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Start Helping!

Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In addition to publishing Entrepreneur, we also publish a magazine (available on the newsstand only) called Entrepreneur's Be Your Own Boss. It comes out three times a year and is targeted to the start-up audience. For several years, we've seen the newsstand sales of B.Y.O.B. steadily rise. The last two issues have sold extraordinarily well at bookstores across the country. What this says to me, hopeless Pollyanna that I am, is that the number of business start-ups may start rising as well.

As I've said so many times before, the last time the economy was in such a funk, it was the millions of Americans who started their companies in the early and mid-'90s that snapped us out of it. Let's look at some numbers: From 1990 to 1991, the number of new firms decreased nearly 7 percent. The number of new incorporations declined 5 percent. In 1992, however, the number of new incorporations was on the rise--increasing almost 7 percent. And, while not quite keeping up that phenomenal pace, new incorporations continued to increase throughout the decade. Similarly, the number of businesses owned by women grew about 27 percent from 1990 to 1998.

Many of us who covered the entrepreneurial world then thought the same thing would happen this time: that the hordes of newly laid-off Americans would start their own businesses. So far, according to all the numbers I've seen, it hasn't. In fact, the percentage of self-employed Americans fell to 50-year lows last year. But I hope (judging by the sales of our B.Y.O.B. magazines) many Americans have now been bitten by the start-up bug.

Yet another encouraging note for start-ups is a new study released by the SBA. For many years, we've heard that 60 to 80 percent of new businesses end up failing within their first few years of operation. Now we know that 67 percent of all new companies are successful after four years in business.

So why am I telling you folks who are already established business owners? Because you need to help. I know many of you will claim you're too busy growing your own businesses to help someone else start his or hers. And some of you will lament the fact that no one was there to help you, so why should you bother?

I'll tell you why. We've all seen the power you entrepreneurs can wield, the jobs you create, the money you pour back into your communities. We need more people just like you to get out of the economic mess we're in. So, while I'm not telling you to help someone start a competitive business, you certainly can spare some of your time to share your experiences and expertise with those who most need it. Volunteer to talk to a college class. Join a local business or civics organization. Tell your trade association you're willing to mentor someone in another city or state. Become a member of a fledging business owner's board of advisors.

As a business owner, you are often asked to donate money to various causes. And while I'm certainly not telling you to stop doing that, I am asking you to do more. Give of yourself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The only gift is a portion of thyself."

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