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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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star wars force awakens

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.

Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software options for your company? Well, we have a list of suggestions and questions to help you determine what is best for you.

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It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Business Entrepreneur

Will startups ever fully return to offices?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Founders Forum survey seeks to understand how early-stage startups are changing their workplace strategy to adapt to our new COVID-19 controlled world.

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Startups in the tech industry are notorious for growing their businesses from their bedrooms, coffee shops, and mom’s basement. What more do you need when you have a phone, a computer, and a strong Internet connection? Besides of course, an idea and a lot of nerve.

Evidently, a lot more, hence the burgeoning coworking space industry that has surged in the United States in recent years. Founders have flocked to shared workspaces to find employees, mentors, and exchange ideas and resources with other startups. Creating a shared space to build community amongst like-minded individuals makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, the entire premise of the physical setup of this community has been challenged by the coronavirus. Founders have been driven back to their homes and basements, but have not lost their hunger for community.

That’s why the UK-based entrepreneur community Founders Forum is conducting a comprehensive study about the future of work for startups. “Founders are having to make critical decisions about their return to work strategy in isolation,” Founders Forum Executive Chairman and co-Founder Brent Hoberman told TechCrunch. The survey seeks to understand what founders are thinking about remote work strategies and, use of office space going forward.

As we begin to grapple with the increasingly real scenario where people will have to endure waves of quarantine as we wait for an immunity breakthrough, startups, SMBs, and tech giants alike are reconsidering their daily work structures to adapt to a new reality. Large companies like Facebook, Spotify, and Twitter have announced sweeping changes like indefinite work from home options for certain employees. This survey seeks to gather the yet-to-be-explored ideas from the early stage startup community.

In the entrepreneurial spirit of community and collaboration, the fundamental question at play here is, “How are other founders changing their workplace strategy?” The survey will also attempt to shed light on how employees’ various remote work environments may influence their point of view on strategies for moving forward.

Founders can take the survey here. TechCrunch will publish the results.

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