Linked In To Leverage

bigstock-black-african-american-ethnici-83481563No matter who you are or what your experience, starting a business is a nerve-wracking process.  The true beginning of a new entity – a start-up – is the germ of an idea that keeps you up at night (like right now!); distracts you at work; monopolizes conversations with friends and family; gives energy, inspiration and hope.  It builds from an idea to a research project; it is only natural, and absolutely necessary, to immerse oneself in the topic – reading everything, talking to other professionals.  A budding entrepreneur has to seek a place in the market that is meant for him or her to fill.

That is me.

There are three main hurdles that the average person will typically face when starting a business.  Some people may not be hindered by all three but at least one will be an issue to some degree.

  1. Technical knowledge

One of the most common pieces of advice that entrepreneurs are given is to gain two years of work experience in their intended industry before going into business for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  “Experience is a good teacher.”  But I would argue that having a “job” in the field doesn’t in and of itself mean that a person has gained the skills, knowledge base or fortitude needed to start and run their own business.  What if a person has no desire to be an employee and wants to go directly into entrepreneurship?  There is another way, and that is by leveraging the experience of others.

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2.  Support

Entrepreneurs are also often advised to build a team, or “board of advisors,” no matter how much experience.  The ability to connect with the right people who have the skills, knowledge, experience and willingness to help achieve the person’s vision is fundamental.  I learned this back in 2005 when I entered the annual business plan competition at the Brooklyn Library for the same business I am building now.  Many years later (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog) I attended graduate school to gain the “book knowledge” on the industry that I was lacking.

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Me at a training.

I have a very curious, expressive, detail-oriented, and – I’d like believe – humble character.   So seeking the counsel of many others is my thing.  Over the years I have gone out of my way to be around people in my industry.  If I wasn’t seeking advice I was taking it.  I leave no stone unturned (I don’t think…)  I’ve traveled hundreds of miles to expensive conferences, attended local events, taken trains two or more states away many times for parties, seminars and speeches hosted by industry groups and organizations.  A couple of years ago I had two advisors through the SCORE program with the Small Business Administration (that’s a whole other blog post.)  In October 2017 I am going to a conference in Barbados.

 

The goal had always been to make connections that will become fruitful when the right opportunity presented itself.  But now my goal is very specific: to build my team.  I’ve been having some success lately via LinkedIn.  Recently I met someone who seems to have all four of the traits I’m looking for in an advisor/partner: a) have the experience I am in need of for what I want to accomplish; b) have the desire to be a mentor, providing consistent, long-term guidance; c) take me seriously; and d) isn’t needlessly condescending, presumptuous or biased.  I find that the key is finding people who are hungry for change.  People who are looking for an opportunity for freedom to control their destiny in a way that capitalizes on their interests and expertise.  Everything seems to go back to my network marketing training!  Retired professionals are a great resource.  I spoke with one gentleman I met through a family connection, but he failed the test when he stated, “You don’t know what you want,”  as though enquiring about his background and his perspective on market opportunities means that I’m clueless, aimlessly fishing for something to grab on to.  Through LinkedIn I’ve been able to identify and contact experts in industry and academia that I probably would have had no knowledge of otherwise.  It’s amazing how many highly desirable people I’ve been able to introduce myself to and how fast conversations have developed, just from this one platform.  It’s really powerful and I highly recommend it.

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5 Clever Ways to Raise Money For Your Startup Without Making an Investor Pitch

    3.  MONEY!

Donald Trump has praised the power of debt.  He was able to build a real estate empire by leveraging Other Peoples’ Money to a high degree.  The power of OPM has become very real for me in my real estate investing business.  Real estate investors depend on private and hard money lenders for property purchase and rehabilitation.  It is how someone with little money of their own can begin a lucrative career in the field.  But it is a skill to be cultivated.

6 Tips for Borrowing Startup Funds from Friends or Family

That isn’t what I was taught.  As far as I knew, if you wanted to start a business you needed to save your own money and possibly take out a bank loan.  It seemed like venture capitalists and private investors were for the very sophisticated.  You had to be “linked in” to a different world, or something.  I had no idea that I could have access to this kind of capital and how to go about it.

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Raising capital for a business doesn’t have to be torturous.  It requires self-confidence, a plan with a great elevator pitch, a clear and specific ask, persistence and creativity.  Below are some ideas.

