We all dream of owning a successful company, calling the shots and pocketing a nice paycheck every other week. Oh, there are plenty of dreams out there but how many of us actually take that first step toward financial independence and a quality of life that depends, not on the folks upstairs in the big offices, but on your own hard efforts. When you own the business, financial independence depends on you.
That’s why most people back away from business ownership. Fear of failure. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of what your family and friends will think if your new business doesn’t soar like the American bald eagle – the American dream.
I’ve had the satisfaction of starting start several businesses in my career, some more successful than others. However, even my “less than stellar” attempts at entrepreneurialship have taught me valuable lessons – lessons you can take with you to the kitchen table and start drawing up plans for your business.
So learn from someone who’s enjoyed success and learned from missteps when it comes to starting your own business. For me, and millions like me, business ownership is the only way to go.
1. Consider your assets.
It takes money to start a new business but it doesn’t take a lot of money to start all new businesses. An office cleaning service can get up and running on a couple of thousand dollars. A car detailing business would cost you even less.
But don’t just consider cash on hand. Consider your personal and professional assets. Are you a people person? Consider sales. Are you a bean counter? How about opening a tax prep service?
You’ve also got other assets. Your own tools, a car or truck, a computer – make a list of all of the cash and other assets on hand. This is the starting point for deciding on the right business for you.
It can cost up to $2 million to buy a McDonald’s franchise, so if you don’t have $2 mil tucked under the mattress, look for less costly ways to become part of the world of commerce.
2. Do something you enjoy because you’ll be doing it a lot.
It doesn’t make much sense to open a landscaping business if you hate mowing the lawn – even if your business does provide financial independence. So, what are you good at? The simple fact is we all enjoy doing things we’re good at so think about the things you enjoy doing in your spare time. In that mix, there’s a business for you – one in which you work 70 hours a week and love it – because it’s yours!
3. Don’t borrow money.
Okay, maybe you can borrow a few thousand from a friend or family member but don’t start maxxing out your credit cards to get your business up and running. It’s hard enough to launch a start-up without a heavy debt load the day you open shop.
4. How entrenched is the competition?
You’re a certified financial planner considering opening a small office in town. Okay, have you opened the phone book to see how much competition there is in your region? Why swim upstream?
If there are already 10 financial planning firms within a 20 mile radius, chances are these companies have their client bases in place. They also have the resources to blow your little store front to bits with marketing and promotion. The key? Study local competition and start looking for business locations where you’re not fighting for attention in a throng of like-minded business owners.
5. Keep your cash as long as you can.
One client designed a beautiful tri-fold, four-color brochure for his new investment firm. He had 5,000 of these tri-folds printed, bundled, boxed and shipped to his home office, which happened to be in his home.
Here’s the problem: this business owner only had two clients when he paid to have those brochures designed by a graphic artist and printed on lacquered, high-end paper. The whole package, including shipping, costs the new businessperson just a little over $2,000. Unfortunately, he had four boxes of brochures stacked in his home office, he was out $2K and those brochures weren’t going to grow the new business any faster – something essential to any new business. Growth. Fast.
Cash is king. Don’t spend it unless you have to. Lease when you can. Use on-line virtual assistants (VA) if the work load gets too heavy. And save what cash you have for immediate growth.
6. Develop the plan.
Just set yourself someplace quiet and start writing whatever pops into your head. What will you need? How will you get it? What won’t you give up? Do the free association thing and one thought will lead to the next and the next.
Refine your notes over a week or two until you see step one, step two, three and four. A business grows organically under the right conditions. This is the time to create the right conditions.
It’s such an ugly word and if you think living on a family budget is tough, wait’ll you get a load of a business budget with expenses you haven’t even uncovered yet, though you will soon enough.
I recommend to my clients that they keep at least 50% of their start up capital set aside for marketing, and if you can do 60% – even better. Why?
You can have the best product or offer the highest quality services but if no one knows you’re there, that business is going belly up in a matter of months.
So, in addition to inventory (if you’re selling products) and a high-speed hook-up, a reliable computer, remote-site records storage and all of the unknowns that you’re about to encounter, keep at least half of your start up cash on hand to tell prospects that you’re open for business.
8. Don’t let fear freeze you.
Are you kidding me? We’re all fearful. Fearful of market downturns (restaurant killers), new competitors (lower margins for you), a change in the neighborhood, a dishonest wholesaler – you could spend a day – a week – compiling a list of things that could go wrong.
Prepare for emergencies (that’s what the cash is for) but don’t let fear freeze you in place. And don’t let failure put out the flames of ownership that burn within a select few. I’ve failed and I’m still here. You’ll fail, make mistakes and fall on your face some days. It’s part of the process of growing a business to profitability.
However, I don’t let these missteps keep me down. I learn my best lessons from my worst mistakes. You will, too.
Look, this is a once-over-lightly look at building a business but you’ve already proven your interest by reading this far. So, maybe it’s time to pick up pencil and paper and move to the planning stage.