As a new writer for AllBusiness, and having just counseled a company on the plethera of resources available to them, I thought I would begin my postings by sharing information on the wide variety of resources available to business people. While most are business resources, all of them could be avenues for you to expand you personal network and develop peer or professional relationships with others whose personal experiences could be invaluable to you at some point.
Entrepreneurs, small business owners, managers, and executives typically become increasingly isolated due to crises they encounter on the job; the decreasing average length of individuals’ employment at companies; and their own actions. Power becomes isolating.
But there are many resources available to entrepreneurs, inventors, small business owners, managers, and executives. Some resources could be monetarily expensive like attorneys, board members, and professional networking groups — but there are also low-cost or free resources that can help executives stay connected professionally. All of them require the valuable investment of time.
Long ago as a young executive in a very large company I saw that succession planning and executive refinement was annually reviewed and invested in. I was identified as the number two in a our corporate group of companies and the candidate who would take over one of the parent operating groups. At the time I had a direct P&L of a subsidiary and was much younger than my peers. Both the CEO and I joined a coaching and peer networking organization, for a fee, called The Executive Committee International (TEC) (now called Vistage). Meetings were monthly with the “number ones and number twos” separated into different groups and meeting on different days so we had complete confidentiality. As most managers know, managing “up” was just as difficult as managing “down”, we had a diverse group of non-competitors whom shared issues, crisis’s, complaints and met with a moderator and presenter for a full day each month.
The presenters provided a 2-3 hour educational session and exercises which exposed the diversity in approaches to problem solving that the group members would use to attack problems. During the meetings we would also discuss current issues and crisis’s at members companies and environmental issues which could affect our businesses such as the economy, war, pending legislation and regulations.
The ability to freely discuss our own issues, methodologies and past experiences with peers without political or personal ramification was very educational and enlightening. Not one of the group members had a peer or personal network they could tap to confide in when they were isolated either by their business or their boss.
I actually called a few group members on occasion for their advice, personal experience, and recommendations on issues which were related to the personal experience examples we had shared during the meetings. I was called for advice a few times as well and learned from the experience.
While TEC is a very structured networking environment, there are many other resources and groups which are available. From this first experience in peer counseling I consciously made an effort to network and identify resources and individuals which I could call on when needed.
I have attended many groups, am a member of a few, and am on the board of others. Having worked in both large and small companies I have found my niche to be in turn-around, start-up and rapid growth situations where everything changes constantly and I like to work with entrepreneurs and inventors. Over the years I have built up a strong list of resources and a sizeable personal network within and outside the resource groups. The most important lessons that I can stress from experience is constantly network, continue to learn, and to be a resource for and assist others.
Resources are available everywhere, from the government, from educational institutions, from professional networking groups and associations. Due to the variety available I’ll try to group a few in different categories and mention those I have had personal experience with.
First we will consider the government supported resources which I have used. Although they will provide primarily resources, I have found the representatives to be useful for peer counseling on some issues.
Most metropolitan areas have some sort of representation from the Small Business Administration which can provide referrals, classes and training on a variety of issues. While I have only attended a few SBA classes and seminars I have found them to have a good referral program, a library of information and a good reference point to know the resources available via the local community college.
Austin, TX, where I live has a city sponsored small business office to assist small and mid-sized businesses. While the office is only open during normal business hours, the resources available include; computers, computer printers and plotters, business plan software, an paid subscription database licenses for services which track local, state and federal contracts and proposals, and a database for tracking construction. The office also has a strong relationship with NASA. NASA has a free program, which offers 40 hours of engineering work for qualified projects, to assist companies in validating or commercializing technologies. I understand we have a local company which used NASA to validate a technology which was commercialized and is now available in retailers and on TV shopping channels.
Staff members at the SBC can also make referrals to other resources. The SBC also hosts conferences and educational sessions like an annual “Meet the Lenders” conference where business people can attend classes and meet with a variety of lenders and city and state agency representatives in rapid fashion under one roof. I have found factoring resources and have made contacts in the city and state offices which I can draw on later.
Our local Universities, The University of Texas, St. Edwards, and Texas State also offer valuable opportunities if you look hard enough and are willing to work. Both universities have worked with my Inventors and Entrepreneurs Association (more on this later) to provide groups of graduate students for a full semester to assist companies and entrepenours. While it is a bit of work to engage and manage a group of 4- 6 students, all were completing MBA’s and have a diverse set of backgrounds including; accounting, finance, marketing, and advertising. We have had business plans developed, market research reports (students often have access to research resources like Lexis, Gartner and other services through the university) and costing models built , a for no monetary cost.
In some cases, by working with a state university, you can also become eligible for state grants and development programs. I have worked with the Austin Technology Incubator and the University of Texas on a project with a small company with a promising new technology. With very limited resources, the founders were all technology experts; we were able to get a business plan and market research completed. In the process of getting vetted by ATI their contacts enabled them to contact and meet with executives in the industry to question them on the technology and validity of the market’s “pain”. This process validated both the technology and its potential for sale. Through these partnerships we were made eligible for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund which requires a state university partner on the project. While the project died due to funding issues, the relationships we made and the knowledge we gain in the process will be valuable in our next venture and future applications to the Fund.
I’ll address more resources like, AIEA, TiE, Bootstrap, NBI and others in my next blog.
More to come….