Passport to Business - Training Wheels for New Business Owners
People often view the business victims of recession with detached interest. We can consider the fate of big names such as Woolworth or Lehman Brothers and form a judgement of the reasons for their demise, be that management, marketing or strategy. But what of the individuals, the small business owners and self employed? Those young or not so young people who started their business full of dreams and passion, who followed their purpose only to be met with financial failure and disappointment. Was there something missing in their education, their planning or their execution? Was the business failure a matter of bad timing, or lack of research? What lessons can we learn to help these business owners get up and try again, rather than retreat to the ‘safe harbor of the known’ and seek security and comfort in the corporate world?
As a business teacher and coach I have long held the belief that if you do what you love, where your passions and talents naturally lie, then the money will eventually follow. While this can appear naive and idealistic to some, there are thousands of examples of the mega successful doing just that. In fact it would appear extremely challenging to reach the pinnacle of any profession, trade or business without having both the passion and the talent for it. Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, or Oprah Winfrey immediately spring to mind. Too many young people are channelled into jobs and careers for the wrong reasons, be that parental pressure, perceived status, security or financial gain. It’s little wonder therefore that so many end up living what philosopher Emerson referred to as “lives of quiet desperation”.
Entrepreneurship is a relatively new addition to the curriculum in the majority of business schools and universities. Indeed the belief was held in many circles that the skills of an entrepreneur could not be taught but rather were something one was born with, or could only be developed through experience and the school of hard knocks. Traditional courses which deliver the skills of business be that reading a balance sheet or developing a marketing plan, may give little consideration to the right brained creativity needed to design a product or service in the first place.
In the industrial age perhaps we needed managers who possessed analytic and functional skills, individuals who could balance a budget and maintain the corporate traditions. In the new economy and information age a different breed of business person is called for, someone with a combination of the analytics and the creativity, to spot and exploit opportunities.
Perhaps for some of the individual victims of the recession the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction. Consider the creative, risk taker with a passion for designing jewellery. She follows her passion and utilises her talents and for a while all is well. Finance was readily available, grants and support on offer to encourage small business start ups. When the storm clouds gathered however did that business owner have the tools to ride out the downturn, or was the planning solely based upon favourable trading conditions?
Cash flow is often cited as the main cause of business failure. Profitable business can be forced to close simply because the cash is not circulating quickly enough. The loss of a major customer or an unexpected bill can bring things to a crashing halt. But where can the business owner in the above example learn about cash flow? Should she stifle her creativity and innate passion to follow a finance degree?
In larger businesses, teams can be assembled with the combination of skills needed to be successful. The specialists in finance, marketing, sales or production all have an essential role to play. In a start up however, the business owner will often fulfil all these roles and will naturally have their own preferences, strengths and weaknesses, for example the artist who hates to sell or the marketer whose accounts are in constant disarray.
What advice and support is actually available for the post start up business in