Monday May 18, 2015
It’s a tough time to be a young person trying to find your way. In the face of educational inflation, ever-rising student loan debt, and an economy that’s still struggling, the stakes are high.
It took me a year and a half to find a full-time job after I graduated. And all the while, I was confronted with the question, “What and who do I want to be?”
When I looked for role models, I got more confused. Successful people just a little older than me were making millions in Silicon Valley, embracing high risk and high reward to cope with the uncertainty we live in. Others went fully corporate or institutional, a secure and understandably attractive option.
But what about those of us who fall somewhere in the middle? We want to make a good living for ourselves and our families or future families, but we also want to forge our own paths. We want to take risks, but not necessarily with millions of dollars at stake. We want to be esteemed and well-known for our skills and talents, but by a smaller and closer community.
In short, we want to be small business owners.
The US Chamber of Commerce recently found that half to two-thirds of Millennials are interested in entrepreneurship and more than a quarter have already struck out on their own.
Millennials in general have some common traits that make them well-suited for entrepreneurship, but those skills need some honing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with small business owners, it’s that going it alone is hard work. It also takes some concrete skills that many of us haven’t yet had the opportunity to develop.
Here’s how millennials can turn their natural strengths into skills that translate into successful small businesses.
Experiment and Track What You Learn
Many people have praised millennials’ willingness to experiment with new ideas and new ways of doing things. This is so important for small business owners. It takes trying a lot of things to find what works.
But many of us who are new to the game might lack the discipline to meticulously track the results of experiments. Experimentation only matters if you get results you can learn from.
Finding things that aren’t working is just as important as finding things that are. You can cut those things that aren’t working out of your budget, leaving more time to experiment to find the next step forward.
New business owners in particular need to carefully track what they’ve tried and what the results were. A business dashboard can be really helpful for this. For example, AllProWebTools has the ability to track every new marketing campaign you try and measure the results in terms of SEO, leads gathered, page views, and even sales in dollars.
An attitude of experimentation is awesome, but without focused goals and metrics to measure the results, you can spend a lot of unnecessary time and money.
Embrace Responsible Flexibility
Millennials have been strong advocates for flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. We have a common sense understanding that people should be able to work when and where they’re most productive.
If you’re highly creative at night, that’s absolutely when you should set aside time to create. If you wake up full of energy, take that time to get things done.
There’s a tricky thing about flexibility though. If you don’t communicate well with your clients and your team, your “flexibility” looks like flakiness.
It’s critical to make sure the people you work with and work for understand when you are and aren’t available. This means that you need some degree of consistency. It can be as simple as letting your clients and team members know that they can reach you by phone on afternoons from 1-5. But you have to hold yourself to it.
Focus Your Love of Technology
There’s no denying that millennials have a solid grasp on cloud-based tools and apps. Even those of us who don’t know exactly how they work know how to use them. It’s natural for this to extend to business management and planning. In fact, it can put millennial business owners ahead of competitors that are slower to adapt technology.
But I’ve noticed a tendency towards app-hoarding in my generation that can actually be counterproductive. Think about it—would you rather have ten different services that each handle a different part of your business, or one that covers everything?
Obviously there’s not yet a tool that does literally everything. (We’re working on it though!) My point is that we’ve lost our appreciation for solid tools with a broader scope, in favor of narrow, specialized point solutions.
All-in-one solutions have some distinct advantages:
- Tools are quick to learn because they have the same basic interface
- No logging in and out of different tools
- More affordable to have one bill per month than ten
- Information is gathered from more sources, so it’s more encompassing and detailed
- Amazing new tools become possible because there’s so much to draw on
There’s also the consideration of integration. Although integration technology gets better all the time, there are always gaps between different tools. Seamless integration of point solutions isn’t currently possible.
It’s great to pursue new technology, and obviously you will need a variety of tools to run your new business. But consider seeking out a broader-based solution to form the backbone of your toolkit.
Seek Out Mentorship and Apprenticeships
It can be really hard for new business owners to learn all these skills on their own.
Millennials’ desire for mentorship and development runs strong. This can be a great trait for small business owners. Small business owners should always be looking for the next step—the next way to grow and move forward.
Often, this means getting advice from people with more experience, know-how, and connections. Here are some common sources of mentorship and advice for small business owners.
Business coaches and mentors can be great mentors for many aspects of starting a new business, like developing a business plan, doing market research, and sales tactics.
Bookkeepers and accountants can help new business owners learn the basics of financial planning.
Influencers and writers can help entrepreneurs stay on top of changes in the marketing and SEO industry, and open their eyes to new best practices
And finally, apprenticeships with established business owners in a similar industry can help millennials with a dream of owning a business get a taste of what it’s really like. This article by Aparna Mathur explains the concept of apprenticeships really well.
I’ve said it before, millennials have a lot to learn and a lot to teach. As a generation, we have some great traits and abilities that make us entrepreneurial by nature. But many of us need some grounding and guidance to make the new businesses we will start incredibly successful.