Thursday, June 11, 2009

Entrepreneur's workshop

Pat Wiesner, the owner of Wiesner Publishing at the time I joined the company as editor of ColoradoBiz in 2000, held a nearly six-hour seminar on how to start a business on Thursday. I sat in not as an editor or reporter but as a student of a master entrepreneur.

It seemed like a lot less than six hours, yet I learned much I had not picked up peripherally during eleven years of covering small business for The Denver Post and ColoradoBiz. I learned at my own pace, encouraged, yet made aware of the hard edges business flashes at the people who try to accomplish the hard work of being their own boss.

I have been to several such seminars before. Mostly they have been discouraging. One, the most recent for me, practically talked me out of trying to go into business for myself in a quick 90 minutes. Others have tended to take an SBA-inspired technocrat approach that you could hear reflected back in some of the responses of participants in Wiesner's session.

But Pat admitted up front he had never done one before. He said we - 12 of 15 people who said they would come to the free event - were "part of an experiment."

He would weigh how we responded to what he's learned about starting businesses and starting magazines, and change any future seminars he did based on what worked for us and what didn't.

We could take his advice for whatever we thought it was worth; the results we made for ourselves from his shared thoughts would self-indicate to each of us whether our "passion" for creating a business was strong enough to secure its success.

Passion was one of the qualities Pat said was necessary to go into business for yourself. He said an entrepreneur had to be "hopelessly committed" to the idea of his or her business, and ready to "submerse" themselves in a current that would sweep them away to destinations in their lives they would never, ever be able to predict.

Then he taught us how to prepare a profit-and-loss statement, how to plan cash flow, why marketing information - Who are your customers? How do you reach them? - was important to selling your business concept to a "Mr. Big" and why it was important to seek the money it takes to give your business a fair start.

Two "Big Ideas" to absorb and enact while you also are sweating the small stuff:
  • "When your are out of cash, you are out of buisness."
  • "Cash is totally different from profit."

Wiesner said don't even pretend you are ready to ask an investor for money unless you have the answers in your head and sometimes on paper to all the questions you need to answer for yourself about how you plan to operate your business.

"How deep will the financial hole you are digging for yourself get before your business goes positive?" "Will the business make a profit?" "When?" "How do you plan to repay your investors?" "What will you give them in return for your use of their money?"

But having answered all the questions, Wiesner says, don't be afraid to ask for the money.

That's the kind of advice Wiesner offered in his first-ever seminar on how you can start a business. He's planning to have more. Read the magazine or its website to find out when your next opportunity will be to listen and learn.

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