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Message to Fledgling Entrepreneurs: Don't Rely on Ups and Downs of Market to Guide Your Start-up Decisions

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The news was announced last Monday that my new book, The Evolution of an Entrepreneur, had been named recipient of major awards in five categories by Dan Poynter's 2013 Annual Global Ebook Awards: Gold Awards in non-fiction for Best in Business, Leadership, and Careers/Employment; and Silver Awards for Advertising/Marketing/Sales and Best Ebook Trailer.

What thrilled me more than the actual honor of being acknowledged by a team of 205 expert independent judges in this way, was the recognition that the story of the life lessons I learned over nearly seven decades of running highly successful businesses was deemed valuable to others - not only the expert men and women who judged my book, but especially to the millions of younger, fledgling entrepreneurs and American veterans who might read it as a "crash course" in entrepreneurship. They could become inspired and empowered to get off to a good start, thereby helping to boost our country's economy, which desperately needs their involvement.

The truth is we need more entrepreneurs running successful businesses, manufacturing new products and providing better services. My urgent message to young people is that we can no longer depend on outside forces to give us a better standard of living. The ups and downs of the marketplace are unreliable motivators. No matter what the economic news of the day, week, month or year - regardless of the actions of government or the natural forces that oppose us - we must build within ourselves the determination to survive and prosper.

I am living proof of the truth and practicability of this statement. I'm a member of the so-called Greatest Generation. When I was young, there was no time for college. There seemed only to be time for survival.

I grew up in the Great Depression. My parents were poor and we struggled. Yet something positive came out of that experience on New York's Lower East Side. I developed street smarts, learning about self-reliance; how to roll with the punches (that's called adaptation); and how to work with people to get something accomplished.

Then came World War II. That was survival of a higher order: flying 27 treacherous combat missions in a B-29 over Japan as an Army/Air Force navigator and radar bombardier. My life and the lives of my buddies were always in jeopardy. This experience prepared me with lessons applicable to life after the war as an entrepreneur. I learned to live in the moment with razor-sharp focus on the objective; to be discerning but not to become paralyzed with fear; to believe in myself and to stay positive; to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.

These were my first lessons that shaped the years ahead as a successful entrepreneur. Since then, I believe they have been the initial guides to owning and operating businesses for nearly 70 years without a losing year. I also know that fear stamps out creativity and innovation. That's not a door I ever chose to walk through.

I do not believe you should count on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, irrespective of the sometimes positive numbers. The number of persons working part-time or who are underemployed for economic reasons are alarmingly high. And there is concern that the people losing out the most are the Middle Class.

So I ask myself, how can I bring my own experience and learning lessons to bear to help bolster the confidence, initiative and creativity of our young entrepreneurs? Surely their success holds a big key to overcoming many of our problems.

As someone who's relished being a mentor to thousands of fledgling entrepreneurs, I've believed that sharing the lessons and even the secrets of my success is a way to give back and help enrich our lives and create a better, more prosperous world.

Here is a sampling of several of the many important lessons shared in my book that I believe can help make a difference.

Find A Need And Fill It. A phrase I coined many years ago, after I decided to enter into the world of international trade in my very first deal. It was with a Chinese trading company. Moving from New York to Los Angeles, our first stop was the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, which published a weekly bulletin of inquiries received from around the world for various kinds of merchandise. We spotted a request from China for navy blue woolen material. Though this material didn't exist at the time, we were aware that there was a huge amount of army olive drab on sale at war surplus stores. Consequently, without money or connections, we bought the surplus olive drab, dyed it navy blue and sold it to the Chinese.

During the course of this deal, we figured out how to buy, sell and finance a transaction. The key to financing was to establish a relationship with a good commercial bank that specialized in international trade. The manager at Union Bank and Trust Company established a schedule whereby we could swing the deal and get a letter of credit from the Chinese to use as security for payment of the material and the dye-works facility.

What followed was a whole series of deals in which we exported hard-to-get merchandise. By finding a need and filling it, our entrepreneurial success was off to an auspicious start.

Three R's for success - Relationships, Results and Rewards. In 1988, President Reagan asked me to join a Trade Mission to Japan to bolster the sale of American products in that country. At a luncheon with Akio Morita, the President of SONY, the great industrialist told me, "The problem we have with America is that you come over here and want to make a deal. We meet you and want to form a relationship from which we can make many deals." More meetings ensued, along with closer relationships and new deals. Humanize the structure, and rewards follow!

Self-motivation is the key to success and will achieve powerful results. In business, there is no safety net. Successful businesspeople don't rely on manipulating markets or government regulations - they have to find their own internal motivation and use it to propel themselves forward, whether to create financial prosperity for a family or community, support a cause they're passionate about, or bring an innovative idea to the world. Self-motivation helps entrepreneurs ignite the drive needed to push through challenges when the going gets tough.

In my role as a mentor, I have given strong advice to an individual that, if carried out, would have produced a successful deal. In some cases, however, that individual did not have sufficient self-motivation to take the steps I recommended. I learned that many people lack the strength of their convictions, which leads to failure. No one can teach self-motivation...either you have it or you don't.

Subcontracting is the cheapest form of manufacturing. If you don't have a factory, now is not the time to build one. With research, often on your own search engine, you will discover that the ideal plant and equipment already exists for the manufacture of your product. That plant has already saved you the headaches and burdensome costs of labor, unions, insurance and accidents. The same is true for services such as invoicing, fulfillment, warehousing and administrative. Be smart. Don't build!

Seventy five percent of the market for American merchandise is outside the United States. Our ballpoint pen business in New York was highly competitive. Research showed us that our product would do well in Europe. With a good business plan, and within a year, we found a huge and more profitable market in Europe. If your product is sound, and research shows a market outside the USA, go for it!

If the premise is wrong, everything that follows is wrong. If you think there is a big market for horse blankets, you'd be wrong. Manufacture the world's greatest horse blankets, and you'll go broke.

You can sell it before putting it into production. A handmade sample often serves your purpose well, to gauge the market, and to determine the changes that need to be made in design. We created a writing instrument with a ballpoint on one end and a highlighter on the other. We made a dozen samples by hand without committing to tool or production time. Upon securing sales orders for 200,000 pens, we went into production.

"The harder I work, the luckier I get." Thomas Jefferson's observation is accurate, only it isn't luck. It's hard work and research. Over the years, I have prepared meticulously for important meetings and somehow the perception was that the success of those meetings proved I was lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it.

Careful planning is more important than hard work. As important as hard work is, the entire venture is destined for failure or success depending upon the strategy. It's very difficult to retrieve a mistake once it is committed to action. Review the details once, twice and then again. You'll be glad you did.

Seek counsel from an entrepreneur/mentor. This is an advisor you can trust who's already done it successfully!

There's nothing quite as exciting as a new idea. This said, exercise prudence. Good business means stepping back and letting the ego naturally deflate out of your million dollar idea until you can see it clearly with all its strengths and weaknesses. Bounce your idea off experienced advisors - trusted mentors - who will give it to you straight. Balance that with a belief in your vision, and your deep down burning desire to succeed.

Jack Nadel is the author of the award-winning book, The Evolution of an Entrepreneur: 50 of My Best Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Business (www.JackNadel.com). He is the founder and chairman emeritus of Jack Nadel International, a global leader in the specialty advertising and marketing industry. Jack, founder of more than a dozen companies worldwide, is also the author of other books, including, There's No Business Like Your Bu$iness, How to Succeed in Business Without Lying, Cheating or Stealing, Cracking the Global Market, and My Enemy My Friend. E-mail: Jack(at)JackNadel(dot)com.