I like this idea! Targeted mentoring and goal setting could do wonders for many of us! What about small group focus sessions led by an SuN mentor......maybe weekly or monthly meetings.......utilizing something like Microsoft Office Live Meeting? I think that would address the issue of confidentiality. There are also other products on the market that serve this function.
I`m known for blunt posts. Please keep in mind that the tone of this post isn`t meant to sound harsh.
The SUN forums are all about mentoring. There seem to be two types of members: a small number of experienced members with business degrees or a lot of business experience and a large number of inexperienced members. A lot of forum activity revolves around experienced members helping inexperienced members. The more experienced members contribute really valuable advice; advice for which their real-world clients pay thousands of dollars. A lot of the advice offered by inexperienced members is sort of ... how do I put this delicately ... bad. I routinely see "bad" advice in the forums but very rarely correct it because it`s arrogant to do so.
The strong D.I.Y. ethic found in many entrepreneurs leads many of them right into very deep water. This manifests in mangled web sites, poor execution, inability to form strategy, etc. The inexperienced members often don`t know when they`re in over their heads with strategy, marketing, design, etc.
I`m not painting myself as one of the experienced members, but there are only so many times I can write the same web site critique: "focus on what you offer, not what you do", "your front page has 500 words; that`s too many", "clean up this", "clean up that". Seriously, I find myself writing the same web site critique over and over and over and over. Similarly, I find myself writing the same posts about marketing, and occasionally, about pricing strategy.
Even if I tell someone how to fix their site, they won`t have learned much. No understanding of basic copywriting technique has been conveyed when I tell someone that 500-10,000 word count is not good landing page strategy. The web design crowd tries to educate inexperienced members about CSS and so forth, but again ... deaf ears mostly. As a member of the jargon police with respect to marketing communication, I find it quite interesting that a lot of the somewhat less experienced marketing people have web sites that fail to effectively market their own services. [Blind leading blind anyone?]
Perhaps the most useful form of mentoring would be a reading list. I think the minimum reading list for any entrepreneur is 50-100 books. I`ve never seen anyone here recommend Michael Porter. Or books on pricing strategy. Or marketing. In fact I haven`t run across many book recommendations at all. Knowledge is power. StartupNation almosts needs a "StartupNation MBA" section. Strategy, marketing, copywriting, sales, operations, accounting. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who lack even basic business training.
Some sort of "StartupNation Business Basics" initiative would be valuable.
Man Cookie Monster is harsh!!
OK...just kidding....frankly, I like strong opinions, even if I don`t agree with them. In this case, I have to say that I like the idea of providing mentoring a lot. I alsolike the idea of having a library of great entrepreneurial books available at SUN, and this is something we`re in the planning stages of offering. Knowledge is indeed power, and it can come in many forms. Books, mentoring, the SUN radio show, trial and error, etc. are all pathways to learning.
I`m curious to learn more about your thoughts on how we`d execute a SUN MBA section. Would it be strictly books (text and content) or would it include virtual classrooms, etc.?
Keep the smarts coming.....
I think a reading list would be a great start to the SUN MBA for Entrepreneurs. Rather than classes, there should be simple, practical exercises that deal with real fundamentals:
"Why is this tagline great?"
"Why is this tagline bad?"
"Why is this the right solution to an operations problem?"
"Why is this the wrong solution to an operations problem?"
"Why should the entrepreneur avoid this market or product line?"
"Why is cost plus pricing poor strategy?"
"Why should you avoid hypercompetitive markets?"
"What is buyer power?"
"What is supplier power?"
"What are barriers to entry?"
"What is sustainable competitive advantage?"
A hands on approach is important. Teaching cashflow is fairly easy: create an exercise that shows an entire year`s worth of monthly revenue and monthly expenses for a fictional business. Ask the entrepreneur to determine when cashflow problems will occur and the dollar amount needed in reserve for the business to avoid bankruptcy or severe cash crunches. That`s just addition and subtraction. Running out of cash is an obvious problem but the timing issues related to cashflow are far less obvious.
