Can entrepreneurs be trained to save the world?

March 31, 2012

I recently had the honor of interviewing the Managing Director at one of the top entrepreneurship academic institutions in the world, and it inspired me to take a closer look at one of most controversial topics in entrepreneurial education: “Are entrepreneurs born or trained?”

Janet Strimaitis joined the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson in 2003, and before that she was an entrepreneur herself. Her personal business experience and involvement in detailed global entrepreneurial research programs led her to the following perspective, “Babson believes that entrepreneurship is a method that can be taught”, but she cautions, “Entrepreneurship is not formulaic. It is an interactive process informed by action learning and subsequent modification. It is a rich experience, and the entire field is now recognized in academia as something worth pursuing. It has gained credibility in the top academic institutions.”

The list of successful entrepreneurs in Babson’s “Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs” certainly supports this premise.

In a Bloomberg article by Karen E. Klein, entrepreneurial consultant John J. Rooney, stated “In my experience working with hundreds of entrepreneurs and teaching on the faculty at the University of Southern California’s entrepreneur program, it is clear that much of entrepreneurship can be successfully learned. However, it is also clear that people who take positive action and are focused and committed and continue on despite some negative feedback or setbacks have skill sets and personality traits that can be inborn or learned.”

In a recent publication sent from the Kauffman Foundation Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media said, “I think that self-motivated spirit is what drives entrepreneurs, and we need to have it drive everyone. Because if you do something useful, if you do something for love, some good percentage of those things will actually turn into a business. That’s really the heart of entrepreneurship; wanting to make something happen.”

These three entrepreneurial experts are really saying the same thing. Entrepreneurs have a very specific spirit. I believe that these quotes reveal two fundamentals I found after looking at hundreds of pages of opinions, studies and books on entrepreneurship training. If you combine the spirit of persistence and resourcefulness with powerful knowledge from exceptional educators the result is – more often than not – exquisitely beautiful innovation and societal problem solving in the form of successful business enterprises.

According to many experts, the best practices and methodologies of entrepreneurship can definitely be learned, but there is a significant advantage to an inherent attitude of resoluteness. The bottom line is that both ingredients matter.

My opinions are nothing new, but they represent something new to a world that is becoming more and more of a global marketplace. Entrepreneurship is a vehicle to raise up struggling economies with the goal of improving the quality of life for people on the planet.

If entrepreneurship is trainable then it has the power to join communities through creative thinking, and that type of impact is worth the study and practice.

When entrepreneurship education from the best-of-the-best at top academic institutions is layered with a spirit to succeed – it really doesn’t matter what the predominant factor is in the entrepreneur’s success. Give the credit to the training AND the courageous perseverance. In my opinion it takes both to get the most exemplary results.

So if both are needed, why worry about which is needed more? The ingenuity used in combining these entrepreneurial tools produces the most vibrant results. I would like to see more of that. More degrees in entrepreneurship. Imagine the possibilities.

I believe entrepreneurs are the next superheroes. In fact we should bring back the “Wonder Twins”. One would be “form of entrepreneurial education”. The other would be “form of never say quit”.

 

Amy P. Kelly is an entrepreneur that specializes in ways that businesses can support causes that improve communities and lives. She is Vice President of ClearPath where her team helps entrepreneurs achieve their goals. Amy started her first business at nine selling hair barrettes and is currently working on several new ventures while leading The Lemonhead Movement www.lemonheadsrule.com. Some of her projects include: BodyRejoice, The MomVest, Strategies for Life and YipDeals www.yipdeals.com. Amy has a particular affinity for youth entrepreneurship and is a wife and mother of four. Contact her at amypkelly@live.com.

Four Questions to Help Determine if College is Right for You

March 30, 2012

Trying to decide which college acceptance letter to open first? We have an alternative idea: Tear them all up. Forget about college.

While we certainly think college has a place, the fact is higher ed isn’t for everyone. If you consider college the means to starting your business, answering these questions can shed a new light on your decision.

1. Can you learn your field only in college? If your entrepreneurial dream involves something like opening a cutting-edge surgery center—where you’ll personally be doing some of the cutting—our crystal ball shows college in your future.