  • Self-confidence: The best place to start your search for investors is your immediate community: parents, family, friends, colleagues, alumni network – the people you know and the people they know.  This takes courage because we all know that the people closest to us are often the ones to doubt us the most.  It takes courage to face rejection, doubt and possibly thinly-veiled ridicule from the people who have the power to hurt us the most.  But still, it’s better to fail than to never try.
  • Plan:  The best way to win people over is to have a clear plan.  Clear doesn’t mean having all the details. It’s clarity of vision and idea of how you intend to bring it to reality.  Be honest about what you’re not sure about but give ideas about how you plan to go about figuring it out.  The point of the plan is not to have all the answers but to provide a framework for your actions and goals.  Be able to articulate your idea and not allow questions or negative responses to be discouraging.
  • Specify the ask: In articulating a clear plan with confidence, you have to be specific about what you are asking for.  So if your desire is to raise $20,000 speak it into existence! Don’t be vague. “My team is seeking to raise $20,000 for operating costs for the next six months…” – whatever it is. “This is our first (second…third…) round of funding to support our expansion into…”  Offer incentives for different levels of investment.
  • Persistence: I expect to have many conversations, even speaking to the same people several times.  And remember a ‘no’ can some day become a ‘yes.’  Consider no’s temporary.  Keep your prospect list updated on the progress of your campaign whether they have contributed or not.
  • Creativity: A battle is fought over several fronts.  There’s fighting on the ground, there’s intelligence, there’s diplomacy…  In your funding campaign you will also need to utilize many skills, devices and people, as well as altering the message depending on the audience.  Think outside the box.  You make the rules. It’s your show.  Just always respect peoples’ time, be honest, be gracious and communicate well.

 Raising money is another reason it is important to have a team.  You have the   opportunity to reach more people.  If and when you do solicit an investor or venture capitalist, having a team with extensive recent knowledge and experience will bump up your credi(t)bility.  *Credit being the operative word!

Today I am entering the fourth iteration of business goals, bringing with me all the lessons of past efforts.  I’ve learned from my mistakes and feel much better equipped in confidence, skills, knowledge and creativity than I was before.  Getting my business from idea to income-generating entity has been challenging, but I believe that God’s timing is perfect.  I’ve just been preparing for my season.

 

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Sign Seeing

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Over the past couple of weeks three themes have kept popping up everywhere I look!  I’ve had lots of time to sit and reflect on where I am in my life, how I got here and what I need to do to move forward .  The universe seems to be in agreement with me as the same ideas have popped out at me in scripture, social media posts and even Sunday service.  On social media I have commented that the collective unconscious is working overtime right now.  I’m not the only one to notice.  Having a break from “busy”ness has allowed my mind to rest and me to get more centered and focused.    Below are the three ideas that have resonating around me.  The first two I touched on in last week’s blog post.

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  1. Missed Opportunities.  There’s nothing worse than a missed opportunity.  Hindsight is 20/20 As I look back (which I do very carefully!) I can see many of the opportunities I missed either by not grabbing them when I had the chance or not putting myself in the position to create them.  I acknowledge the self-doubt this was rooted in.  Looking back is only useful if you gain lesson to apply to future decisions.  It is an opportunity to fine-tune one’s intuition, ability to reason, and make better life choices.  journeytolaunch_1561592622500438037
  2. Preparation.  Last week I wrote that in business an elevator pitch is valuable tool that will allow the business person to be prepared for a chance encounter with someone who could in some way be instrumental in achieving their business goals.  The meme above was posted on Instagram by a financial coach; it was a post about being prepared financially for life’s emergencies.  This of course ties in to missing opportunities.  Some opportunities come with a cost.  I saw in my past opportunities I missed out on because I was not ready financially – and I could have been.
  3. FOMO.  When I read about the concept of FOMO, a light bulb went off.  When I read it a few days later in the intro to the verses assigned for one day’s bible study, it was like my mind was blown after being struck by lightening!  It perfectly pinpoints something I have sensed about myself while taking an honest look at the past three years.  FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out.  Patrick McGinnis, who coined the term, describes FOMO in the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, Episode 21.

“an inward struggle and it impedes you from disrupting yourself because I think you lack focus. There is a positive side to FOMO in that it can tell you what your hidden dreams and desires are. If you feel FOMO when you see somebody start playing the piano maybe you should go out and take piano lessons….But I find that it is a great way to distract yourself from doing the hard things in your life you need to do. Rather than sitting down…and dealing with that big challenge that you need to deal with, you spend a bunch of time running around doing other things to stay busy.”  

I’ve been reading the book The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Mansen and Les Hewitt.  In one of the first chapters they write about not being distracted by the next shiny new thing.  But the question is ‘why’ do we do that?  The answer is FOMO.  FOMO will eat up lots of opportunity, ironically, because when you’re chasing all you will catch none.  It is futile.

So once the signs are acknowledged the next step is to apply what they teach.  These signs have reiterated a nagging feeling that I need to be doing less, not more.  Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.  I’ve been noticing that the more busy I have become the less satisfied I have been feeling with the results of my efforts.  So now, mid-2017, is a good time to assess my priorities, strategies and activities, make sure they are in line with my goals.

Have you noticed any signs instructive this summer?

How To Graduate with Less or No Debt

Keys_29082It’s quite the conundrum. We are told that a college education is the key to achieving our full potential and the American dream.  The story tells us it is the way out of poverty.  Access to higher education was a major priority for the last White House administration and affordability was central to that message.  President Obama even introduced the America’s College Promise Act 2015 to make the two years of community college free.

