Is Starting Your Own Business Right for You?
Owning a successful business is a big dream — one that can easily turn into a nightmare if you’re not fully prepared to be an entrepreneur.
Even if you’re great at what you do, actually running a business requires a lot of hard work, a variety of skills unrelated to your core service or offering, and being financially savvy enough to give your business the time and space it needs to grow.
A few years ago, Jeff Leavy created The Entrepreneurship Toolkit for Seattle Central College’s Business and Technology department, largely in response to the community’s need for more training and guidance in the world of small business. This year, he passed the reigns to one of the classes’ long-time expert lecturers, Michael Coffey, so we asked both Jeff and Michael to share more about their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives on this class.
We’ll be offering this course again during Spring 2017, so read on to learn whether or not this class is the right fit for you.
How long have you been teaching these workshops?
Jeff: Three years, then I handed it off to the very capable Michael Coffey.
Michael: I’m brand new and an old hand at this. I first got involved with the Entrepreneurship Toolkit class as a guest speaker a few years ago.
I met Jeff Levy, who created this class, when I was a Business Assistance Officer at the Washington Women’s Business Center. When I left to launch my own business as a digital strategist for small business, he asked me to come in and present some key ideas of marketing online. This also led to my designing and teaching the Marketing Fundamentals class.
I’ve been coming in as a guest speaker almost every quarter since then, but Fall 2016 was my first time as the instructor for the full course.
What inspired you to teach this class?
Jeff: The dean at the time felt that Seattle Central College had an opportunity to be a center of excellence in entrepreneurship. I am a subject matter expert in that field and also a community college graduate. It was time to give back and provide some inspiration.
Michael: Aside from simply the necessity (Jeff Levy had conflicts that prevented him from teaching), the importance of this class is twofold.
First, I think it’s important for everyone to view starting a business as a possibility for them to consider. Not every business idea is great. Not every person is ready to start a business. But there is still a lot of inequality in who starts a business, and I think our economy would be more vibrant and diverse if more people considered business ownership. And the first step toward that is helping people see that starting their own business is a possible option for them.
Second, on the flip side, it’s also very important that those who do start a business are well informed about the process when they do so. Being a hard worker is not enough. Being good at what you do is not enough. Being passionate is not enough. Jumping in without having a good picture of what the experience of entrepreneurship is leads to a huge percentage of business failures. The misconceptions about entrepreneurship can be deadly to a business venture.
How is this class different from others that you teach?
Jeff: Most of my other work are two hour seminars, and this is more hands-on and discussion-based.
Michael: Much of what I teach, both as a digital strategist and at Seattle Central, is about technical skills.
The Marketing Fundamentals class is an overview of marketing skills and concepts. I’ve taught classes about how to set up your own business website, or use Google+ as both a social media channel and to improve search engine optimization. But Entrepreneurship Toolkit is more about the entrepreneurs themselves. It’s about the bigger picture of both designing your ideal life, and based on that personal vision, thinking about business ownership as a potential way of realizing that vision. That’s very different than how most people think of starting a business.
Of course, there are also skills involved, and evaluating whether you’re ready now or if you have more work to do, and so forth, but the core of the class is the idea of whether a particular business idea will serve your life.
Who would benefit from taking this class?
Jeff: Anyone entering the work force or needing to work their way through the “New Career Economy.”
Today, 31% of the work force is 1099, contract employees and that is projected to grow to 50% over the next 15-20 years. New workers need survival skills, both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial. This class provides that.
Michael: Anyone who wonders about starting their own independent business, or buying a franchise.
This class is a great way to “try on” what it might be like to own a business, and what it would take to be successful — without the substantial costs in money and time of really starting one.
I’d love it if all the students were successful in business, it’s also sometimes a success if a student realizes, “I was about to start, but I know now that I need to learn more about how accounting (or whatever) works first.” Or that their personal goals are better achieved through traditional employment. Or that they need to prioritize building savings first before financing a startup.
Anyone who’s not sure about those kinds of priorities would get a lot out of this class.
What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?
Jeff: When a student that was also taking a class called Art and Anarchy told me he loved my class when he realized there was no financial security in anarchy. Wow!
Michael: We recently were visited by a librarian from the Seattle Public Library, Jay Lyman.
Many of the students were stunned (in a good way!) by how much detail could be gleaned about their potential customers, competitors, and industry, using free library resources. The “aha” was not just what data was in which database, but that it was even possible to find these things out.
I could almost see thoughts like “Wait, if you can see that, I bet you could also figure out…” cross many faces.
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