Yesterday I spent the day with hundreds of entrepreneurs. While that is not particularly unusual for me, the typical entrepreneur I work with in my business as a loan broker has a few years of experience running a business under his or her belt. Similarly, nearly all the entrepreneurs I met yesterday were just starting their businesses and most had no prior experience owning their own business.
My first meeting was sponsored by the Texas State University Small Business Development Center (SBDC). With the help of many other State of Texas agencies, the SBDC put on a half-day series of mini-seminars for businesses owners seeking Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) status as well as those that simply want the State of Texas as a customer. I was there to teach one of the seminars on financing federal, state, and local governmental contracts.
My second meeting of the day was sponsored by the Austin Entrepreneur Network, where I have agreed to become a mentor for aspiring start-up companies. The event was designed for entrepreneurs seeking mentors and mentors seeking companies to help out. There were about 10 entrepreneurial companies represented and 14 or so mentors. The event was like speed dating. First, each entrepreneur gave a one-minute fast pitch, and then they took a seat at a table around the room. The mentors and entrepreneurs each spent 5 minutes discussing the business proposition and what the mentor could offer that business.
I came away from the evening with several unscientific observations.
- Most of the people I spoke with directly didn’t grow up wanting to be entrepreneur. I was surprised by the number of people I met who lost their job either because their employer closed their doors or because they were downsized. Several were 20-year veterans of large companies who had advanced technical degrees, who elected to take an early retirement offer. Several lost their large-company jobs because their employer merged with another company and their job was no longer needed. Nearly all had domain expertise in the field they were trying to build a business in, but few of them had experience owning and operating their own business. As John Jantsch oberves in one of my favorite readings on the characteristics of an entrepreneur, “7 Uncommon Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs,” successful entrepreneurs don’t tend to possess the traits that are most commonly attributed to entrepreneurship, while the majority of people trying to make it as entrepreneurs don’t have an accurate sense of their own capabilities.
- What entrepreneurs don’t know can hurt them. Although everyone I met was very optimistic about their opportunities, few of them seemed to understand the some of the basics of operating a business. I applaud them for attending quality training sessions that might help them better understand what they don’t know. For the Texas State University event, I met several aspiring small business owners who came from 200 miles away to attend. I was the last presenter at the end of the day and found many of them wanting to keep the various presenters there to continue absorbing as much as they could before leaving. (The business owners who I spoke with after the end of the day believed their time was very well spent. The cost was free.)
- Entrepreneurs who take advantage of mentoring and training are wise. Assuming a start-up business owner finds the right mentor and makes it a goal to engage in an ongoing (lifetime) learning program, they are much more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Sadly I find in my day to day consulting practice that most business owners don’t engage in formal learning programs. I understand that the process of starting and running a business cannot be perfect, but I think you can learn and internalize a dozen main practices in your business that will make life easier and keep your stress level lower.
Before I started my day yesterday I received an e-mail from the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. They conduct surveys and academic reviews of the needs of small business. Ironically, yesterday’s e-mail contained a link to a new report that discussed the needs of entrepreneurial training and education. They concluded that one’s college degree and GPA made little or no difference in the success of an entrepreneurial business owner. It turns out that there is a high correlation between the success of business owners who receive entrepreneurial educational classes and an enterprise’s success.