These 5 Skills Are More Important for Entrepreneurs Than Any Fancy Degree

By Bill Green

One of the great fallacies about building a professional career is believing where you went to school dictates how successful you become.

This is one of the most heavily debated topics in the business world: the effective return on investment for attending college and/or pursue an MBA. Now, I’m not saying formal education is a poor investment, by any means. For many people, school is an opportunity to “know what you don’t know,” and that in itself makes it a worthwhile pursuit.

Where people make the mistake, however, is in thinking the degree itself is all that’s needed.

They believe that because they attended the classes and passed the tests, then where they went to school will carry them to professional success–and that’s simply not true. As someone who didn’t end up graduating from college, I can tell you firsthand that over decades of building businesses, it’s the working skills I value in my partners and employees over a fancy resume. I would much rather hire the kid who has tried and failed, than the one who passed his or her classes with flying colors, but never attempted to put their theoretical knowledge to the test in the real world.

This is a topic I speak about at length in my book, All In. Again, I’m not saying a formal education or an MBA is a waste of time or money. Just make sure that, in addition to building your resume, you make it a point to acquire the following 5 skills.

These are the things that ultimately make you a professional success story–whether you climb the ladder of a larger organization, or you build your own from the ground up:

1. Honesty (With Yourself)

Lots of people have ideas.

Students, especially, before stepping into the real world, tend to get caught up in their ideas. They love thinking about them, brainstorming them, and sharing them with their friends and family. Unfortunately, ideas without execution don’t go very far. And while there is absolutely value in coming up with great ideas, an idea cannot become “great” until it faces its first customer.

One of the most valuable skills you can acquire early in your professional career is knowing the difference between what sounds great in theory, and what holds real value to a paying customer or a loyal user. And the only way to acquire this skill is to try a lot of different things. The more you create, and the more you try to build yourself, the faster you will learn what people are willing to pay for and what they would rather do without.

You’ll learn how to be honest about whether your idea has real potential or not.

2. Leadership

Entrepreneurship, working within a startup, or being part of a smaller team within a larger corporate environment, all require some capacity of team interaction.

Many entrepreneurs or “intrepreneurs” (those who bring massive value inside larger organizations) tend to forget that the best business ideas in the world require more than just plug-and-chug execution in order to be successful. All execution requires teamwork, and all teamwork requires a lengthy list of soft skills in order to keep people motivated, focused, and loyal. One of those soft skills is the ability to communicate your vision and lead those around you to victory.

The best way I’ve found to acquire the skill of leadership is to put yourself in environments where you either have the opportunity to learn from a talented leader, or to be forced to step up and become a leader yourself. Ideally, you’ll have a number of both of these experiences in your professional career.

3. Discipline

The kind of discipline school encourages is not the same discipline the real world asks of you.

In school, the punishment for not being “disciplined” with your work is quite inconsequential, all things considered. You might fail a test, or get a bad grade for the semester. But when you’re starting a company, or working within someone else’s company and handling paying clients, suddenly the consequences become very real. Your mistakes can be measured in cash.

Taking the idea of discipline a step further, school plans the path out for you. What is much more difficult is determining where you want to head on the path, while simultaneously dealing with unforeseen challenges at the same time. Persisting in the face of uncertainty, pressure, or the potential of failure, requires a level of discipline that cannot be acquired in a semester.

Discipline is something that takes years to master.

The best way to get started, then, is to find as many things in life to become disciplined about. If you can become disciplined with your finances, your daily schedule, your health, etc., then you are creating the habits that will set you up for success.

4. Optimism

This is a skill many don’t consciously acquire.

But the truth is, entrepreneurship and professional advancement is tough work. Every day isn’t great. The wins are far less frequent than the losses. And it can be very easy to fall into a state of mind where your day to day is seen as stressful, overwhelming, and a pain.

Listen, if you want to make it to the summit, remember this: it’s all in your head.

The ability to be optimistic and positive, even in the face of great obstacles, is not to be undervalued. You’re the one who chose to pursue a path of success. You’re the one who wanted to build something great. You’re the one who chose this life, for yourself. So, don’t look for the bad, the ugly, and the stressful. Instead, look for things to be thankful for: like the fact that you even have the opportunity to pursue what you’re passionate about in the first place.

Optimism isn’t a weakness. Optimism is the state of mind that will give you endurance for the long road ahead.

5. Resilience

Last but not least, I firmly believe it’s imperative that every young individual find opportunities, any opportunity at all, to build the skill of resilience.

