If you’re looking into becoming a entrepreneur, one of the first things you’ll encounter is an opportunity to pay for a seminar that will teach you the ropes. But should you fork over the money? The answer hinges on the price and what you’ll get in return. And that depends on the course, the content, the cost—and you.
Besides the fee, attending may involve travel costs, lodging and meals. The timing may be inconvenient, the location may be too distant, the parking may be a hassle. The big question, though, is whether to pay for entrepreneurship education at all. Thousands of books explain entrepreneurship; many are available free from libraries. Countless websites, blogs and other online resources offer free how-tos, checklists, worksheets, podcasts, webinars and videos for would-be business owners.
What Your Money Buys
The wealth of easily accessed advice on starting a business is acknowledged by entrepreneur and career advice columnist Penelope Trunk, who still pitches a week-long “How to Start a Company” course for $195. “All information is available for free,” she says. “But you have to know how to get it.” Accordingly, Trunk’s seminar emphasizes how to get the information you need. That includes tutorials on effectively employing Internet search engines. It also covers tapping more organic sources, like people.
“Successful entrepreneurs have very strong networks they can use to get advice,” Trunk explains. “And you can’t pay for that kind of network. You have to build that network.” After assembling a set of informal advisors and colleagues, she says, an entrepreneur can get almost any information or advice for the price of a question.
Alana Muller, president of Kauffman FastTrac, developer of a series of 30-hour courses offered by other organizations for $700 to $1,000, likewise recognizes the attraction of free information. “People ask me all the time, ‘Who’s your biggest competitor?” she says. “I think it’s Google. You can type in ‘business plan’ or ‘entrepreneurship’ and get free or very low-cost access to articles, research, templates and tools.”
Like Trunk, Muller says mixing and mingling is part of what students pay for in addition to the actual curriculum. “To me it’s the combination of what we offer,” she says. “Yes, it’s the tools, but it’s also the people and the environment and culture we’re creating.”
The Celebrity Factor
For students attending seminars fronted by people like personal finance guru Dave Ramsey, whose “EntreLeadership Live” traveling one-day event costs $59 to $119, part of that combination is the glamour of learning from a business celebrity. Rich Dad Robert Kiyosaki and partner Tigrent Learning likewise get up to tens of thousands of dollars for a series of courses on starting a real estate business, in part, because of the lure of learning from a celebrity. The blend of charisma, fame and showmanship can leave students feeling energized.
Along the way, she learned that paying for education adds one special ingredient. When she gave free seats in a seminar to some Kauffman staffers, she explains, most dropped out after a few weeks, while most paying students stayed. “I was just crushed,” she said. “But I realized that because they had no skin in the game, they had no commitment to taking the course.”
There is a middle way. Rather than paying hundreds or thousands of dollars and committing to days or weeks, entrepreneurship students can attend low- or no-cost presentations of an hour or so at brown-bag luncheons, breakfast roundtables and after-work forums offered by local organizations. A typical example is a seven-part Savvy Entrepreneur Series of lunchtime talks on topics from protecting intellectual property to raising capital presented in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by MIT Enterprise Forum of the Great Lakes and Grand Valley State University. Attendees interact with a panel of experts as well as other entrepreneurs. Each costs $40 for non-members of the forum and students can choose to attend only the topics that interest them.
For its combination of highly refined curriculum, easy accessibility, comprehensive coverage and relative affordability, Englis says FastTrac is hard to beat. As many as 10,000 entrepreneurs pay for FastTrac courses from various providers each year. In the future, Muller expects an increasing number of FastTrac participants will learn online, through real-time video collaborations that digitally mimic the interaction and collegiality of an actual classroom.
No Substitute for Hard Work
Wherever you take a course and whoever the sponsor, as long as you don’t spend too much time or money, a paid entrepreneurship class is not a bad thing. “If you pick your seminars carefully, they can help you,” Englis says. “You just have to have realistic expectations.”
Entrepreneurship education, she reminds, doesn’t guarantee students success. “They think they’re going to get everything gift-wrapped in a box: Just add water and you’ll have a business,” she says. “But there’s no cutting out all the steps, the market research and analysis and all the things you have to do.”
Trunk agrees: “You’re not going to be an entrepreneur by taking 15 classes or getting certified or getting an MBA,” she says. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Have you ever paid for an entrepreneurship seminar? Was it worth it? Let us know in the comments section below.