Sunday, October 31, 2010

More ideas

Finding the specific idea is your responsibility. But here are some more ideas to show you the possibilities.

Start an online school. The systems part of it is already provided. Check out Supercool School.

Check out a similar option, involving video: Traindom.

What we're reading

The Western World has become so focused on finding our natural in-born abilities that we lose sight of the fact that we can improve with hard work. A few years ago, I was hugely disappointed by Marcus Buckingham's Now, Discover Your Strengths, which is designed to help you discover your talents, based on the idea that you cannot be happy unless you do. But it doesn't help you discover tangible talents, and it perpetuates a misconception.

The growth mindset, in fact, fundamentally separates resilient, successful people from those who coulda' shouda' done.  That's what I'm reading about in Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Okay,  I cheated and skimmed the last half. But to do all the books I do, that is how I do it.

If you want to learn similar concepts, but want an enjoyable read, try Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success.

More ideas

Reason number 46 that starting a business in a rural area is more difficult is scalability.

Scalability is a word made popular by venture capitalists in the late 1990s as a critical criterion for investing. It essentially refers to the ability to easily replicate transactions. Pouring concrete foundations can only be done one at a time. To scale up and double the transaction, you need to double your workforce, almost double the amount of equipment. You save a little on administration costs, such as bookkeeping. and advertising. That is not an easily scalable business.

A scalable business is eBay. Once they pay for a software writer and server space, they can handle 10,000 customers for not much more than the effort of covering one customer.

In small towns, you have fewer potential customers. So scalability is a challenge.

So what?  Do you need to become huge?

If you have reached critical mass, if you are profitable enough to earn the living you need, then you are big enough. Any more growth is icing on the cake.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wha'cha gonna do?

Let's depart from philosophical discussions, and talk specific ideas. started off quietly, referred to as the eBay of handicrafts, but is now much more than a boutique. People earn good revenue through side businesses selling their handmade goods over the store. Being more focused than eBay has been their strength. (example: our shop)

Think Etsy is too large?  Try Wedzu, a handicraft sales-enabling site, like Etsy, that focuses only on wedding-related gear.

This is something YOU can do from your tiny town, out there "on the edge of the prairie."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Independence and Success

The Nauvoo Commuter recently sent a daughter away to attend university. The dictum given and repeated for several years was that she would be financially independent once university studies began. She would be responsible for all of her living and education expenses. She would be an adult.

Once the day of reckoning approached, she was sure that sugar daddy would soften up and pay out. I almost did. The temptation was strong, but forbearance won the day.

So she buckled down and reached down inside of herself and rose to the occasion. She made a valiant effort to earn scholarships. She worked three jobs all summer.  She became an adult.

And so it is with all of us. When forced to do so, people can overcome tremendous difficulties and succeed. They creatively solve problems and hurdle barriers. They find better ways of doing things. They become entrepreneurs. Out of the current recession will arise winners who blaze new trails.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Being Professional

Members and readers of this forum are mostly in the northern hemisphere. (We haven't broken much into the southern half of the world.) But it has become surprisingly global. 

The messages seem to resonate with anyone in a rural area that can read English and has dreams of self-employment. We share common concerns. 

One commonality is the difficulty of maintaining professionalism. In the country, the temptation is far greater to wear sweat pants and a baseball cap while working. 

Don't do it.

We are always one step away from slob-hood. Sweat pants and baseball caps might be okay, but be fastidious on symbolic things that separate you and make you feel professional. Keep your work area clean and organized. Change out of pajamas. Occasionally act like you are meeting with investment bankers. 

Dressing up and cleaning your desk is only a tiny part of professionalism, but it is highly symbolic. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The True Price of Coke

Readers of this blog may have noticed that sometimes the First Person pronoun is "I" and sometimes "we." Is it an ego thing? Or is it a grammatical error tendency?
At the beginning of the last Great Depression, Americans spent 23.4% of their income on food, even though the long farm depression had driven down agricultural prices. That ratio has steadily fallen until it is now, even including meals eaten out (where the markup is considerable), the number is UNDER 10%.

