Overcoming Business Failures With Mentoring

 

According to Bill Warner, co-founder of EntreDot, approximately 26,000 new companies are formed each year in North Carolina and, in that same year, over 23,000 companies fail due to poor management and operational mistakes. Warner further states that, “The statistics are worse in rural and minority populations. This means that good ideas go to waste along with the grant and investor funds that helped get these companies started. As a result, the potential growth of revenue and new jobs is lost also.” These comments are very similar sentiments to what Dun and Bradstreet found in some surveys conducted during the period of 2007 – 2010. D&B found that the rate of business failure went up by an average of 40% during the recession years.

D&B SMB Lowest Failure Rate by State 2010

 

Many of the states with lower failure rate increases are less heavily populated states. In fact, of all the states that have seen a decline in the rate of small to medium sized business failure, only North Carolina makes the list of 10 most populous states in the country. Of states (below) with large increases in failure rates, only California is heavily populated.  

D&B SMB Failure Rate by State 2010

 

 

 

From 2007 through 2010, Western states in the West had the highest increase in failure rates. Reasons D&B provided for the uptick in failures include continued instability in the residential housing market and drop-off in the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors. Interestingly, Tennessee has been home to the highest small business failure rates for four years in a row.  

D&B Largest SMB Industries 2010

 

These trends have been occurring at a time when the number of retail establishments and corresponding retail employment have both dropped by 15-20%. On the other hand, the number of SMBs in the Business Services category more than doubled and these businesses experienced a 30% increase in the number of people they employ. The fastest growing industries for SMBs are summarized below:

D&B Fastest Growing Industries 2010

 

As you can plainly see, nothing else comes close to the growth of  the Business Services category. Bear in mind that many software as a service companies are part of this category and have been launched in only recent years. The macrotrends that become evident are that retail is on the wane, highly populated states are more stable in terms of business failure statistics, and the business services category’s growth will be a key cog in the engine of our economy.

Warner points to the following issues of significance to these small businesses:

  • Business strategy and planning to make sure their business is focused on a viable market with a winning product and/or service that has a competitive edge
  • Forecasting and financing ensuring that sales forecasts are realistic and that revenue, cost, expense and cash are well managed
  • Operational discipline and judgment to increase the chances of success by making fewer mistakes
  • Industry connections that can help accelerate the business and its operations
  • Start-up company experience that can instill the wisdom of what it takes to really start and manage an emerging business

 

He feels that these companies need the dual combination of basic business know-how and mentoring. The situation in North Carolina, where Warner and I live, is that our state has a comprehensive array of entrepreneurship education programs throughout the community college and university systems including various other private and public organizations. The problem is that we have little help for entrepreneurs once they have completed these programs and actually try to start a business. We recommend assistance for entrepreneurs who are struggling to create successful businesses, the failures should decline considerably. Entrepreneurs should be seeking out business mentors that can help them through the early years of their business.

 

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!

 

‘Treps Funded Through Future Earnings

Previously, I blogged about Ami Kassar’s views on the state of small-business lending. Kassar, the founder of Multifunding, feels that we need to find a way to “break through the gridlock in order to open up access to reasonably priced capital for small-business owners and entrepreneurs.” He is a big advocate for alternative lending approaches.

multifundingIn a newer post from last week, Multifunding’s founder goes so far as to recommend the creation of new financial products with entrepreneur and small business needs front of mind. Here’s his concept: change the rules so that “loans” would have a component that allows lender to be repaid through the entrepreneur’s future earnings. Then, he takes it a step further to recommend that the earnings pay back continue regardless of where the entrepreneur goes in terms of employment, running a company, or starting another one. In his own blog, Kassar elaborates that the payments would need to continue until the obligation to the lender was satisfied in full. Quotes from the NY Times blog post last week appear below:

While I am sure that many will consider this idea controversial, it’s also fairly simple. If you are an entrepreneur looking for a loan, and you have enough confidence in your business or idea, you should be willing to pledge to pay a percentage of your future earnings — regardless of whether your current idea succeeds — until you have fulfilled your obligation. This way, the lender is betting not just on a particular company or idea but on a person, one who is willing to put his or her neck on the line.

Perhaps this financing could be offered by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-regulated banks that could leverage their low cost of capital to help small businesses. Of course, this would require federal bank regulators to think outside of the box, but a form of this type of financing exists. It’s called revenue-based financing, and it involves a lender’s making a loan to a company in exchange for a future piece of the company’s revenue. In this case, the financing is tied to the success of a specific company, and not to the future of the entrepreneur. And it comes with expensive rates.

The market clearly needs new forms of collateral in order to keep rates reasonable and in check. In today’s environment, many small-business owners are forced to use their homes as collateral — but with so many homes underwater, many entrepreneurs do not even have that option. The upshot is that this “collateral crisis” either stymies innovation or forces the entrepreneur to obtain capital from an alternative source at very high interest rates.

In the new model I am proposing, because the lender is assured of a piece of the entrepreneur’s future earnings regardless of whether the current business succeeds, the lender should be willing to be more flexible with terms and rates. And finally, the mechanisms to enforce these loans do exist. If we can track down deadbeat fathers for a piece of their future earnings, we should be able to do so with entrepreneurs.

Like the blog author, I wonder if entrepreneurs would be interested in such a loan. To offer up future earnings as a form of collateral seems drastic–unless you really believe that you have some great ideas in you. The upside, as Kassar presents his case, is an interest rate that is lower, though the term would likely be longer. Lenders, on the other hand, seem to be better protected against entrepreneurs who jump ship, but may have to wait longer for repayment. What are your thoughts about the approach?

