Get Smart has hit the big screens, and of course, if you're not a fan of the 1960s TV show, you might be a little disappointed to learn that this anticipated summer blockbuster isn't an educational film at all. In fact, you may not learn a thing. Sorry about that.
But, in all seriousness, we thought the timing was a good excuse to offer up a list of random resources that will help entrepreneurs "get smarter" in their business.
Your life may not be rife with diabolical foreign agents, but chances are you're finding more reasons to do business overseas. If you wish to talk with your vendor from Shanghai in his native tongue, the Rosetta Stone language-learning software is one of your best bets. But Denise Dubé, a staff writer with travelgirl magazine, suggests checking out Earworms, which is popular in Europe and was also recently introduced to the United States. What's an earworm? When catchy song lyrics seem to be stuck in your brain--that's an earworm. The software uses earworms--memorable music--to help teach languages.
"You won't be having huge conversations, but you will be able to navigate around the country," says Dubé, who tried out the software and reviewed it for travelgirl.
Or if you want to learn the basics of doing business overseas, Larry Harding, 45, has a suggestion. Harding is the CEO of Annapolis, Maryland-based High Street Partners, which helps companies seeking a presence in international markets, and he is very impressed with the U.S. Commercial Services website, Buyusa.gov.
"Our tax dollars have funded this vast array of capabilities, so shame on us if we don't take advantage of it," Harding says. With 80 domestic offices and 120 overseas offices, U.S. Commercial Services aims to help companies sell products and services internationally.
Learn From Your Peers
If you want to know more about your industry or business in general, you can learn a lot from your fellow agents in the field--provided you aren't using the unreliable Cone of Silence.
"Your peers are your best resource," says Douglas de Jager, a British entrepreneur who co-founded a property search site, DotHomes.com, in May 2006, and at the beginning of 2008 brought its services to the United States. Shortly after de Jager and his business partner, Artemi Krymski, graduated from the Imperial College London, they set up their company and joined a nearby think tank called Zenopy, filled with other young college graduates who were also entrepreneurs.
"It was a way for members to share experiences and to learn from each other--about fundraising, legalese, development processes," de Jager says. "It's amazing what ideas can come from a collective group."
Perhaps this is why business groups are so popular. Business Network International is the largest peer networking group in the world. Although the organization, which costs a hefty sum to join, is designed mainly for networking, the weekly meetings invariably lead to a lot of peer-to-peer learning. That's the reason Evan Reece, 29, and Ron Schneidermann, 30, founders of Liftopia, joined a trade organization, the National Ski Areas Associations. They knew it would be wise to pair up with more experienced people. No matter how specific an industry may be, if there are other people doing what you're doing, there's probably a membership fee out there with your name on it.
Pay Someone to Teach You
Agent 99 won't always be around to bail you out, so you might need to do some learning on your own.
Alba Alemán, 40, and Raymond Roberts, 43, co-founders of Chantily, Virginia's Citizant, which provides technical and business solutions for civilian and military government agencies, have a recommendation. They speak highly of GazellesInternational, a firm that teaches executive education and offers coaching for leaders of firms with 30 to 2,000 employees. They've been around since 1997.
Meanwhile, Peter Geisheker, 37, CEO of Green Bay, Wisconsin's Geisheker Group, a marketing firm, says that an internet marketing course called StomperNet brought him a wealth of business knowledge.
"In my opinion, [StomperNet] basically gave me an MBA in internet marketing," Geisheker says. "It was a combination of online articles, phone calls, coaching, online 'how to' videos, forums and dozens of DVDs. All in all, it was a fantastic tool for raising my business IQ many points."
Play Some Games
Maria Elena, 43, a Midland, Texas, business coach, public speaker and adjunct business professor at Midland College, highly recommends Cashflow 101, a board game created by author and business guru Robert Kiyosaki.
Though it aims to help individuals understand how to create passive income, "it's great for businesspeople," Elena says.
Carol Cole-Lewis, 53, is equally enthusiastic about Cashflow 101. She is the co-owner with her husband, Jim Connolly, 51, of CEO Chef Inc., a Los Angeles firm that uses cooking to help companies with team building, and Cole-Lewis says that it's "a great tool in learning the basic principles of accounting through a fun and realistic business simulation." And in certain instances, Cole-Lewis adds, you can plug in your own numbers instead of the ones Kiyosaki provides and get a lot of perspective on your own situation.
But if that isn't your thing, a few other board games are equally as engaging. In Acquire, each player strategically invests in businesses, trying to retain a majority of stock. The Motley Fool's Buy Low Sell High, a re-titled version of the classic game Palmyra, has players out-trading fellow investors on their way to riches and fame in the stock market. And Family Business is a game about mob warfare--family businesses that backstab each other. The last family standing wins.
Of course, if you follow all of these suggestions, you may not become the smartest entrepreneur who ever lived, but even if you challenge your mind-set just a little, you'll learn something new. And provided you recognize that you don't know everything and that there's always something new to learn--well, you don't need to get smart. You already are.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.