Entrepreneurs need to educate themselves, even if it means a lot less time spent on their business. Because a poorly informed entrepreneur works inefficiently and finds himself unable to understand how to address fundamentals at a low level. Entrepreneurs have to solve a lot of problems and lack of education makes it impossible to determine the actual problem, let alone solve it. In my posts, I perform a lot of "symptomatic triage". This means that I treat the symptoms of inexperience or lack of education but I don`t solve the real problem. Often the real problem is a saturated market. Or a business that tries to sell administrative assistant services and article writing services at the same time and then wonders why their customers are confused. Confused customers shop elsewhere.
For example, many web sites are so poorly written as to have almost no chance of serving as an effective sales/promotion channel. Any web site that has the wrong information is poorly written, regardless of the quality of the writing itself. This leaves an entrepreneur wondering "Why is my web site ineffective?". There are many reasons to explain the ineffectiveness of any web site. Example: Is the problem with the business model? Is there a problem with the copywriting? With pricing?
Another great is example is the entire subject of marketing. A significant percentage of entrepreneurs think marketing is advertising, when in fact advertising is only a small part of the promotion component of marketing. As you are aware, marketing is a multi-faceted discipline. There is a lot to know about marketing and most of it has nothing to do with advertising. I`ve sometimes said that good marketing is like a good date, full of interesting, relevant, two-way conversation. Bad marketing is like a date where one person does all the talking. Marketing is not an advertisement in the local circular. Marketing is not a press release. Coupons are not marketing.
The most important message of such an initiative would be "education, education, education". My experience with many of the less experienced SUN members is that many of them do not appear to realize the need for broad spectrum education. Or if they realize it, they don`t know what they need to learn. For example, my previous post touched on copywriting. Basic copywriting skills are essential for any entrepreneur, yet I believe many inexperienced SUN members don`t even realize that they *need* to read a few books or articles on copywriting. Being an entrepreneur requires a very wide range of skills, and I am beginning to think the best advice for many of the SUN members with basic questions is as follows: get a library card and go to the business section. Pick out a few books and read. Repeat.
I have to concur with CookieMonster.
I`ve noticed that a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs seem to want instant gratification. They prefer to skip over the education and preparation stages and just want to jump into the exciting parts with expectations that things should happen quickly and yield dramatic results. Then, when that doesn`t happen, they try using a patchwork approach or try to have the missing education spoon-fed to them, after the fact, by others who HAVE taken the time to read, learn, and explore on their own, which leads to people like CookieMonster being called on to provide symptomatic triage (that`s a clever phrase, CM, I like it).
I think that there are a lot of people who confuse mentoring and tutoring. Mentoring is no substitution for doing one`s own homework. The odd thing is that reading about business concepts and ideas you can use is, in itself, an exciting and inspiring activity, not an assignment of drudgery. I think that many people associate it with unpleasant experiences in school, and it causes a negative connotation. It`s unfortunate that reading`s avoided by so many people in favor of being entertained.
Ya know, it`s also possible to reap the knowledge of books by using books on tape (or CDs). It`s a great way to make productive use of travel time (rather than just listening to the same songs you`ve heard so many times that you`ve memorized the lyrics). You can even listen to the books at home while you`re doing laundry or other tasks that don`t require a lot of mental concentration. You don`t even have to buy a huge selection of media (or books). As CM pointed out, the library is a fabulous source (and free). OR... you can get business information from broadcasts and podcasts (there are lots of business-related programs available that share valuable knowledge, advice, and experience of others).
One of my favorite activities is to combine reading with a stationary bike or a treadmill. Exercise your mind and your body simultaneously, and get valuable benefits from both.
I like the idea of mentoring, but I think it`s best used with people who are willing to do the reading and other preparations that get the most leverage from the mentoring experience.