If, however, your passion lies in running and not necessarily participating in your business, you can learn more about business doing business than studying it in college. Unfortunately, you may have difficulty entering the workforce without a degree, as many non-degree holders will affirm.

2. Do you already have a product or service you’d like to bring to market? Waiting at least four years before bringing your idea to market could be its death knell. After all, why wait when PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel may give you $100,000 to start your business if you skip college?

If you join academia, keep monitoring your market to ensure no one is encroaching upon your big idea. In the event your idea has reached critical mass before you graduate, there’s no law forbidding you from starting a business while an undergrad. Just look at Mark Zuckerberg.

3. Do you like to learn? People who love learning should go to college, right? Not necessarily. You may enjoy the company of fellow knowledge-seekers—or be shocked at how often they blow off class—but you’ll be paying a hefty price for the same knowledge a library card and Amazon.com account can provide.

Small business owners have to learn something new every day. If you have the ambition and self-discipline to learn on your own, you may have the right stuff to start your business now.

4. Do you have capital available? For argument’s sake, let’s say you have $10,000 available for your future. That money could, realistically, cover one year of in-state tuition and fees at a public university, roughly 25 percent of your four-year cost minus room and board.

Or, that $10,000 could finance your business while you work another job to make ends meet (unless you’re profitable from the get go). Considering that seed money will be gone if you attend college, you have a fairly convincing case to start your business now. Of course, there’s no guarantee.

If your business fails, you’ve lost the money. Then again, you might drop out after one year of college. In either scenario, the 10 grand is gone. You have to ask yourself which is more valuable: a year spent trying to create a successful business, or the learning and experience gained from one of year of college.

There are plenty of other considerations as you decide contemplate college, but as the saying goes, “Experience is the best teacher.”

About Business Owner’s Toolkit
With an emphasis on problem-solving dating back to 1995, Business Owner’s Toolkit™ (www.toolkit.com) offers more than 5,000 pages of free cost-cutting tips, step-by-step checklists, real-life case studies, startup advice, and business templates to small business owners and entrepreneurs. The site also offers a monthly newsletter, up-to-date news topics, and Ask Alice!, a column that closely follows industry trends and provides trusted advice to inquiring site visitors.

How to Make an Unhappy Fan a Happier Customer

March 28, 2012

Here at Constant Contact, we’re lucky to have many people who call themselves fans — both the Facebook kind and the offline kind.

But like any business or organization, we sometimes have, ahem, “opportunities for improvement.” At those times, we’re happy to hear feedback, even if it’s not the positive kind.

That’s because when your customers, clients, members, or supporters are unhappy, for whatever reason, it’s one of the best opportunities to show just how committed you are to keeping them happy. And, dealing with an unhappy customer successfully can often turn that detractor into an advocate.

What are the best ways to deal with negative feedback on your Facebook Page? Here are five tips:

1. Know what people are saying. You can’t respond if you don’t know what’s being said. Free tools such as NutshellMail and HootSuite can help you stay on top of what people are posting and saying on your Page.

2. Respond quickly and publicly. If you see a complaint posted on your Facebook Page, don’t ignore it — or worse, delete it. Instead, respond as quickly as possible with a polite message that says “Sorry you’re having a problem,” or “Sorry the experience/meal/product/service wasn’t to your liking,” and a quick offer to help make things better. This shows others you’re listening and that you want to improve the situation.

3. Be real and forthcoming with information. We’ve all heard stories of businesses or organizations who’ve used lame, inauthentic excuses to explain why something went wrong. Most often, your fans just want the truth. Honesty is always the best policy and transparency goes a long way. That’s one reason we at Constant Contact have a Performance Status page on our website that we can share to keep customers informed.

4. Don’t fight fire with fire. Whether or not you agree with the feedback received, don’t get defensive or start a debate with the person — especially if the feedback is irrational or insulting. One of the worst things you can do is broadcast a “he said, she said” discussion for all to see. Remember: Posts on a Facebook Page last longer than you may realize. Some things are just going to be a personal opinion and you can’t change that. Focus on what you can change: the customer experience.

5. Take the conversation offline. If you can, offer to get in touch with your dissatisfied customer offline, either through email, phone, or by asking the customer to come in to your place of business to talk with you in person. Obviously, you don’t want to ask the person to broadcast his or her personal info on your Facebook Page, but it’s better to deal with these kinds of issues outside of social media.

