Business Posts

Leadership Skills for Solopreneurs

It takes a lot of self-directed leadership to succeed as an entrepreneur. This is especially true if you are a solopreneur. Envisioning what leadership might look like for a solopreneur requires a more expansive view that recognizes the value of skills that might not normally be considered.

For a solopreneur, the most important leadership skills are the also the most important skills for entrepreneurial success. In the NaperLaunch Academy, participants review a list of 12 behaviors that have been proven to be accurate predictors of success and satisfaction as an entrepreneur, based on data gathered by researchers who studied several hundred successful founders and evaluated dozens of behaviors. One way to measure a solopreneur’s leadership skills is by assessing their strength in each of these 12 areas:

  1. Optimism: Successful entrepreneurs have an upbeat, positive outlook.
  2. Emotional resilience: Successful entrepreneurs are stable, hardy, and emotionally resilient; they can handle work stress and pressure.
  3. Self-determination: Successful entrepreneurs believe that work success stems from personal initiative and effort, not luck or fate.
  4. Adaptability: Successful entrepreneurs are flexible, and able to adjust their work style to different conditions and situations.
  5. Goal setting: Successful entrepreneurs regularly set clear business goals and objectives.
  6. Tolerance for financial insecurity: Successful entrepreneurs can tolerate a high degree of uncertainty regarding their future income, contracts, and business.
  7. Social networking: Successful entrepreneurs expand their business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals.
  8. Self-promotion: Successful entrepreneurs promote themselves and their product or service to other people for business-related purposes.
  9. Autonomy: Successful entrepreneurs exercise independence and autonomy and can make decisions without needing external validation or approval.
  10. Competitiveness: Successful entrepreneurs try to outperform business rivals and others for business-related purposes.
  11. Persistence: Successful entrepreneurs keep working on projects until they are completed and persevere despite setbacks and obstacles.
  12. Work drive: Successful entrepreneurs are willing to work long hours and extend themselves when needed to finish projects and meet deadlines.

Understanding one’s own abilities in these areas requires reflective thought. It may be helpful to invite others who know you extremely well (eg, family, friends, associates, or advisers) to provide a thorough and accurate assessment of your capabilities in each of these areas in order to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Where a strength is identified, you have a good idea of an area of your business’ operations or your decision-making process in which you can rely on your instincts. On the other hand, in areas where weaknesses are uncovered, you should proactively develop strategies to use if you are confronted with decisions or actions that fit into an area where you may not have all the knowledge, experience, or confidence necessary to proceed. This may include pursuing professional development or training, seeking out opportunities to practice particular skills, or identifying advisors or outside service providers.

Keep in mind that no individual entrepreneur is likely to be strong in all these areas. Leading as a solopreneur requires understanding where your strengths lie and when to ask for assistance.

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 11:45

Startup Basics: Intellectual Property for Small Business Owners

As a business owner, you may want to seek protection for a product or service, a new invention, or printed material. There are three main types of intellectual property protection: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. All three are different from each other, and from business name registration, so it’s important to make sure which, if any, are appropriate for your business.

This post is for informational purposes only and nothing here should be taken as advice or direction. Before applying for intellectual property protection, consult a legal professional, such as an intellectual property attorney.

In general, a trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services; a patent protects an invention; and copyright protects an original artistic or literary work. For example, if you invent a new kind of product, you would apply for a patent to protect the invention itself. You would apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the product. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial or advertisement that you use to market the product.

Trademarks

A trademark (also called a servicemark or tradename) typically protects the brand names and logos used on goods and services, not the name of a business. However, using your business name as a source of goods or services might qualify it as both a trademark and a business name.

Federal trademarks are obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Application fees depend on the filing basis selected and which initial application form is used. You must use your trademark in more than one state to qualify for a federal trademark.

State trademarks exist, but they’re not necessary if your trademark is already registered at the federal level. They don’t offer the same level of protection as federal trademarks, but they do provide additional protection that your mark can’t be used by another entity; basically, your mark is added to a state list and anyone who checks it will see that you own that mark. In Illinois, you must use your mark in the state and provide examples of use before you can register it. Any individual, firm, partnership, LLC, corporation, association, or union can register with the Illinois Secretary of State for a $10 fee.

Patents

A patent gives legal recognition to the inventor, creator, or discoverer of a new product, procedure, or composition of matter. You may obtain a patent by fulfilling all the requirements of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There are three different types of patents: utility, design, and plant.

