Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dale Carnegie


I regularly read or at least skim the latest titles for business books hoping to pick up some hints or ideas to pass on to our clients.

We have all heard of Dale Carnegie books, and if you are like me, you probably scoffed at reading them. On practically a lark, I picked up a copy of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I certainly did not expect it to provide me anything I did not already know. Surprisingly, it was very good. The stories were somewhat corny, and the writing breathless, but the content was relevant, lacking in jargon and avoided all references to the latest - or any -business theory.

Instead it gave practical advice that we each can use every day: How to handle people, Six ways to make people like you, Win people to your way of thinking, and How to lead.

And if you say "why should I care what you think, Rickelman?" - then how about Joel on Software's Joel Spolsky?

I hate recommending a lot of books for entrepreneurs since they usually are too busy to read. But this is one they should skim.

Heartened, I recently completed How to Stop Worrying and Start Living which contained more useful advice.

So: easy read, good info, no jargon. A great recipe for any book, let alone books that will help you persuade others to your view and help you better intereact with them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

NBIA wrapup


We are back from the NBIA conference on business incubation. A great set of presentations and panels - and a nice way to meet with other incubator managers from all over the US and world.

Some reflections:

  1. "All progress starts with telling the truth" - I heard this aphorism during one of the sessions. As someone trying to assist startups, it does no good to avoid telling the truth about the situation with a client business. In trying to soften the blow perhaps I am weakening the chance of improvement. Likewise, if our client companies don't tell us what is really going on, how are we to help them?
  2. "Are our services good enough that someone would pay for them, even if we did not have space?" or another way "is my presentation/class good enough that someone would pay for it?" I'd like to think so - we have six associate or virtual tenants who take services but no space. Every product or service has a price (it might be $0!) - I often caution new businesses to not underprice themselves. But you can overprice yourself as well. I have been trying to find the right time and pricing to run another Kauffman FastTrac program. It has been difficult, since the value is really found in taking the class - and if you are on the outside considering, it is hard to realize that.
  3. Consulting assistance for existing business. Even if you are a well established small business, your local incubator can be a great place to look for some consulting assistance. For example, we at the CBD have expertise in Marketing and International, areas that you can contract for.

Of course, I did get to Arthur Bryants, which made it all worthwhile!

There are very dedicated incubator managers all over and I encourage you to take advantage of their programs, or at the very least, evaluate their programs to see if they can help you!

Friday, April 17, 2009



We'll be at the NBIA Conference next week - April 19-22 - in Kansas City. I am looking forward to the sessions on Advisory Boards (we are looking to get ours restarted) and on Best Practices (I always get a couple good ideas on how to better serve our clients and community).

Plus where else can you get Arthur Bryant's BBQ? The best! For steak, I like the Golden Ox.

While I am at it -

1. Did you know that Kansas City has the only WWI memorial museum in the USA? It recently was renovated and is incredible.

2. Shoes! Bob Jones shoes is all that remains of Kansas City's tradition in shoes ("lady, those red shoes are 30% off!")

3. Mens Wear: Michaels, at 1830 Main a couple blocks from Bob Jones, is a great old fashioned Men's clothing store. They have a good selection of big and tall; classis clothing.

If you are an incubator manager - see you at NBIA. If you are thinking of a place to visit for a short vacation and you like to eat: Kansas City!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Web 2.0


There was an interesting presentation this morning at our local Chamber of Commerce on Web 2.0 (and marketing). The presenter gave us a pretty good history lesson on where it came from and how it is different than web 1.0.

On the way out of the building, a local businessman I knew said, "Brad, is this something I need to devote time to?" A good question. As an entrepreneur, you have quite a few items pulling on you every there room to fit social media or Twitter or Facebook or...?

The two cardinal virtues of web 2.0 are "authenticity" and "community". Authentic, as meaning you are who you say you are (and not trying to sell something to others by pretending to be otherwise), and community as contributing towards the goals or purposes of a group.

If you are wanting to 'get yourself some of those twitter things' so you can sell more sugar water - then your lack of authenticity will keep you from really being able to do just that. And you will also find your community to consist of others trying to sell their own sugar water.

I joined an entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn, and one of the first posts I read was someone asking if there were any real entrepreneurs in the group (and not just people trying to sell their own product or services)! That is not going to help you.

