entrepreneur

3 Tips for Entrepreneurial Success from Bill Rancic

When the first season of The Apprentice aired back in 2004, I remember tuning in each week to watch the aspiring apprentices from across the country take on different business challenges, all in the name of entrepreneurship. It was mesmerizing and inspiring. I remember how lucky I thought Chicago-native Bill Rancic was when Donald Trump told him “You’re Hired!”

I was fortunate to finally have the chance to hear Bill Rancic speak at the Small Business Expo held at Navy Pier on April 9, 2015. Bill has lived through some of the most interesting entrepreneurial experiences, from launching a cigar of the month club, to being on reality TV, to constructing Trump Tower Chicago and being a restaurateur. Bill is the definition of an entrepreneur, and his insight lived up to every expectation I had.

Here are the 3 key lessons to entrepreneurial success that I learned from Bill Rancic’s story.

1. Practical Execution

Actions speak louder than words. Unless you’re actively doing and executing, it doesn’t matter what you say. Bill’s father used to tell him that it’s okay if you make a mistake, but it’s never okay if you don’t try. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to go the extra mile. “Be the first guy up and last to leave. When you’re tired, make that extra phone call.” If you don’t take action and don’t execute on your ideas, then it doesn’t mean anything.

2. Be a Conductor 

One key lesson Bill learned from his mentor Donald Trump was that to be a successful entrepreneur you need to be a conductor. An orchestra conductor is not an expert of all instruments, but instead a conductor knows how to get all of the musical experts to work together to make beautiful music. In fact, if conductors tried to play all of the instruments and do it all themselves, it wouldn’t work.

The same applies to entrepreneurial leaders. To be successful, you need to let go of your ego and rely on your team of partners, employees and mentors. You should orchestrate all the pieces and lead rather than micro-managing or trying to do everything yourself.

3. Convert Risk into Success

In reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bill said to always do what you’re afraid to do and success will find you. He spoke to reverse engineering your life – twenty years from now, will your future kids or grandkids be proud of who you are and what you’ve done?

It’s important to avoid telling yourself what you want to hear. Make sure you are honest to tap into your potential. Just like when we listen to our voices recorded back on a message or video, it’s a shock to hear what we actually sound like. In our minds, we believe we sound a certain way, but it can come as a surprise to hear that our voice doesn’t sound quite how we imagine it. Only when you accept reality will you be able to be successful.

When Bill was first launching his cigar of the month club, he was struggling to get exposure, and customers. In a clever marketing move, he shipped a letter, cigars and a pair of coke bottle glasses that he taped a note to which referenced taking a closer look. He sent this to radio shows and eventually got the exposure that brought in the customers needed to ensure the success of his company. Bill had to hustle and execute to get things done, take risks and coordinate the success of all the moving pieces. Take a lesson from Bill’s experience and be on you’re on your way closing deals and paving your own entrepreneurial journey.

Originally published on LinkedIn. 

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Studying Entrepreneurship Doesn’t Make You An Entrepreneur

Doctors go to school to be a doctor. Accountants go to school to become accountants. Entrepreneurs go to school to…start a business? Unfortunately, graduating with a degree in entrepreneurship doesn’t come with a great business idea or LLC hidden inside your diploma.

Every year, tens of thousands of young bright-minded students enter collegiate entrepreneurship programs. Here in Chicago, there are three of the top 25 entrepreneurship programs for graduates in the country: DePaul University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Less than a three-hour drive away, there are strong programs at Bradley University, Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University, and Millikin University. The value of an education is tangible and proven, but how do entrepreneurship programs help students actually start a business?

While it’s not a guarantee that school will create entrepreneurs, university-based entrepreneurship centers and programs provide opportunities, resources, and an ecosystem that needs to be taken advantage of by students in order to maximize the value of their entrepreneurial education.

I studied entrepreneurship in college. While going to school, I was very involved on campus and in the Peoria community. I worked with several startups and spent time in the local innovation center, which was also a startup incubator. I graduated from Bradley University’s entrepreneurship program in 2008. Later that year, I enrolled in the MBA program at DePaul University in Chicago to focus more intensely on entrepreneurship. Having six years of higher education in entrepreneurship is valuable, but it doesn’t guarantee a career as a successful entrepreneur.

After graduating from DePaul, I took a position with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization to work with young entrepreneurs and business faculty across the country. Now as Director of Community Engagement for the Future Founders Foundation and by leading the development and launch of its collegiate division, College Founders, I’m able to work with the most passionate and successful young student entrepreneurs in the Chicagoland area. After nearly a decade, I know the true value of an entrepreneurial ecosystem within a university setting, as supported by the community. While you can learn many trades in the classroom, true entrepreneurial lessons are learned through experiences, trial and failure, and taking advantage of opportunities.

An investment in an entrepreneurship education only pays dividends if it’s fully utilized both in and out of the classroom. Whether it’s through internships, competitions, mentorships, networking in the community, hackathons or startup events, being in a club or professional society, or even just pursuing an idea, students need to experience as many entrepreneurial opportunities as possible to complement the lessons learned in the classroom. Although it can lead to launching a business, studying entrepreneurship in college is no guarantee. Entrepreneurs have to overcome obstacles and work tirelessly to achieve their dreams.

