Starting a small business? Try SCORE first

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I never imagined that a workshop on how to start a small business would be so inspirational, but that’s how I felt after participating in a day-long program sponsored by the Boston chapter of SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

SCORE is a national non-profit organization with chapters across the country, working closely with the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide information and advice to individuals who want to start or build small businesses. SCORE counselors are retired executives who have proven themselves in the private and non-profit sectors, and they lead workshops and provide individual counseling — all on a pro bono basis.

“Getting Started Workshop”

I attended SCORE’s “Getting Started Workshop,” and here’s the agenda for the day:

A workshop for persons who are planning to open a new business or who are looking for assistance in the operation of an exisiting business.

Key Topics Covered, include:
– Entrepreneurship: is it for you
– Is your Business Concept reasonable
– What is a Business Plan and why do one
– How to build a Business Plan
– How to Market your Business
– Do you need an Operational Plan
– Human Resources
– How will you Finance your business
– Building your Financial Plan
– Should you Incorporate
– What Advisors do you need
– What other Resources are available to help you

The Afternoon Sessions are small roundtable discussions lead by SCORE counselors.

It’s a quick but wide-ranging “soup-to-nuts” introduction to creating a small business. The cost? Only $35 for those who pre-registered, $45 at the door. That’s what is known as a bargain.

At the end, participants are invited to schedule individual consultations with SCORE counselors who have some expertise in their general areas of interest. And SCORE’s continued assistance is free-of-charge!

Great discussions

There were about 15 people at the workshop. Many had well-developed business ideas. I don’t want to give away any secrets, but let me say it was inspirational to listen to the breadth and depth of initiatives in the making, covering various services, product development, and entertainment & leisure. By the end of the workshop, folks were exchanging cards and even seeing opportunities to work together.

The upbeat, constructive tone of the workshop was such a contrast to the dire economic news of the day. It brought together people from many different walks of life, personal backgrounds, and educational levels, sporting the kind of natural diversity that makes for a terrific sharing of ideas.

A blessed contradiction

During our small-group session in which people shared their business concepts and ideas, the counselor advised us not to undersell ourselves, suggesting that some businesses lose out because they do not charge enough for the products and services they deliver.

Well, it’s a blessed contradiction for us that SCORE counselors are giving away the kind of advice that one might pay thousands of dollars for in classes and one-to-one business consulting. In the process, they’re giving back to their communities by facilitating new businesses that generate jobs, opportunities, and hope.

Check it out

There are many sources of information and guidance about starting a business. Many cost money, ranging from adult education offerings to full-blown MBA programs. In the case of SCORE, almost everything they offer is free. If you have serious ideas about starting a small business, you owe it to yourself to check them out, as well as the Small Business Administration:

Go here for the national SCORE website.

Go here for the national SBA website.

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Hat-tip to Brian McCrane, former SCORE counselor, for initially alerting me to these opportunities.

Accessible entrepreneurship: Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Startup”

Here’s what I like the most about Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup (Crown Business, 2012): The title.

That’s not a swipe; it’s meant as real praise. We need books reminding us that you don’t need a million bucks to start a new business.

And fortunately there’s more . . .

Stories

In The $100 Startup, Guillebeau assembles 50 case studies of individuals who have started businesses from scratch, often after suffering a setback such as a layoff or encountering major frustrations with their careers.

To me it’s the most inviting kind of how-to book, mixing stories with concrete guidance. The stories entice you to imagine possibilities, and the advice helps to put you on the right path.

If you’re serious about starting your own business, The $100 Startup is not the only resource you’ll want to consult — others will provide necessary advice on bureaucratic, tax, and legal details — but it likely will be one you return to for inspiration, ideas, and examples.

The home brewed entrepreneur

I’ve been a fan of Guillebeau’s approach to entrepreneurship and micro-business creation, especially in the midst of an economy that is producing few jobs and giving life to even fewer dreams. And given that I’m very attentive to business opportunities for people who may left abusive or dysfunctional workplaces, the start-up option is a definite possibility for those who have been beaten down by standard-brand employers.