But going back to the businessman I spoke to earlier - he could use a social media group for his employees (to make it easier to communicate what's going on), or he could start a group for his clients to talk to one another about whatever his product is...these could be ways to develop a useful web 2.0 presence. If he builds a place where people can communicate on issues related to the business- great! Or better yet, maybe he could gather his thoughts on running his business into a blog.

Note that this is not something that will take place overnight - one post and look at me I'm on Facebook'. It is going to take time. But that is just to say that the 'social' side of web 2.0 is just like the social side of being with people. We all have been in the situation where we meet someone who immediately tries to sell us something; if not, think of dating (or bad dating!) experiences.

So in response to the businessman, I might say, "what are you doing now to create a relationship with your clients based on authenticity and community?" Whatever he is doing now - can he do the same on the web? If so - spend time doing that. If he has a newsletter, convert it to a blog. If he sends out coupons, make them email coupons. If he has group client meetings, make them podcasts. That will make his time spent more useful.

If he is not doing any of those things already, then signing up for accounts on Facebook or Twitter won't do any good for him.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Baseball: building your (business) team


It's the beginning of baseball season! The long winter is over.

As I follow baseball, I often compare managing the team to managing a company. Not only in selecting the right team members, but also deciding what type of employees you want on the team and choosing which role to place them in. A sports writer I follow, Joe Posnanski, made an interesting claim about managing a baseball team:

You can go a million different ways. But, in my view, you HAVE TO CHOOSE. That’s getting at the core of what I believe about baseball now. I think you need a plan that is much more involved than just grabbing a bunch of good players with varying skills and just hoping that it all works out for the best.

This gets to my difficulty with the book Good to Great. As you know Collins argues to 'get the right people on the bus, then in the right seat on the bus, then point the bus (in the direction to go).'

But, contra Posnanski, I might argue, before you put anyone on the bus, you have to choose how you are going to go about your business. If you don't know - then any collection of, as he puts it, "good players with varying skills and just hoping it all works out".

Now, your way of going about your business can't be just willy-nilly, just like you can't select only baseball players who are tall, or wear size 13 shoes. Your business has to reflect your values and philosophy on how you do things.

I used to work for a small software company whose owner prided himself on being out front on new techologies in the industry - if we weren't at the bleeding edge, we weren't in it at all. That philosophy should have colored every employee he brought on. Without it, no amount of good people on the bus would get it pointed in the right direction.

If you are an entrepreneur, you are the face of your company. If you don't know what your philosophy or way of doing things is, you won't be able to decide on which way to go. In the end, choose how you are going to do things and go, rather than dawdling on different ways you are going to build your team. That is what creates loyalty to your team. Not everyone likes the Yankees (boo!), but at least I know what they stand for. What do the Pirates stand for?

BTW - Go Twins!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Starting a business after being laid off


Unfortunately, but all too common given our current economy, I have recently been consulting with a number of people who have been laid off from their jobs, and are now considering opening thier own business. Their stories are crushing.

Yet, I must caution - even in the face of real need and difficulty - not to jump from one bad situation into another. Need cannot in and of itself be the business.

In one case, an engineer was considering cashing in his 401K to open a franchise. He had been provided three franchise opportunities by a 'consultant' brought in by the outplacement service his previous employer gave him as a severance account. The franchise he wanted was clearly a terrible fit for him, yet he plaintively argued he had to do something to feed his family.

Stories on the internet or in entrepreneurial magazines about people who have successfully made the transition from laid-off to entrepreneur seem always to circle on people such as a marketing executive who did culinary arts cooking previously, now opened a successful bakery. Or the engineer who had tinkered with some software at home, now writing Itunes applications.

There are opportunities out there that can be taken, and within a short time. But no amount of immediate need can overcome the need to know your market, have a product that solves a problem, and priced accordingly.

Use the library (free) or come by your local business development office or incubator (usually free) and get yourself a plan of action first. Then make a firm decision.

This also will allow you to avoid having the weight of your previous layoff overhang your new business. If every time you go into an account with your new business, you predicate your pitch with "I was laid off from ABC, and now am selling X" - people will be sympathetic, but not buyers.

By being organized and ready, rather than just needy, you send a great message to new customers and will allow you to move into the ranks of new business owners.

Sorry I've been quiet

Sorry I have been quiet during the month of March - it has been a bit hectic. Back to entries today!