A patent application is prepared by the inventor, possibly with the help of a patent attorney. The first step is a search to make sure the invention is new, unique, non-obvious, and (in the case of a utility patent) useful. The USPTO website outlines a seven-step search process; you can also go to a Patent Trademark Research Center—in Illinois there are two locations: the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington branch and Western Illinois University’s Malpass Library, in Macomb, Illinois.

The application is filed with and examined by the USPTO. There is an application fee, and maintenance fees may also apply.

Copyright

While a patent protects an invention or discovery (i.e., an idea), a copyright protects original works of authorship (which may include the expression of that idea). In general, copyright allows an author to control the copying of his or her work. Digital content like apps, blogs, and websites may also be protected by copyright, as can blueprints, advertisements, videos, and TV commercials.

Technically, original works are protected by copyright as soon as they are fixed in a tangible form. Registering your copyright is voluntary; however, it must be registered in order for you to sue someone for copyright infringement.

To register, you would file an application with the Library of Congress and provide the necessary forms, fees, and copies specified for that particular type of work. The average processing time for applications is 4 months, and you’ll receive a certificate of registration.

The Library of Congress maintains a database of copyright registrations (40 million and counting), which can be searched back to 1978. It can take several months for current registrations to appear there.
Intellectual Property Resources

More information about intellectual property, as well as application forms, can be found on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website and on the websites of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Library of Congress.

The Naperville Public Library print collection offers several excellent books on the subject that may be helpful to the startup entrepreneur:



The library’s online resource LinkedIn Learning also offers several intellectual property courses, including “deeper dives” into patents, trademarks, and copyright. (A Naperville Public Library card is required to use this resource.)

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Monday, July 19, 2021 - 10:45

5 Hidden Expectations of Investors

When an entrepreneur makes a pitch in front of a venture capitalist or angel investor, there are some standard expectations of the presentation. However, the potential investor may also have some less obvious expectations with regard to the impression made and confidence conveyed by the entrepreneur. The physical content of the pitch deck slides is significantly important, but perhaps more important are the lasting impressions that the content conveys. In this blog post, we will describe five things an investor expects a pitcher to know.

  1. Know what is needed. First and foremost, the entrepreneur must demonstrate a clear understanding of how much money is needed and exactly how that money will be used. A vague request for a large sum is meaningless, and perhaps downright offensive, if the entrepreneur can’t specifically account for how it will be used and identify the expected increase in revenue and profits as a result of the investment. Know exactly what is needed, how it will be used, and what will be the result of getting the money in terms of sales and profits.
  2. Know the market. The entrepreneur must also demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the market. Know what customer needs your product or service satisfies. Know the customer buying behaviors of the market segment and have a clear understanding of why customers buy the product or service. Additionally, know and demonstrate clear understanding of the pricing strategy and how the competition can be beaten. A simple way to prepare to meet this expectation is to complete a SWOT analysis and demonstrate knowledge of that analysis through a discussion of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  3. Know the operations. A third expectation of investors is to verify that the entrepreneur is deeply knowledgeable about the operations of the business. For example, what are the vendors and why were those vendors chosen? The pitch deck content must demonstrate enough granular understanding of personnel, customer service, delivery of products and services, and payment requirements to assure the investors that the entrepreneur understands exactly how the business operates from top to bottom.
  4. Know the team. Next, the entrepreneur’s presentation must show a keen vision of the “team.” Who is on the team and why? What are the strengths of each member and how will they make the team a winner? Each individual in the business must contribute to overall success and the business owner has to know why that person is there and how they contribute. An investor is looking for expense “fat” and will want to make sure each person is needed and that the employee’s salary expense is worth it.
  5. Know the exit strategy. Lastly, an investor expects the entrepreneur to have an exit strategy. How will debt be returned to any lenders? How will equity be resolved with investors when it is time for the entrepreneur to exit the business? Know your exit strategy from the beginning. This might be couched in optional strategies depending on circumstances but knowing those options and their impact ahead of time is much more reassuring to the investor than going in with a “blinkered” hope for a wildly successful outcome.

Development of this depth of understanding can be achieved through use of a Business Model Canvas, which we mentioned in a previous blog post. The Gale Business: Plan Builder software available at the Naperville Public Library offers an electronic version of the canvas and will also support preparing a business plan and pitch deck. Each of these resources help to focus an entrepreneur’s ideas and knowledge.

These five “knows” are the extra factors that will assure success in a funding request. A pitch deck that demonstrates knowledge in these five areas will have much better odds of success than one that overlooks these investor expectations.

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Monday, July 12, 2021 - 11:45