Ongoing education Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Today’s entrepreneurs face different challenges than those 20 years ago. Laura Kuhl, a former business owner and entrepreneur who currently works as a senior manager with Dixon-Hughes PLLC, knows those challenges firsthand. As a faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus, Kuhl helps tomorrow’s entrepreneurs prepare for those challenges.

“I’m a lifelong learner,” says Kuhl. “That is one of the hallmarks of being an entrepreneur. They never, ever feel quite finished.”

Whether you are an entrepreneur or an “intrepreneur” — Kuhl’s term for someone who possesses the skills and attitude of an entrepreneur but works inside someone else’s business — you need to be prepared if you want to survive in the business world.

Smart Business spoke with Kuhl about how the traditional ideas of business are changing and how you can make sure you can adapt to the changes.

What does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur today?

There are things you need to be able to do if you’re an intrepreneur or an entrepreneur. It’s all the same things you have to do to be able to create your own job security. You have to recognize who your customers are. You have to be able to solve problems; you have to be able and willing to accept accountability. The buck stops here. That’s something that entrepreneurs have always had. They are the bottom line for accountability.

Entrepreneurs or intrepreneurs who succeed in the work force take that attitude every day. They are willing to work to generate new business or new business ideas. They innovate and adapt their services — meaning if I’m an employee, I need to be able to adapt to what my customer wants, what my boss wants or what the people I’m serving want. There are some people who can’t do that, but you can learn it. All of these things are things you can learn. So find an academic institution that knows how to equip people with those things that are entrepreneurial in nature.

If you can’t solve problems, if you can’t use technology and/or if you can’t adapt to your customers, you’re going to have a difficult time as an entrepreneur. Those are just skill sets that are unique.

How do you prepare aspiring entrepreneurs for the challenges of running a business?

I stress a nine-step model of problem solving, where you dissect things automatically and routinely. You understand what the steps are to benchmark alternatives and how to assess those alternatives against what your companies objectives are and, ultimately, how to come up with a very good decision, very quickly. Employers value that. By the time you’re done with the program, this approach is so ingrained in how you approach opportunities and problems; it’s like driving home from work.

As a faculty member, what can you teach entrepreneurs about making decisions?

When faced with volumes and volumes of data, people can get mired in it. It’s like not being able to see the forest through the trees.

The benchmarking skills you can learn allow you to come up with data triages very quickly. The data doesn’t matter; it’s the knowledge that matters. Over time, you learn to mark trends and you learn to benchmark. You learn to say, ‘At what point do you have enough information to make the call?’ That’s what education does. It teaches you to be able to discern those critical points where you have enough information to make the call.

Can people besides entrepreneurs benefit from furthering their business education?

I personally can’t imagine a single person on whom this education would be wasted. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you don’t need an advanced degree for this or that.’ But when things get really competitive, an advanced education can be a differentiator. As an employer, if I have to choose between two attractive candidates, the one who is going to step up and get the position is the one who has better credentials. All other things being equal, that ends up being the factor that triggers your decision.

How can an advanced education increase employability?

You add a lot of credibility to your resume if you are teaching or studying with a university that is progressive. Those are the exact same skills that employers now need.

What I think is important is entrepreneurism is relevant to everybody. It doesn’t matter if they happen to have a job right now where one company gives them a paycheck. Entrepreneurism is attitude; it’s work behavior. It’s how you approach your work much more than it is who’s paying your paycheck. You can get your paycheck direct from the end customer or from somebody in the middle, but it doesn’t change the nature of entrepreneurism. The only way to really be successful is to either be an entrepreneur or an intrepreneur and to learn the skills that go along with that.

LAURA KUHL is a faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS or www.phoenix.edu.