Despite the romantic notion that a good idea and some chutzpah are all that most entrepreneurs need to be successful, the fact is that even people who might have been born to the entrepreneurial life still need some technical business guidance.
Here in Western North Carolina, which seems to have more budding entrepreneurs than you can shake a business plan at, the newly opened Carland Academy (www.carlandacademy.com) in Highlands hopes to help entrepreneurs develop the business acumen they need to survive and prosper. And for busy adults, perhaps the best part is that they don’t have to leave their own homes to take part in Carland’s dozens of course offerings: All instruction is done online or through DVDs, and done at the student’s own pace. Courses cover all aspects of entrepreneurship and will help individuals develop the skills needed to be successful in launching and growing a business, the school promises. Fees range from as low as $49 for a single lesson to as much as $4,200 for the comprehensive one-year program that culminates with a Certificate in Entrepreneurship.
The academy, which opened in September, was founded by James and JoAnn Carland, a couple renowned for their development of fellow entrepreneurs. The most recent accolade: At its Carolina Connect conference earlier this month, AdvantageWest and the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council awarded the Carlands the second-annual “High Cotton Award” for outstanding contributions to entrepreneurship.
The two former Western Carolina University educators have co-founded more than a dozen companies. In addition, they have co-authored more than a dozen books, more than 70 articles in scholarly journals and more than 200 papers in scholarly proceedings.
The couple has consulted with several hundred companies and taught several thousand students. And, notes BREC official Pam Lewis, while at WCU they designed two of the five entrepreneurship programs recently recognized as national bests by FORTUNE Small Business magazine. That included the first Master of Entrepreneurship program in the United States.
“What we have tried to do is establish a perspective of the entrepreneurship process that begins with visioning,” James Carland tells Xpress. “How do we evolve that idea into a workable, tangible vision we can translate into a viable business? From there, we take you forward to the process of creating that venture, establishing its legal identity, penetrating the market, fielding the competition, finding a way to create intellectual capital, and growing that operation.”
Carland doesn’t buy the notion that entrepreneurs are born instead of made. “We really think that not only can you teach it, but that you should teach it,” he says. “Obviously, we can learn anything without formal lessons … [and] learn through trial and error, and that’s a very powerful technique. But it’s painful.
“You don’t have to be born with [entrepreneurialism],” he adds. “We have been successful in converting people who thought that ‘business’ was a dirty word into successful entrepreneurs themselves. I grant you that it sure does help you if you do have that passion bug. If you’ve got that passion gene, that means nothing is going to get in your way. But even if you don’t have that, there is a technique we can utilize to help you get there.”
In fact, the Carlands have developed a self-test, available for download on their Web site, that can help aspiring entrepreneurs determine their likelihood for success. A lot of that potential success can indeed be measured by how much passion someone has and how much they are willing to work to fulfill it.
Unlike typical employees, Carland says, “When you talk to a bunch of entrepreneurs, they never talk about weekends, they never talk about vacations, they never talk about retirement. They talk about what’s going on with their businesses. You see, people that work for other people don’t live that work, they live outside that work. Entrepreneurs live their work; they live inside that work.”
But while passion and that work ethic are vital, knowledge of business techniques will ultimately determine whether a great business idea succeeds or languishes, Carland says. “You talk to any 10 people and nine of them have a great idea for a new product; the curious thing is how do you make that thing penetrate the market. That’s called commercialization, and understanding how to target the penetration of a market with a tangible product or an intangible service is an absolute skill that is tremendously valuable—and that’s ultimately what we teach.”
More help for entrepreneurs: The only way to win the race in business is to go back to basics, according to Suzanne Shaffer, Western North Carolina business coach for The Entrepreneur’s Source, a national entrepreneru coaching and consulting firm. Shaffer says that many small businesses find it difficult to grasp the importance and impact of good leadership and communication within their business.
“There are common hurdles that business owners face; however, we have seen that a lack of leadership and communication is one of the top five reasons why businesses fail,” Shaffer says. “Leadership comes in many forms, but one of the most important is the articulation of a clear vision or business plan, something that employees can be motivated by and support.”
According to Shaffer, many leaders of small businesses do not have the ability to lead teams. Employees are unclear of their expectations, fail to achieve crucial goals or don’t quickly grasp their role in the business. According to research by The Entrepreneur’s Source, the following are some of the complaints that employees from small businesses have about management:
• The manager does not encourage open, honest two-way communication;
• Senior management lacks a clear vision of the future direction of their organization;
• Senior management does a poor job of establishing clear priorities and objectives.
“Good leaders provide a trust-based environment where employees come first and are recognized as key to their success. There is open communication and a shared vision for the end goal,” Shaffer says.
On the other hand, if there is a fear-based management style dominating the environment or a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude, employees are not motivated to do their best, says Shaffer.
For more information on this topic and to find out more about The Entrepreneur’s Source in Western North Carolina, contact Shaffer at 654-0744.