Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in training and development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ian Coburn, President of GPA Training, Inc., located in Aurora, IL, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Sales and customer service training, including leadership coaching, management training, and team development. So literally anyone and everyone is a customer.

Tell us about yourself

Since I was in 5th grade, I have wanted to entertain people. I was fortunate to be talented in humor, and for the first 12 years of my career, ages 18-30, I toured all over North America as a standup comedian. I was quite successful, even achieving door-deal status (where all the money to the house goes to the act, and the drink money goes to the house).

As I traveled over the years, I met tens of thousands of people. Audience members tend to open up to acts when hanging out after shows, and I learned many people struggle to achieve their goals for a number of reasons. Little by little, my passion switched from wanting to entertain people to want to help them achieve their goals.

I got out of comedy and into sales and customer service, where I helped both staff and patrons achieve their goals. (Comedy built my skills to sell exceptionally, serve customers and staff, and, of course, present and train.)

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Continued, constant improvement. Wins and achievements, like having a book out (everyone wants to write one but few muster the time and focus), come from constant, steady improvement, not in leaps and bounds, and by focusing on the win or achievement, as many tend to believe. Focus on improving, and the rest will follow.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Self-discipline. It's easy to want to skip doing something, put it off, etc., because no one is managing you to do it.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Know yourself. You have to know how you react and behave in each environment and scenario. From there, plan accordingly--set yourself up for success by utilizing your strengths while avoiding positions that will expose and prey upon your weaknesses. I always reference screenwriting as an example. (I've written several for hire.) Most people who move to L.A. to write screenplays all but stop writing when they get there because they are surrounded by the industry. They feel they are doing something just by being there even when they aren't. They don't know themselves. And that put them in a position where they would not achieve their goal, even though they are literally swimming in the industry.
  2. If you currently work in an industry and think when you go out on your own, many of those customers will follow you and become clients, think again. Most won't. When I left Navistar (build heavy-duty trucks), where I was in high demand by dealers to provide sales and customer service training, I thought tons of dealers would easily be clients. Most didn't even buy my book. It worked out just fine, as a few were very loyal, providing me the revenue I needed to expand my business and get other clients -- some Navistar dealers and some outside Navistar, including many in other industries.
  3. Do your homework on resources. It's very inexpensive to set up and run a business today compared to the years before competition for your business on the Internet (websites, web ads, search engine optimization, etc.), let alone before the Internet existed. If you don't find the best options, though, you could end up having to start over with something. For instance, you may have your website built in script that is not going to be supported by browsers in a year, as some people I know did with Flash.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Keep your eye on the prize. In short, don't get distracted with elements that don't matter, such as perceived status, etc. For instance, earlier, I mentioned I wrote several screenplays for hire (4 to be exact). To do so, I took a year off back in 2007, working for a private school as a traffic director and recess monitor. It gave me the time I needed to write, and with the proceeds, I earned from the screenplays, I took the following year off to travel and do fun things like drive around the entire coastal perimeter of the Great Lakes. For me, not necessarily others, I realize, that was exhilarating and quite fulfilling. (Again, know yourself.)

I took heat from some friends about the status of directing traffic and being a recess monitor. So what? I didn't get caught up in that because my eye was on the prize.

Also, having something like a book or Ted Talk gains you instant credibility, enabling you to connect directly with CEOs, owners, C-Levels, and senior staff.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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