Culture is a Key Means to Reaching Your Goals

As someone who has written quite a bit about small business ethics, there is a trend that I find to be quite encouraging.  Entrepreneurs are paying a lot more attention to the cultures they create in their businesses.

The culture of a business defines and shapes how a company’s owners and employees act, think, and feel as they go about their work.  Culture sets the behavioral expectations and ethical standards in a company.  It guides how employees are expected to interact with each other, with customers, with suppliers, and so forth.

Businesses with well-developed cultures tend to have a stronger sense of ethical awareness among their employees.  All things being equal, these companies are also are more successful than those that do not intentionally build a strong culture.

So how should an entrepreneur go about building a strong culture in a business? Continue reading Culture is a Key Means to Reaching Your Goals

Making Strong Partnerships

When starting a new business together, business partners are brimming with excitement about the possibilities that the new venture may bring.  There is a collective air of anticipation like a team in the locker room getting ready to head out for the “big game.”  The last thing new business partners think about as they launch their new venture is what will happen when the day comes when the partnership ends.

But the truth is that eventually every business partnership will come to an end.  It may come earlier than the partners expect, due to fundamental and irreconcilable business disagreements.  Or maybe because one of the partners simply has lost a passion for the business and decides it is time to pursue a new career direction.

Continue reading Making Strong Partnerships

Intestinal Entrepreneurial Fortitude

Not everyone is prepared to be a successful entrepreneur.

In the new book Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck, two successful venture capitalists and a management consultant surveyed a large number of successful entrepreneurs to uncover what traits they have in common.  One of the traits — guts — particularly hit home with my experience as an entrepreneur and as a teacher of entrepreneurs.

The authors argue, and I agree, that guts is not a trait that you are either born with or not.  Having the guts to be an entrepreneur is something that can be nurtured and developed.  They identify three key elements to developing and nurturing guts in entrepreneurs.

Eighty percent of the successful entrepreneurs in this study said that their entrepreneurial guts were developed through experiences early in their lives.

I can cite several experiences from working in our family businesses that helped to toughen my skin.  One in particular stands out.  When I was in grade school my father partnered in a cleaning products distributorship.

Although I was only eleven, I was eager to become a part of this new venture.  So I decided to sell the product door to door.  My first sales call was to our next door neighbor, who was a good friend of our family.

Rather than pat me on the head and buy some product to be nice, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Tell me why I should spend our hard earned money on this stuff?”

I did not make the sale.  I was left speechless and devastated.  It was a hard lesson that I have carried with me the rest of my life.  Nobody owes you anything in business – it is up to you to earn it.

The second key element for developing guts is training and education that prepares entrepreneurs how to make decisions in complex situations.  We urge every student who comes into our program to start a business while they are in school because this kind of training is so important.  It helps them to gain experience, confidence and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment.  However, I am not one who thinks we should require every student to start a business as many schools are moving toward.  I think that making starting a business an assignment misses a key aspect of developing true entrepreneurial guts – the courage to make the choice and cross the threshold to start a venture.

The final element of developing and nurturing guts is becoming part of a community of entrepreneurs.  By joining an ecosystem of fellow entrepreneurs you gain peer support, wise counsel, and a group who can hold you accountable.  We need to have our entrepreneurial guts reinforced, nurtured, and checked throughout our career.

Having guts to be an entrepreneur does not imply that you take careless risks – quite the contrary.  Having guts to be an entrepreneur means that you are ready through experience to carefully and prudently manage and mitigate the risks that lie ahead.

Then Comes Generation Z

USA Today ran a story by Rebecca Walker on the entrepreneurial nature of Generation Y.  They have three interesting profiles on Gen Y entrepreneurs.

Here are my thoughts that I shared with the author for this story, which regular readers have heard me say many times:

Generation Y is the most entrepreneurial generation ever. Parents raised their children to be independent. This generation feels a general sense of distrust for large organizations and government.

What will be really interesting to watch over the next decade or so is the next generation coming along — Generation Z.

These are the children of Generation X.  They share some characteristics with Generation Y.  For example, they seem to view entrepreneurship as a perfectly normal career path.

But they have some fundamental differences.  Unlike Generation Y, they will probably not be seeking balance and meaning in life from their careers.  They are driven, high achievers.  They are the first generation for whom the constantly connected, social media world is ubiquitous.

Should be a fun ride as they start to enter university programs like ours.  We will need to be adjusting our programs and probably our expectations as this group begins to replace the Gen Y folks in our classrooms.  They will challenge us to integrate technology and social media in our classes.  They will be looking for more high growth opportunities than the Gen Y folks have..  And we will have to get comfortable with their multi-tasking personalities.

