Arizona Western College SBDC, Yuma, AZ
While attending the NACCE Conference in San Antonio I was most pleased with one of the keynote speakers and his reference to "moving at the speed of business.” The only challenge with this comment was whether educational institutions could practice what was preached.
To me, "the speed of business” is something like driving down the freeway at 75 mph. You see a billboard and you may remember and use the information, or–out of sight out of mind–you miss the message entirely. You must receive a very overt benefit to remember the message or you must be looking for that exact message to be impacted. It is just like my father used to say; his message went in one ear and exited the other ear just as fast with very little retention. The secret to education is to keep the message between your ears long enough for retention to happen.
I have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs every year in the Small Business Development Center at Arizona Western College and there have been a number of successful entrepreneurs. There are two very basic reasons for the high level of success. The first is the incredible investment in professional development opportunities my staff and I take advantage of every year, and the second is the example we try to set for our clients. By example I mean if I am to educate entrepreneurs, I had better lead by example and be entrepreneurial. I have also noticed how the new entrepreneurs are learning and are becoming successful by not following the traditional four-year business degree program initially.
When I work with clients I follow these guidelines to be successful:
1. Do not try to give the client/student more than they can absorb in one sitting.
2. Do not try to educate with outdated materials or technology.
3. We often learn together.
4. Give the client/student something they can learn and use the same day.
Many of us have heard of the MTV generation, which means our clients/students learn in sound bites and have no patience for a lengthy lecture. In business counseling we try to educate our learners of the resources available and how they can learn more on their own. I discovered in a previous career in sales you never give every possible feature of your product in the initial presentation. To keep the prospect interested you must keep your presentation short and probe for their hot buttons. Once the client/student begins to ask questions the learning becomes much more apparent.
Since we can individualize education today no one can be the absolute "bank of all knowledge.” The secret to educating is in knowing where to find the answers. For my clients/students it is easier and more efficient for me to refer them to a librarian for some basic information or industry knowledge. The same philosophy of referral happens once they begin their own business also. Our clients/students are encouraged to set up a professional relationship with their banker, accountant, lawyer, insurance agent, IT, and marketing expert, as well as the continuation of SBDC services. I also have many resources available to assist my entrepreneurs and very few are in a book. Some of today’s most important tools can be an understanding of the current technology. From financial software to blogs, the business tools developed for computers have become more intuitive than something to be committed to memory.
To keep my clients/students engaged to the point they recognize me as a resource I must give them something easy and new almost every session. Almost all of my clients are not coming to a Small Business Development Center for a certificate or degree so what I can offer is knowledge, experience, and education. If we are discussing their target market, we can talk about age groups, income levels, diversity, education levels, and more. Since this simple discussion usually consists of why each area may impact their business decision it can quickly become overwhelming when they try to think of where they might even begin their research. I can then show them a zipskinny.com report broken down by zip code from the 2000 census. This information can then be amended with more current information or growth percentages from the city. So I can basically have them learn what is needed, why we need the information, and finally how to get the information while also giving them something fun to check, all for free.
You might have taught wagon drivers to learn how to drive a wagon with a buggy whip, but is this method appropriate for driving a car? In my office we have eliminated almost every book and replaced them with the Internet, newspapers, and magazines. This concept may be contrary to traditional educators and the college bookstore, but in many cases their business model is outdated and expensive. The Internet can provide information much quicker and cheaper and more current than any book, especially in bits of useful information. For the entry level entrepreneur books do have their place providing inspiration, recreation, and relaxation but the research is often not very cost effective.
So as I lead by example I spend a lot of time practicing what I preach. Most of my books are no longer available in my office. Instead, I have high speed Internet and know how to use it. I read one to two newspapers every day along with some favorite news sites on the Internet. I subscribe to three or four business magazines. I also try to attend four or more workshops or conferences within the state and nation. The tools from this reading and listening allow me to answer the questions of clients/students accurately and professionally.
If you have read this far you probably are either very upset with my philosophy of replacing books with technology or you can see the merit. If you are upset, it is probably because you read over the part about this philosophy being for "new” entrepreneurs. The new entrepreneur needs to learn basic research skills, how to make a decision based upon experience and from a financial viewpoint, and how to think without a box (not just out of the box).
This philosophy seems to fit in well within our educational institution. Rather than being seen as a competitor for headcount I can actually be known as a referral for specialized classes, especially within our Entrepreneurship program. When appropriate I refer my clients to classes where the basics are still needed or as a place to develop a deeper understanding for their success. After all, traditional education should educate the excellent workers my future business owners will rely upon for their subject expertise in decision making.
So for your next entrepreneurship class, live on the wild side. Eliminate the need for a textbook, and educate your students to use resources to come up with solutions. Together you will probably both learn more and have better results. If this concept is stimulating your thoughts, you should also be able to devise a method to evaluate the effectiveness of learning in a workshop style environment.