Category Archives: Finances

Finding the Next Great Business Idea, or at Least the One for Me

One of the issues I encounter most frequently when speaking with people about entrepreneurship typically goes like this: I know I want to have my own business but I do not know what I want to do. While large companies can devote extensive resources to researching potentially lucrative opportunities, we do not have such a luxury. As well, passion for what we are doing is important for success, so though a particular idea may have the potential for a big payoff, it may not be right for us. We need a simple, straightforward way to come up a viable business.

Here are three tasks to aid in coming up with a concept.

1. Do a Skills Assessment

Obviously we do best those things we are best at. The challenge is to make an objective evaluation of our skills, one that is thorough and legitimate. Here is a simple method: Across the top of a sheet of paper write down your skills. If you are not sure how to describe them go to Linkedin’s Skills & Expertise page. You can find good terms for describing your skills as well as get ideas for others that might not have occurred to you.

Next, under each skill list the schooling, jobs, and other pursuits in which you have been involved that demonstrates your proficiency it. If you want to get a little fancier, list the number of years of each so when you are done you can determine how long you have had the skill. Examine the skills in which you have had the longest and most varied experiences. Do you enjoy doing these things? If so, they will form a strong base for your entrepreneurial endeavors. If not, you may need to get training and experience in other skills before you start you own business. For example, one of my skills is education, teaching & training. I have held nine jobs and volunteer positions in which I used this skill, totaling 33 years of experience. And I enjoy teaching so this skill became one of the backbones of my company.

Once you have a solid skills assessment, use it to conceptualize services or products that might make a successful business. At this point do not be concerned with whether such a business will work. The purpose is to get your mind working on options.

2. Solve What Is not Working in Your Life

Have you ever been doing something and thought there must be a better way? Did you come up with an idea for a new product or service that might make life easier? And then did you discard it as being impractical or something someone else would do? Next time write it down. I always carry a small, bound notebook with me (leather covers, about $6 at WalMart) in which I write down such ideas. If you have a smartphone or tablet, try Evernotes, a nice program for keeping otherwise random notes organized.

Again the idea is to stimulate your thinking. We will deal with feasibility separately.

3. Read a Publication on a Subject that Does Not Interest You

Love motorcycles but have never even seen knitting needles? Pick up a copy of Knit Simple magazine then read it. Make a list of concepts unfamiliar to the things you like to do. But once it not enough. Next month if your only experience with restaurants is eating at them get a copy of Restaurant Business. There is at least one trade publication for every industry. Jot down interesting aspects of how this new business works. Then, sit back and think about how you could apply them to your skills. Connecting skills with new concepts may trigger ideas for businesses.

One of the things I have noticed by acquainting myself with other businesses is there are commonalities that cross industries. For example, the specialized language of real estate and the movie business are similar. When I got involved with the entertainment industry I found my experience in property brokerage and management gave me a boost.

Once you get started with this process you may come up with lots of ideas right away. But do not get discouraged if it takes you some time. Keep notes in an ordered way. You never know when a previous thought will be the seed from which a great business idea germinates.

Living a Dog’s Life – Time to Rethink This Old Saw?

Recently having lost my dog, memories of him have been much on my mind of late. So perhaps it was kismet that last week I came across an article about dogs in the work place. For the last three years I ran my company my Jack Russell Terrier Jiggers was my constant companion.

My Dog Jiggers

I joke with my wife that I spent more time with him than her, but in fact it was true. I worked from home and he slept in the chair in my office, walked with me to my mailbox several blocks away, and accompanied me on my weekly visits to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf where I graded papers. I will never forget the afternoon when a mom with two small children walked by us and confused Jiggers with Milo, the dog in The Mask. They were so excited to see the “movie star dog.”

VCU Study: Office Dogs Reduce Work-Related Stress

Little did I know that according to a study by Virginia Commonwealth University, people who bring their dogs to work accumulate less stress during the day. As well, 50% of those who brought their dogs to the office reported their productivity increased. For the business owner, employees who were allowed to bring their dogs to work felt they received greater support from their employers.

Since the results of this study resonated with my own experience, I thought it was worth looking into this issue further.It turns out that although humans and dogs have been bonding for over 12 millennia (several years ago in Israel a 12,000-year-old human skeleton was found buried with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup), little research has been done on human-animal relations. This despite the fact that about two-thirds of U.S. households have at least one pet and the pet population has grown from 40 million dogs and cats in 1967 to 160 million in 2006.

It turns out that although humans and dogs have been bonding for over 12 millennia (several years ago in Israel a 12,000-year-old human skeleton was found buried with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup), little research has been done on human-animal relations. This despite the fact that about two-thirds of U.S. households have at least one pet and the pet population has grown from 40 million dogs and cats in 1967 to 160 million in 2006.