Guillebeau’s first book — The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) — and accompanying blog have garnered attention as resources for those who want to free themselves from the rat race and the frustrations of working for others.

Now, with The $100 Startup, he delivers an easy and engaging read for those who want to create a business befitting a more independent lifestyle.

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Book website, here.

Recycling: The Golden Rule at work, hanging together, and personal reinvention

With the holidays beckoning, here are three past articles that offer some positive ideas and messages:

1. What if we applied the Golden Rule at work? (October 2010) — Did you know this “rule” has its roots in many faith traditions?

2. Can communal responses to tough times lead us to better lives? (October 2010) — Hopeful, humane, and creative thinking for difficult times.

3. Seth Godin: Seven keys to personal reinvention (September 2010) — Better than a New Year’s resolution.

[Editor’s Note: In addition to maintaining a list of articles that have remained very popular on this blog — see the Popular and Notable Posts page — every month or so I’m recycling relevant posts from more than a year ago. Hopefully they will be of interest to newer readers.]

Steve Jobs: Brilliant, visionary, and (like most of us) imperfect

Apple store, Boston's Back Bay (by David Yamada)

Public reaction to the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer has become a phenomenon in itself. News media have devoted tons of space and time to stories praising his inventive, visionary work. Facebook was inundated immediately with expressions of sadness from Apple fans. Grateful customers have left flowers and notes outside of Apple stores, as this photo I took on Sunday attests.

When was the last time we saw such an outpouring of affection and mourning surrounding the death of a company executive and entrepreneur?

Remarkable personal legacy

I’m writing this article on my MacBook. Earlier this year, I bought an iPad. Though I don’t use it often, I’ve got an iPod too. And were it not for my loathing of cell phones, I probably would’ve replaced my ancient flip phone (with antenna!) with an iPhone as well.

So yes, I understand how Steve Jobs changed the way millions of people work and play, especially when our lives cross with digital technology. He believed in making products that were, in his words, “insanely great,” and quite often, he succeeded.

Many associate Jobs with his more recent innovations, but if you want to learn more about the early days of the digital world he helped to create, check out Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984) and Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything (2000 ed.).

But he could be a bully

Nevertheless, those interested in effective management should not overlook that Jobs was an extremely demanding boss who could become a bullying one. As David Streitfeld observed last week in the New York Times (link here), he “chewed out subordinates and partners who failed to deliver, trashed competitors who did not measure up and told know-it-all pundits to take a hike.”

In 2009, Forbes magazine named Jobs to its “Bullying Bosses Hall of Fame” (link here), noting that he “is known for his obsessive attention to detail and iron-fisted management style. He is often accused of making his subordinates cry and firing employees arbitrarily.”

Jobs was a genius, intolerant of what he perceived to be marginal work. Forbes pointed out that some of his subordinates produced the best work of their careers, but surely others withered under the blistering criticism.

Life lessons

Steve Jobs envisioned and created digital machines that have changed the everyday lives of millions. However, we can praise his body of work without ignoring that — like most of us — he had some things he should work on. After all, the lives of remarkable people yield more useful lessons when we regard them as gifted and imperfect human beings, rather than as icons.

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Related post

What will be your body of work?

Do credibility and innovation mix?

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Cover of “Poke the Box”

Is it possible to have both credibility with the Establishment and freedom to innovate?

Seth Godin captures it beautifully in this snippet from his latest book, Poke the Box (2011), in which he encourages people to create and market new, valuable goods and services. Here he summarizes the “paradox of success”:

People with no credibility or resources rarely get the leverage they need to bring their ideas to the world.

People with credibility and resources are so busy trying to hold onto them that they fail to bring their provocative ideas to the world.

Bingo. In two sentences he explains why new, fresh, promising ideas face such a challenge in getting their due, and why people and organizations who have “made it” sometimes become timid and cautious.

Risking credibility

There are exceptions to this dynamic, and not surprisingly they come from very successful enterprises that are in a position to risk some street cred.