One final tip: Just because the situation has been dealt with, don’t delete the original comment. No one wants negative feedback on their Facebook Page, but leaving documentation of how you handled it can be very helpful. After all, when one of your Facebook fans is unhappy, showing that you’re listening and committed to rectifying the situation can go a long way toward keeping all of your customers happy.

Looking for more examples of ways you can better manage your online reputation and deal with negative comments on your Facebook page? Check out Constant Contact’s blog http://blogs.constantcontact.com/.

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Gina Watkins is a leading expert on e-marketing for small business – and has a real passion for helping businesses to succeed. Her ongoing series of dynamic lectures are filled with real-world examples, humor and results-driven wisdom garnered from more than two decades of sales, business development and marketing experience. In addition to owning her own business, she is an award-winning direct marketer, has been featured on WUSA Channel 9’s Mind Over Money show, Dr. Gayle Carson’s Women In Business radio show, Morgan State’s Briefcase Radio program, and in numerous other media. In her role as Constant Contact Regional Development Director, she’s presented to more than ten thousand seminar attendees about the keys to success with easy, affordable, highly effective technology tools that grow trusted business relationships.

Three Keys to Consider Before Exporting

March 26, 2012

Exporting may sound like territory only reserved for large companies with equally large budgets (or, for you Seinfeld fans, one of Art Vandelay’s occupations). The truth is that armed the right knowledge and business strategy, your business can export successfully—and with less competition than you might imagine.

Roughly one percent of American small businesses export, and nearly 60 percent of them ship goods to only one country. With such a large market relatively untapped by small businesses, the world is your oyster.

If you’ve always been wondering where you can find practical information on exporting, we’ve identified three areas to consider before making a splash in international waters.

1. You’re not afraid of paperwork. Many entrepreneurs dismiss exporting because they’ve heard countless horror stories about the paperwork involved with international shipping, customs offices and payments.

Unfortunately, the naysayers are right. Exporting can be difficult, especially during your foray into the new venture. But remember that old saying that nothing good comes easy.

You’ll need to familiarize yourself with a dozen or more export documents covering everything from invoicing to bills of lading through licenses and a plethora of certificates. The SBA, Department of Commerce and other federal agencies provide samples and explanations of the most common exporting documents at export.gov—a great resource as you research the ins and outs of exporting.

2. The market research indicates you’ve (probably) struck gold. Obtaining reliable market research showing where your product will be a hit is priceless to entrepreneurs, particularly when you’re trying to penetrate foreign markets.

Because you’re considering areas that aren’t easily within your reach, you’ll want to start by reading secondary market research (information from reports and similar published sources). You can access more than 100,000 secondary market research articles through the U.S. Commercial Service’s Market Research Library.

Once you’ve identified markets that seem like viable options, it’s time to start primary market research (information from experts, customers and others in the target market). If you’re itching to travel, now’s the time to book your flight to the most promising market. But if you’d rather not fly thousands of miles to discover the market is a bust, get in touch with the local embassy’s exporting contact. The International U.S. Commercial Services Offices offer important contact points as you dive into the market.

3. Your business can adapt to international marketing. What helps sell your product in the States might be a colossal dud in other parts of the world. Different cultures respond to different forms of marketing.

Through export.gov’s International Sales and Marketing section, you can capitalize on resources covering the export marketing gamut, including:

· information and counseling

· strategy and planning

· advertising and promotional events

· market entry and expansion

If your business seems ready for exporting, entering the market will demand significant time in both strategy development and tactical execution. But with the potential for a new revenue stream that isn’t tied to the vagaries of America’s and your local economy, exporting could be a game-changer.

About Business Owner’s Toolkit
With an emphasis on problem-solving dating back to 1995, Business Owner’s Toolkit™ (www.toolkit.com) offers more than 5,000 pages of free cost-cutting tips, step-by-step checklists, real-life case studies, startup advice, and business templates to small business owners and entrepreneurs. The site also offers a monthly newsletter, up-to-date news topics, and Ask Alice!, a column that closely follows industry trends and provides trusted advice to inquiring site visitors.