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Getting Started in Entrepreneurship

You may be reading this wanting to be an entrepreneur.

Some of you might have already begun the journey and

are wondering where improvements can be made. There are many

things that make entrepreneurship appealing to the masses. These

include such ideas as holding your own destiny in your hands, creating

something that contributes to society, potentially having more

job security, being able to prove your worth to the world through

your customers instead of to a boss or even a human resources associate

if you are in the job seeking stage. On the other hand, there

are many things that people believe of entrepreneurs that just aren’t

true: that you can make your own hours, that it offers more flexibility

than working for someone else, and that it’s the easy way out

of having to find a job. Being an entrepreneur is a grueling profession

that offers long hours, being on call constantly, and very little

forgiveness when mistakes occur. You have to quickly become a

well-seasoned CEO, Senior HR Executive, and Top Sales Associate

in an extremely short time frame. But if you have the drive and the

spark to make it work, it is a great way to both earn a living and

grow professionally.


What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Many believe that it

takes a lot of up-front capital, a large network, and an established

skill set, but that would be wrong. While those are helpful, what it

takes predominately to be an entrepreneur is a thirst for knowledge,

an eye for opportunity, and the courage to fail and get knocked

down yet still get up and keep going.


Mousetrap 2.0


A better mousetrap is frequently used as an example for entrepreneurship because it is simple and fits the situation very well. Let’s look at using the business as a mousetrap in these first basic examples.


1) New Mousetrap in a New Market. Perhaps you decide to go

in a completely different direction and make an over-sized mousetrap

that not only traps mice but also traps opossums, rats, squirrels,

bugs, or perhaps a trapping service instead of a product. That’s all

new mousetrap in a new market thinking.


2) Upgraded Mousetrap in the Same Market. You could decide to build an

upgraded model of a mousetrap that targets cruelty free markets of people who

don’t want to harm mice in their removal or perhaps one that is

more intricate and exterminates the smarter than average mouse.

Again, there is always the service equivalent where you offer a trapping

service of an animal and take the same strategic path.


3) Same Mousetrap in the Same Market. Sounds like the hardest path to take,

but this is probably done more than the other two combined. If you

enter take this path you have to have something that differentiates

your product in other ways – it looks better, you have a better price,

you make it more accessible, or perhaps it’s your customer service

that you focus on with vendor and customer relations.


I believe the previous mousetrap models of creating a business are

the most common, but there are a few more to mention for the extra

creative people out there. Maybe you have an idea of what you want

to do but aren’t quite sure how to get over that hump that turns an

idea into a business. The following exercise is what helps me constantly

when I am needing a more systematic way to be creative.


The best way to think about markets and services is that – “There

is some product or service I want to offer to some population of

people” and the only factor that really comes into consideration is

the type of business. It is seriously that simple. That’s why there are

so many successful “serial entrepreneurs”. Because once you get this

type of thinking down you’ll be able to turn any idea into a business

in no time.


I want you to look back up at that list on the cover photo because yes, it is

seriously that easy to come up with a strategic concept on a business

idea. You really don’t need a whole book about dreaming to figure

out what you can do – you just need an industry.


The health and fitness strategy ideas above might be the result

of repetition of the exercise to think about some different markets

or different application ideas. We can also look at the automotive

industry for another example.


If you look at this model closely you can see ideas that are developing

in the market and have developed in the market already.

People sell their cars on websites like autotrader.com everyday

by purchasing an ad. They also go to places like CarMax and sell

their cars outright without having to purchase anything in return.


I have even seen people who specialize in finding certain cars for

people and doing the deal for them as well as off-road vehicle sale dealerships. From the above grid the only remaining options left undeveloped are companies that offer to sell your car for you for a commission or some sort of official car-swap website. Such options very well might exist already and I don’t even realize it. What other

options come to mind for you? What combinations suggest a possible improvement?


The bottom line when it comes to mousetraps and the idea of

starting your own business, is that there are multiple models. You

can build a new mousetrap in a new market –like Google, Apple,

and Facebook did; you can build an improved upon mousetrap in

an existing market – like Amazon, Whole Foods, and Netflix did;

or you can build an established mousetrap in an established market

and enter competitive markets like many small businesses – doctors’

offices, lawn care companies, and insurance agencies, to name

just a few.


Another common way that people build new mousetraps in

new markets is through knowledge or experience, where the product

is a service rather than a commodity (as in the above example of

selling a car for someone else online). These days, especially, many

opportunities come through specialized expertise in technology

and technology development through websites, applications, and

programs. It is possible to start a business around a specialized area

without the practical know-how to do it oneself; but that requires

either a partnership with someone who can do the bulk of the work

or starting capital to hire people with the expertise that is needed.