For me, I gained this skill-building my first company, Wilmar, starting as a teenager in a flea market. There I was, selling hand tools off of a fold-up card table prices–I heard the word “No” dozens of times each day. But when I would eventually hear a “Yes,” I learned the importance of resilience and persistence. Had I accepted the first, or second, or twenty-third “No,” I might never have built Wilmar, a company that ended up eventually being acquired by Home Depot.

The reason why I always take fancy resumés with a grain of salt is because a resumé doesn’t always show you how resilient someone is. Sure, I want to know where you went to school, but I also want to know about a time in your life when someone told you, “No, that’s not going to work,” and you pressed on anyway. Regardless of whether you were successful or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that you tried, and you became a little more resilient in the process.

This article was first published at Inc

Launching Your Business in 2019? Consider These 5 Tips

By Young Entrepreneur Council

If your New Year’s resolution is to launch a business, then keep reading. More and more people want to ditch their 9-to-5s and take control of their futures by starting their own businesses.

But starting a business isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter whether you want to start a small business from your spare room or create the next multimillion-dollar global phenomenon — if you’re not prepared, your business won’t succeed. Luckily, though, there are a number of tips you can adopt that will make the likelihood of your success that much greater.

If you’re launching your business in 2019, here are my tips for success.

1. Stop aiming for perfection.

When launching a new business, it’s natural to want everything to go smoothly. But if you want to be triumphant, you must let go of your perfectionist tendencies. While you might think that being a perfectionist will be beneficial to your new endeavor by making you more motivated and pushing you to strive for success, that’s not always the case. In fact, as reported by Harvard Business Review, perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Stop aiming for perfection. When starting a new business, you’re bound to experience bumps in the road. If you expect them to happen, you’ll be better prepared. Mistakes don’t make you a failure — they help you learn and become a more successful entrepreneur when you overcome them.

2. Build a support system.

Building a business is difficult and you can’t do it alone. And I don’t just mean financially. Having a support system in place when you dive into your new business venture will make all the difference. If you think you already have a support system — after all, your parents and your spouse are supportive of your business — that’s great. But you also need to need to surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through.

If you don’t have that type of support system yet, build it. Start networking with other local business owners in your area or get online and join some LinkedIn or Facebook groups for entrepreneurs.

Plus, according to Psychology Today, being a part of a group is motivating and increases feelings of warmth. This can be incredibly beneficial to you on the rocky road to starting a business.

3. Think about the long term, not just day to day.

As reported by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, only about 50 percent of small businesses survive five years or longer. This statistic can typically be attributed to business owners getting caught up in the day-to-day minutia of the business.

Make sure to take some time each week to think about the long-term health of your business. Think about the goals you’ve set and how you’ll get there. Do you need to invest in marketing or employee development and training, for instance? Planning for the future will help ensure that your business is around for a long time.

4. Grow your skills.

As a business owner, you never stop learning. You may be starting a business because you have a lot of knowledge and experience in a field, but running a successful business requires a wide variety of skills and expertise. So, as a new business owner, you’ll need to be a jack or jill of all trades.

Spend some time growing your expertise in marketing, writing, SEO, bookkeeping, sales, general management, etc., to develop a well-rounded entrepreneurial skill set. There are a number of free resources online that can help you boost your skills. For example, HubSpot offers free courses on SEO, content marketing and more.

5. Start small.

Your biggest dream might be for your business to become a multimillion-dollar enterprise overnight, but that probably won’t be your reality — at least not immediately. Many new business owners try to do too much too soon because they think it’ll bring them success faster, but it won’t. Instead, start small and grow.

Starting small might mean bootstrapping your startup instead of trying to get a bunch of funding right out of the gate. It also might mean releasing one product or service first and getting some traction and experience instead of trying to put out an entire catalog of offerings. Starting small and giving your business time to grow will make things easier to manage.

Over to you.

Now that you’re more prepared for starting your own business, what are you waiting for? 2019 is yours for the taking. With these easy-to-follow tips, you can ensure that this year will be the year your entrepreneurial dreams come true.

This article was first published at Inc

Change the Way You Think About Your Business With These 6 Thought Exercises

By David Finkel

Many entrepreneurs have taken to wearing the same thing day in and day out to reduce decision fatigue and free up their time to focus on more important matters. Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs all believed in minimalist wardrobes. And while I agree the concept is a sound one, I want to challenge the idea a bit and encourage you as a business owner to mix things up, even if it’s only metaphorically.

Here at Maui Mastermind, we often teach our mastermind groups about the power of the six hats, and I want to share the concept with you today.