Some analysts from various ideological leanings are beginning to agree that the percentages might increase. Part of the relative cost reductions have come from productivity improvements, but it is increasingly coming from fillers. In other words, if a product's price decreases relative to inflation, that might seem beneficial, but we need to compare apples to apples. If manufacturers replaces food such as sugar, with pseudo-foods such as high fructose corn syrup, then the product is different (you can't say a Corolla costs less than a Rolls Royce, because they are fundamentally different concepts.) 

But we are reaching the limit on how much cheaper we can make food before it stops being food. Maybe that's okay. Maybe we've been paying artificially low prices by eating artificial food. And the cost of inputs, such as transportation, could increase sharply. So perhaps we will begin paying the full costs of food. 

How this affects society is yet to be seen, but the topic is certainly more relevant to rural entrepreneurs than to those plying trades in the cities. 
In August this year, Time Magazine quoted an HSBC analyst:

"World agricultural markets have become so finely balanced between supply and demand that local disruptions can have a major impact on the global prices of the affected commodities and then reverberate throughout the entire food chain. As a result, prices for staples such as wheat, rice, soybeans, and pork, have risen on a trend basis since around 2004 and, more importantly, have become extremely volatile over the years."

Volatility is a separate issue from inflation. But in any case, it will be interesting to see how this movie ends. In the meantime, please pass the cheap popcorn. 

Send in Your Questions

If the Nauvoo Commuter could resolve all of your business concerns, then they wouldn't business concerns, would they?

Running a business means solving unique problems every single say. If they were not unique, and someone else could tell you the answer, then your business would be a formula, and you would have not business. It would be a formula. Your customers don't need you to mediate a formula. If your business is too simple, you're irrelevant. 

But try us anyway. We might just have an idea you have not thought of yourself. Send us a message. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Multiplying your skills

As a rural entrepreneur, you need to wear several hats. Even more than your city cousins would in the same situation. You don't have the support services available.

But at some point you will need to hire someone. Usually you hire a friend or neighbor. That gives you someone you can trust.

But your friends probably have skills similar to yours. So the hire just repeats you.

The Nauvoo Commuter recommends casting the net wider. Make hiring a strategy rather than a rash reaction. Be deliberate.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Spending time with children

When we communicate with adults, the conversation is obscured by mind games, innuendos, and cultural overlays. The more sophisticated the person, the more complicated it becomes.

Children, by contrast, are pure. No games, no intentional obscuring of meanings.

Years ago I took an intensive three-week cross-cultural communications course taught by a Swedish psychologist. Her advice was just that: if you want to become a better communicator, spend more time with children. You learn the way people should communicate, so it builds your ability.

Stuck in a home office while you take care of your children? You are in the ideal situation.

Bequeathing capacity

We've been exposed to volumes written about rural entrepreneurship and spoken with people on the same topic.
Unfortunately, the conversation too often turns to the topic of public assistance: grants, agencies, advisory functions. Government programs can be useful in providing advice and funds.

But spending time focusing on those options shifts energy. It takes away focus. Our purpose, here at the Nauvoo Commuter, is to build personal capacity.

This forum is dedicated to the idea of building individual capacities so that people will be able to pull up their socks and wow the world with their endeavor. 

We salute all of you out there, living in sparsely populated areas, who are beginning the entrepreneurial journey, rather than waiting for a program represented by an acronym. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Explanation of Micro-equity

Micro-equity is a combining of micro-credit, which has done some good things in the world, with venture capital, which creates new economies. And micro-credit is starting to show signs that it sometimes brings negative results (explanation pending). 
The transaction size can be bigger, up to US$10,000, but the micro-finance firm retains a 50% stake in the recipient firm. The concept has two advantages over micro-loans:
1) The Micro-equity firm is highly motivated to assist in the success of the investee.
2) The Micro-equity firm earns a profit through capital gains at exit, which profits can be used to launch the dreams of even more entrepreneurs.
1) The transaction size is so small that the Micro-equity firm is de-motivated to analyze business plans.
2) The cost per transaction, particularly for fixed costs of the fund and for sourcing potential deals, is too high to justify the effort.

