People with anything on the ball will survive this nonsense. They take control of their fates. Some go to better jobs or strike off on their own. This month's column is dedicated to this group, the entrepreneurs that create jobs and save the world as we know it.
Early phases of entrepreneurial adventures include research, getting started and expansion. As you know, the raison d'etre for this column is to point you to relevant, free, non-commercial Web resources that don't require user registration.
A credible research site
The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Clearinghouse on Entrepreneurship Education is a non-profit organization funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. It was created as a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles and the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. A long name, but impeccable credentials, no?
A searchable database contains information on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education. Check out the free CELCEE publications. The CELCEE Digests are short articles covering many topics. The EdInfos are abstracts of articles published by others. Contact the original publisher or author for a full copy. The site is found at http://www.celcee.edu/products.html.
Outside the box
Entrepreneurism is about finding and filling a hole in the market. To get a taste of what creative people are doing, visit http://www.ideacafe.com/, a site operated by Ideacafe LLC, Grants Pass, Ore. It appears to be for, by and about female entrepreneurs. But, hey, business is business, money is money. In our enlightened economic and social system, it matters not who brings home the bacon. Turn off your preconceived notions of what constitutes an entrepreneurial business. Explore and enjoy. The better material appears on the left side of the home page.
For example, Cyberschmooz is a bulletin board. The section on running your biz gives good, concise, but not necessarily profound, advice. The Fridge--Biz Info on Ice is presents business tips. Legal--Biz Forms accesses spreadsheets and forms for those focused on a product or service and not on technicalities. If you base your system on this feature, run it past your attorney and accountant to verify its utility in the real world.
Another resource is at http://www.essortment.com/in/Careers.How-To/, where you get five pages of entrepreneurialism-related links, each of which yields a brief article. The topics ranging from starting a babysitting business to organizing a labor union. Pagewise, Inc., Austin, Texas, put a lot of material on this site, but you'll be selective, I'm sure.
Getting past inertia
What do I want to be when I grow up? A lot of people are still asking and questioning the significance of how they spend 40-plus hours each week. One Web site helps find answers. Saddle up the old browser and head off to http://www.pathfinders.org/ for material posted by Pathfinders Association, Alexandria, Va. Specifically, I direct your attention to Career Change Tools & Resources, as well as Career Columns. They give you permission to question the deeper meaning of work.
Motivational speakers abound because some of us in the unwashed masses need inspiration to get off the dime. Martin Sawdon, from Coaching-Works, is one of these motivational people. He's big on top ten lists. You know--ten ways to increase creativity, ten reasons to speak up and ten more to keep quiet. The best is the ten indicators you're in the wrong job. There's little probability that someone in the right job will bolt the corporate confines and go entrepreneurial. You can access Martin's Top Tens at http://plaza.powersurfr.com/coachingworks/creat.htm.
Do you have the right stuff?
Entrepreneurs are different from the rest of us. They make significant things happen, a skill many people lack. Before you quit your day job, do some self-examination of your drive for financial independence. In his article, Tim Waterstone describes the personal traits that define an entrepreneur. These include the ability to motivate, a concrete vision, skill with numbers and a deep interest in the financials. Waterstone's piece, Anatomy of an Entrepreneur, is found at http://www.sfb.co.uk/speakers/timwaterstone/article1.shtml.
Get another helping of food for thought from The Center for Excellence in Entrepreneurial Development, which posts Entrepreneurship: Do You Have What It Takes?, an article by Elena Fawkner, at http://www.hittpansophism.com/articles/2001/04/index07.html.
Our hired hands in Washington
Hector V. Barreto and his crew at the U.S. Small Business Administration produced a pretty decent site. Click your way over to http://www.sba.gov/ to sample the wares. Entrepreneurs go here for information about the dreary subjects--patents, signage, business licenses, government regulations, and some not so trivial topics. The site offers access to quite a bit of shareware, but a lot of it uses DOS format.
The site has one nice feature, though. If you click on a primary option found on the home page, the left side of subsequent pages shows a list of the available subsections of your primary choice. The concept is almost like providing a contextual menu of further choices. You won't get lost here.
This site comes to you courtesy of Patsula Media, Edmonton, Alberta. Smallbusinesstown.com, found at http://www.patsula.com/, offers the would-be entrepreneur something of value. About 2/3 of the way down the page you find free online guidebooks, a link to 91 online guidebooks to help you name your company, design a logo, write a mission statement and more. On the left is a link to something called 3S Accounting Software, a free, full-featured 32-bit accounting software with G/L, A/R, A/P, invoice/order entry system, bank reconciliation and automated check printing. Design your own reports, business forms and financial statements. Export the reports directly to MSOffice and Corel WordPerfect Suite.