Remember when Apple introduced its iPad? Many reviewers and computer industry gurus scoffed at this odd cross between a netbook computer and a smart phone, wondering if Apple had invested a ton of money and marketing into a clunker of a product that would soon disappear.

I felt the same way. I thought the iPad was a silly indulgence that had very little practical use. However, every time I stepped into an Apple store, I’d find myself playing with the iPads. And once the iPad 2 was announced, I knew I was a goner. (I now use mine regularly.)

Apple invented a market, created the conditions for that product to thrive (almost singlehandedly introducing the term “apps” into our lexicon), and now dominates that market — while its competitors serve up bad imitations.

Responsible risk taking

Okay, so Apple wasn’t exactly the corporate equivalent of Braveheart when it rolled out the iPad. Had it failed, customers would still be gobbling up Macs and iPhones. But it did demonstrate a willingness to be laughed at by those in the know…while saving the last laughs for itself.

Organizations and individuals who have established their credibility may have to make a judgment call on the worthiness of advancing a cutting edge idea or product, especially one that could undermine hard-earned credibility if it fails. But those who who play it safe often lose their edge and become pretty ordinary.

Starting out from scratch

That still leaves the question of folks at the starting gate. What if you’re a newcomer, an unknown, a novice, but you have a great idea that represents out-of-the-box thinking?

You’ll need perseverance and resourcefulness, plus a dose of good luck and the right timing.

However, because you’re not a known or prominent commodity, it’s possible that you’ll be greeted with dismissiveness rather than derision. There are advantages to being taken too lightly, not the least of which is the ability to move forward quietly, however haltingly, while the Establishment pretty much ignores you.

Once your idea or product gains some traction, people will take notice, and you may find yourself creating a new market or movement. This, of course, will grant you a big dose of credibility, in which case you’ll have to figure out what to do the next time you get a neat new idea.

Business Week, meet the Freelancers Union: How to help self-employed workers

Richard Greenwald of St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, in a column for Business Week (link here), examines some of the legal hurdles facing workers in America’s freelance sector:

Today, the fast-growing freelance workforce is shouldering costs and risks formerly borne by companies. The self-employed can’t get unemployment insurance or file for workman’s compensation, and they aren’t covered by most federal or state employee labor laws, leaving them little recourse beyond spending precious time and money in small claims court if they aren’t paid.

Worse, the self-employed are taxed as if they’re medium-size employers, but they can’t deduct health insurance premiums and other expenses that bigger companies can. . . .

Health-care coverage may be the biggest roadblock. For years most freelancers were locked out because they couldn’t afford the high premiums. Now, despite its promise, the health reform law isn’t improving access to care for all Americans.

In terms of legislative action, Greenwald suggests:

Congress should reenact the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. This piece of the stimulus, which expired at the end of last year, allowed freelancers to fully deduct their health premiums before assessing Social Security and Medicare tax. Then let’s amend federal labor law to cover the nonpayment of consultants so they have recourse through the Labor Dept. rather than suing in small claims court.

Freelancers Union

Many of these measures would please the Freelancers Union, an advocacy and support organization for America’s 42 million independent workers. In a blog post last year, I summarized the three-point policy agenda for freelancers by the group’s founder, Sara Horowitz:

Independent workers need (1) unemployment insurance to stabilize their income – and the U.S. economy – when they are involuntarily unemployed; (2) protection from late or denied payments, which 77% of freelancers have faced; and (3) access to affordable health insurance, which is prohibitively expensive to an individual on the open market.

Freelancers Union advocates in New York have been lobbying for the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, which would allow freelance workers to file claims with the state labor department for unpaid wages from deadbeat clients.

Shape of things to come

I think we may have some common ground here, built around an emerging consensus that supporting the freelance sector is a way of building tomorrow’s labor market. Hopefully advocates for legal reform will be successful in their call for changes to our labor protections and benefit provisions.