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See the original version of this post on LinkedIn here.

Art of the Start – Advice from Artistic Entrepreneurs

Aspiring artists are essentially aspiring entrepreneurs – both are passionate about their art or idea, ambitious dreamers, and dedicated to their work. However, artists tend to think of themselves as anti-business, but to be a successful artist, focusing on the business side is just as important. TrendVenture gave a group of aspiring self-employed artists the opportunity to meet and learn directly from founders and business owners to hear the reality of being an entrepreneur in the arts first hand.

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During the 14th Annual Self-Employment in the Arts Conference, TrendVenture took a group of college students and entrepreneurs to explore arts in entrepreneurship in the local community of Naperville, Illinois. The tour took the students on a two-hour hands-on experiential opportunity to speak directly with business owners and artists about the realities of owning a business, learning how they can pursue their passion by finding creative ideas and opportunities in unexpected places.

Self-Employment in Arts is a non-profit organization housed at North Central College and brings together emerging student artists from across the nation to provide resources and connections to make them successfully self-employed. TrendVenture connected a group of their conference attendees with a variety of artistic entrepreneurs in Naperville, ranging from culinary arts and photography to fashion and design.

Here are the top 3 tips for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs shared from the generous insight of the business owners during this event.

1) “You are a professional as soon as you get paid, so act like it.” Megan Drane, Founder of Firefly Nights Photography

Megan Drane is an internationally award winning photographer and owner of Firefly Nights Photography. She found herself as an entrepreneur by surprise and has learned a lot along the way, especially the importance of valuing your art, services and yourself. Megan advised on treating your art or service as a business from day one. She said, “You’re [considered] a professional as soon as you get paid [for it], so act like it.” Focusing on your target market and valuing the worth of your work from the start by treating yourself like a professional artist is important to the long-term success of your business.

2) “Keep your costs low.” Kellyn Machacek, Founder of Baubles by Maclyn

Kellyn Machacek built her business, Baubles by Maclyn, on over 25 years of expertise in the jewelry industry. With a background in psychology, she also started her business unintentionally. Kellyn shared how a strong understanding of the competition is important, from business models to branding. She explained the importance of standing out from the competition and protecting yourself and your business. This includes the cost it takes to produce your products or services. As a business owner, you need to keep your costs as low as possible to ensure that you can price your products or art at a level that will support you and your business. Although this does not mean sacrificing quality, it does demonstrate the significance of sourcing and wholesaling to make sure you can stay competitive.

3) “You’re your own boss.” Terrell Cole, Founder of Dark Horse Pastries

After years leading kitchens across the nation, Terrell Cole followed his passion and launched Dark Horse Pastries. As the Executive Chef, Terrell not only heads up all of the baking and catering orders, but he also runs all aspects of his business, from marketing and promotions to managing staff. There are pros and cons to running your own business, and as he said, both sides come down to the fact that “You’re your own boss.” Entrepreneurs have the luxury of deciding their own schedule and doing what they love every day, and not having a boss tell them what to do. Yet as an entrepreneur, your fate is left totally up to you – you instead have to wear all hats and do more work in all areas of your business to bring in customers and pay employees. Terrell advises that good leaders “always ask for help” and to hold themselves responsible for failures, while they “praise the audience” and their team for successes.

The road to becoming a successful artist requires persistence, dedication and passion, just like traditional entrepreneurship. Artists are entrepreneurs and should view themselves as such to achieve their desired success.

The Pressure of the Pitch

How to Maintain Your Composure and Pitch Under PressureKeep Calm and Pitch

Giving an elevator pitch can be a terrifying experience. Whether you’re pitching in a competition in front of hundreds of people, pitching to wealthy and successful investors, or trying to land that much needed new client or job, it can seem like your entire future is dependent on those few seconds you have to pitch. The words that come out of your mouth can make or break the deal. And what if stage fright sets in and you forget everything? It could be your worst nightmare coming to life. Yikes! Who would ever want to pitch?

Well, pitching doesn’t have to be scary. It can actually be fun! If you’re enjoying yourself while you’re pitching, that energy is going to translate to your audience and they’re going to enjoy it more. And a happy and engaged audience is what we want!

So how can you get to that point where you are excited to pitch and are not nervously psyching yourself out? Here are 3 tips to help you maintain your composure and pull off a successful pitch in a high pressure situation.

1) Practice Makes Perfect
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and it’s true. The more practice you have saying your pitch, the more comfortable you will feel with it, and the more comfortable you are, the more conversational and natural it will sound. With enough practice, anything can become second nature and the goal is to be able to say your pitch so easily that you don’t even have to think about it. If you’ve practiced your pitch enough, even when the nerves set it, you will be mentally prepared and your pitch will come to you. Be sure to practice the different key elements of your pitch individually, so you are confident with every section and can pick it up no matter where you leave off. This will also help you avoid sounding too overly rehearsed, which can come across as insincere to the audience.