What Is a Hat?

In this context, a hat is not a physical piece of clothing but a state of mind. It is a tool that can be used to push the boundaries of thinking and help you grow as a group and as leaders. There are six different types of hats:

  • White Hat: The Professor or Thinker Mode. Focus: Exclusively on the objective facts, information and data without any interpretation or “story.”
  • Red Hat: The Emotional/Intuitive Hat. Focus: Exclusively on feelings, emotions, and intuition.
  • Black Hat: Your Bodyguard. Focus: Exclusively on what is wrong or could go wrong.
  • Yellow Hat: The Enthused Champion. Focus: Exclusively on how to make an idea work and looking for what’s good about a specific situation.
  • Green Hat: Your Creative Genius. Focus: Exclusively on new ideas and creating possibilities and new combinations and mixtures.
  • Blue Hat: The Organizing Hat. Focus: Exclusively on the thinking process itself and how we are recording, organizing, harnessing, and putting to work the thinking we are doing.

What Are the Benefits of the Hats?
In our mastermind group, we regularly sit down together as a team and put on a different hat. We will discuss what hat we are going to wear and explain the ground rules before sharing our ideas.

This exercise has many benefits:

  • It lets people play and relax into the fun of the hat in question.
  • It reduces people’s perceived risk in contributing to the group and helps them feel safer playing a role that they put on…it’s not “them,” only a hat they are wearing.
  • It helps people avoid arguments, which is rarely needed in masterminding and almost always detrimental and destructive. Now you can simply note all sides in parallel and move forward in your masterminding. In the rare case in which you need to choose, you lay out the map and eventually let your red hat choose.
  • It simplifies the thinking process. Rather than use all thinking styles all at once in a great big muddle, you can break out the parts and really flesh out the ideas.
  • It helps people switch thinking patterns and avoid thinking ruts.

Three Final Tips to Harness the Power of the Hats
Remember, the hats are about direction, not description…. They are about influencing the way you are behaving and thinking, not a label you put on your thinking in retrospect.

When you use a hat, make sure everyone wears the same hat at the same time (the only exception is if you want to keep a facilitator wearing the blue hat).

The hats are tools. You don’t need them all the time. You use them when you want and put them away when they become too much. Avoid living in any one particular hat.

In upcoming articles, I will dive into the differences between the six hats in greater detail.

This article was first published at Inc

How to Figure Out What’s Holding Your Company Back (And Push Past It)

By Ami Kassar

A significant part of that process should include taking the time to understand what is limiting the growth of your company. And because there are different constraints at various points in time, this is an exercise best done at regular intervals.

Every business has a constraint. It could be analytics, operations, marketing, sales or any one of multiple drivers that are slowing you down. And sometimes in the day to day grind of running our business, we lose sight of working on this restraint. We get stuck in our habits and accept our day to day grind as the norm.

Unless you understand your constraints and develop a strategy to handle them, you will always be a slave to it.

When I started my business, everything was a constraint. And over time we built processes and systems, the challenge became to find quality customers that we could help.

And then I became a popular speaker. I’ve had great success marketing my business by speaking to small CEO groups of 10 to 12 business owners around the country — probably 90 percent of my speaking appearances.

It worked: I’ve been able to develop my business and increase my name recognition around the United States.

But I confess that I got lazy. I accepted it as a norm that I would spend one day in Omaha, the next day in Dallas, and the next day in Los Angeles. I got into a rhythm. The constraint of our company became my complacency.

As I mentioned, things change. While it was okay for me early in my company’s life cycle to slowly build a name, I’m way past that point now. Not that I’m a financial conglomerate or a nationally prominent commentator, but my business is on sound ground, I’ve published a book and have developed at least a little bit of cachet.

Fortunately for me (although I didn’t know it at the time) I had a disagreement with the CEO groups parent company and am no longer speaking before the organization’s groups.

Since then, I’ve realized that I’ve been passing up opportunities to speak to much larger groups, as well as other opportunities to market my company. Not only are these new opportunities, but I’ve been invigorated, too.

A change will do you good.

In college, one of the first things I learned (and one of the few things I still remember) is that most conflicts throughout history are the result of old ideas clashing with new ones – in other words, change. In general, people don’t like change, especially if they’re comfortable with their current situation.

I’m the perfect example. It was comfortable speaking to small groups. In the process, I was passing up more significant opportunities.

Change can be a good thing. People like to talk about the good old days, but were they that good? For example, cars from the 1950s and 1960s are always fondly remembered, but anyone who drove them can attest to their poor handling, terrible gas mileage, frequent rusting and suspect durability.

