Talking is something I enjoy — me talking, other people talking, talking about talking and especially talking about my popcorn business, Popped!
I’m not exactly sure what comes first in small business, passion for an idea, or a great, almost unstoppable, desire to talk about it. Needless to say that when Matt Trayers, the president of the Kent State University Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, asked me to talk at their meeting earlier this month I was more than happy to oblige.
Kent has a great business school, and the classes there already cover demand side management and positive accounting theory, so I knew I would have to pick other topics. (Just humor that last statement.)
What these future entrepreneurs really wanted to hear about was the nuts and bolts of starting a small business. Advanced business theories and speakers currently operating huge, successful businesses are interesting, but they don’t answer the question of how you actually take an idea and turn it into something.
I can relate to looking at a really great business from the outside and just feeling completely bewildered. I had just two solid pieces of advice that I wanted to offer students in the CEO club who may have been feeling the same way.
The first was to write. Write thoughts, emails, letters, notes, blog posts, sketches, business plans, journals, doodles, anything you like, just write about it.
The second was to talk. Talk a lot.
Talking to people generates excitement for the ideas your trying to pin down and it gives you the lift to keep exploring. A single conversation can set off a lightbulb that turns a good idea into a great idea. Talking to lots of people gives you a lot of fresh perspectives and information that you would otherwise never have been able to access. No one starting a business has to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of successful people who are more than happy to talk and share their knowledge. Call them up.
There isn’t a textbook in the world that can cover all the ways to start a small business, but a whole lot of chatter can get you a pretty good overview.
At the CEO club meeting, I talked about my background and what I was doing now for my business, and I told them where I wanted to be in the future. I shared a few ongoing concerns about equipment, packaging and budgeting. By being completely candid about my concerns, blunders and expenses, we were able to have a really interesting discussion. Hopefully, I provided some answers about starting a small business in Kent. For my effort, I received a ton of really interesting opinions and solutions. Not all the opinions were keepers, but it was great to hear from a room full of people I hoped would become customers.
The meeting sort of turned into an impromptu focus group on prices, products and late-night hours. According to these students, it turns out that Thursday and Saturday are the nights to be open for the late night crowd downtown. (It’s good to know that the next generation of entrepreneurs like to party.) Closing early on Friday is good news for me too, because it frees up my Friday nights to do important things like check out DJ Danny Basic at 157 Lounge, or visit the new bar set-up at 101 Bottles. (24 tapped craft beers!)
I did put some of their ideas to use and changed my packaging. There was a small, but vocal contingent that wanted bigger bags for the sea salt kettle popcorn, preferably at 3 a.m. from the walk up window. The bags are bigger, but I’m still working out the details on that 3 a.m. time slot.
I wanted to know if they would pay extra for a Kent State licensed popcorn tin. No, unless of course, they could pay with Flash cards funded by the parental financial division. Good to know, especially once the Kent State Hotel is open for visiting parents and alum.
I had a great time yammering away, and I already have another speaking engagement lined up. Only this one is with some real heavy hitters who don’t pull any punches when it comes to snacktime — the third graders at Holden Elementary School.