The guts to give it a tryWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The economic doom and gloom the mainstream media is dishing out 24/7 can really get you down if you let it. You worry about losing your job if have one, or you worry about not getting a job if you don’t. What those two fears have in common is this: the idea that you have to depend on someone else to provide you a job in the first place.
Read on if you want to consider one possible light at the end of the tunnel. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Entrepreneurial and Business Excellence Hall of Fame awards banquet at Lourdes College. Here are the three things that really struck me about the event:
First, there wasn’t a single elected office holder in sight. Not one. Here in Toledo that’s reason enough to stick around for the second round of appetizers.
Second, without exception, everyone was involved in trying to create new businesses and new jobs. It was a really neat bunch of people.
Third, and most important, out of the nine companies honored this year, only one came from that big, spooky, seemingly unattainable world known as “high-tech.”
What this list of award winners proves is that you don’t have to have an advanced technical degree or a pile of family money or the secret to tapping the power of cold fusion to be a startup business success. You just have to recognize a need, and fill it. And have the guts to give it a try.
Here’s a sample of the winners and their industries, with historical milestones to make my point:
n P.T. Services Rehabilitation. They developed a chain of physical rehabilitation clinics. Think Hippocrates c. 400 BC.
n U.S. Utility Contractor Company. They help build infrastructure. Think Roman Aquaducts, c. 97 AD.
n Cutting Edge Countertops. They make — you guessed it — countertops. Think Cleopatra’s Palace, c. 69 BC.
n Willson Builders. They construct buildings. Think … I don’t know … Neanderthals in mud huts.
n I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Toledo Free Press. Publisher Tom Pounds created a newspaper. Think Johannes Gutenberg c. 1439.
What’s remarkable is that none of the founders of these companies invented an extraordinary widget or service. What they did was take ordinary widgets and services and create something extraordinary.
What made these people feel so strongly they could make it in businesses that were already saturated with competition? They recognized a need, and they filled it. Says Cutting Edge Countertops’ Brian Burns, “We felt that there was a hole to be filled with kitchen and bath dealers in the way they were serviced throughout the industry. Lead time, consistency, quality.” Burns and his partners were right. Sales in 2007 were just more than $1 million. Projected 2008 sales are way up there in the seven digits.
One reason many people are afraid to launch out on their own is the belief that there is some deeply held secret, like the Da Vinci Code, handed down ages ago by the business gods and revealed to only a select few who are pre-destined for financial success. That’s pure myth. Most of it is common sense buffered by trial and error and guided by a steady injection of persistence, realism, planning and foresight.
So, how does a would-be entrepreneur “recognize a need?” It can start with the questions you’ve pondered and complaints you’ve voiced while working on the assembly line or in the back office or on the construction site. “Wouldn’t it be easier if they?” “Why don’t they make a tool that?” “I wish there was just one business I could call that would …” Finish those sentences and, ta-da, you have your business idea.
If history has taught us anything in the Toledo area, it is that the old, established companies can’t be counted on to provide us employment from cradle to grave. Shoot, we can’t count on them to provide us employment from month to month. But ask yourself, why should they? They’re just businesses, like any other, that started a very small number of years ago.
By someone who recognized a need and filled it.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.