Saturday, 22 June 2013

Onwards and upwards into Online and Distance Learning Quality: Thoughts on growing your own business...

I often read the Hubspot Marketing blog (I think marketing carries many clues for education apart from trying to promote my own business).  The latest one is an interview with an entrepreneur in a small business and his answers to the questions set me thinking about my own experiences as an ‘entrepreneur’ in my own business.

In fact I related entirely to what was said.  Just like the interviewee, Eric Dosal, I too had a good education in business as I helped my father start our own family business over many years.  For me too meal times = business meetings and it was difficult to separate business and ‘normal’ life. You do tend to live your business, especially if it is a family run business.

But I do differ from Eric Dosal in that my father is no longer here and the business we built was sold to fund his retirement.

Having tried several business start-ups since then, I guess I am a seasoned 'entrepreneur'  (still not sure what that means!) and I think the following apply if you are going to start a business:

Turning a hobby into a business is very difficult: 
  • ·         The passion is there, that can’t be denied, but also the developed skills are often not fast enough to make real money out of.  There are lots of craftsmen out there who make a living – just – at what they love, but do they have a business?
  • ·          Too many hobbies rely on perfection and this may not be suitable for making a living.  (Perfecting a business is NOT the same as being a perfectionist) Be passionate but keep a sensible balance
  • ·         Hobbies are often based on skills from historic crafts and not suitable for translation into growing businesses.

If you do find something a lot of people want, then be prepared to find lots of competitors:
  • ·         You need to be well prepared, planning is always good but plan for action, don’t get into the mire of planning for planning’s sake.
  • ·         You need to be tough, there are many hurdles to jump, don’t give up on the first one!
  • ·         Patience is a virtue – so use it!

Using knowledge gained from education is another way to start a business, just make sure it is in something people want and not an esoteric subject area that only a few specialists work in:
  • ·         If your knowledge is in a growing area of interest then it can be built into a business but  
  • ·         Never think you know it all.  You may have more knowledge than some you will meet but you can always learn more…
  • ·         It is easier to use what you know and have a passion for, than to borrow someone else’s idea
  • ·         Better to find employment if your area of expertise is unusual – provides protection and does a lot of the work of building the ‘brand’ for you. 

Be prepared to adapt your ideas and plans.  I started out following redundancy to work in Online Learning.  Following advice (from the lady at the job centre) that I needed something ‘more practical’ I decided on model-making but quickly realised that I was too perfectionist (and slow) for this to work as a business (it’s still my hobby). 

I returned again and again to online learning where I thought I knew a great deal – enough to advise and guide all aspects.  But I found I needed more skills in the guiding side of things.  This led me to mentoring, which then led to guiding online development and to this I added my passion for quality in Online and Distance Learning, developed during my MA, which has led to the development of liaisons with international partners, epprobate.  
Is this a convoluted way into a business that I love and know that I can take further?  Yes, maybe, but many businesses start in this way so my final point is:
  • ·         Be flexible. Don’t expect to end up in the business you started with. 

Finally one point shone out for me in the Hubspot blog:
Finding the balance between work and life – this has always been hard for me.  I concentrate on what I do to such an extent that it is often hard to combine the two.  As Eric Dosal says:

 “All that being said, we have to make sure we keep the work balance in check or you can work all the time.”
My thanks to Hubspot and Eric Dosal.  

So what's next?  Keep in touch for some interesting developments as epprobate and TOLDCo grow the business of Quality in Online and Distance Learning and Courseware!

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