The New York state lottery has a catchy ad
campaign where they show people living out their fantasies after
winning the lottery. “All you need,” the ads promise, “is a dollar
and a dream.”
But back to reality for a minute. If your dream is to
be your own boss and start your own business, you are going to need a lot
more than a dollar and a dream. You are even going to need more than a
talent or a trade. To make a go of it, you will need good, solid
Fortunately, as small businesses become the fastest
growing segment of the American economy, there are an increasing number of
places responding to the demand, ready to train would-be entrepreneurs.
There are basically six ways to go about getting
skills training. They include adult-education programs, home-study
courses, conferences and seminars, government-sponsored programs that help
small businesses, training courses taught by dealerships or franchises,
Adult education programs. For those aspiring
entrepreneurs who cannot sacrifice their days to go back to college or
school full-time, both evening and weekend classes on running and managing
a business are offered through adult-education programs.
County colleges, the night program of your local high
school, and public vocational-technical schools offer classes students can
audit or sign up for without enrolling as a full-time student.
Also, some former secretarial schools and private
junior colleges are retooling to meet the current demand for business
training. The Berkeley Colleges at five locations in New York and New
Jersey, for instance, offer both technical training with courses in
microcomputer accounting and basic business math, as well as managerial
practice with classes like “Customer Relations” or “Supervisory Skills.”
Home-study courses. If your schedule is tight,
an alternative to adult-education classes are home-study courses, which
cover many of the same types of subjects. The advantages of home study,
according to Michael Nebasny, the president of Professional Career
Development, a home-study program in Norcross, Ga., is that they “avoid
problems with transportation, especially in rural areas, and let you work
when you want, at your own pace. Some programs give you up to two years to
finish a course.” Home-study programs also usually have no entrance exams
and no college or high-school prerequisite. Be sure to carefully examine
what the course covers to determine if it will provide you with the course
actually covers to determine if it will provide you with the level of
skills or knowledge you want to learn.
The thing to keep in mind with home study, according
to Phyllis Mangle, the marketing services copywriter for National Radio
Institute, a home-study division of Washington-based McGraw Hill
Continuing Education, is that you “must have self-discipline. And someone
with a Ph.D or a professional in the field may find this too basic.”
Using home study – now beginning to be referred to as
“distance education” – there are two ways to get the business savvy you
An increasing number of home-study schools are
offering classes tailored to entrepreneurs. For example, Lifetime Career
Schools in Archibald, Pa., not only offers classes in specific skills like
computers, accounting and letter writing, it also offers a class in “Small
Business Management,” according to Elena Cerra, the school’s marketing
NRI, on the other hand, works a business-skills
component into each of its home-based business classes, like desk-top
publishing or word processing. “Each course includes several lessons on
setting up a home-based business – like how to set up a database of
clients, how to network and market yourself, information on purchasing
services and supplies. There’s even a lesson on costing, budgeting and
cash-flow planning,” says Mangle.
Also, according to Nebasny, all state universities
have some form of home-study program.
Conferences and seminars. For the really
impatient person, a quick fix of skills can be obtained through
conferences and seminars.
The advantages are that they are quick, and for
someone new, it can be a good way to do preliminary research to determine
if the field you have chosen is right for you. They are also a prime
opportunity to start networking with other people in the field, and if you
are lucky, to get some good off-the-record advice from a veteran in the
The disadvantages to seminars and conferences is that
they are often just too short to give you all the basics about starting a
business, says Leo J. Rogers, a director of the George Rothman Institute
of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New
Jersey. “They’re often just meant to update people on one aspect of their
To find out about conferences and seminars specific
to your interests, there are several places to start. Local community
colleges, continuing-education programs or adult courses at your local
high school are all good sources.
Government programs. The best way to track down the
government-sponsored programs that best fit your needs is to call your
local senator or representative in Congress. It will help sidestep some of
the state and federal bureaucracy within and between government
departments. Ask about special programs specifically targeting women and
There are two programs, both funded by the U.S. Small
Business Administration, that are likely to be recommended. One is called
SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. This program is usually
held once or twice a week at the local Chamber of Commerce or community
college. A retired business executive will meet with you one-on-one to
A second, more comprehensive project is the Small
Business Development Center (it may go by a different name in your state,
so ask your Congressional representative.) Development centers are usually
based at colleges around the state and draw upon the expertise of faculty,
staff and MBA students. They can help with start-up strategies, computer
training and cash-flow management.
Dealership and franchise-sponsored training programs.
There are literally thousands of these programs. Unless you know exactly
which one you want, it is best to contact the International Franchising
Association (IFA) in Washington, D.C., at 800-543-1038 or 202-628-8000.
The IFA publishes Franchise Opportunities, a
book describing 5,000 different franchises (see Editor’s Bookshelf on page
112). It includes a range of information, from initial investment costs to
the kind of previous experience a franchisee may need.
The requirements vary widely. An operator on the 800
number of Burger King franchises said they are looking for someone with
enough retail experience and a net worth of someone with enough retail
experience and a net worth of $1 million to start up several restaurants
at once. In contrast, McDonald’s runs a Hamburger University in Chicago
that can spend up to a year training a new franchise.
In other areas, franchise companies take over some
(but only some) of the entrepreneurial work you would have to learn if
starting a small business from scratch. For example, most franchise chains
handle marketing and national advertising for their members, and have
their own list of suppliers and distributors. They have also worked out in
advance the amount of money needed to start the franchise and then support
it in the beginning. This would save you from having to do those initial
calculations completely on your own.
Apprenticeships. In each state, the Department
of Labor has a Bureau of Apprenticeships and Training (BAT) that works
with each industry and the Department of Education to come up with
guidelines for certification in each trade.
Altogether, it lists 820 occupations. Usually, 2,000
hours of on-the-job training and 144 classrooms hours are required. The
bureau also mandates you be employed in that industry, although unions do
advertise at unemployment offices for people they later train.
There are two ways to become an apprentice. One
option is to work with an independent contractor journeyman for hands-on
experience while taking courses at night. Usually, these are offered
through county colleges or vocational-technical schools.
The other route is to apply to the local union in
that field. The electrician’s union, for one, advertises in newspapers and
unemployment offices. A given local can get several hundred applicants to
whom they give an exam. The top 100 of the test-takers are interviewed
and, of them, union officials may take in 10 people to train that year.
Requirements are that applicants be at least 18 years old, pass a drug
test, have a high-school diploma and have completed one year of algebra.
The apprenticeship in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
is five years (although most apprenticeships only last four years). The
locals have their own study materials and instructors just for union
Although these programs are formally considered
apprenticeships, anyone who wants to obtain entrepreneurial skills or get
particular job training should “apprentice” for a while, working for
The field of restaurant ownership provides the best
example of why informal apprenticing is important. AS it happens, the most
popular small business among first-time entrepreneurs has traditionally
been restaurants. But restaurants are also the business with the highest
failure rate. Too many people go into it because they love to cook and
entertain, not realizing all the business skills that are necessary to
keep it running.
The best way to get an idea of what specific skills
are necessary in your particular occupation is to work for someone in that
occupation first. Not only is it better to make your learning mistakes on
someone else’s time and payroll, it will give you invaluable personal
experience and know-how, which will ultimately take you much further
toward fulfilling your fantasies than a dollar and a dream.