Young Entrepreneur Lemonade Stand

There is never a PERFECT Time to Start a Business

girl-lemonade-standStarting a business is a lot like starting a family; if you wait for the time be perfect – it will never happen. They are both huge commitments in time, energy and emotion and that commitment will last for years. When I was 27, I started my first “real business” – an accounting services firm for small to medium businesses. I was fortunate to have an investor and a partner. This allowed starting the business with an actual office space, hiring a firm to develop our brand identity and many other things that a small startup might not afford. Today as I am starting my 2nd “real business”, I am bootstrapping and starting it as I work a full-time day job. So in both cases, how did I know the time was right? I’m not sure you ever know that it is 100% right. When starting a business (as with starting a family) you have to take a leap of faith. You are going into the unknown; the only thing you do know is that many others have gone before you and they survived and many even flourished. One thing I think about when starting a business is the future – what is my goal in 3-5 years and will starting a business help me get there; in both cases my answer was yes.

Here are 6 questions to think about to know if it is the right time for you. 1) What is your plan for 3-5 years and will a business help you get there (in my current business case –my plan is to retire from my day job so that I more freedom and can do what I really love to do) which brings me to #2. 2) Is there something that you have a passion for, that you are good at, that people need (and therefore will pay money for)? It’s not good enough to have a passion – you have to create services and products for others that will solve a problem or you will not make enough money to grow and sustain a business. 3) Do you have the time and energy to commit to working on the business? For example, it’s Sunday morning and here I am writing this blog; I wrote my book on night and weekends (you get the picture). 4) Does your family support you? I like the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”; you cannot start a business without the support of those close to you. 5) Do you have some savings or cash flow that will help fund your start-up costs?  No matter how much you bootstrap your business, there will be costs. In my current business, I’m using a home office and I already had a laptop and printer but you will need a website (if you want to reach a large audience), funds to develop products, funds to publish and edit a book, etc. The amount can vary greatly and if you have a good credit rating you may be able to get a microloan but it does take some amount of money to start your business. 6) Do you know where to find help for the things you are not an expert in? No matter how much we would like to think we can do it all – we can’t! You need to network with other entrepreneurs to learn from them and find out who helps them with services you might need. It’s a bit daunting at first but I have found that entrepreneurs love to share their knowledge! You can also check out your local resources such as the Small Business Development Center, SCORE or Women Business Centers – they all help start-up and growing businesses; sometimes at no cost to you (they are funded by the SBA).

So even though there might not be a PERFECT time to start a business, there is a right time. If you are ready to take the leap of faith and start-up, just be prepared for some of the most exciting and challenging times of your life (sounds like being a parent doesn’t it)!

This blog was written by Julie Ann Wood – author of More Than a Lemonade Stand™ and creator of the Biz Ops Game™; for more information visit www.eseedling.com.

What’s Your Customer Mantra?

 

We love our customers

Every week should be customer service week

In 1984 the International Customer Service Association (ICSA), which since merged with PACE, created and launched National Customer Service Week™. On October 8, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 6485 establishing the first week of October as National Customer Service Week™. (Source: http://www.paceassociation.com/p/cm/ld/fid=457).  Don’t you think that every week should be customer service week?

Who do you prefer to do business with?

You might be wondering why I’m touching on this subject today –let’s just say that I’ve had a mixture of good and bad customer service in the past week. I started off my week with a not so good customer experience (but fortunately had several good ones during the week). It started out with my working on a tradeshow that I am attending an upcoming in another state (remain unnamed). I needed to complete the tax registration for collecting sales tax in that state so I completed the form, the best I could. I still had a few questions so I called their hotline number and found out they aren’t open on weekends (open Mon-Friday 8:30 am – 4:30 pm) – okay I can accept that. Monday morning I called right at 8:30 am – closed due to President’s day (are state offices supposed to be closed?!). Tuesday morning again I called right at 8:30 am – closed due to inclement weather (ugh)! Wednesday morning again I called right at 8:30 am – 3 minute wait time – finally I get a person who didn’t sound thrilled to be there when she answered the phone. I explained the situation and she told me the answers were in the instructions for the form and that she couldn’t go through the entire form with me. I read the instructions no less than 5 times and I only had 4 questions!! Anyway, she finally did answer my 4 questions and I sent off my form; crossing my fingers that the form is filled out correctly and that I will get my tax registration in time for the show. I’m sure all of you have had experiences like this. They are frustrating but are so easily avoided by some simple customer service procedures and processes put into place. So if you had a choice, is this someone you would like to do business with?

How can companies improve their customer service?

