Lessons in Entrepreneurship, Pt.1This past week I had the pleasure of speaking to UNCG's Creativity, Design, and Entrepreneurship Class as part of the University's Entrepreneurship week. I've participated (as a speaker) in years past and have always enjoyed sharing some of my experiences and engaging the students in discussions about starting and running a business. In the few short years I have done this, I've seen quite a shift in the questions the students ask with regard to the role of technology and leadership. In preparing for this year's presentation, I realized that with all the technological, economic, and societal changes that impact running a successful business, the core lessons and challenges still remain the same. Not only that, but after seventeen years in business, I find that I continue to struggle with some of them, and I see many of our clients do too.

Why are some lessons so hard to learn and implement? What does it take to move beyond them? I thought it was worth asking myself—and you—as well as taking a closer look. Over the next 4 weeks, I'll focus on each of the lessons I shared with the students. I hope you will join me and share the benefit of your experiences.

To kick off the series, let's take a look at one that every business owner deals with:

#1 - Surround yourself with (the right) professionals to advise you.

I'm not just referencing vendors, although this rule certainly applies to them.  I'm talking about developing a network of peers—successful people who share your level of professional commitment and ethical outlook.  Specifically, people who are successful in their own companies and who stay abreast of the latest trends, technologies, research, and developments within their industries. These are not necessarily the people you see at every Business After Hours or networking event, nor the most popular. You may need to seek them out—be deliberate in your selection of friends and advisors.

The key to getting professional advice lies in selecting the RIGHT advisors. With the easy access and exposure that the Internet provides, anyone can market himself as an expert and develop digital indicators (ebooks, interviews, presentations, social media following, etc.) to help establish credibility. These things, however, are all self-developed. Instead, look for other indicators which are not so easy to amass. Below are some examples:

  • formal education (degrees, certificates) on the subject matter
  • leadership in industry organizations and associations (Have their peers elevated them to leadership roles within the industry?)
  • awards within the industry
  • years of experience within the industry
  • their own correct use of the services they provide (Do they practice what they preach? Are they successful?)
  • how do they grow and update their own knowledge bases? Do they attend conferences and continuing education programs?
  • reputation for expertise, backed by customers who attest to their successful delivery of results (Check online for testimonials, ratings, etc.)

While it may be obvious, it's worth stating that having the wrong influencers can be detrimental to your success. We tend to adopt the standards and practices of those around us. If you want to grow your company, affiliate yourself with those who are growing (or have already grown) theirs. When you associate yourself only with business owners at your current level of growth, you don't have perspectives or examples to follow that are greater than your own. When it comes to vendors, the wrong advisor can cost you more than the money you spend.

Most of us know that we can't do everything ourselves, and in spite of the overwhelming amount of information online which could theoretically teach us how to do anything we'd like, we don't have the time for it. There is no shame in admitting you don't know it all, and the most successful executives I have encountered are often quick to seek the advice of professionals and surround themselves with those who will help them grow.


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