 

Alternative Lending Helps Small Businesses

Small businesses rely on capital to fuel business growth. Some are able to generate working capital from operations. Others, however, are forced to consider taking on debt or new stockholders because they can’t. Since most entrepreneurs would prefer to avoid giving up voting rights and/or access to profits, debt is the preferred path among those whose businesses don’t self-fund. With the recession of the past few years, however, small business lending became  much harder to secure. Ami Kassar, who founded Multifunding, published a blogpost yesterday in the New York Times, discussing the current status of small business lending in the United States.

small business lendingKassar studied numerous reports from organizations like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). He noted that SBA loan data, even when combined with bank lending data, fails to tell the whole story since there are so many alternative lenders who don’t aggregate and report their business activities. Kassar related his own experience as a loan broker to fill in some of the knowledge gaps resulting from the (un)reported numbers. Below are excerpts from his comments:

If you’re trying to start a business today, you can almost forget about going to a bank for financing. This situation hasn’t changed much in the past year, and we don’t see it changing any time soon — with a few exceptions. If you are opening a franchise outlet that is on the approved S.B.A. list or if you have solid personal collateral outside of your new business, you’ve got a shot.

In 2012, frustrations about the difficulties involved in financing start-ups resulted in a lot of political capital being focused on one possible solution, crowdfunding. Unfortunately, crowdfunding hasn’t taken off yet, and I don’t think it will in 2013. It will take time to iron out the kinks and figure out how to make it work — how to strike the right balance between helping companies and protecting investors.

On a happier note, things have definitely gotten better for companies that are clearly creditworthy. In 2012, if you owned an existing business and you had collateral, cash flow and good credit scores, it was a good time to borrow money at low rates. And I think that will continue for some time. Banks are now hunting eagerly for these borrowers.

The problem is that there are not nearly enough of them. And that’s why a group of alternative lenders — including factors and merchant-cash advance lenders — are lined up and ready to supply money to most of the rest of us. The challenge is that these borrowers face high rates that make it tough to grow and expand as much as they would like.

The alternative financing industry is growing rapidly and, I believe, will continue to grow in 2013. These lenders are extremely entrepreneurial and are leaving the banks behind with their speed and use of technology. Many are backed by premier investment banks and Silicon Valley venture capital powerhouses — investors who understand that entrepreneurs and small-business owners are throwing up their hands in frustration over how long it can take to get a loan from a bank, especially if the loan is backed by the S.B.A. More and more businesses are willing to pay the price of the alternative lenders just to be able to get their capital and move on.

There are some indications that the price of alternative lending may be coming down a bit as the industry gets more competitive. I expect this to continue in 2013. That said, there is still a wide discrepancy in pricing between bank loans and alternative loans.

Educate yourself on alternative lending in your area. I attend meetings of the local chapter of the Commercial Finance Association and have met some folks who are staunch supporters of small businesses through their practices rather than the mere words that we often hear from politicians or some of the large banks who really have a poor track record with small business. It very well may be that your capital needs could best be served by this emerging category of providers!

 

Becoming an Overnight Artisan Success in Only 5 Years

When someone is touted as a wunderkind in any line of work, many line up to try and figure out how success was achieved. So many become disheartened when their passion or education does not produce immediate results. While most recognize that success does not come over night, it is not at all uncommon for an artist or artisan to go from unknown to well known in a short amount of time. Achieving recognition, however, is a cumulative process. How does one go about doing so on a shortened time horizon?

Fundamentally, an entrepreneur in this space must be willing to undergo wholesale change. It’s not enough to become masterful at creating great designs; without the corresponding strategies to maximize business operations and processes, success will be hard to come by. Too few artisan entrepreneurs take the time and make the effort to understand that sweet convergence of operational, artistic, and marketing opportunities. Those who do create value that is appreciated by the target market.

If you seek to identify and serve target buyers with relevant offerings, create cross promotions with other artisans and handmade entrepreneurs, and craft an airtight plan to execute your strategies, you will be far ahead of the average artisan. Hopefully, your artisan start-up will resonate with the target market, sales revenues will provide the opportunity to grow your team, and you can become strategic about roles and responsibilities. In addition to your design, production, and sales efforts, you will need to task team members with the following responsibilities:

  • strategy
  • vision
  • marketing
  • advertising
  • social media
  • partnerships
  • scheduling
  • logistics

artisan potterObviously, one person cannot handle all of these important roles for very long. That’s precisely why a focus on sales, production, and design early will help create the capital structure to build a team.

If the skill sets listed above are foreign to you as an artisan, you are not alone. Those with degrees in the fine arts, and related disciplines have been prepared to pursue a skill, but not necessarily a business. More importantly, planning, confidence, and diligence go a long ways towards helping you execute on your idea. Since many artisans are not prepared through educational instruction to be proficient in such things as negotiation and team work, they have to learn these things from a mentor. Please find a suitable mentor with a background different form your own who understand business principles well enough to guide you into disciplines that are needful but likely unfamiliar!

Basic business principles in marketing, communications, customer service, selling, and relationship management are undervalued in the art and design community. Disciplining yourself to learn and apply nest practices in each of these principles will yield wonderful results. Very, very few artisan entrepreneurs are able to transition from hobby to avocation to employing others. For you to be more successful, you must work on the business side of your brain, engaging more left brain convergent thinking.

Friends who have been successful in the arts community have told me that, not unlike big businesses, change is hard for an artist. The willingness to tinker with what you make, how you describe it, who you make it for, how you determine who will buy it, how you promote your wares, how you replicate success, and how to transition from sole proprietor to small business are all based on being able to hold your talent with an open palm. Objectively stepping back from your creations to seriously consider who may appreciate them will, by nature, cause you to think differently about what you are making, how you are making, and what it will take to sell enough to pay not just yourself but others.

Best wishes on your journey!