This may be about the last generation I teach.  By the time they have worked their way through the system it will about time for me to open my bait shop.  I will always be teaching in some fashion.  I will continue writing and will certainly honor the life time warranty I offer my alumni.

I will be leaving the next generation — will they be “Generation AA”??? — to my younger colleagues.  Who knows what they will bring into this world!

Find Yourself a Coach…and Listen!

A growing part of my job here at Belmont University is coaching.

We offer our students a “life-time warranty”.  We never take ownership in a student or alumni business and we never take a dime of consulting money from them no matter how successful they are.  We are always there to be their teacher, their mentor, their friend, their therapist, and most of all, their coach.

Besides the teaching I do in the classroom, this is easily the favorite part of my job.

Our students and alumni have learned how to seek out and accept feedback, constructive criticism, and advice.  But not all entrepreneurs have developed this skill set — and it is an essential skill that does not get talked about often enough.

This is something we have learned does not come naturally to many of the entrepreneurs we work with in our program.  Our faculty and staff often talk about what we are doing to try and help student entrepreneurs to become more receptive to our input.  For some students it comes quickly, but for others it can take months or even years to get them to understand the importance of seeking our council and to listen to what others can offer from an informed, outside perspective.

There is too much risk and uncertainty out there.  It is essential to find people who can help you see issues and problems that you are ignoring.  They also help you to discover the things that you don’t know that you don’t know.

Toddi Gutner has a post at Business on Main that helps explain how to become a “coachable” entrepreneur.

Finding Balance Between Family and Business

I have written often about the challenges for entrepreneurs of finding balance between the strong, often conflicting pulls from family and from their business.

Toddi Gutner offers three case studies on entrepreneurs who have worked at finding this balance in a recent piece at Business on Main.

One entrepreneur uses mobile technology, one has built a team, and one has become a master at the art of time management.  You can read more here.

Building Community Through Hiring — A Follow-up

I wrote a post back in October about a program that is encouraging small businesses to hire released inmates who have participated in an educational program.

Fox News picked up on my post and contacted us about running a story on the program I wrote about.  They ran a story that highlights inmates who have had success with this program.  Well worth a view, which can see here.

Building Community Throught Hiring

Owning a business gives entrepreneurs the freedom to pursue more
than simply income and wealth from their businesses. Many choose to use
their businesses to become building blocks to help improve their

Several students at Belmont University are
participating in a program addressing one challenge faced by every
community: Inmates are released from prison every day back into the
community and face a difficult transition back into society. TRIO, which
stands for Transformation Reconciliation from the Inside Out, uses
education as a tool to help build a path for successful reintegration of
former offenders from prison back into the community.

important partner in this process is local employers. Finding employment
for former offenders significantly reduces the probability that they
will return to prison in the future.

In the first phase of this
program, TRIO brings together college students and inmate students in
classes that are offered at the Charles Bass Correctional Complex Annex
in Nashville. The goal of the classes is to engage the inmates jointly
with college students in education to help foster understanding and
reconciliation through community support.

Some of the students are
trying to help with the next step in this program by identifying
employers who are willing to hire the offenders. This is not always an
easy task.

“I am especially discouraged when employers see only a
crime rather than an individual working toward reconciliation,” said
Lindsey Ricker, an entrepreneurship major at Belmont who is
participating in TRIO. “Many employers take one glance at a checked
felony box and throw a job application in the trash.”

“I have
confidence in our guys,” added Eliza Hemmings, a sociology and French
double major from Belmont. “I have confidence that given support and the
right opportunity that they will be successful in their re-entry
process. It is not possible to change the past — what’s done is done.
But what we can do as a larger community is support their will to
change, their will to contribute to society in a positive way and
rebuild their lives. We as community members have a choice as well, and I
choose to support my inside friends on their journey toward success.”

Employers who are participating find benefits from hiring men from this program.

Wich (a sandwich shop franchise) has found the employees re-entering
society to be hard-working, determined and bringing a positive attitude
to the other employees and customers,” said Tracie Maybaum, a Which Wich
general manager. “One of the most beneficial assets they bring to work
is their attitude. Theirs positivity influences other employees, and
their gratitude is motivating.”

The government can assist
employers who are willing to hire former offenders. The U.S. Department
of Labor insures qualified former offenders bonding for a range of
$5,000-$25,000 for six months. And those who hire a qualified former
offender within a year of release may be eligible for up to $9,000 in
tax credits.

Hiring former offenders certainly brings with it some
risks. But accepting these risks can help contribute toward building a
stronger community. And after all, isn’t entrepreneurship all about
taking risks?