By Amy Wong, president of Dot Org Solutions
Amy Wong is an entrepreneur whose company, Dot Org Solutions, resides on the seventh floor of Bounce. During her time as a professional and eventual business founder, Amy has learned that you don’t necessarily have to be an entrepreneur to have an entrepreneurial mindset.
It seems that, nowadays, so many things in education and business are focused on the concept of entrepreneurship. There are classes being taught to even the youngest of students. High schools are incorporating entrepreneurship thinking into their curriculum. Colleges are offering majors in it. And I cannot even count the number of books, articles, blogs and other media devoted to the topic.
Had I known even a fraction of the things I do now when I launched Dot Org Solutions in 2009, I am sure I would have done many things differently. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t have established Dot Org at all because sometimes being an entrepreneur takes a great leap of faith. It’s not for everyone.
So why, then, is there so much buzz around entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, many people equate entrepreneurship with success – think Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Oprah and Sarah Blakeley (the genius that invented Spanx). But more so, and in my opinion a very important reason, is that entrepreneurship is also equated with a way of thinking and problem solving that may be applied across a variety of work and life experiences.
In other words, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or founder to think like an entrepreneur. In fact, the people I named above are also innovators – and you can find innovators everywhere. They’re in small businesses and at large corporations. They are professors and students. They are makers and artists.
We are located at Bounce Innovation Hub and they are taking this notion to the next level. As an innovation hub, Bounce will include collaboration among all these groups. Why? Because even if you aren’t an entrepreneur, you can benefit from being surrounded by and collaborating with people who are. I’ve seen the effects of this on myself, others in the building and even in my own employees. Employees, partners, vendors and others also benefit from learning entrepreneurial concepts and spending time around entrepreneurs.
When I founded Dot Org Solutions, I sought to solve a problem – helping smaller and mid-sized nonprofits with their fundraising and marketing communications needs. I knew many of these organizations didn’t have financial or staffing resources like I did in my jobs with much larger organizations. But I felt like the work they did was extremely important so I took that leap of faith – and I’m glad I did. Almost 10 years later, we’ve grown, are maturing and have pivoted at critical times, including adding small businesses to our client mix.
But again, even if you don’t have aspirations to be an entrepreneur or work for a startup, you can incorporate entrepreneurial thinking into your workplace and into your life. Here’s how:
Learn to solve problems
When entrepreneurs start businesses, we often do so because there is a problem in the market that has not been solved. The bigger the unsolved problem, the greater the potential there is for our businesses to develop the right solution. Problem solving prioritizes creativity and pushes us to think beyond boundaries. As entrepreneurs we must learn to ask the right questions to get the information needed to solve a problem. Asking the right questions allows us to properly focus our efforts and create a solution that is truly valuable to the customer.
Take the same approach next time you see a problem in your own company. Think of how you can solve the problem by asking questions, getting feedback and obtaining information that will help you come up with a solution.
Entrepreneurs must use logical approaches to solving problems. We must create hypotheses and form assumptions to apply to our businesses. It’s kind of like a science experiment. Our business model assumptions are either validated or invalidated. New assumptions must be based on the results. We must repeat this process until we get to the optimal solution.
Like the entrepreneur, you may need to test several different ideas before you come up with the right solution to your problem. Yes, this may take longer in the short term, but could benefit you and your company in the long term.
Be a Better Business Leader
To start and grow a company, you must understand your customer. And the success of a startup depends almost entirely on an entrepreneur’s understanding of the customer, their motivations, habits, demographics and psychographics. It is critical to understand all of these things about our customers in order to provide them the maximum value.
A customer-focused approach is just as crucial for a large corporation or nonprofit as it is for a startup or small-to-medium –sized business. The best business leaders take the time to get to know their customers.
Move from a Doer to a Thinker
As entrepreneurs, we must balance thinking and doing. This is tough… Those who have heard the phrase “work on the business, not in the business” know exactly what I am talking about. Many of us start the business as experts in a particular field. But there becomes a time where we must teach others how to “do” and start to be the ones that “think.” In the early stages of business, we must do both.
It is common to get stuck in the thinking phase because “doing” can be scary. But it is even more dangerous as an entrepreneur or leader to get stuck in the “doing” phase because if limits your time to think about growing your business.
Accept and Overcome Failure
Every entrepreneur experiences some degree of failure. Many entrepreneurs experience long periods of consecutive failures before getting things right and succeeding. Entrepreneurship teaches anyone to accept change, manage risk and become very comfortable with failure.
Learn to manage uncertainty, risk and failure. It will help you become a resilient, determined and persistent professional who is not afraid to take managed risks and can focus on overcoming challenges and getting results.
Learn Business Management Skills
Entrepreneurs must learn all aspects of business management. We have to become proficient at decision making and be exposed to business disciplines, such as marketing, legal, finance and human resources. We must also possess the soft skills in business, including adaptability, persuasion, presenting and all forms of communication.
Even entrepreneurs aren’t expert in all of these areas. And you don’t have to be in every facet of your business either. But having an understanding of key functions, however, gives you a deeper understanding of the business and helps you better relate to your team and customers.
You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to think, or act, like one. But taking an entrepreneurial approach to your work can provide great value to your company. It can help you solve problems differently, manage your people better, realize that failure often leads to success and give you a better overall understanding of your company.