Picking a Small Business Niche That Will Grow in 2013

Some business owners just started their enterprises since the 21st century “great recession.” Others have been in business considerably longer. Whether new or “seasoned,” most want to know what trends their businesses face. Knowing growth rates of a market sector can be very helpful–if for no other reason than benchmarking one’s own performance against the average of one’s peers. A company that compiles a lot of research data on small businesses in my own back yard of Raleigh, North Carolina is Sageworks. In an interview with Catherine Clifford of Entrepreneur.com, Libby Bierman of Sageworks said that a recent study by her company showed the average growth rate of small businesses across all industries was 8% in 2012.

While growth is a very good sign, there are winners and losers in every statistical average. Certain sectors, however, performed poorer than others. According to the research, the slowest growth industries for U.S. small businesses in 2012 were:

  1. Skilled nursing care facilities: -3.29 percent
  2. Printing and related support activities: 1.86 percent
  3. Automotive repair and maintenance: 2.81 percent
  4. Offices of physicians: 3.00 percent
  5. Highway, street, and bridge construction: 4.24 percent
  6. Insurance agencies, brokerages, and other insurance-related activities: 4.32 percent
  7. Lessors of real estate: 5.07 percent
  8. Other miscellaneous manufacturing including jewelry and silverware, sporting and athletic goods, dolls, toys, and games, office supplies other than paper, and signs: 5.55 percent
  9. Offices of health practitioners other than physicians and dentists, including chiropractors, optometrists, mental health practitioners, speech and occupational therapists: 5.98 percent
  10. Other amusement and recreation services including bowling centers, golf courses, and recreational centers: 6.03 percent

As I reviewed the list above earlier today, it occurs that personal services, low technology manufacturing and discretionary spending-based businesses have been it hard. Why would this be the case? In terms of  the personal services businesses, many of them are healthcare related. The Affordable Care Act may have a lot to do with this poorer performing sector, as many have shunned making decisions to invest capital in an arena that is in extreme flux. Many before me have written about the loss of manufacturing jobs to overseas competitors. In the United States, we have become less competitive in manufacturing that is not highly customized or based on a technology. Whether infrastructure projects or amusement, spending is down on items that don’t seem necessary. Take note if you have a business in any of the above sectors. While you may be able to outperform your sector, you may consider how your sector as a whole is not growing as quickly as others. How should you respond? This question should drive your strategic planning.

Professional officeHowever, the list of fastest growing sectors (below) identified by this research highlights some additional trends and opportunities. Many who have the flexibility to diversify or move their efforts to one of these sectors should seriously consider doing so.

Fastest-Growth Industries for U.S. Small Businesses in 2012

  1. Residential building construction: 14.77 percent

  2. Building custom software and servers for businesses: 14.29 percent

  3. Machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant wholesalers: 13.75 percent

  4. Management, scientific, and technical consulting services: 12.31 percent

  5. Architectural, engineering, and related services: 11.40 percent

  6. Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors: 11.37 percent

  7. Building finishing contractors who make additions, alterations, maintenance and repairs: 11.32 percent

  8. General freight trucking: 10.41 percent

  9. Services to buildings and dwellings, including pest exterminators, janitorial services, and landscaping: 10.11 percent

  10. Other specialty trade contractors, including site preparation activities and other specialized trades: 10.04 percent

Most of these businesses, as Bierman mentions in her interview, require very little capital to get going. They do not require the purchase of expensive assets and can be successful based on the strength of human capital. As a result, business services firms are performing strongly and should continue to do well.

 

 

 

 

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Midlife Entrepreneurs Better Prepared Than Younger

One of the most gratifying things I get to do is work with entrepreneurs and business owners to optimize their businesses. In the area where I live, most of the media attention is focused on technology startups usually run by people in their 20s. What I find interesting about the new businesses in our area is that the founders who are willing to rent an office and hire a consultant or take some classes tend to be mid-life entrepreneurs. These older entrepreneurs actually are more prevalent than the younger ones. Dane Spangler, a researcher at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation wrote in a 2009 report, “in every single year from 1996 to 2007, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34.” Also, according to the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report — a survey of a representative sample of the U.S. adult-age population — 15.4 percent of Americans aged 55-64 and 12.8 percent of Americans aged 45-54 run their own business, compared with 0.8 percent of Americans aged 18-24 and 4.9 percent of Americans aged 25-34.midlife entrepreneur

Bureau of Labor Statistics data on both incorporated and unincorporated self-employment show an even more extreme pattern. The rate of self-employment is higher among people in their 60s than even those in their 50s, let alone those in their 20s or 30s. In fact, the bureau’s surveys of American workers reveal that people aged 65 to 69 are self-employed heads of corporations at four times the rate of people aged 25 to 34. 

