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A business mind

This week I had the privilege of conducting two workshops for employees who had been terminated from their jobs. The workshops were designed to give these employees hope for the future and practical tools to move into the next phase of their lives.

For some of them it was a voluntary parting, for others it was not and I think it was a great gesture for the companies to provide this type of workshop to make the transition easier.

I was really pleased to hear the number of people who were planning to educate themselves further during this new season and I was even more pleased at the number of people who were planning to get into business ventures and become self-employed. I did not hear anyone say that they were looking for another job.

As I walked around the room and chatted with the participants, I found that though some had planned to start businesses, many did not know what they had, took for granted what they knew and did not consider who they knew in the context of helping them to generate business. They had not truly thought through the idea of starting a business.

I think it is largely a reflection of our educational system, which to my mind has traditionally trained students to pursue professions rather than entrepreneurship, although that is changing.

However, it was gratifying to see people who started the day saying that they had no dreams or visions and end the day considering business ideas that they had not thought about before. Of course there were some who seemed to leave as they came, but I’ve learned to accept that not everyone will run with what they are given and that not even Jesus got everyone to believe in the truth.

What I would love to see, though, is more people thinking big and thinking outside the box. I’m sure we have no shortage of creativity in Barbados but it needs to be developed and encouraged. I say that because I see many people gravitating to what already exists so my constant challenge to them is: “What will make yours different?”

There is nothing wrong per se with offering a product or service that already exists, there’s hardly anything new under the sun, but what is important is being able to innovate i.e. make changes to what already exists.

One HR manager who sat in, shared about a Disney training session where the participants were challenged to sell hot dogs without buns and had to come up with creative solutions. We need to encourage our people to brainstorm and ask: How can we do this differently?

I showed a video about a business in Switzerland where two brothers decided to make carrier bags for people making deliveries on bicycles. Carrier bags already existed but they recognised how they could be improved by making them water resistant to suit the conditions and they used recycled materials to create attractive “green” bags. These bags are now sold all over the world and not just for deliveries.

My question to them was: Can this happen in Barbados? The answer was “yes”. So how do we make it happen? How do we begin to get our people to think entrepreneurially? It is by education, by encouraging them to ask the relevant questions, such as: What do I need that I cannot get here? Do other people need it? Is anyone else doing it or making it outside of Barbados? How can I adapt what they are doing and improve on it? How can I sell it globally?

Unless the economy improves, a number of companies and Government as well, may be forced to part ways with some of their staff because they just cannot sustain the payroll costs in light of falling revenues. This is therefore a good time for employees to take an inventory of what they have, what they know and who they know and begin to think of businesses that they can start in the event that they have the misfortune (or fortune depending on your perspective) to be terminated.

It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and the opportunity not to arise than for an opportunity to arise and not be prepared.

In these times, many people may be pushed out of the nest (of job security) as a mother eagle does to her eaglets when she knows it’s time for them to fly. Rather than live in fear of crashing to the ground, we need to recognise that we have wings and we can use them to fly, and even soar, as entrepreneurs.

* Donna Every is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA who worked with Ernst & Young for ten years before starting her own Business Advisory practice, Arise Consulting Inc. She has written four books including What Do You Have in Your House?, Surviving in Times of Financial Crisis and the novel The Merger Mogul.

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