You certainly don’t want to run your business like it’s still the 1950s or 1960s (or the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or 2000s for that matter). That’s why you always need to be looking ahead – and to do that you have to figure out the constraints that keep you from reaching the next level.

Remember that it never hurts to be bold and look to get better. So what is your constraint and what is your plan to address it?

This article was first published at Inc

The Good News About How Much Money You Need to Start Your Business

By Maria Aspan

So you want to start a business. You’ve got the idea, you’re ready to hustle, but how much money do you need to launch your startup?

The good news: Probably not as much as you think. Ten years ago, the average cost of starting a small business was $31,150, according to one study. But that seems laughably large today: While some businesses still require lots of money to get off the ground, at Inc., we regularly hear from founders of fast-growing companies who started their businesses for hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.

“Today a smart entrepreneur with a website can start making in six months what we were making after six years,” says Bert Jacobs, co-founder of the apparel company Life Is Good.

Technology’s rapid advance is bringing down many startup costs, as Jacobs points out. He and his brother John launched the first iteration of their company in 1989, with $200 borrowed from another brother, Allan. The early days were scrappy, to say the least, as Jacobs told Inc.’s Leigh Buchanan in 2015:

We would have used that technology if we’d had it. Instead, we spent years building a company with employees we met at pickup basketball games; customers we joked with in the streets while keeping one eye peeled for the beat cop; and advice from retailers up and down the East Coast whom we dropped in on. It may not have been the most effective process. Definitely it wasn’t the most efficient. But a lot of our company’s values came out of that early need to do things cheap and in person.

Life Is Good now sells $100 million worth of apparel every year. And there are parts of Jacobs’s experience, especially the grit and patience, that remain relevant today.

If you’re dreaming of starting a business that could someday rival his success, you don’t necessarily have to spend money in the same ways. Today’s large ecosystem of tech services — what we at Inc. call the “instant startup kit” — can help you get your startup off the ground cheaply and quickly, as I reported in 2016:

Websites, billing, payment processing, cloud computing, communications, funding–all have been made simpler by the likes of Squarespace, Slack, Kickstarter, Dropbox, Amazon’s ubiquitous Web services division, and PayPal. … In the past ten years, these building blocks have greatly reduced the time–and cost–involved to start a business, especially high-tech ones. Thanks to “the emergence of the internet, open-source software, cloud computing, and other trends,” some experts estimate tech-reliant ideas “that would have cost $5 million to set up a decade ago can be done for under $50,000 today,” according to a 2014 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Good news: You probably don’t need $5 million to start your business. You might not need $50,000 or $30,000. In fact, you might not even need half of that: In 2018, 42 percent of Inc. 5000 CEOs responding to our annual survey said they used under $5,000 to launch their businesses. A combined 21 percent said they used between $5,000 and $25,000.

The amount of money you need will vary depending on several factors, including what kind of business you want to start: What are you selling, and is it a product or a service?

Product-based businesses tend to be more expensive to launch. If you’re making T-shirts or baking cupcakes or designing mobile apps, you’ll need the raw materials to create your product, the equipment for the production, the people to perform the manufacturing or baking or coding, and the space to do the work.

Planning on doing it all yourself, at least at the start? Remember that you’ll also need to spend time actually selling your product and marketing it so you’ll have customers interested in buying it.

Service-based businesses are, in many ways, a lot easier and cheaper to launch, particularly if you already have industry expertise and contacts. If you’re a lawyer or an accountant or a digital marketing expert or have any other specialized business experience, you have the product (your expertise) and, potentially, the market.

You can start selling your services on your own to people and companies that may be familiar with you and your work. You don’t have to hire anyone else, at least at first. You don’t necessarily have to spend more money on office space, as long as you can work out of your home. And ideally, you don’t have to spend as much time marketing your services.

The downside: It may eventually be more expensive and complicated to scale your business, since your growth will depend on figuring out how to transfer your knowledge to other people.

Other factors that will determine how much money you’ll need to launch your business include how many people you need; where you’re starting your business, and how much space you need; how quickly you need to get your product or service to market; and finally, how long you can afford to live without a salary. Once you’ve answered these questions, you can take the next step and start to scrape together the money to get your business off the ground.

This article was first published at Inc

What the Big Banks Won’t Tell You About Business Loans


By Leigh Buchanan


An SBA-backed loan could be a great option for your business. But you can’t count on big banks to help you, new research shows.

