Works by Michele Kriegman
Bibliography Page | Business Profiles & Trends | Culture Essays & Interviews | Writing from Japanese Sources | Simplified Technical English

Entrepreneurial Skills 101

A Guide To Education & Training 

Michele Kriegman
Sources:
 1994, 'Entrepreneurial Skills 101: A Guide to Education & Training', Income Opportunities, 9: 64-68.
 

So you want to go into business for yourself? Not so fast. First get the knowledge and experience you will need to succeed. Here’s where to get the business skills and job training necessary to survive as an entrepreneur.

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 entrepreneurial skills.

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, and apprenticeships.

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 need.

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 director.

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 field.

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 field.”

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 minorities.

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 provide advice.

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 trainees.

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 someone else.

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.

 

A CHECKLIST OF SKILLS:

 

Before you start contacting places to pick up the entrepreneurial skills you need to start your own business, you want to be clear on exactly which skills you will need. The following checklist provides some of the essentials suggested by experts in the field.

1.        Ability to plan. This means not only designing the kind of business you want, “but also knowing all the steps – red tape and all – on how to get in, “ says Leo J.  Rogers, director of the George Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University, which holds family business forums throughout the year. He also recommends learning the next two skills.

2.        Ability to assess the market. That means taking an objective look at your product or service, and judging if there is a need for it. Who is the competition? How should you price your product or service? How do you promote or market it?

3.        Ability to assess your financial resources. This includes knowing where to get financing and whether you want to get it from a bank, a partner, capital markets or other sources.

4.        Customer relations. According to Louis Cress, the president of Berkeley Colleges, “[customer relations] is absolutely essential in today’s tight market where people want quality and smart service.” He also advises acquiring the following skills.

5.        Accounting. It is essential to know accounting skills such as bookkeeping, math, cash-flow analysis, keeping a payroll and using spreadsheets. Even if you hire a bookkeeper to do the actual work, you will need these skills to really understand what is going on in your business.

6.        Microcomputing. The following are just three common uses for your business computer: keeping a spread sheet, creating business tables and graphs, and writing business correspondence.

7.        Taxes. Be familiar with how taxes will affect your business, but don’t let this knowledge prevent you from hiring an accountant, says Cress. “Do not do your own taxes because things can change daily in the tax field,” he says.

8.        Personal characteristics. Finally, there are the general entrepreneurial traits that cannot be taught, but are necessary for the mental preparation in starting a business, says Cress. They include:
 

·         any eye for opportunity;

·         an appetite for hard work;

·         discipline;

·         independence;

·         self-confidence;

·         adaptability;

·         good judgement;

·         ability to tolerate stress;

·         need to achieve;

·         a focus on profits;

·         self-awareness of your own weaknesses.

 

Bibliography || Business Profiles & Trends || Culture Essays & Interviews || Writing from Japanese Sources ||  Simplified Technical English

Michele Kriegman TEL 973.292.9578