Small businesses provide the bulk of job opportunities in today’s job market. Therefore, many job-seekers will end up working for small businesses or as entrepreneurs. We spoke with Joe Shure from The Intersect Fund, a non-profit that serves entrepreneurs, to gain some insight into small business trends and advice for those wishing to pursue entrepreneurship.
1. What is the Intersect Fund?
The Intersect Fund is a New Jersey-based nonprofit that helps emerging entrepreneurs start and grow strong businesses. Since launching in 2008, we have served approximately 500 people through training, coaching, lending and other services.
Our microloans — of up to $20,000 — help businesses purchase expand and create new jobs. Our Action Steps coaching program helps owners increase their sales, manage their money and improve their credit scores. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury certified the Fund as a Community Development Financial Institution.
2. What skills will small businesses be looking for in 2013?
Small-business owners have always sought ways to increase sales; what have changed are the methods by which businesses find and connect with customers.
If you can devise cost-effective ways to market small-businesses — using social media and other tools — you will be valuable to entrepreneurs. To be clear, though, it takes more than logging lots of hours on Facebook to master social media as a marketing tool. Good marketers must think critically about the product they seek to sell, the problems it solves and the benefits it confers.
People who can synthesize a product’s features and benefits into a compelling message and — better yet — personify a small business in a way that reflects its brand will find themselves in high demand.
3. What is the biggest change you foresee in the coming year with regard to entrepreneurship and small business?
OK, so this is the part where I get to pick whatever industry or product I’m excited about and claim — with little or no evidence — that it’s going to take the world by storm in the coming year.
No thanks. Instead, I’ll talk about the tried and true business concepts that trend-seekers commonly overlook.
In 2013, you’ll need to have a clear idea of who comprises your target market and figure out which if their problems you solve. As entrepreneur and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham says, “Make something people want.” It’s simple, strong, and too-rarely heeded piece of advice.
In 2013, you need to have a clear idea of how you will make a profit. Founders who woo investors and lenders with stratospheric projections too commonly fall short, and funders know this. For my money, you should be earning income (not just acquiring “users”) and you should create a business model that will earn money.
In 2013, you will need to focus on your credit. The Washington, D.C.-based Credit Builders Alliance has estimated the average household can save $250,000 over a lifetime by having good credit. A higher score just gets a person better rates on auto loans and mortgages, and make it easier to get a business loan. Sure, maybe an eight-figure acquisition will come your way, but you’d better make sure your financial house is in order in case it doesn’t.
4. Where do you think the most small business job opportunities will be in 2013 (geographical locations and industries)?
One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is seeing entrepreneurship flourish in urban areas that many have written off (wrongly) as dead or dying. As more people seek walk-able communities with easy access to public transportation, more move to inner cities; new businesses and jobs will follow.
5. Why should job seekers consider working for a small business or start-up?
It’s worth noting that while working for a start-up or small business can be exhilarating, it’s not for everyone. Job seekers should consider their temperaments and needs as they pursue their careers.
Those who value a clear connection between effort and reward ought to consider working for a small company. So should those who yearn for the chance (or, really, the obligation) to learn new skills quickly. If learning all aspects of a given business appeals to you, consider working for a small firm.
Granted, the qualities I mentioned describe a wide swath of the population. So let’s talk about the downsides of working for new, small companies: first, it’s risky. We all know many businesses fail early on, and there’s a chance the firm for which you work will be one of them. Second, the imperative to perform numerous roles could lead to some confusion as to what, exactly, your job is.
If you value a clear job description, feel comfortable receiving frequent evaluations and seek to work within an established chain of command, you might decide to pursue a job in a large company. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a good thing to know about yourself.
Life in smaller, newer companies happens to appeal to me, but I would recommend it only to those whose personalities and needs jibe with the conditions it entails.
6. What is your biggest piece of advice for would-be entrepreneurs?
The first thing an aspiring business owner should do is sell something.
This advice sounds obvious, but too few would-be entrepreneurs take it to heart. Instead, they spend years daydreaming, they tinker away on a business plan, they troll around futilely seeking investments or loans, or they engage in any number of activities that — in reality — bring them no closer to building an actual business.
People who want to start businesses should come up with the useful thing they seek to offer, and start delivering it in exchange for money. The first version of their projects may be slightly flawed or more austere than what they eventually hope to produce, but that’s part of the process. Customer feedback is a crucial ingredient in improving a product or service