Introduction to Micro-Equity

This is a post I made about four years ago. Explanation pending until the next post. 
I believe that our Heavenly Father is unhappy with us because of the economic differences among His children. He is not surprised, as he knows the beginning from the end, but he is incensed by our indifference and blindness. He looks upon the poor, and weeps. He looks down upon the inattentive rich in front of their plasma screens, and he is exasperated. We pray for the poor. We ask why God does not free them from poverty. Then we turn on an NFL game, which is the opiate to assuage the pain of conscience. He will not force us to do good, so we continue to pass the chips around while watching American Idol.
    Since the days when Dickens began to bring the issue to light, many strategies have been attempted. From Marx to LBJ, most of them have focused on using the power of the sheriff to steal from the rich (and the slightly-less-poor people) and giving it the poor in exchange for votes and support from the poor. These “do-gooders” have fomented class envy, but have not solved the problem. Today’s poor suffer less than the poor in times past, only because capitalism (in the few instances it has been allowed cultivation) has created a rising tide that lifted all ships. But capitalism has not solved the problem either: inequities still exist.
    Pursuit of profit is not the cause. Pursuit of hedonism is the problem. Selfishness is the root. Socialists love to harangue capitalists because it is a system which encourages selfishness. Capitalism can indeed facilitate the spiraling of a society into depravity. But statism has not encouraged selflessness, and furthermore has not added any value in the pursuit of happiness for anyone, except for those few insiders who have jobs in the bureaucracy and can use their positions to gratify their own pride. Statists often do create organizations that benefit society, but are completely unable to dismantle those organizations when they are no longer needed, even when they become harmful. The degenerating effects to society of LBJ’s programs are well documented.
Now, I am certainly not an apologist for capitalism, but I see few of its critics removing their posteriors from the sofa to do anything to solve economic inequities. I think that criticizing capitalism—the only rational system in theory or in practice—takes our focus away from actually doing something.

Enter the social entrepreneur.

Whereas the real value of capitalism to society lies in the entrepreneurial aspects (creating value, creating jobs, producing in sectors that are currently needed for society, building etc.), many people believe that applying entrepreneurial principles and practices to the non-profit sector to solve social problems is the way forward.
Is solvency possible?
Jesus said “the poor always ye have with you.”  Was this His recognition of our unwillingness to share, or was He expressing a prophetic resignation to reality? I don’t know; I only know His heart to the extent that I can say he wasn’t encouraging or even giving up on the problem. He was just proposing an umbrella solution to all problems faced by the world in any and all ages as a higher priority.
    Decreasing the economic gaps may or may not be possible, but we must to the right thing anyway. That is the aim of Pavant Capital. More to come in the months ahead.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why you should get an MBA

I have advised thousands of people on career development. And this is what I normally tell people. 

You should enter and complete a full MBA program if you can answer yes to ALL of these questions:

1) You have no possibility of earning income during the next two years.

2) You are accepted to, and committed to, a top-ranked program.

3) Completion of the program will guarantee an immediate increase in salary, prestige, and upward mobility.

4) Your age is under 26. 

The value of an MBA has continually slid since the early 1970s. If you are an accountant, and think you can use an MBA to move into the investment world with requisite financial management skills, then you might consider it. 

Many better options exist. Consider them first. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good news for Rural Entrepreneurs

What is the largest industry in rural regions? (Hint: the answer to that question is not meth)  If you can’t quickly answer, you are new to this blog and you are not looking out the window.

The correct answer is agricultural products, but it used to be “food.”

Either way, if you are raising a commodity food product: corn, wheat, soybeans, etc., or something on a smaller scale, the future might be brighter. For you.

That means good news for you, because the world might be heading into a famine. Some economists are predicting food shortages. Heat waves and floods in Russia, Pakistan, Philippines…. Commodity prices are already climbing.

