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What Star Wars can teach small businesses and entrepreneurs

Lessons for your small business learned from Star Wars – let your significant other know you’ll have to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens again. This is for your business. It’s really important.

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Spoilers that benefit your biz

By now I would hope that anyone who cares about spoilers for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has seen the latest film at least once. At the very least, you should have watched enough trailers to understand the basic plot and know who the main characters are in the first of the final STAR WARS trilogy.

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Not much is known of the backstory  of main character Rey who was left on the remote desert planet of Jakku, yet it can be surmised on a planet where a large portion of the residents are scavengers that Rey has learned to be resourceful. Don’t bother engaging in an argument that Rey is unrealistically talented without first reading Charlie Jane Anders io9 post “Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars is a ‘Mary Sue’” or better yet, remind yourself that this is a science fiction fantasy story.

With that said, what struck me on my first viewing of THE FORCE AWAKENS were the lessons that could be taken away from this film for start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Be resourceful

According to the Star Wars mythology, a massive battle between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire left Star Destroyers and New Republic Starfleet on the surface of Jakku. That conflict left a wealth of wreckage from which useful and valuable parts could be scavenged and sold at the Niima Outpost. Rey’s survival is dependent upon her ability to assess and secure material and equipment that she can sell.

When starting up or growing your business, use your networks to vet ideas, seek out talent, and decide on what essential tools you need.

I enjoy and learn from the Anonymous Question of the Week posted on our Austin Digital Jobs Facebook group, where answers are crowd-sourced through our membership of over 15,000 members.

This article by our own AGBeat COO Lani Rosales on which productivity tools are being used helped me immensely in starting my own business. By doing your homework before you purchase a tool or service, you can save yourself both time and money and meet your specific business needs.

Be pragmatic – and idealistic at the same time

Spoiler Alert: Defector Stormtrooper FN-2187 aka Finn realizes that to escape the First Order, he needs a capable pilot to fly a tie fighter. Recognizing Poe’s skills and appealing to his cause allows Finn into to address his need for escape and survival, while developing his own principles. He then gains the ability to choose his own battles and thereby create his own destiny.

As an entrepreneur, taking your ideas and creating a robust and successful business requires a similar balance through risk analysis. Recognizing challenges and being prepared to deal with them is crucial in any business.

If you are seeking investors to help you start or grow your small business to the next level, you’ll need a strong business plan that identifies the most important risks and how you will address and mitigate any problems that arise.

For example, it’s okay to be idealistic and include innovative business practices such as environmental sustainability through recycling but make sure that you’ve identified the feasibility from the financial, managerial, and technical aspects. Does your leased business space have a recycling program, will you have to lease a recycling container in addition to a waste container, or will you have to haul off your own recycling (which costs you time)?

Go with your instinct – and know when to say no

SPOILER ALERT: Rey could have been set for supplies and food for months had she agreed to the barter offered by the insidious Unkar Plutt for astromech droid BB-8, but her instinct told her not to sell the droid. A risky and dangerous decision for Rey, but a decision that could have changed the course of Jedi history.

This is a decision that many business owners can relate to, especially in the consulting world. In developing business for our fledgling data company, we’ve encountered clients who have attempted to negotiate well below our offered rates.

Since sales drives our revenue and income sources, we had to know when to draw the line and say no to ensure our value was being fairly compensated. Being informed that the client had closed up shop recently was affirmation that it was a good judgment call, as the likely outcome could have been non-payment.

This decision also allowed us the time and opportunity to develop relationships with clients who are well-aware of what the going rate is, and recognize the quality and value of our services.

Don’t stay rooted in the past – embrace the future, and adapt

Rey’s desire to stay on Jakku is rooted in her desire to await and be reunited with her family who left her there long ago. She is told by the insightful semi-retired pirate and cantina owner Maz Kanata that “the belonging you look for is not behind you – it is ahead.”

In a small business, it’s easy and relatively safe to stay with the methods that you’ve used in the past. How do you grow and foster and your business in an ever-changing world? Advancements in technology have significantly improved the cost and ease of business to business transactions, as well as created more “virtual” workspaces.

