Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Young Entrepreneurs

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young entrepreneurs today as part of the E CITY program –

Connecting, Inspiring & Teaching Youth

I really wish I would have had access to a program like this when I was in high school. When I entered the classroom, the kids were playing with Legos (these are 9th and 10th graders). I asked them what they were doing, and they responded that they were building a product model, with each colored Lego (component) being worth a different price value. Clever, I thought. I never learned that lesson !

While I was putting together my little talk, I realized some things about myself and my business, and about being an entrepreneur in general.

Some things about me:

- I wanted to have my own business since the summer I turned 7 – it was to be a flower shop downtown. Perhaps I was watching too much Three’s Company at the time. (Janet worked in a flower shop) I just think I wanted to be the boss. No surprise, if you know my personality. I even started making a logo and marketing materials – even though I didn’t know what those terms meant. I never stopped to think that I was only GOING INTO SECOND GRADE and probably wouldn't be legally able to incorporate for another couple of years :) But I think it proves that I am a natural entrepreneur. And I want to be the boss.

- I went to college with a purpose, but had to adapt and change course – from the sciences to a liberal arts focus.

- I was never a fan of school. In my life, K through college existed merely as a springboard from which I could start doing my own thing.

- I also was terrible working in a corporate job – although I’m sure it was just the wrong one for me. I need creativity and autonomy. Working in the insurance field was like a prison sentence for a free spirit like me.

And here are a few concepts I was able to share with them as I started my business and watched it flourish:

- My specialty is marketing. I can outmarket anyone. Media placements are really important to any business since people tend to believe them more than an advertisement or a pay-for-placement article.

- Always be engaged in learning. It’s not enough to do what you do extremely well. Become a student of the game – read books on business, marketing, finance, positioning, etc.

- Surround yourself with people who best reflect your qualities and those who you admire. Stay away from people who are negative and untrustworthy. Maintain your integrity.

- Get involved in trade associations so you can watch your industry both locally and on a larger scale.

- Know people in the media – I happened upon a copy of the Plain Dealer when I walked in. Today is Style Section day (yay!) and I mentioned I know style editor Kim Crow, pictured prominently on the front page.

- Duplicate yourself. Teach someone what you know so they can work for you and take over one day down the road.

- Be a great networker. I mentioned that no one would ever know from my high school and college days that I would be the networking queen that I am now. Someone asked me how I did that (really good question). I said that my sense of purpose and belief in what I do is so great that it propels me to do things I wouldn’t normally do. In school, I had no purpose, other than to get out as soon as I could.

- Develop bartering relationships – exchange goods and services in mutually beneficial ways with other businesses.

- Be an opportunist – in a good way. Look for things you can contribute to. Don’t be afraid to exploit a niche no one else is working in, or figure out how to do what is already being done better or more efficiently.

- Be a leader! If you see something is needed and no one else is doing it, don't be afraid to do it yourself.

– Always give back - volunteer your time and energy to both charitable institutions and when you’re successful enough, help to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs.

- Write out your 6 month, 1 year, 2 year, and 5 year goals. (I told them mine, which are quite far-reaching. I think they were impressed)

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