It’s the Questions You Don’t Even Think About

Oil well site (CC) Glenn Muske

Oil well site (CC) Glenn Muske

Everyone who has considered starting or has started a business has probably received this piece of advice, you need to do your research and planning. This means finding the data that may influence the potential success of the business and then planning on how you will overcome that challenge.

Often times aspiring owners also find a somewhat standardized list of the information they need to gather such as market size, income levels, potential competitors and availability of suppliers.

What you won’t find on the lists, though, and you really can’t because each situation is different, are questions about the unusual factors that must also be considered (I suspect that every area has one and probably more unique items).

Currently in my role with the North Dakota Extension Service, I regularly get questions about starting a business in western North Dakota. Now if you have watched or listened to the news during the last couple of years, you probably know we are experiencing an oil boom. Many of the people contacting me are interested in how they can get involved in the boom. They have a business idea and are now trying to make the idea a reality. In general, their questions focus on the standard questions.

When I get the standard list of questions, however, I suspect that the aspiring owner has not taken the time to do a little more research or homework into some of the most important questions – those not asked.

When talking with a potential business owner looking to come into the western ND oil patch, other questions they need to consider include:
– where am I going to live and what will it cost?
– can I find a space to locate my business and what will it cost?
– if I need help, can I find it and what will it cost?
– if I am bringing a family, can we find daycare or what is the school situation like?

Those are questions I add to their list. Yet every area will have a set of unique issues that owners need to be aware of and take into account when planning. Many of these issues can be found with research – the Internet is a great tool for this. It may be development plans or zoning issues that may impact a community or a major employer who is growing or downsizing or new competitors who have announced their intentions. In a rural ag-dependent community, it may be commodity prices or what the weather has been.

The bottom line for the aspiring business owner is to do your research and then dig a little deeper. Consider what questions “you should have asked.” One place to get that information is with talking to other business owners.


Is It Teaching Entrepreneurs or Teaching Entrepreneurship?

Small Busiess Owner

small business owner (CC) by Independent We Stand via Flickr

I work for Extension. My job, for over 20 years, is helping people try and reach their dream of owning their own business. My tag line for what I do goes something like this, “Supporting entrepreneurs and their communities through education.”

Yet people ask and others might challenge the idea that we (I am including many other support services for businesses) can’t teach someone to be an entrepreneur. Just today I read an article that espoused that view. And I agree.

That might startle you somewhat. Did I just contradict myself in two short paragraphs? I don’t think so. Entrepreneurs do better and are more effective if they have certain skills. And those skills are something we can help them learn and/or improve. These skills include marketing and today’s online marketing efforts or financial recordkeeping or where to get funding or what is the first step to take. I can even help the nascent business owner look for ideas and evaluate which idea is indeed an opportunity. As my tag line suggests, I also believe that communities can have a strong influence on the success or failure of a business. They do this by welcoming businesses into their community, ensuring they have the support systems they need, and being advocates for the business and the community.

I even argue that I can gather the kindling by helping people consider owning a business, exposing them to other successful entrepreneurs, and discussing the realities and the myths of business ownership. But the question is can I be the spark to light the passion to go into business for yourself? A tough question and I probably would agree that it is not something I can do.

Some call it a drive. Others refer to it as a motivation. Writers talk about persistence and perseverance. I simply call it passion or “you gotta wanta” feeling. I am not sure this is something I or anyone else can teach.

Yet as an educator I do believe I can help them see the possibilities and, when and if the time is right, can help them take a path offering the greatest chance of business success. We, myself, other Extension educators, and support agencies such as the local chamber, the SBA and its related organizations, SBDCs and SCORE, a department of commerce, etc., are there for as support and mentors.

So my answer. I teach entrepreneurs entrepreneurship. What are your thoughts?

What Drives Entrepreneurship?

Bowden GroceryThis is a question often asked regarding how entrepreneurs get started. Does something push them to that end or are they pulled into it?

Over the years the general agreement has been that both represent entrepreneurial paths and there is nothing to suggest that either way is more or less likely to result in a successful entrepreneurial business, if success is measured by remaining in business and making a profit.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time in Detroit, MI. During my time there I met several entrepreneurs. You know the struggles of Detroit during the last several years. In most cases, the struggle for the entrepreneur represented the push needed to start their own business – they lost their jobs. While I am sure that was devastating, today they are running successful businesses that remain in existence. The entrepreneurs talk about how after a hard beginning they are slowly growing. Several have added employees. The businesses have allowed them to provide support for their families.

One entrepreneur started out driving a taxi. He now has a fleet of five vehicles meaning his business has developed new jobs. A few of the other business owners also indicated that they have hired one or more employees. This supports the recent Kauffman report that again found, after several years, new small businesses are beginning to be the leading source of new jobs. The taxi driver indicated that his road to success had not been easy and he sees challenges ahead. It was, he said, a difficult transition after working over 20 years for the automotive industry. But he was upbeat and saw opportunity in the future.

I found the conversations offered new perspectives and understanding.

When you are in conversation with new entrepreneurs ask why they decided to “take the plunge.” Share their response along with their outlook for the future. The readers of this blog would be interested in hearing their stories.