Entrepreneurs are seen as creative types who have the gumption to go out on a limb, living on a shoestring and raising capital until eventually cashing in on their big idea.
But starting a business doesn’t have to be expensive, and a successful idea doesn’t need to be all that big, according to a new book by a duo of Georgia-based entrepreneurs and educators.
“School for Startups” aims to clear up the misconception that entrepreneurship requires both creativity and risk, Jim Beach, a co-author of the book, said in an interview with GlobalAtlanta.
In fact, entrepreneurship is less of a gamble in some ways than climbing the corporate ladder, said Mr. Beach, who has taught entrepreneurship at Georgia State University and University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and now helps run The Entrepreneur School.
Mr. Beach and business partner and co-author Chris Hanks, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Georgia‘s Terry College of Business, believe that downsizing, especially during a downturn, is a serious threat to corporate employees, even those with good track records.
“The same way they need to diversify their investment portfolio, they need to diversify their income portfolio,” Mr. Beach said, noting that a small landscaper with 100 clients is much more secure than a middle-level manager who is one boss’s bad mood away from losing his entire income.
But he’s not saying that closet entrepreneurs should immediately quit their jobs and charge head first into a new venture.
“What we’re suggesting is that you start a small business on the side. It doesn’t have to be big and sexy and exciting at first. But maybe in the first year if you make $10,000 by working at night on a side business, that becomes pretty sexy pretty quickly,” Mr. Beach said.
After a few years of bootstrapping the business while keeping your day job (and health insurance), it should become profitable enough to live on. Only then is it time to leave the corporate world, he said.
Many wonder how to get started without a groundbreaking new idea.
But Mr. Beach said that most new businesses are reprisals of existing ideas, with savvy entrepreneurs simply changing the sales region or tweaking the product.
“I don’t think entrepreneurship is about having a new idea. I think it’s about the execution of an idea. Entrepreneurs are those who are executing the ideas well,” he said.
The book includes about a dozen case studies showing how entrepreneurs have been successful, especially in avoiding a temptation that snares many conventional business owners: spending too much money.
Mr. Beach cited an Athens bar owner who started his grungy establishment with $5,000 spent mostly on beer and used furniture. It far outlasted a fancy microbrewery across the street and provided capital for the owner to start new businesses around the city.
That shows how lacking capital can actually be a boon for the entrepreneur, Mr. Beach said.
“You give people money, they spend it frivolously. If you don’t have money, you spend what money you do have more wisely,” he said. “You’re also hungrier, you work harder to get that next sale, and most importantly, it forces you to make sure you can sell the product.”
With the rise of the Internet and trade resources from the U.S. Commerce Department as well as other organizations, importing and exporting “is one of the easiest and best ways to create low-risk business,” Mr. Beach said.
The book includes practical advice on the power of trade, including how to get export financing from United Parcel Service Inc. and letters of credit from banks that guarantee payment from overseas buyers.
It also teaches how to find suppliers on the Internet, how to bring your website to the top of Google search rankings and how to use the Commerce Department’s Gold Key matchmaking service to gain access to potential customers abroad.
Mr. Beach, who once started a furniture import business in Pakistan without going there, contended while it’s important to understand the culture, international business is more about finding the right information than spending a lot of time and resources.
“You don’t need to go there, you don’t need to speak the language, you don’t need to be able to communicate directly anymore. The Internet and the ‘Translate Now’ button on Google are really good enough that we can do business internationally, and again, it’s less risky than almost anything else,” he said.
The book also outlines how Mr. Hanks established a business selling large trucks to coffee suppliers in Vietnam.
Combined, Mr. Beach and Mr. Hanks have started 14 companies involving seven countries throughout their careers.
Visit www.schoolforstartupsbook.com for more information about “School for Startups: The Breakthrough Course for Guaranteeing Small Business Success in 90 Days or Less.” Visit www.theentrepreneurschool.com for more on Mr. Beach and Mr. Hanks.
David Beasley, another co-author of the book, is a former GlobalAtlanta reporter.