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The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 3)

The Era of the Unintentional Entrepreneur: An Interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (Part 3)

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    This is the third and final installment of my interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (See Part 1 and Part 2). In this part of the interview, I talk to Kevin about the new organization he’s helped create, Unintentional Entrepreneur, which is currently holding events around the country to help provide newcomers to the world of entrepreneurship with the tools and skills they need to get started and build a successful business.

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      Dustin Wax (DW): Where did the idea for Unintentional Entrepreneur come from?

      Kevin Reeth
        Kevin Reeth (KR):

        We were doing a promotion with Newtwork Solutions, giving away free websites for businesses, and we thought, there’s gotta be more that we can do than just running this promotion. It could be providing help and guidance ourselves, but also connecting folks with other entrepreneurs.

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        We learned an awful lot actually watching what Chris Hutchins did at Laid-Off Camp. I was up at the first Laid-Off Camp and it was something that kind of grew organically and went nationwide. Chris organized several of the initial ones and then they started to spring up and other people who were passionate about this picked it up and ran with it.

        DW: What kind of support is out there already for beginning entrepreneurs?

        KR: There’s a ton of support but it’s all over the place. You can start with local Small Business Administration and SCORE offices around the country. Meetups have also become a very interesting form of support for these folks, where they’ve done a good job of getting people in certain disciplines together. And there are the older, formal networking groups: professional associations, things like that.

        But a lot of it, the really good support, tends to be smaller and more organic. We see this a lot with our customers who sell on Etsy and eBay. They’ve got very active communities where people share stories about what they’re trying to do. They like to get together and they share knowledge, and it’s not just the practical tips and tricks but it’s also the motivation and the inspiration and what keeps them going – the emotional connection that’s important as well.

        DW: What do you think is missing from these existing sources of support? What is your role here?

        KR: With Unintentional Entrepreneur, the focus really is on those folks who may find themselves in this position but they’re not quite prepared. There’s a pretty significant education component, just in terms of what it means to be self-employed. Just the fact that you now have to pay both social security and Medicare is one of those “You’ve got to be kidding me” moments.

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        We really wanted to be able to get those basic discussions going, and introduce people to other folks who are maybe a few months ahead of them. If you’re a brand new entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily want to get advice from somebody who’s already made 10 million dollars, because they probably don’t remember what it was like when you’re trying to get that first or second customer. You want to talk to someone who is a few months ahead of you, who’s figured a few things out. That’s really the charter of this initiative: get those people who aren’t quite prepared and help them get a little bit more prepared.

        DW: I know you’re still sort of feeling out what you’re doing, but what is the short term goal? Are you hoping to produce local user groups, or are you planning to build this around special events, or what?

        KR: The immediate goal is just to generate awareness about this. We don’t have a very clear end game for it. If I had to say what I think an awesome ultimate goal would be, would be if these events spawn groups of committed folks or multiple groups that build up their own networks. But honestly the best thing that could come out of this are a bunch of people who feel empowered to go off and make a go of it on their own and start generating successful businesses. And start interacting with each other themselves.

        DW: You just had your first event [at the end of July; there have been more since then]. How did that go?

        KR: It went great! There was a very good mixture of people who are evaluating, should I do it, should I not, should I keep looking for a job? And there were some people who had the idea that they did want to make the leap and were wondering if now might be the right time. We had good attendance, we had great energy from the group, a good cross-section, and we also learned a lot about what people are looking for.

        Because this was our first event we were very much using it as a sounding board to help figure out what people are looking for, how can we improve this, what kind of resources? So we’re at the very beginning of those conversations. But the fact that we’re having those conversations and people are engaging is very encouraging.

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        DW: Tell me about the event, what exactly was it? What do you do?

        KR: We had people come in, we did half an hour of meet-and-greet, have some pizza and soda and beers, and just kind of socialize and share stories. Then we had three speakers. I actually kicked off the initial one, which was basically “Let’s get the least sexy stuff out of the way, here’s all the stuff you have to do according to the IRS if you’re self-employed.” I gave pretty much an overview of all the compliance stuff, all the tracking and reporting and bookkeeping and taxes and tax tips and things to think about, and then we moved into more of business stuff.

        The second presentation was about going out and getting some business: Building a personal brand, letting people know what you’re trying to do, getting online and getting a presence. And then we capped it off with Lorna Li who spoke more specifically on online marketing – how to use the technology to increase leads, how to take advantage of the Internet to maximize your impact from an inbound sales and lead generation perspective.

        Those went pretty well, but we got some good feedback from folks in terms of other places where they might like some help and so we’re going to modify that.

        DW: One thing that really interests me in general is how at one level in business, everything’s about competition, but at the personal level, there’s this kind of cooperation, a kind of “sharing-ness”. You see these big companies in cut-throat competition but you get a bunch of bloggers or a bunch of developers in a room , and they all just want to help each other out. It’s kind of fascinating.

        KR: That’s absolutely true, especially of small business owners. Because very few of them actually do compete directly. They love to just learn from each other and seek to help each other out, and they seek advice from others, and so that organic and community-based nature wins out. For example, we’re in downtown Campbell, and you see the local merchants here, out on the street, talking to each other and swapping stories. There is this great sense of camaraderie – they know that they’re in this together, they all share similar goals and challenges and so they share and learn from each other.

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        With Unintentional Entrepreneur, too, there’s almost a little bit of the little guy vs. big corporate America, especially if you just left corporate America. To be out there with other self-employed people is empowering! And it’s also a replacement for your social interaction, because it can be lonely – you don’t have your office mates, you don’t have the big crew of people that you could rely on. You’re out there and it’s pretty much you and maybe a couple of other people you interact with, some customers and vendors, so there’s also that social element to this.

        DW: How will you know if Unintentional Entrepreneur is successful? What’s your best-case scendario?

        KR: For us the ultimate great outcome is that the people who come to these events find that they can be successful, that if they’re good at it and they love it and they stick with it, they’re never going to have to rely on somebody else to give them a job again!

        The first round of Unintentional Entrepreneur events appears to be over, but Kevin told me they’re already planning a new series of events, so stay tuned for an event near you – or contact the folks at Unintentional Entrepreneur and see about organizing an event in your own community! Be sure, too, to join the Unintentional Entrepreneur LinkedIn group to stay up-to-date on the latest news.

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        Last Updated on August 20, 2019

        Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

        Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

        Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

        This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

        The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

        Curiosity

        Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

        People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

        Patience

        Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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        When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

        Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

        A Feeling for Connectedness

        This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

        A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

        The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

        With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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        1. Research

        Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

        Learning the Basics

        Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

        Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

        What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

        Hitting the Books

        Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

        Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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        Long-Term Reference

        While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

        My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

        2. Practice

        Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

        A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

        Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

        3. Network

        One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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        These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

        Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

        4. Schedule

        For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

        Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

        Final Thoughts

        In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

        If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

        At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

        More About Self-Learning

        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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