Over the past decade or so the number of Americans earning college degrees has skyrocketed.  And so has the tuition, and the debt that follows.  For many, what was supposed to be a roadmap to the American Dream turned out to be a money pit into a uniquely American nightmare.  Graduates now face enormously burdensome debt that many will never be able to pay off in their lifetime.  We’ve all heard reports about the student loan default crisis, where the struggle to keep up with unaffordable loan payments becomes so discouraging that people stop paying altogether.

Women are particularly vulnerable.  I recently read that women own two-thirds of student loan debt.  Yet a female graduate will earn only 79 cents for every dollar that a male graduate will, on average, in a similar position.  Hmm…wouldn’t it be nice if that was reflected in the tuition we pay?!  Blacks and Latinas tend to take on more debt, and the fact that they tend to make even less than their White counterparts makes it especially harder for them to repay.

But alas, there’s hope!  There are several ways to graduate with less or no debt.  At the root of decreasing the need to take on debt to advance one’s education are planning, time and diligence.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Take your required courses at a community college.  It is not necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars on coursework that isn’t directly relevant to your major; better yet, if you don’t even know what you want to study or career path you want to take right now, community college is a great place to sort that out.  Aside from the money, it can help you to grow in maturity and be more focused at a four-year college. Advantages:
    1. Cheaper
    2. Potentially pay tuition as you go
    3. The 4-year college transcript is what will be seen on your resume and what you will talk about at parties!  If you started at Community but ended up at Harvard no one really has to know.stundet-loan4
  2. Prepare!  There are literally thousands of grants and scholarships.  Take the time to do the research necessary to meet all of the deadlines and gather all of the information required to complete each application.
    1. Attend events at schools and community organizations of all sorts; read books and articles on free money for college. Get to know people who do this every day and keep in touch.
    2. It would be wise to start researching 18 months out from when you will begin school.  This way you can target your time and energy towards the most lucrative scholarships and grants that you qualify for and are interested in.
    3. Give yourself and your recommenders enough time to craft thoughtful, well-written essays and recommendations.
  3. Consider the potential salary expectations for your desired career.  Will your potential future income allow you to afford your student loan debt along with your realistic cost of living?  Your grades, location, network and caliber of your school are all factors in the salary level that may be available to you.
    1. This is the business of your life.  Do a cost/benefit analysis on your educational goals.  Does the pay scale for the career you intend to go into justify the cost of the degree required for the field?  For example, if you want to be a social worker, would it be worth it to go $60,000 into debt, considering what your salary is likely to be over the long run?
    2. Following the example in number 1, there are student loan forgiveness programs for certain careers.
      1. Usually when you go into one of these careers and apply for loan forgiveness there are requirements such as length of time to work in the field.
      2. Careers in public service (ex., The Peace Corps), medicine, the law and military service are all examples.
      3. For more information go here, here, here and here.splash
    3. An often overlooked yet critical advantage of going to college is the alumni network.
      1. I wrote in a previous blog, No Man Is An Island.  No one gets to where they want to be in life solely on their own effort.  Everyone needs a team to achieve their goals and dreams.
      2. As I asserted in my post about opportunity, connections are key.  That is the value of going to a top-tier school.  College isn’t just about academics; it’s the people with whom you will build lifetime personal relationships and professional connections. Further, the higher up on that U.S. News & World Report list, the higher your earning potential will be as soon as your graduate.
      3. Going to a top school matters most in the beginning of your career.  Afterward your professional record is what will really matter.  Of course top school alums will always have bragging rights, whatever it’s worth. 🙂
    4. Get a job at a company that offers tuition reimbursement.  Consider that there is more than one way to obtain an “education.”  Working in your field of interest while saving and investing as much as you can, kills two birds with one stone.  Being reimbursed for the tuition you pay is icing on the cake!
      1.  I benefited enormously by this incentive when I worked at Ernst & Young.  I was able to grow my professional competence through continuing education classes.  But they would also have paid for graduate school.
      2. Usually companies will require that you study courses either related to your specific position or the company’s industry. Length of time employed is another typical requirement. Either way if it’s your field of choice, it’s a win.
      3. The bigger the company the more likely that this opportunity will be available and the more generous.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started.  There are other personal finance possibilities that I will cover in another blog.  Have you been working on getting the money together to pay for college?  What has or has not worked for you so far?  Do you have any ideas you could add to this list?  Comment below!

 

Read more on the advantages of community college here.

Tennessee Makes Community College Free For All Adults

Detroit Is Making First Two Years of College Free

Two Tuition-Free Years in Rhode Island

Should Students Get Grades ’13 and 14′ Free of Charge?

Paying off debt with 401K

8 Reasons To Never Borrow From Your 401K

First 2 Years of College Free