2) Say It And Forget It
Have you ever heard someone give a presentation, realized they missed a point, and then try to go back and touch upon it or add in some extra words? Up until that point, you probably didn’t know that they messed up or forgot anything. But as soon as they tried to add it in or repeat themselves, it became obvious. This is what you DON’T want to do. When you are giving your pitch, if you pass a section and miss a point, move on. To have a cohesive, smooth pitch, the best thing you can do is to continue the pitch and save any part you missed for later, whether as a follow up or as an answer to a question. Trying to add pieces back into your pitch can become confusing to the audience and distracts them into concentrating on what part you messed up. Remember, YOU know YOUR pitch. THEY don’t! That’s the whole reason you are telling them! So if you forget something, don’t try to overanalyze it and throw yourself off track because of this mishap; simply move forward. Chances are they won’t even know that anything was off.

3) You Are The Expert
One thing that tends to make most people nervous is thinking about what others will think. Whatever you are pitching – your product, service, company, or even yourself – remember that YOU are the expert! Others will be looking to you for the answers, so don’t second guess yourself. Treat your pitch as simply a conversation in which you are telling someone else about something that you know more about. Getting lost in the idea that someone else is judging you on your pitch can be nerve-racking and may cause you to lose sight of the end goal. Have confidence in yourself and in your pitch, and remember that when it comes to your pitch, you are the expert!

Remember that you are probably your own worst critic. However bad you think your pitch went, chances are it went much better than that. To help you get over some of the mental torture that you’ll inevitably place on yourself, remember to use these pitch tips to help you avoid some of the nervous pitfalls and remain cool, calm, and collected.

The Employee Pitch

Why Employees Should Pitch for Your Company

Elevator pitches are typically considered something that entrepreneurs or founders do to attract the attention of investors or potential partners. However, pitches are just as important and vital to the ongoing success of existing companies.

Companies spend an average of $1,202 per employee on training, or as much as $156 billion spent on employee learning by U.S. firms in 2011. Meanwhile, companies spent 10.4% of their annual 2012 revenue on overall marketing activities.

With all of this money going towards employee training and marketing, why isn’t more attention being given to viewing employees as a marketing tool?

Especially when we realize that word of mouth is still viewed as the most trusted source of information. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Global Trust in Advertising report, 92% of consumers said they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.

This means that employees are the most valuable marketing tools a company has, and they represent the greatest return on investment potential.

But this doesn’t just apply to top management, execs, or sales. Employees at all levels should be equipped with the company pitch. Just imagine the power of your entire workforce being able to verbally represent your brand in the boardroom, when interacting with customers, or when hanging out with friends on the weekend!

So how can your company empower your employees to be brand ambassadors in and outside of work? Teach them to pitch! Make sure that employees go through training to master the skills of your company’s pitch. You may know what your company’s mission and what it does better than the competition, but do all employees know this? Can they relate it in a simple and understandable way? If not, it’s time to teach them to pitch.

Companies like PitchJam can teach these pitching skills in personalized group sessions to employees at all levels. Learn the pitching basics as it relates to your company to ensure that everyone not only knows but can professionally speak about your company in a branded and consistent manner. Contact Info@PitchJam.com for more information.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Soccer

American Outlaws Edit jpegWith the World Cup in full swing, soccer (aka the rest of the world’s fútbol) has never been more popular in the US, as Americans are embracing their patriotism and rooting for #USA in each action packed and nail biting game.

What these professional athletes have trained their whole life for represents more than just winning the most prestigious international title – it represents an intensity, drive and passion for the game and to win. Here are 4 ways that entrepreneurs can learn from the success of these  fútbol players and apply their strategies to win in their own business.

  1. Be Persistent – Soccer players push themselves to run back and forth across the field for 90 minutes each game. No matter what happens, they never give up and this persistence is what can change the outcome of a game. Entrepreneurs need to have this same tenacity to turn their vision into a reality, no matter what obstacles they face.
  2. It Takes a TeamOne player cannot win the game on his own; winning requires teamwork and everyone applying their strengths to strive towards the same goal. The success of a startup or company also relies on teamwork. Even the success stories that we typically view as solo-entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerburg and Richard Brason, all had help from other people. Knowing your strengths is key and relying on others to help make you stronger can be the difference between a loss and a win.
  3. Stay On Your ToesThe game can change at any minute, as we saw in the recent US vs Portugal game when Portugal clinched a tie with about 30 seconds left in the game. With how quickly innovation occurs, industries can change quickly and affect your business. As an entrepreneur, you need to be aware of what is going on around you, what your competition is doing, and where new opportunities appear. Always stay one step ahead.
  4. Embrace SupportThe World Cup is a great representation of the impact and power of a country’s fans. They come together to show support, root for and encourage their team and their country. In the same respect, a customer base is extremely important for a startup company – these are the individuals that will use and talk about your business, getting the word out and helping promote your brand. Embrace your customers as your fans and give them opportunities to get involved and show their support.