Since Customer service ranks as the #1 factor influencing how much a consumer trusts a company – it is definitely important for companies to pay attention to their customer service. (Source: http://blogs.salesforce.com/company/2013/10/customer-service-stats-55-of-consumers-would-pay-more-for-a-better-service-experience.html.) I actually think customer service is so important to creating a successful business that we actually include a whole section on customer service in our Youth Entrepreneur Camp curriculum. Here are some of things we teach the kids at the camp but can are applicable to any business.

1)    Everyone is responsible for customer service. This could be the person preparing the materials, answering the phone or setting up the room. It doesn’t have to be someone in direct contact with the customer – the important thing to note is the culture needs to focus on the customer and make sure everyone understands how their role touches the customer. You need to have a plan for dealing with customers (good and bad) and make sure it is communicated throughout the organization. You may want to create a customer service mantra – a short saying (such as Disney’s “Be Our Guest”) which is an easy way to infuse the culture into the organization. The Ritz Carlton Hotel has always been known for an exceptional customer experience; this story about the Ritz Carlton Hotel Amelia Island goes above and beyond: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-hurn/stuffed-giraffe-shows-wha_b_1524038.html

2)    First Impressions are crucial – you have a short time to make a first impression, so figure out the first thing you are going to do (how you will greet them, what your website will say about you, what your social media sites will contain), document them and train employees on them.

3)    Actively listen to the customer and communicate that to your team. The person directly communicating with the customer needs to listen to the customer and makes sure they communicate their requests to the rest of the team (If the team doesn’t know they can’t help).

4)    Have clear instructions that the customer can find easily. Okay I added this one after my experiences this past week. I neglected to say that I had some wonderful customer experiences this past week. Those included clear instructions on their websites with easy to find answers – their staff followed up quickly, answered my questions (pleasantly I might add) so that I could accomplish what I came to their business for. This certainly makes a world of difference. They definitely have my return business!

Now I challenge you to think of a customer mantra for your business and share.

Games Make Learning Fun!

Biz Ops Game

Biz Ops Game

There were 2 things this past week that reminded me how much I love using games as a learning activity. The first one was a webinar that I participated in from Zingerman’s Zing Train program on using Mini-games to train employees. The second was as I was putting the finishing touches on the Biz Ops Game™ (more on that in a bit). The Zing Train webinar reminded me how much fun it is to use games to engage employees when teaching them new concepts or trying to help them achieve a specific company goal. When you get everyone engaged and have fun doing it, it is much easier to have the learning stick and achieve the goal. I know this all too well – as in my graduate studies at UW-Madison I studied how video games are a great tool for teaching. But like any powerful tool that is new to the teacher – they need some time to get comfortable with it and to develop and implement it so that they can help learners achieve the outcome. Good games start with good design (as with any effective lesson). The good thing about games is they don’t have be complicated or extremely sophisticated to achieve the goal they are intended for.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when designing a simple game to achieve learning outcomes. 1) Know what your end goal is – what are the learning outcomes? Make a list of the learning outcomes and decide if a game can cover what’s on the list or if you need to focus on just a few of outcomes in the game. 2) Know what success looks like – what does the student need to be able to do or answer to prove that success was achieved in the game. In addition to the learning outcomes, it is important to have specific measures for success. 3) Create a story for the game- stories have a way of drawing the students in and will create a “safe” atmosphere so they aren’t afraid to fail which will help them to learn faster. In addition to the story, be sure to have a fun name for the game. 4) Decide how the game is played – (turn-based, facilitated, in teams, etc.). Think of games you have played and what made them fun and engaging – use these elements when you design your game. 5) Know how long the game will take (will it be one class period, several class periods or once a week for many weeks). 6) Create a scoreboard – students will have more fun if they compete with one another.  You may also want to have an overall scoreboard with an overall goal that everyone is contributing to. 7) Decide what the rewards will be – everyone likes rewards when they achieve a goal – it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, it can be something as simple as a sticker or badge or can be allowing them to choose the topic for a day, or choose the music at the beginning of class.