Social media has drastically impacted SMBs by allowing them to connect directly with their customers. In 2010 fifty-four percent of SMBs were using social media to promote their business according to this 2010 article from Forbes. However according to an eMarketer article earlier this year, surveys have indicated that the number of small businesses using social media is on a decline.

This doesn’t mean that social media is ineffective, but is more likely that businesses don’t budget and devote the necessary resources. Use social media to emphasize your business value by regularly providing useful and interesting information, and engage with your audience in a professional, courteous, and timely manner – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another trending social media platform.

If you enjoyed this thought exercise on how STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS can help you as a business owner, you will want to check out Carlos Granados’ article, “What Can Santa Teach Entrepreneurs” on LinkedIn Pulse.

#WhatStarWarsCanTeachSmallBusinesses

Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

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Business Entrepreneur

Business pro tip: when pricing your product, think like a photographer

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) On of the growing pains associated with starting your own business is knowing how much to charge for goods and services. Use these helpful tips one photographer uses for pricing a photo and get the ball rolling!

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More than a thousand words

A picture may say a thousand words, but a photo doesn’t just tell a story. A simple photo can be an excellent example on how to price your next business product.

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Photography blogger Sarah Petty wrote her method of pricing a simple 8×10 inch photograph for as advice for her fellow photography business owners. But her advice can actually be applied beyond the world of studios and darkrooms. Here’s how to think like a photographer whenever developing the cost of your next good or service.

Step One: Know thyself (and know thy client)

Your first step in knowing your next price for your next best selling item or service is knowing what type of business you run. This is solved by answering the simple question: are you a high volume seller with lower prices or lower volume seller with higher prices?

This question can be answered by looking at your sales for the past month. Are your trends indicating your customers prefer a more personalized, boutique approach to the things they purchase from you (with higher prices), or do you move a lot of product (with lower prices)?

When you understand what type of business sales trend you’re following, move onto step two.

Step Two: Understand your sunk costs.

A sunk, or fixed cost, is the price to manufacture or deliver a good that will not change (unless reacting to the market’s inflation). What is the basic core cost of manufacturing the product you intend to put in your store? That amount, your cost of goods sold (CGOS), is the baseline from which your ultimate price will come from. Now to step three.

Step Three: Look at your other overhead for producing your product.

So you know your CGOS, so all you do now is just add what money you want to make off that? Wrong. You’re forgetting that you’re not just making that product. You are maintaining a store or electronic storefront, you’ve got office space, human resource costs, and other things that may slip by whenever you’re trying to develop your price for your next big thing. This doesn’t mean you’re charging a customer a month’s rent for consultation fee, of course, but knowing that you’re going to need a comfortable cushion whenever figuring this product’s cost out. According to the federal Small Business Administration you should allocate a portion of the profit “to each service performed or product produced” and this cost should be calculated annually. Finished, now to step four.

Step Four: Profit!

Finally, after factoring your CGOS and your overhead, now you can decide what you want to make by selling. Petty personally uses the approximation of making 4 or 5 times her CGOS plus her overhead per item. Whatever the ultimate cost is, it has to be able to lend you the ability to live comfortably in order for you to be able to manufacture more in the future.

The next time you have to develop a price for a new product, don’t forget to step into the world of photography for awhile. You’ll be saying cheese all the way to the bank.

#KnowYourPrice

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Business Entrepreneur

The pros and cons of listing hobbies and interests on your resume

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) All resumes are not created equal but they should all follow the same rule of thumb when it comes to listing hobbies and interests.

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Relevancy matters

An “Interests or Hobbies” section of a resume is often a question of debate for job seekers. In general the consensus is clear: interests and hobbies are okay – if they are relevant.

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An interest or hobby section can help round you out as a candidate, and can help you standout, but it can also come with some costs. Let’s weigh some of those pro/cons.

