managing the family home and are now applying them in the business world. According to research conducted by The Centre for Women’s Business – 10.1 Million firms are owned by women – employing more than 13 Million people. One in five of all firms generating 1 Million dollars or more in sales are owned by women. The total number of sales generated by firms owned by women topped 1.1 Trillion dollars in 2008. (These are American numbers but women are outpacing men in starting small businesses in Canada as well)

Dee Dee Myers – Author of “Why Women Should Rule The World” believes that women are more successful at running small businesses because women can make people accountable for their actions, but, they can also be there to support them. “Females have that trait, where maybe most males do not” – The trait that Myers is talking about it empathy – The ability to see things from another persons point of view. As Myers suggests – women come by it naturally – men on the other hand have to work at it.  If your success as a manager is predicated on your ability to build relationships and develop collaborative teams then what better skill is there to have then empathy? After all think of a job that you could have in your life time that didn’t involve communicating and interacting effectively with people. (There isn’t any)

Research conducted by Distinguished Professor Julia T. Wood – Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina and Deborah Frances Tannen – Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University may also explain why women have made tremendous inroads into a territory once considered a “man’s” domain.

Wood’s and Tannen’s research produced the following theories:

  • Men and women have different ways of showing support, interests and caring. .
  • Women tend to see communication as a way to connect and enhance a sense of closeness in a relationship. Men see communication as a way to accomplish objectives.
  • Men emphasize independence and are less likely to ask for help in accomplishing an objective. Where as women seek out and welcome relationships.
  • Women are inclined to express agreement and support, while men are more inclined to debate.
  • Women are more inclined to face each other and make eye contact when talking while men are more likely to look away.
  • Men tend to jump from topic to topic but women tend to talk at length on one topic at a time.

A very dear and close personal friend of mine likes to remind me now and again that she doesn’t need a man in her life to “complete” her. She’s capable enough to do that all on her own. After all she’s been operating her own very successful small business now for over 30 years. She knows who she is. She’s not afraid to speak up and ask for what she wants. That’s one of the many qualities I love and admire about her.

Mary Matalin, former counselor to President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney was quoted as saying – “Women around the world are rewriting history at a ferocious pace with or without mans permission”. After all – it’s easy to argue that men haven’t been doing such a great job of managing things lately.

The glass ceiling is still there. The key to breaking through that barrier in today’s world has more to do with your ability to get along with people. And in today’s world women seem to be better equipped to do that.