The Small Business Administration reports in its recently released publication Small Business Economy that, from 2000 to 2011, self-employment among people under 25 dropped 9 percent. Among those aged 25 to 34, it fell 8 percent, and for those between 35 and 44, it declined 24 percent. By contrast, self-employment among those aged 55 to 64 rose 54 percent, while it increased 36 percent among those over 65.

Scott Shane (A. Malachi Mixon III professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University) shares an interesting observation that, even in high technology, entrepreneurs are much more likely to be over 50 than under 25. Research by Vivek Wadhwa, Richard Freeman and Ben Rissing shows that these older entrepreneurs, while they fly under the media radar, are very prolific and on the rise.

Shane asks (as you might), “Why are baby boomers more likely than their kids to be entrepreneurs?” He goes on to answer his own question:

Researchers have two hypotheses, the second more plausible than the first. The first explanation is a cohort effect: Today’s young people don’t want to run their own businesses as much as their parents did were when they were young. The more plausible explanation is an age effect.

The reason Shane provides for the cohort effect being a weaker argument is a body of research conducted at UCLA within the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). CIRP points to a trend over the past quarter century whereby college freshmen are less likely to want to be a “business executive,” “accountant,” or “actuary.” Instead, a higher percentage want to own a business now than previously.

So, while more freshmen want to be business owners, fewer people in their early twenties are actually starting businesses. This is where the age affect provides an explanation. Those who prefer this argument would say that the experience gained and savings accumulated over a period of fifteen years or more give one more confidence to start a business later in life. While there are certainly more responsibilities for the stereotypical midlife entrepreneur on the home front, this age group appears to have figured out how to address those responsibilities and still be willing to start businesses at a higher rate than the younger counterparts.

What’s holding you back? Start a business as a second career!

 

Entrepreneurial Field of Dreams

Many communities across the United States are scrambling to come up with an agenda for entrepreneurship. With significant success stories in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, others have jumped onto a bandwagon. Each community pursuing the elusive prize is making wagers with a combination of public and private dollars to try and effect economic growth through encouraging start-ups. While the models being used are very different, the common denominator is that each effort, like a start-up itself, must determine where to focus to obtain the best trade-off of investment versus anticipated benefits.

Go For It  Start a BusinessInstead of one of the “hotbeds” of entrepreneurship, I like to look at what is working in the hinterlands. Columbia, Missouri certainly seems to fit that categorization at first blush. Mike Brooks leads REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in an effort to “promote positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating.”

His group sees the following as Benefits for Local Communities committed to the process:

  • Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
  • Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
  • Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.

In order for these benefits to accrue to the community, an entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be built. In Raleigh, the Innovate Raleigh initiative is the rallying cry for such dedicated efforts, though many others are tackling the challenge in differing ways. The important thing is to, as Brooks recommends,

Support Entrepreneurs

  • Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
  • Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.

Other best practices for supporting entrepreneurs have less to do with cool co-working spaces and meetups and more to do with helping someone who’s never run a business sort through what they will face. A proven entrepreneurship curriculum, complemented by personal mentoring of the founders by experienced start-up veterans, is so needful and should be a part of every community’s offering to all entrepreneurs they hope to serve.

Harness or Release the Intrapreneur Troublemaker?

Recently, the World Economic Forum convened in Davos for its annual meeting. What, one may ask, does such a high brow event have to do with intrapreneurship and innovation in business? Actually, one of the panel discussions at the Forum was on social intrapreneurship. The definition that was being used seemed to focus on the social implications of the issue as it relates to those change makers who offer creative solutions and drive growth. Gib Bulloch, the Executive Director for the Accenture Development Partnership, writing for the Huffington Post last week, noted that there exists no job title for the social intrapreneur. Admittedly, he argued, no one leaves college or university to become one and the  role lacks a clearly defined job description. Companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate, Bulloch said, have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.

