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What You Can Learn About Entrepreneurship From SpongeBob Squarepants

"Mom," my 9-year-old son said to me recently. "What's an entrepreneur?"

"It's someone like mommy, who has their own business," I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"Because SpongeBob is one," he told me.

Turns out there's an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants, "Chocolate With Nuts," that's all about starting a business. Here's the plot, and what real entrepreneurs can learn from it: In the episode, SpongeBob is struck with the idea that he'd like to get rich after receiving a high-end luxury magazine in the mail by mistake. He and his best friend, lovable-but-dim starfish Patrick, hit on the idea of selling chocolate bars door-to-door to make their fortune. They stock up on two types, with and without nuts.

SpongeBob SquarePants: "Chocolate with Nuts"

They run into trouble right off. Their first customer seems scary. "CHOCOLATE!" he screams, and begins pursuing them down the street. (Failure to engage potential raving fan and prospective customer, to learn and then meet his needs.) 

Blowing this seeming weirdo off, the pair then fall victim to a series of marketing scams by a bag salesman and end up spending a small fortune for various unneeded bags to hold their chocolate bars. (Overspending on packaging and failing to stick to a budget.)

When SpongeBob finally finds a customer, she loses patience as he tries to unzip all the bags and find the chocolate bar. (Annoying package design leads to loss of customers.)

They try a variety of overaggressive and strange sales techniques that backfire, then finally sell one bar to an old woman on the idea that rubbing it on your skin imparts eternal youth. (Classic deceptive marketing . . . no doubt the lawsuit could be covered in a future cartoon.) This inspires additional outlandish lies, which sell another bar or two, but no bonanza.

Finally, the strange customer who was shouting "CHOCOLATE!" catches up to them. It turns out he would like to buy all their chocolate bars! Instant profit could have been theirs, if only they were listening to their customer in the first place. But better late than never--SpongeBob and Patrick are rich and four-wall a swanky restaurant for an expensive dinner.

Timeless business lessons there. Listen to customers. Don't blow the budget. Don't tell lies. Be authentic with your brand. It's a formula so simple a starfish can get the hang of it . . . yet somehow, so difficult for many entrepreneurs to execute.

Video courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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