3 Entrepreneurial Tips from Donald Trump’s First ‘Apprentice’

Trump.jpgYou might have noticed that a certain Donald Trump is getting a lot of attention these days. The chatter about Mr. Trump, as both presidential candidate and business mogul, is a reminder of his time as star of The Apprentice—and lessons that other business people were able to draw from a group of budding entrepreneurs. It reminds me specifically of Bill Rancic, the first winning ‘Apprentice’ and a very successful entrepreneur in his own right. Bill founded Cigars Around the World in a 400 square-foot studio apartment years before entering The Donald’s orbit.

A few years ago, well after his ‘Apprentice’ experience, I had the pleasure of meeting Bill and spending the better part of two days with him. He was the national spokesman for a financial-makeover program called Gradient Gives Back; a deserving family from my adopted hometown of Little Rock was one of the national winners, gaining help as well from financial advisor Gary Garrison. I helped with some local sponsors and media coverage, and generally hung with Bill during his visit. I found him to be as gracious, generous, and enthusiastic as his TV persona would suggest.

We talked a lot about the nature of entrepreneurship, and the characteristics he has seen in struggling (and successful) entrepreneurs. Bill told me he saw three factors that drag otherwise promising businesses down and keep them from growing:

  • Struggling businesses are reactive rather than proactive. In many businesses, too much time and energy are spent putting out fires. The leaders sometimes appear to even feed off the adrenaline that accompanies crises.
  • Leaders of struggling businesses fail to set goals. The entrepreneurs are working hard—often putting in exceptionally long hours—yet there can be a lack of direction. This leads to frustration and fatigue throughout the business.
  • Many entrepreneurs don’t think big enough. They might have a great product idea, but aren’t thinking about ways to scale the business or solve other customer problems over time. Those businesses won’t be big, Bill said, because they are not creating the environment to make home runs a possibility.

So, business leader, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that strategy and planning somehow dampen the entrepreneurial fire. The lesson to learn from many other businesses is that you can marry your energy and propensity to act with good information and a clear plan. With that combination, you might wind up on TV yourself someday—for all the right reasons and without having to enter a political race.

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