Last year 2018, SBA administrator Linda McMahon told Inc. magazine that her agency is “the best kept secret in the country.” If entrepreneurs keep going to the wrong banks, it may stay a secret.

Large banks like Wells Fargo are often lauded as active Small Business Administration lenders. And, in fact, they do process a significant volume of SBA-backed loans, which offer entrepreneurs lower interest rates and down payments, and longer repayment terms than ordinary bank loans. But the large banks’ numbers are less impressive when compared with much smaller banks, some of which specialize in such loans.

After the recession, many large banks stepped away from small-business loans, although they have been returning to that business over the past few years. But small-business loans are less profitable and riskier than larger loans made to bigger businesses.

“Large banks don’t have to lend to small businesses to survive,” says Ami Kassar, CEO of MultiFunding, an Ambler, Pennsylvania, business that helps small and midsize companies find debt financing. (Kassar is also an Inc.com columnist.) That means some big banks are less likely to introduce and explain SBA-backed loans to clients, says Kassar. Since most small-business owners get lending information from their bankers, and many patronize local branches of large banks, they may never even learn such loans are an option.

To illustrate the disparity, MultiFunding recently conducted a study of SBA lending activity that uses the number of a bank’s branches as a proxy for its size and reach. Among the 10 largest banks based on assets, TD Bank generated the most 7(a) loans (the SBA’s most popular program) in 2017, with an average of three per branch. Wells Fargo ranked second, with an average of one SBA loan per branch in 2017.

“It’s important to note that SBA lending is only a portion of our total small-business lending, and retail branches are just one of Wells Fargo’s delivery channels to serve the lending needs of small business owners,” says Jim Seitz, Wells Fargo’s communications manager for small business and business banking. “Wells Fargo is committed to SBA lending in every market we serve, with a dedicated SBA lending team to meet the needs of small businesses across the United States.”

Bank of America ranked last among large banks on MultiFunding’s ranking, producing on average one SBA-backed loan for every 30 branches. Don Vecchiarello, a spokesman for Bank of America, also emphasized that the company is very active in the small-business market generally. He says the company’s SBA loan business represents just 5 percent of its substantial small-business offerings–and that it is a growing part.

“Since 2015 we have tripled the number of people we have working in our SBA group,” says Vecchiarello. “As far as the 7(a) product, in 2016 we have nearly doubled the amount of loan production.” The company is also a perennial top five lender in the SBA’s 504 program to finance the purchase of fixed assets.

Still, compare those results with three single-location institutions: Celtic Bank, in Salt Lake City, which approved 1,417 loans in 2017; Independence Bank, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, which approved 1,141; and Live Oak Bank, in Wilmington, North Carolina, which approved 1,055. Several non-bank lenders, such as Newtek and Readycap Lending, also outperformed big banks.

Live Oak Bank, founded in 2008 to provide SBA loans to veterinary practices, is online-only, which MultiFunding counts as a single branch. Today, the company serves 19 vertical niches, and about 63 percent of its loans are SBA-backed.

“There are some industries where business owners have historically received SBA loans, and so in those industries they have a little bit more knowledge,” says Mike McGinley, group general manager for Live Oak Bank. “In our average industry, though, we have to do a lot of education.” Health care, accounting, and agriculture businesses are among those often in need of introduction to the SBA program. The company also created an online tool to significantly streamline the process.

For its part, the SBA has been trying to make its loan programs more visible. McMahon recently finished a tour of communities around the U.S., during which she promoted the SBA’s products and services, including the loan programs. And the agency launched an online tool to match small-business owners with SBA lenders. But “the SBA can’t really control what Bank of America does or does not tell their clients,” says Kassar.

Of course some small-business owners who know about SBA-backed loans choose not to pursue them because they’re put off by the paperwork.

“It can be a real pain in the rear end,” says Kassar. “But if you can get 10 years, rather than five years, to pay back a loan, and it takes you a few extra hours of paperwork, that is probably worth it.”

In the end, the message isn’t small-banks-good/big-banks-bad, says Kassar. Rather, it is find the right bank for you. That could be a large provider. “We are big fans” of SBA loans, says Tom Pretty, head of SBA lending for TD Bank, where 7(a)s make up 41 percent of small-business loan activity. “We go out of our way to show customers all the different options.”

Small-business owners should ask about a potential lender’s experience with SBA-backed loans and how many they approve, Kassar recommends. And avoid throwing in the towel too early. “Don’t assume that just because one bank did not mention the SBA or told you that you were not qualified that that is gospel,” says Kassar. “If you were told that by five banks, then that is probably not for you.”


This article was first published at Inc