Advantages

  • They help distinguish you from other applicants. Especially in applicant pools where the qualifications are similar – this can help you standout and make you unique in the applicant pool.
  • They create talking points for interviewers – and can help humanize you. They give places to start up conversation and generate positive “buzz” about you with the hiring manager.
  • They show-well roundedness and versatility – often hobbies or interests can indicate skills that are transferrable or represent growth potential.
  • Can give indications of fit and alignment with company culture – and can indicate how you will mesh with a team.
  • Express desirable traits like dedication, persistence, and passion.

Disadvantages

  • They pigeonhole you – they may cause an employer to limit how they think you will fit in with the team.
  • They could indicate things that are distracting – so for example, if you list “traveling”, your employer may worry that you plan on vacationing a lot or may be unavailable.
  • Expressing too much interests may trigger to employers that you don’t have enough balance, or that you have priorities that may conflict with work.
  • Expressing involvement with organizations that run counter to the organization you are applying for may eliminate you as a candidate.

Think before you list

Although weighing the pros and cons are important, there are a couple of things to ask yourself BEFORE you list an interest. Consider going through the following questions:

1. Is it relevant? While it is ok to list one or two side hobbies or interests, most of what you list should be relevant to the job you are applying for – blogging for tech if you are applying for IT, or leading a volunteer team if you are applying for a manager position. Don’t throw around random information in an attempt to fill space.

2. Is it controversial? In general, be wary about listing political associations, or membership in controversial issue groups – gun rights, abortion, immigration, etc. (Of course, if you are applying for a position that is political in nature, be careful about listing involvement in organizations that are politically to what you are doing!)

3. Is it dangerous? Probably best to not mention you engage in UFC fighting, real sword play, live action jousting, base jumping, etc. You don’t want employers to think you are expensive to insure, or worse, may not come to work alive one day.

Least important goes at the end

When including this material in your resume, be sure to consider how you present this information. Be brief – and do not list more than 2-3 interests that you can clearly connect to the job. Place them at the end of the resume – so you don’t fight with more important content like experience or education that hiring manager MUST see. Label the section correctly – consider “activities and interests”, “areas of interest”, or “other” depending on all the information you are listing. Key point – keep it brief, avoid irrelevant fluff, and indicate interests to stand out, not push yourself out.

#HobbiesNInterests

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Business Entrepreneur

How to determine your freelance rates based on data, not your gut

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Setting freelancer rates can be quite the tricky business. This tool does arms you with the data you need to grow your business

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The bulk of my professional career has been spent as a freelancer. The designation of “freelancer” has taken me on an interesting path that allowed for projects and opportunities I didn’t even know existed.

While I’m grateful for each and every opportunity, I now look back on some of these experiences and realize that I was vastly underpaid. For the most part, this is my fault as someone paying for a service is looking for the lowest possible rate and I never bothered to bargain out of fear of losing the role.

It was even at a point where I dreaded being asked my hourly rate because I didn’t know what the norm was. There was always a fear of charging too much and getting dropped for someone cheaper, or charging too little and looking inexperienced.

We recently talked about knowing your worth and how we freelancers often under charge for our services. Luckily, as this career path becomes more and more popular, there are now more resources devoted to helping us know what to charge.

Such a resource comes in the form of Freelance Rates Explorer. Created by Bonsai, this online tool gives users the ability explore rates from 40,000 freelancers worldwide.

“There are many sites like Glassdoor that offer salary data comparisons for full time employees,” said the tool’s developers. “However, there isn’t a site like this dedicated to provide insights on freelancers rates. We had this data, so we built the Rate Explorer to make it easy for freelancers to compare their rates in the largest publicly available rates database on the Internet.”

In order to find the standard rate for their field, users will input their role (either development or design), their skills (full stack, front-end, back-end, DevOps, iOS, and Android), experience (in years), and location. The Rate Explorer then generates a bar graph based on the answers and will show the most common hourly rates based on the number of freelancers and the rates range.

Bonsai also offers proposals, contracts, time tracking, invoicing and payments, and reporting. All of this is designed for freelancers.

As for the Rates Explorer, seeing the numbers calculated right in front of you may make you realize that you’re vastly underselling yourself.

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