Remember in 2007 when we had plenty of food, but government announcements in some countries caused citizenry to panic, resulting in rice riots? This year the shortages might be for real.

The Nauvoo Commuter does not relish human suffering. We don’t rejoice at starvation or other tribulation. But maybe this time the system (agricultural industrial complex) will change. We’ll stop putting all the corn into our gas tanks, and start growing food again.

From your own Little House on the Prairie you might not be able to build iPods or big screen TVs, but you can grow food and distribute it. This time you can’t use a “down market” as an excuse.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why this Forum is Different

Whenever I hear people give professional advice to would-be rural entrepreneurs, they usually advise two things:

- "This is how you set up your office, arrange a legal corporate structure, and hire an accountant."
- "You gotta have a business plan."

The Nauvoo Commuter disagrees with that advice. These are attempts to put the cart before the horse. 

You need to see if your business idea is viable before you bother with issues incidental to early success. And the way you learn if the idea is viable is to try. Our advice: minimize the time spent on prep, and instead spend that upfront effort on producing and selling. 

Few successful businesses stick to their original business plan. If you need bank money to start a shop, a model used for hundreds of years, then write the business plan. But what if you borrow the money, set up the shop, and then learn that no one wants to buy the kind of stuff you sell? 

Again, our advice: eat beans and rice until you can bootstrap the business yourself. If you succeed, the banks, lawyers, accountants, ergonomic chair salespeople, and inventory control software dealers will contact you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Purpose of the Blog

The purpose is to share knowledge and encouragement about rural entrepreneurship with potential entrepreneurs, policy makers, and the local town governments who work so hard to create economically conducive environments.

But we hope it will be more than the Nauvoo Commuter sharing thoughts. We want the community of struggling rural areas, now tied to us, to support each other.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who is your customer?

In certain industries that question is more difficult, such as medicine and education. In other words, if I am the doctor's customer, why does he treat me like a naughty four year old? And why am I trying to please the biology professor, if I'm her customer? The teacher evaluation survey at semester end doesn't solve the problem. 

But even in other industries, the answer can be evasive. 

As I tell my marketing students, you have two types of customers: current and potential. But maybe we should consider them to be the same. Particularly for those in rural areas, you should answer the question the same way that the New Testament answers the question "who is my neighbor?"  You customer is anyone who can easily contact you and can access your product. For services such as computer repair and for cumbersome products such as hay bales, the circle is much smaller than for something you can easily promote on the web and ship via USPS. 

The better you treat your customer, the wider the circle. Our own Nauvoo Quilt and Textile Co. ships fabric to every country on the planet, some of them the textile powerhouses. Their role is to mediate between the textile manufacturers who do business the same way as when the industry started in the 1840s, and customers, who want speedy responses and individual caring. If you live in a remote area, you can do the same thing, as long as you have a post office. 

Culinary Disconnect

Another lesson I’ve learned while here back in the big city: people, in general, are not at all connected to their food. They eat products at a restaurant or purchase processed food at a grocery store. The ambitious actually buy ingredients, such as flour and baking powder or tomatoes and lettuce, and combine them into meals. But fewer and fewer people know the sources of that food.

Whether you have always lived in the country or moved there as an adult, you are more likely to have watched a plant grow, and perhaps you have even touched soil.

During the fifth century, St. Ambrose was considered to be a super genius because he could read without moving his lips. The first Conquistadores were supermen because they possessed primitive muskets. And perhaps people who can grow food will someday be the geniuses of their world. Someone who can plant a seed and nourish it will be the one-eyed person in the kingdom of the blind. Sound crazy? Just follow the trends out to a logical, though unlikely, conclusion.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Creativity vs. Simplicity

Today the Nauvoo Commuter is back in the world’s largest city (hint: it is not NYC and not even in the Western Hemisphere.) I will reiterate what I’ve written in these logs before: large cities spawn creativity better than small cities, and far better than agrarian regions.