Stretch your mind
In general, profit--plain and simple--motivates the entrepreneur. They are not blatant risk takers. Life is not a dress rehearsal. They do the right thing right the first time. They plan. They calculate. They study. They learn. It's a quest for enhanced financial security. It's also heretical for me to point you to The Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits, St. Paul, Minn. Although the organization works with local non-profits, its Web site gives it worldwide coverage.
Visit this must-see site and go directly into the Free Management Library accessible from the top left corner of the page. When I checked, the library had 72 heavily hyperlinked categories, most of which apply to the entrepreneur trying to hustle a buck. Topics include communications, employee wellness, group performance, leadership, personal development, quality management and systems thinking. Gosh, if you can't find an answer at this site, it's probably your own fault.
Another resource is http://www.businesstown.com/, owned by Adams Media, Inc., Holbrook, Mass. On the right are links to 30 business topics. Clicking one reveals a submenu of links to several two- and three-page articles. They're not extensive; just enough to get you thinking in a slightly different way, one of the hallmarks of an entrepreneur. Most of the content has been abstracted from publications the company produces.
Counting the beans
If your entrepreneurial idea takes root in the big, bad marketplace and grows like you always believed it deserved to, sooner or later the bean counters will be running your life. Look around you, it's the American way. So, prepare for the worst. Don Gustavson, a California CPA, is the proprietor of an accounting-related Web site, http://www.thecpaonline.com/.
When you get there, look for two features. First is the opinion piece Business Mission and Vision Statements - Fad or Not? By the time you get to it, though, it will probably have been moved to the Opinion Archives. The second is Accounting Lingo, a sometimes irreverent view of the oil that keeps the system slipping and sliding along to capitalistic Nirvana.
Benchmark the effort
Writing an effective business plan can't be done overnight. Because you think it's complete doesn't mean it'll induce the temple moneylenders to start throwing cash in your general direction. One Web-based resource you should know about is a site Business Resource Software, Inc., Austin, Texas, maintains at http://www.businessplans.org/business.html?. You can analyze your business strategy with a series of questions you answer using a scale of zero to ten. An expert system formulates questions from the answers you provide. Another offering lets you benchmark your business plan against a library of plans entered in the Moot Corp Competition at the University of Texas. The competition simulates entrepreneurs asking investors for funding. MBA students from the best business schools in the world present their plans to investor panels. The investors choose the best venture. If your plan can hold its own against these, you stand a better chance when you face the keepers of the gold.
Expanding the business
Sooner or later, entrepreneurs aiming for the big leagues will need to get past the bulldogs guarding the great bag of money. These gatekeepers have an intense interest in loaning money. They are interested in the features and benefits of your entrepreneurial offering only to the extent that it demonstrates market viability and your ability to repay, with interest. If you want to dig into that moneybag with both hands, start thinking like a gatekeeper, not like an avid inventor or capable techno-geek.
One Web site, http://www.venturea.com/, explains how to function on this perhaps different and unfamiliar plane. The section on Business Planning takes you to a how-to piece explaining what it takes to produce a top-notch business plan that will get the gatekeeper's attention. Most of the other links are about the details of different forms of financing. That's not surprising, considering that the site's owner, Venture Associates, Denver Colo., is an investment banking and management consulting firm with a focus on capital sourcing. This site is worth the effort.
Doing it from within
Okay, so you're interested in the risk taking, creativity and other fun aspects of the entrepreneurial lifestyle, but not quite ready to go it alone in refuting the odds that say most new businesses fail within the first year. Considering the house of cards our economy has turned out to be, your hesitation is understandable. What's the solution? Be an intrapreneur, of course.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, an intrapreneur is a person in a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation. Before you put this concept into action at your plant, do a literature search, and a good place to start is with Pinchot & Company, Bainbridge Island, Wash. It was Mr. Gifford Pinchot, after all, who coined the term intrapreneur.
Several good articles on the subject are found at http://www.pinchot.com/MainPages/BooksArticles/BooksArticlesIntro.html. Scroll to the bottom of the page to avoid the blatantly commercial content. Before you start thinking intrapreneurialism is the ultimate safety net for someone lacking the courage to go it alone, be sure to read The Intrapreneur's Ten Commandments.
Best for last
Palo Alto Sofware, Inc., Eugene, Ore., has an offering at http://www.bizplans.com/. The key feature is access to free books about business plans, marketing plans and Web site plans. Of course, the site's owner would prefer that you buy the books instead of reading them online. Click on Planning Books, and you're on your way. Some content requires registration. The freely accessible resources include The Finance Wizard: Find Financing, Ask the Experts, Planning Glossary, links to the nearest Small Business Development Center (SBDC), sample business plans and sample marketing plans.
With that, I bid you adieu and wish you the best of luck. When your business launch turns into a going concern, be sure to tell us about it.