Howdy! A Portland, OR native, I currently reside in the northern San Diego County area as a freelance writer. When I'm not sipping coffee, soaking up some rays and writing or playing guitar you can find me at the hot yoga studio.
I've been going to a lot of workshops lately. I know, some people would argue that I already know how to be a successful entrepreneur, and maybe I do, but I wanted to see for myself what it would take to be successful in this business.
My favorite one was an entrepreneur's workshop conducted at the Big Idea Entrepreneurship Conference, which was held a few weeks ago at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Attendees of the conference were given a briefcase and some homework: Research articles, check websites, do Internet searches, ask for advice from trusted friends, and draft an elevator speech.
The students were to identify a problem, identify a solution and determine if they had the skills to make it happen.
"An elevator pitch is the one sentence that captures the essence of your business," the case presented said.
"You want to sell your business idea in just one sentence. This requires you to develop a pitch to match your business."
In other words, do you have a great idea, or do you need more skill to pitch your idea?
It was a fun, yet serious, assignment. Unfortunately, the odds of being able to achieve it are pretty low.
It found that more than 5,000 businesses have failed between 1999 and 2011.
The study did not offer a breakdown of each business but its main points were:
The most common cause of failure was not having a market.
The next most common cause was not having a market or not being able to demonstrate market viability. Most failed because of poor management.
What about entrepreneurship? Has it ever been studied? Not really.
We know that people who start businesses tend to be more motivated to succeed than those who don't.
But we don't know why, and we don't know if having more will increase success.
We do know that entrepreneurship often goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship.
Perhaps entrepreneurs' penchant for risk can be explained by the fact that we all start businesses. Of course, a person has to actually want to start a business in the first place.
If not, no amount of education or motivation will do. But even those with entrepreneurial impulses can be discouraged.
Have you ever felt like a failure because you haven't succeeded at starting a business yet?
Here's what Richard Wiseman, one of the study's authors, had to say about it.
"Many people want to be successful at something, but most never make it," Wiseman said. "If we can reduce their feelings of failure, they might then be more motivated to succeed."
Myself, I know of a number of people who have been looking to start a business, but they can't seem to figure out what it will take. (I'll keep the names private.)
They also don't know how they'll find a market, and they're not sure how to convince potential customers to pay for a product or service.
They also don't have enough skills to be a successful entrepreneur. But they're going to try.
That's what you're supposed to do. Many years ago, I read the story of a person named Daniel Sullivan.
When he was in sixth grade, Sullivan's teacher told him to read the book Don Quixote.
"She told me I would love it," Sullivan said.
He read the book and loved it, so much so that he made the decision to become an entrepreneur.
He convinced his mother to let him set up a lemonade stand in the neighborhood to earn extra money for college.
On one of those days, a customer told him he didn't think he was doing a good job because the lemonade was too tart.
"I told him that, if it was too tart for him, it must be too tart for everybody else, and they'd better get used to it," Sullivan said.
Two summers later, when Sullivan was a senior in high school, his uncle, who owned a manufacturing plant, hired him to come work for him.
The company was called Sullivan Industrial Sanitary Ware. It made industrial cleaning systems for sewage treatment plants.
When Sullivan showed up at the plant, he was given an assembly line to work. The key component of the system was a scrubber, a tool used to remove sludge and germs from the water.
The machine needed to be cleaned after each use. After he learned how to operate it, he also had to learn how to sell.
What surprised Sullivan most was the lack of demand. He had hoped that some of the many other companies in the area would want to buy his systems, but he could only sell one a day.
Sullivan would try to sell them to nearby sewage treatment plants, but they were always full.
A manufacturer in New Jersey would order some systems, but would only take a few at a time.
A Connecticut manufacturer would also order some, but they would only buy the machines for some projects. Then there was a company in New Jersey that would only buy the scrubbers.
But the purchase price was not high enough.
"I would have to cut my price by about 90 percent," he said. "I told them I didn't think I could cut it that much. They told me I had until the next morning to decide."
At midnight that night, Sullivan called the owner and told him the news.
"I told him I had decided to close the factory and go to work for him if he would take me," he said. "He didn't even blink."
Sullivan worked for the company for five years, then worked in a variety of jobs before he ended up in the state government.
When he retired, he had 27 years of work as an environmental compliance specialist.
"That was like hitting the lottery," he said. "I loved the work, and I got to travel all over the country."
On my last trip, I drove from Washington to New York and then to New Jersey and back before I could get back to my home in Connecticut. It was an amazing trip.
Sullivan worked for a company that put together the policies and regulations for the Environmental Protection Agency.
I asked him what he had to do to get the job.
"A series of interviews," he said. "I wasn't an employee. I was an employee-applicant."
I asked him what he learned from his experience.
"A lot," he said. "The most important thing is to be confident in what you believe in. If you're confident in what you do, other people will pick up on that and they will respect you."