But here is the good news: large cities also spawn distraction. Living in Urbania and Suburbania, they are jostled and busied to death. They struggle to make time to get substantive things done. On the prairie we don't have any more time, but less minutia. We can focus better. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Better than India

People in Bangalore need employment just like people in Brussels and Beloit. And the $50 billion going to India through outsourcers helps them out.

But what about the people in Beloit, or Farmington, or any other struggling small town?

They can take back part of the IT outsourcing market. Because they have probably only taken back less than $100 million, a lot of potential exists. Workers in America's heartland are paid more than workers in Mumbai, but the two options are similar in overall cost.

The fascinating details are found in this BusinessWeek article:

Rural Outsourcers

Why do people shop at Walmart?

Everyone hates Walmart. Customers, local governments, and competitors all loathe them. Suppliers especially hate Walmart.

So why do people shop there? Let's make the question multiple choice:

a) sado-masochism: they like being abused by appalling customer service
b) they think the company's business practices are unethical, so supporting them makes us feel naughty (and being naughty makes us more attractive)
c) because it is so easy

The correct answer is (c). Maybe you have abundant leisure time to shop and afterwards site in a sidewalk cafe' with your friends chatting about fashion trends. But most people in America are tired a strung out. They don't want to think about where to get the best deal. They have to buy groceries and school supplies and vitamins and cheap clothing, all between 10:00pm and 10:45pm after getting off of work. Driving 40 minutes to a mall (that is already closed anyway) is an unattractive option.

We're returning to our hunter/gatherer roots. We have to quickly forage. And Walmart helps us do it.

As a competitor, you have a few choices.

- Out-convenience Walmart.
-  Ignore the masses and focus on winning customers who relish shopping in between sitting in cafe' parlors.
- Sell a niche product, but to all the people all over the country who love that particular product.

Try the first option, and you'll probably be clobbered. Walmart has made simplicity into an art form.

Your Community Leaders Don't Care

...or your town would be flourishing. Or it might just be that they are doing the wrong things. They might be fighting against gravity. Some trends are so powerful that fighting them is silly. Examples:

- In the U.S., population is shifting from the Northeast to the Southwest.
- Globally, people are moving from the countryside to cities.

So we can try to keep people by spending what remains in the coffers on bribing a company to locate a factory to our town. Or begging for a government grant to fix up the main street and make it cute again. But people are leaving, and those who remain don't want to shop on main street.

So what can communities do?

- They can rely on entrepreneurs to create compelling businesses that overcome the above immutable trends.
- They can make their towns more efficient, or even better, completely reinvent the way they operate: change the traffic direction, shift to congregate in new ways, etc.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hancock County Fare

Last week our group established Hancock County Fare TM, a co-op for local farmers to sell organic and naturally grown produce.

Wholesalers and institutional buyers need large volume, but small-scale farming is the best way to naturally grow produce. So we've combined our energies.

The Unlived Life

The Nauvoo Commuter is busy preparing for a business trip to Asia, so failed to post yesterday.

I agree with Steven Pressfield that we all have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us. We yearn to achieve our dream, but it lies dormant. It remains an unlived life.

The ratio varies between person, and the size of the dream varies between person. But starting on that project, even in a small way, gives you more personal power.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bad News

The first Niketown opened at the corner of Salmon and Sixth streets in Portland, Oregon. Not in Lomax, Illinois.

That makes sense, because Bowerman and Knight started Nike in the Portland area. And that makes sense, because there they had a university with a lot of fast people who needed to run even faster.  The Nike founders were exposed to new ideas in an environment full of vibrant, emergent people. Lomax has no university.

In the tiny town where you live, you may not be exposed to a lot of unique situations that will help you innovate.

So you have two choices. The first is to do a traditional, boring business in an excellent way. All you need to do is delight your customers, today, so that they eventually bring their friends to your door.  You may not need an extreme innovation.

The second choice is to sell outside your region, over the internet. In that case, you can be in a remote area because the internet exposes you to valuable, diverse thoughts.