Dr. Ward: Two important lessons for ABA entrepreneurs.

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

President, bSci21Media, LLC

The annual Association for Behavior Analysis International Conference concluded at the end of May, and one thing is clear – behavior analysts are hungry for information on how to become innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs that grow our field and provide solutions to the world. The simple fact is this – Skinner’s grand vision for what we now call “Applied Behavior Analysis” rests on the shoulders of entrepreneurs.  Behavior analysts, like most everyone else, have to pay their mortgage and feed their kids, and would prefer to do those things by doing behavior analytic work.  That means creating more numerous and diverse jobs to grow the field, and entrepreneurs do exactly that, by providing value to the world.

In an effort to further promote an entrepreneurial repertoire to the ABA community, I had the privilege of chairing a panel on entrepreneurship with three self-made business women and behavior analysts as panelists, each of whom created their own companies from nothing, and each with a unique background in the field — Angela Cathey of Enso Group, Sarah Kupfershmidt of Sarah K Consulting, and Amy Weich of ABC Group.  

The panel was standing room only, and took an “experiential” approach to entrepreneurship that resonated widely with the audience.  We didn’t talk about business plans, funding, or mission statements.  Instead we talked about what it’s like to live the life of an entrepreneur from a perspective of authenticity and vulnerability, told by people who have lived it themselves.  Below are two important themes that came from the panel:

The Transition from Employee to Self-Employed

The transition from employee life to self-employed, and the associated fear and anxiety that comes along with that transition, is daunting to say the least.  But, you can take steps to mitigate the risks.  For example, you don’t have to “Shark Tank” your business with an infusion of cash to rapidly build your company.  Instead, most behavior analysts can start something – likely a service or digital product of some sort – on the side while they have a full time job.  This will allow you to “test the waters” with a few business ideas while retaining all of the security of a steady paycheck.  You don’t have to grow quickly if you don’t want to.  Go slow, and build up that financial cushion before “cutting the cord” and fully supporting yourself from your business.

The Emotional Rollercoaster

Ask any entrepreneur who is fully self employed and they will all say the same thing – entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster.  One day you will feel on top of the world and the next you will feel like everything is falling apart.  That’s how it goes.  You sacrifice the stability and security of employee life for the freedom, passion, and excitement of entrepreneur life.  It is a trade off, and if money is your prime motivation, you will likely not survive the rollercoaster ride.

Whatever business idea you come up with, make sure it is something you truly value.  That way the dips wont seem so far down.  Also, get a gym membership.  There is nothing that quells stress and anxiety quite like physical exertion.  For me, I was never a “gym person” but now I have gone multiple times a week for over a year since being totally self employed.  I like lifting heavy barbells, but many other options are available.

I will be writing again soon on the topic of entrepreneurship and Skinner’s vision.  In the meantime, if you want help developing your own business idea, consider reaching out through our bSciEntrepreneurial service, which currently serves behavior analytic entrepreneurs across six countries.  Also be sure to share your thoughts on entrepreneurship in the comments below and subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org.  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiary services, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, bSciStudios and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

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