The most common way that people are inspired to build new

mousetraps is by working in an existing market and feeling that

there is an opportunity to improve on a function of that job. This

improvement may even turn into a business in itself. For example,

a purchasing manager for an electronics business might have a problem

with the cost of continually getting updates on production

statuses overseas. If they had the desire to do so, they might work

on a technology that automatically uploads the progression based

on container weights and will show the progress on a website. That

system could be sold independently of the electronics business to all

companies that have manufacturing process frustrations.


As someone who worked predominately in the medical field,

it was quite common to come upon opportunities of these second

type of mousetraps. Many doctors’ offices had problems with patients

forgetting about their appointments and they didn’t have time

to call every patient beforehand to confirm the appointment. Their

only other option at the time was to use software that required their

office staff to enter in the times of appointments for each patient and

an automated system would call the patients with a robotic reminder.

While this helped some of the no-show rates, it often occurred

to me that the best option would be a call center, with remote access

to their scheduling system, where staff would log in and make personal

calls to the patients and have the ability to reschedule them

to different times if the current appointment time was no longer

convenient.


Another mousetrap idea that came about while I was building

my first business revolved around the idea of networking. Networking

is one of the most time intensive aspects of building a business,

and it takes time to properly vet and screen business partners appropriately.

Instead of meeting with people one by one, it seemed

to me that someone should be able to form associations within different

markets that take all the screening upon themselves. So for a

medical based association, you would have members who represent

all the service providers a physician might need – a banker, lawyer,

accountant, printer, advertising agent, supplier, medical equipment

rep, a physician recruiter, etc. People develop these networks over

time, but by forming an association, a new business would be able

to jump start their work, and existing members would solidify their

referrals and standing within that industry.


Most new businesses, however, typically fit into the third mousetrap

category of an established business in an established market.

For many people who want to run a business and are willing to try

to outwork the competition, this can be a great option. All franchises

fall into this category as well as most professional careers such as

being a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or even most consultants. What

is very appealing to many people about this model, as well, is that it

gives people an opportunity to create more income for their households

while maintaining full time jobs. A janitor at a school that

drives an old pickup can easily start a lawn service with his lawn

mower, or start a handyman service with his tools, after his day job

ends and on weekends. Often these “side jobs” are great launching

pads for people who want to get out of dead-end jobs and enter

entrepreneurship once they can make enough money on their side

business to support themselves full time.


Do you have to be involved in the tech space to build a new

mousetrap in a new market? No, but you do need to know and read

about technologies in order to understand how they can potentially

be adapted by a marketplace. Just like you don’t have to work in

a certain business in order to build an improved mousetrap in an

existing market, you do need to talk to the people who perform

those jobs to understand their frustrations. This can be as simple

as joining community groups or simply speaking in more detail to

family and friends to develop your first idea. And do you need to

have capital or equipment in order to build a competing mousetrap

in an existing market? Again the answer is no. If your current

job is, for example, in sales, you could start a business giving sales

seminars to small business owners (and build your network at the

same time). Or if you want to do lawn care but you don’t own the

equipment, you might be able to find someone who will loan you

their lawnmower in exchange for an agreement to mow their lawn

with an additional promise of a rental fee that would be due at some

future date.


What this all circles back around to is the need to be a knowledge

seeker, to see an opportunity when it’s in front of you, and

to have the drive to make it work even if it means you might fail

the first time around. Take the time to learn from your friends,

family, and from as much literature as you can find. Eventually you

will have that “aha” moment where you begin to discover what the

market you would like to enter truly involves and just what kind of

mousetrap you need to develop: one that fits an existing market,

one that improves on an existing market, or one that creates a new

market from your product or service.


A business plan is a tool used by both existing and new businesses

to define their business and examine the market to decide

the best way to move forward with growth. Because business plans

can be time consuming, many businesses forgo their creation. This,

however, is a big mistake. By creating a business plan, especially for

a new business, you are basically trading time for a supercharger to

your business growth engine. Yes, you might not start as soon as

you’d like, but once you begin you will quickly find your competitors

in your rear view mirror because they won’t be as laser focused

in their efforts.


Professional business plans are robust documents that include

the following: an executive summary, situational analysis, known

risks, mission, vision, core values, market analysis, demographic report,

a SWOT analysis, a competitive analysis, a strategic overview,

the business objectives, a product and service strategy, a pricing


strategy, a promotional strategy, a channel strategy, an internal

marketing strategy, a marketing plan, a budget review, a financial

pro-forma, an exit plan, and a conclusion. Let’s look next at an example

of a scaled down version of a professional business plan for a fictitious

coffee shop that someone may want to open.

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