In 2008 the National Institutes of Health held several meetings of experts in human-animal interaction. One study indicated that pet owners had better cardiovascular health, even improving longevity after a severe heart attack. Another looking at married couples seemed to indicate pets improved marriages. It found spouses with pets had lower blood pressure and heart rates, responded more mildly, and recovered from stress more quickly. Getting more exercise appears to be another benefit of pet ownership.

Children seem to benefit from pets too, giving them an outlet for releasing anxiety as well as helping them develop empathy.

Jiggers the Mental Health Worker

Many years ago when my father was in a nursing home, I asked the staff if I could bring my dog the next time I visited, knowing it would cheer up my father to see and pet him. To my surprise, they agreed.From the moment we walked in the door Jiggers spent every ounce of his being greeting each person as if he were finally being reunited with his dearest, long-lost friend. And they loved it. That first visit after spending time with my father he met dozens of people. The change in their bearing was remarkable. Whether in wheelchairs or walkers, standing up or lying down they went from being downcast to

From the moment we walked in the door Jiggers spent every ounce of his being greeting each person as if he were finally being reunited with his dearest, long-lost friend. And they loved it. That first visit, after spending time with my father, he met dozens of people. The change in their bearing was remarkable. Whether in wheelchairs or walkers, standing up or lying down they went from being downcast to elated.

Jiggers furiously wagged his stubby tail, positioned himself so they could pet him, and made them feel important. He became the talk of the home and his visits were eagerly anticipated. During all of the months of visiting his enthusiasm never flagged. To Jiggers, there were no strangers or insignificant people.

While there is too little research to draw firm conclusions, studies indicate that my experience was not a fluke. It appears that animal-assisted therapy reduces pain in patients with life-threatening illnesses and relieves distress among cancer patients. The full NIH article makes interesting reading.

Why Dogs on a Business Blog?

We probably never give a thought to the fact that farmers and ranchers have brought their dogs to work for centuries so we can learn something from agri-business. Bringing our pets to work may give us an edge through a less stressful, more productive workplace. Perhaps we can attract and retain better employees. And maybe we will improve our overall quality of life. And the best part – as the business owner we get to decide the pet policy.

Entrepreneurship: A Lifestyle Decision

Starting and running a business: Is it the right decision for you? Many entrepreneurs are initially motivated by money, yet frequently they come to find their incomes do not increase. Still they remain business owners. Their decision can best be described as one of lifestyle, that is the benefits of being business owners allow them to live their lives on their terms.

Noteworthy advantages of entrepreneurship that I have enjoyed or learned about from others are:

Greater control of the work-reward equation

As a business owner how hard and smart you work will directly impact your income. If you toil longer hours and are more innovative, inevitably your business will thrive. And you get to decide whether to increase your salary.

You have an idea you are sure will work

Do you have concept for a business you know will be successful? Entrepreneurship will give you the opportunity to test your idea in the real world. If you have read the marketplace correctly, you will be a success. But here is where flexibility is the key. You may need to develop your concept to triumph. Still beware. Your idea may flop. Can you take the hit to your ego, pick yourself up, and have faith in your next great idea?

Greater flexibility in your schedule

Is family your first priority? Do you have a hobby that is extremely important to you? Being a business owner will allow you to set your priorities. Of course sometimes there will be conflicts. But you will get to manage them.

A less bureaucratic workplace

Small businesses cannot afford red tape. They have to make up in agility what they lack in marketing might and substantial financial resources. If you find bureaucracy stifling, as an entrepreneur you can almost always cut to the chase.

Greater choice of co-workers, location, etc.

Tired of being a geo-bachelor? Like to have a ten-foot commute to your home office rather than spend and hour or more a day on the freeway? Prefer colleagues who want to work rather than play politics? As a business owner you will make the decisions about where you will be located, the character of the people with whom you work, and everything else. While compliance with the law and regulations is still mandatory, you will have greater flexibility than at a large company or than with the government.

There are several common misconceptions about the rewards of being in one’s own business. While these may happen, you are unlikely to benefit from them, especially in the short term.

More free time

You will work long hours, particularly during the start-up phase. Remember, the buck will stop with you.

Greater income

If you put in the same time and effort at a large company you will probably make more money there. But you will also miss out on all of the advantages discussed above.

Less stress

Life is stressful, but being a business owner can be especially so. Particularly if you have difficulty making decisions and letting go, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

More prestige

While you can give yourself a fancy title, unless you are successful there is little status in being a business owner. The flip side is if you prosper, your stature in the community and business world may advance on its own.

Less administrative duties

Every business requires administration. There is no escaping it. And as an entrepreneur it will be your responsibility to see it gets done. See “More Free Time” above. Of course as your business flourishes this may be something you can hand off to an employee.

The benefits and drawbacks to entrepreneurship need to be carefully assessed before taking the plunge. I recommend you talk to your spouse if you are married and at least two other people who know you well and will give you candid input. In the final analysis, if you think starting and running a business fits your lifestyle you will never regret the decision to joins the ranks of entrepreneurs.

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