To demonstrate how to put these tips into action I’ll come back to the Biz Ops Game™. The game itself is based on a simulation that was used in UW-Madison SBDC Youth Entrepreneur Camp. The simulation was developed for high school aged kids and is longer and more in-depth than what I wanted to use as a short activity for camp or in the classroom. I also felt it could have a lot more learning built into the short time period for the activity so I have built them in. I also turned it into an actual game with a game board and more game elements than the original simulation. The Biz Ops Game™ is facilitated by an instructor and can be played in approximately 90 minutes (or 2 class periods). The learning objectives include learning: 1) how a small business operates 2) how working cooperatively can help increase the chances of business success 3) what roles are necessary to run a business and what each role entails 4) that planning is necessary to run a business 5) how listening to the customer will help you create a better product 5) that quality is as important as quantity and 6) how to create record financial transactions and create a simple financial report. The game is played in teams of 4or 5 who create their own air transportation company where they manufacture and sell paper airplanes. The team who makes the most profit by selling ethically is the winner. In order for them to win, they have to work well as a team, listen to customer specifications and fly their airplanes on a runway. The scoreboard consists of their financial record which includes how much they spend on business costs, quantity sold, sales dollars and their net profit. The teams are rewarded on each of these areas with a badge or sticker for their name tag that they can wear at camp to show others that they were successful. In a one week class the basic business startup and operations concepts are learned and practiced but the possibilities of using the game in the classroom can really serve as a base for additional learning on business operations, teamwork and financial record-keeping. Also, once the game mechanics are mastered, the game can be expanded into the students creating and selling their own products which will allow for much more creativity and fun while learning business operations.

The Biz Ops Game™ is currently being printed and manufactured and should be ready to ship by March 1st. For more information: opt in at www.eseedling.com

Finding Your Passion to Make Meaning

ElementMakeMeaning_edited-1When I start working with kids and adults on entrepreneurship one of the first things I work on is choosing a business idea that they will develop. They usually attend a class or a camp because they want to start a business and so it’s important to keep their excitement level high and help them to move forward. Some students know what they want to do but are not sure if it is the right idea and some students don’t even have an idea – they may have always wanted to start a business. The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you can get to choose what you do and how you do it. To help figure this out we start with 3 questions: 1) Do you have passion for your business idea 2) Do you have competence (knowledge & expertise) for your business idea? and 3) Does it make meaning and solve a problem that people will pay for? Let’s break down the 3 questions.

 1)     Do you have a passion for your business idea? If it is something you are passionate about; you will want to spend time on it and it won’t seem like work. Ask yourself, is it something you like to do in your spare time or is it something you daydream about? Running a business is not easy and requires a lot of focus and hard work to make it successful so the more passionate you are about the idea, the more you will stay with it. Finding your passion is just part of it – you will want to go further and ask yourself if your natural ability compliments your passion. Think about a time when you were so immersed in an activity that time flew by and you didn’t even know it. Athletes sometimes refer to this as being “In the Zone”, Mihaly Czikszenthmihalyi refers to as Flow (recently this has been associated with video game players) and Sir Ken Robinson refers to as “The Element” (highly recommended reading for anyone involved in teaching). This YouTube video is an excellent explanation of what The Element is: http://youtu.be/mqOL20t0NF4. If you are having trouble coming up with a business idea, you might want to reflect on what your passions are and when you have been in your “element”.

2)      Do you have competence (knowledge or expertise) for your business idea? People trust others who are have expertise, competency and knowledge. They need to feel like they can trust you and without these things they are probably not going to do business with you. This doesn’t mean that this may not be a good business idea for you; it just means that you may need more training or experience to become competent. If that is your passion and you have innate ability or talent for it – then you will have the motivation to increase your knowledge or competency in that area. I recently attended a seminar where Stephen M.R. Covey, the author of the “The Speed of Trust” spoke. He talked about how trust starts with trusting yourself and that entrepreneurs are usually good at it. He then goes on to explain that both character and competency are important.  Here is a short YouTube video with a good explanation of trust from his leadership perspective: http://youtu.be/XGycgrs1FxY.

 3)     Does your business idea make meaning/ solve a problem? Guy Kawasaki, Author of the “Art of the Start”, states that most companies that set out to make meaning will make money but if they start out to make money, they will usually fail. Here is a short video in which Guy Kawasaki talks (to students at Stanford University) about making meaning in business http://youtu.be/lQs6IpJQWXc. Recently I read “all in startup” by Diana Kander (which I highly recommend for anyone thinking about starting a business). In the book she talks about solving problems. She talks about a minor headache problem vs. a migraine sized problem. Migraine sized problems are the ones people are willing to pay money for. If people won’t pay money for your solution – then it isn’t a big enough problem and most likely not a viable business.

The answers to these 3 questions should help give you a start on finding a business idea that you are passionate about, uses your natural abilities and helps you make meaning in the world. Once your idea is chosen then it is time to get to work and become a business creator! (more on that in a future blog post).

 Here’s a quote from Ken Robinson that I think really describes what Element is:

“When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being. Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they´re meant to be doing with their lives.

– Ken Robinson

If you would like more blog posts on entrepreneurship – please subscribe using the form on the right.