Bulloch recalls Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile banking business as a prime example of the benefit of empowering intrapreneurs:

The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.

Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.Intrapreneurman

For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:

• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.

• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker’s innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker’s enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.

• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing “bottom up” channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.

• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run

How do you see these guidelines at play inside your own organization? Is top leadership committed to openly supporting new ideas? Are those who see the world differently perceived as liabilities or assets? What are you doing to keep these change agents engaged and motivated? Does your group operate on emotional or sound business foundations? Harness the power of the intrapreneur!

 

What Raleigh Can Learn From Chengdu

Many groups of people have been trying to spur innovation in Raleigh, North Carolina. One in particular, Innovate Raleigh, has sought to unite the educational community with economic development and entrepreneurship. Conferences, forums, and meetups all have been convened to help identify what needs to be done to create an ecosystem that is comparable to other areas of extreme innovation across the United States. What about overseas? What can be learned from places like Chengdu?Innovation ball

Chengdu, with a population of 14 million, is the capital of Sichuan province. It is the city where paper money — a colossal innovation — first appeared in 1024. The printing of the Buddhist canons “Four Books” and “Five Classics” made Chengdu the early center in the art of printing.Rowan Gibson, the co-founder of Innovation Excellence, describes Chengdu’s spirit this way: “Innovative thinking is part of its history, and it is shaping its future.”

John and Doris Naisbitt, who are well known for global trends and futuristic studies, have recently written a new book, Innovation in China: The Chengdu Triangle.  They make the following observations:

Innovation in Chengdu is growing out of a strategically planned nourishing business environment and an entrepreneur-friendly administration in a stable social climate. Following the principles of a well-run company, Chengdu’s leadership combines management and business acumen with social consciousness and, to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in a Western local government, a service-oriented administration. A good example of innovative service are the quarterly meetings the  mayor holds, and in which every problem, request or complaints must be solved or dealt with within three days. The first meeting was held in March 2003 and meetings have been held without interruption since that time.

The first pillar of Chengdu’s reform is its wider focus which is not exclusive on industrial development, but on a whole range of investment attractions. 

The second pillar of Chengdu’s innovation model is to seek to enhance the allocation and efficiency of “intangible assets.” 

The third pillar of the Chengdu model is bilateral exchange.  

Chengdu is dedicated to beat its innovation drums faster, louder and more insistently on all fronts. But Chengdu is only one of China’s many ambitious and competitive cities. High Tech Parks are growing like mushrooms after a warm summer rain and lure with high wages and $150,000 moving grant for top executives. Top-talents find support in Incubation Centers. Mentors, seed capital, offices and technological equipment are part of the package. China’s “Thousand Talents Program” aims to bring back 2,000 talented Chinese paying salaries between 60,000 and 360,000 Euro. Up to the year 2020 China is dedicating 15 percent of its GDP to human resources.

As we look at ways to broaden the Raleigh economy to capitalize on the success of the Research Triangle Park, the major research institutions, and a highly educated workforce, the Chengdu model is enlightening. We have witnessed the high tech park approach as a key economic driver in our history, and are hopeful that the next evolution of RTP will benefit Raleigh as strongly as the first few decades. The emphasis on Incubation Centers is important. Raleigh needs many such centers of innovation. Thankfully, organizations like the HUB and EntreDot are addressing this need. EntreDot is, in fact, expanding beyond its Kindred Boutique for artisan entrepreneurs and opening a new innovation center in Lafayette Village tomorrow (January 17, 2013).

Innovation centers that offer programs that do not include a strong mentoring component do not prepare entrepreneurs and existing businesses to optimize their talents. Seed capital is needed, as are offices and access to the right equipment. However, the entrepreneurial education and mentoring are key. Finding a way to attract talent back to the area is another idea whose time has come. Even in biotechnology and emerging, fast-growth sectors, study after study has stated the need for more top talent to run world class organizations. Let’s apply some of the principles of Chengdu to our own market and spur even greater innovation!