As an entrepreneur, it seems that one has to be an expert in close to everything, including software, marketing, human resources, and sales. However, it is next to impossible to have specialized knowledge in all of the departments that are needed to run a business successfully. Although it would be ideal to have advanced degrees in these fields, research and self-study can be the next best tools for acquiring the needed information for growth.
While he belonged to a very different generation, my grandfather inspired me to learn the value of research and studies. My grandfather was entirely self-taught; he did not have the opportunity to go to school, but he was a voracious reader. My grandfather bought himself the complete set of Collier’s Encyclopedia and read through all 24 books. With the help of this self-provided education and his drive and hard work, he went on to become a successful entrepreneur.
Luckily, we have much more access to information today than my grandfather ever had. We live in the information and technology age, and acquiring knowledge is not the problem. The real hurdle is learning how to research and apply that information to real-life scenarios to solve problems and improve the firm.
Using Research to Solve Problems
A few years ago, I implemented a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system at our firm. Our company had been selling office space for a few years, but the only tool we used to keep track of our information was an Excel spreadsheet. This outdated process made searching and ongoing reporting difficult. We needed a way to better track of the interactions with our customers and data on our sales, and a CRM system was the best answer to our problem.
Coming from an accounting and finance background, I had never even used CRM software before. Implementing the system was tedious but not as hard as I thought it would be; all I needed to do was research. First, I had to learn how the information flowed through the software to adapt it to the company’s needs. I then had to learn the workings of the various modules and how to set them up along with the reports so that the CRM system worked for us. I learned through trial and error and much research.
The answers and information were readily available on so many forums that I never had to ask the CRM provider for assistance. The learning process was quite simple: whenever I had a question I could not answer alone, I simply typed it into Google and looked for the answer. In the end, it took me about two months to implement the system.
In the process, I had learned a few valuable lessons on research:
Anything can be done or learned through disciplined research and exploration;
There is nothing new under the sun. When a problem exists, so does a solution, which is likely documented on the Internet;
The Internet contains valuable and available resources for any subject of interest. Finding the right community of people with common interests is the key.
A Guide to Doing Research
Solutions are available, and the only thing that was standing in my way was my imagination. At first, this Internet-driven insight intimidated me because I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. Then I became empowered to begin facing and solving problems. I now go through the following process whenever I must research something:
Exploration: The initial step is to survey a topic superficially to get a general feel for the area. In this phase, I usually explore how things currently work and its practical implications for our company. In the case of the CRM software, this step would include finding out what types of software is available, the pricing ranges, and which products are the market leaders. This preliminary information is helpful in determining what direction to take.
Develop and follow a plan of action: Once I have a general idea of the area of focus, I organize my resources, usually in a spreadsheet, and set out steps to follow. The more organized the plan, the better. However, research that is done to develop new areas is usually messy and can be difficult to organize. It is perfectly normal for the process to follow a non-linear path.
Further research: Some areas, such as implementing new practices in the Human Resources department, require additional research. In these cases, it may be necessary to find and read several books on the topic.
Test ideas with the team: It is always helpful throughout the research process to bounce ideas off of the team to get feedback and debate pros and cons. Not only will the end-product be better, but a team member can help the process run more smoothly by contributing other opinions.
Continue the learning process: Research is never finished. There is always new information available that can help improve the company. The key is developing a habit of keeping an open mind and continually questioning the status quo. Always be alert for updates, new software systems, or methods of management.
Research may take unexpected turns. At any point in the process, the research may halt if the topic turns out to be a dead-end. Research may also take you in a completely new direction. Sometimes, an idea is not completely ready to be brought to life. When this happens, I will let the idea sit for as long as needed until I have more information.
Keep Growing Through Research
Research has now become a permanent tool for growth at our company. Unlike my grandfather’s generation, all the information we could hope for is within grasp. If you can dream it, you can do it. In this day and age, knowledge, or lack thereof, is no longer a barrier. Everything you need to grow your organization is readily available through research.