Possibilities

For those dealing with a layoff or recovering from a job where they were bullied or harassed, there may be an understandable tendency to dwell on the negative experiences of the recent past. But ultimately, if they want to turn things around, they’ll also want to envision the possibilities for something better.

This is much easier said than done. Nothing is more frustrating and even infuriating than to be told that it’s time to “get over it” or to “move on” from a horrible experience at work. Indeed, that experience may be with someone for a long time. Job loss, bullying, and harassment leave their marks.

And yet, the ability to look ahead is a key to finding that better place.

During the 2+ years I’ve written this blog, I have identified a number of books, websites, and resources that may be helpful to those who are forging solutions and options that will move them toward a better place.  I thought it might be useful to collect them, as well as a few others I haven’t mentioned, in one post. Here goes:

Inspiration, letting go, moving on

Career envisioning and job hunting

Richard Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute? is a classic career guidance and job hunting manual, updated yearly. Go here for Bolles’s website.

Career coaching

Personal career coaching may help you define a better path. For example, Career Planning and Management in Boston offers career counseling services for individuals (link here). Principal and co-founder Dan King (and member of the New Workplace Institute advisory committee) has posted a host of excellent advice columns on the website, including “Fight or Flight: When Your Job Becomes a Nightmare” and “What Do You Want To Be In Your Next Life?”

Quitting, defining your role, and connecting

Among Seth Godin’s many great little books, The Dip (2007) helps you decide when to quit or hang in there, Linchpin (2010) helps you to define an indispensable role for yourself, and Tribes (2008) teaches you how to lead and connect.  Godin’s website (with lots of free goodies) and blog can be accessed here.

Starting a business or non-profit

Starting your own business or non-profit organization is hard work, but it may be an attractive option for those who have a great idea and a desire to call their own shots.

SCORE offers free, confidential, small business mentoring and training. Go here for the SCORE website.

The federal Small Business Administration is another helpful resource. Go here for the SBA website.

Boston University offers a four-course online certificate program in entrepreneurship. Go here for the program description.

The NOLO Press offers some excellent guides on navigating the legal end of creating businesses and non-profits. Go here for their small business page and here for their non-profits page.

The Free Management Library has a helpful page on starting a non-profit, here.

Lifelong learning

Especially if you’re considering a career switch, obtaining additional education and training may be advantageous. My advice is to consider all the options, taking the one that gets you there effectively, in the least time, and spending the least amount of money.

In elevated order of time and expense:

Independent learning

Learning what you need on your own is the most cost-effective approach. Three books — Ronald Gross, Peak Learning (1999) and James Marcus Bach, Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar (2009), and Anya Kamenetz, DIY U (2010) — are helpful resources.

It’s possible to learn a lot on your own. For example, I recently blogged about Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business (2010) and his accompanying website.

Continuing education

Non-credit courses, taken at a local college, adult education center, or online, can give you introductions to new vocations and professions and teach you needed skills.

Certificate programs

A certificate program can be useful in terms of both education and credential value, while requiring less time and expense than a full-blown degree. Colleges and universities (in person and online) offer certificate programs, as well as some adult learning centers.

Degree programs

A degree program can provide immersive study and a valuable credential, but it also can be expensive and time-consuming. Investigate this possibility thoroughly. Many people can get where they want to go without obtaining a new degree. But if you want to enter certain professions, such as teaching, nursing, law, and others, a degree program is the standard door opener.

Non-traditional options

Temping as a bridge strategy

Too many companies treat temporary workers shabbily. However, temp work can be regarded as a bridge to something better. You’ll find helpful information about the overall temp job market (here), pros and cons of temping (here and here), and temping strategies (here).

Freelancing

For freelancers, temps, and other workers in non-traditional positions, the Freelancers Union may be an important source of information and support. Go here for its website.

Telecommuting

For some, telecommuting is an attractive and perhaps even necessary choice.  To learn more about telecommuting options, go here (basics) and here (future of telecommuting).

Good luck!

These resources just begin to scratch the surface of the good stuff that is out there for people. If you find yourself ready to consider your next steps, I hope that some of this will be helpful to you.

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