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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.

Business Entrepreneur

Startups love pondering inclusion, yet half have no women in leadership

(STARTUPS) Tech startups are a huge part of discussing diversity and inclusion, but something as simple as hiring women in management somehow remains elusive.

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According to the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report, over half of startups have no women on their leadership team. None.

As hard as this fact is to believe, it is also hardly breaking news. Organizations who have surveyed startups and technology companies for the past several years have seen that long-standing trends that disadvantage women and other genders in the tech space are still at play.

Like many other gendered debates about the treatment of women and other minority workers, this problem is seemingly a Catch 22 or a chicken and egg situation. Critics will continue to argue that the reason ladies aren’t in leadership roles is because they don’t have innate leadership qualities or that once their non-male employees have proven themselves, then they will start getting the resources and promotions that they say that they desire.

Like many other myths about women in the workforce, these beliefs only serve to reinforce the status quo by transferring the responsibility for these frustrating conditions onto the marginalized party.

These beliefs are busted not only because they’re tired gender clichés, but because we have hard data that proves the financial and cultural benefit in long-term effects of women leadership in tech.

However, for all the discussion of diversity initiatives, the likelihood of traditional funding going to women-led startups is still small.

For now, startups with women in leadership roles were more likely to get their funding from investing teams that were also led by females. Wouldn’t it be great if other investors began to not only understand that in 2019 it’s imperative that a company’s leadership reflect the diversity of the employees that comprise it? That workers will be more motivated, feel more understood, and have greater buy-in when they identify with their management?

Empowering women is how more get involved in tech. Diversity of leadership helps organizations thrive. And if something as simple as binary gender diversity is such a tremendous challenge, all other diversity issues are still (unfortunately) a large mountain to climb.

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Business Entrepreneur

C. J. Walker: America’s first self-made millionaire was a black orphan

(ENTREPRENEUR) When you think of our nation’s first self-made millionaire, C. J. Walker is probably not the picture that may come to mind, but this generous genius made it to the top, breaking every glass ceiling possible.

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These days, it seems like Oprah gets all the bragging rights. I don’t think it’s quite fair that some car-gifting mogul gets to bask in the glory of a path that was paved a century ago. **No offense, O Great Winfrey. You’re cool, too. Please don’t take my Altima back.**

It’s time to pay our respects to the first female self-made millionaire in America. My friends, I’d like to introduce you to your new idol, Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker.

This gal had just about every card in the deck working against her. Both of her parents and all of her siblings before her were born into slavery. Her mother died when she was five, and her father passed the following year. Orphaned, she lived with her older sister until she married at age 14.

As if that wasn’t enough, a mere two years after her first child was born, Sarah’s husband died. I mean, she just couldn’t catch a break. Unfortunate event after unfortunate event. She then moved to St. Louis to live with her brothers, working as a washer woman for a mere dollar a day. Classic rags-to-riches stuff.

Her brothers worked at a local barber shop, and she wound up learning a thing or two about hair care while sharing a home with them. This planted the seed that would lead to her working with Annie Turnbo Malone, selling African American hair care products. As she learned more about hair, she must have realized she had a knack for it, because she decided to roll up her sleeves and put some indie elbow grease in.

After moving to Denver to work on her own products, she married Charles Walker, who provided the advertising know-how that would help her venture succeed. She adopted the name C. J. Walker and began traveling and training women in the fields of beauty and sales.

Eleven years later, in 1917, she called her first convention of so-called “beauty culturists” in Philadelphia. Here, she rewarded her top agents as well as those who were the most philanthropic towards local charities.

What I love about C. J. is that as her business grew, so did her awareness of the social climate around her. She never forgot where she came from, never hesitated to give back, and never gave up. She lectured on topics such as women’s independence, helping educate other black women in the ways of business.

Upon her death, it was determined that she was the wealthiest African-American woman in the country. In true C. J. style, she left two-thirds of her future profits to charity.

If I ever get mega-famous, I’m doing it the C. J. Walker way: Keep a level head, educate and help others, and put your community first.

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Business Entrepreneur

7 books every entrepreneur should read

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You’ve heard it said, “do as I say and not as I do.” Read these books from authors who have figured out what works and what doesn’t when starting a business.

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The power of books

If you’re thinking about leading a startup, but not sure where to go, the internet is often the first place we look. Surely, you can find dozens of blogs, articles, stories, and opinionated editorials that can help give you something to think about.

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However, there are tons and tons of great books that can help you think about what you need to get started, how you need to change your mindset, or challenges you may confront as you begin your startup journey. Take a look at the following 7 you may want to add to your bookshelf.

1. The Startup Checklist: 25 Steps to a Scalable, High-Growth Business
This text not only boasts a 5 start rating on Amazon, but offers what few books do – practical, tangible, down to earth advice. Where lots of books try to tell you a story, talk strategy, and share wins, author David Rose instead focuses on advice that assumes no prior experience – and breaks it down from the fundamentals.

2. Nail It then Scale It: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation
Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom focus on creating a lean startup by offering a step-by-step process that focuses on nailing the product, saving time, and saving money. The first step is about testing assumptions about your business, and then adjusting to growing it (hence: Nail It and Scale It). Strong aspects of this book include a great theoretical foundation, and an easy to follow framework.

3. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Startup
Wasserman’s strength here is that he focuses not only on the financial challenges, but identifies the human cost of bad relationships – ultimately how bad decisions at the inception of a start-up set the stage for its downfall. This book is a great tool to proactively avoid future legal challenges down the row, and also discusses the importance of getting it right from the start.

4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Horowitz writes about his experiences, taken from his blog, in a way that even inexperienced managers can touch and learn. The advice here really focuses on leading a start-up, and what lessons his experience has given him. Presented in a humorous, honest, and poignantly profane way.

5. The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company
Blank and Dorf here standout due the sheer mass of this text. A comprehensive volume at 573 pages, my favorite piece for new investors is a focus on valued metrics – leveraging data to fuel growth.

6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
A personal favorite of mine, this book is recommended for entrepreneurs not because it’s focus on business, but as a reminder that those of you wanting to start up are people. You have limited resources to manage as a person, and will need to adjust your perspective on what you care about. This book is about changing your mindset to pick your battles and be more focused.

7. Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup
Bill Aulet starts with an approach that entrepreneurs can be taught, and breaks down the process into 24 steps, highlighting the role of focus, the challenges you may encounter, and the use of innovation. This text wins due to its practicality for new start-ups, and a specific method for creating new ventures. It also features a workbook as an additional, optional resource. Check it out on Amazon

GET READING!

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