Starting a Business: Ask the Right Questions
In my time away from the office, I chair the Small Business Council of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. The Council directs the Chamber’s Business Resource Center, both an advisory group and data resource provider for businesses seeking to plant a flag in the Chamber’s territory, expand their claim with additional flags, or even pack up the flags and head home.
Essentially, the Center provides information but not in the same way as an encyclopedia or the search box on Google. Instead, the Center is people. That means that while we may not always have the answer to the question you are asking, we know which question you should be asking. Once you’re asking the right questions, then you’ll start finding the answers that take your business from idea to storefront.
So what are the right questions if you’re looking to establish a business presence? Here are some of the best:
1. Does this particular business suit you?
2. Can it make money? (I can’t underestimate the importance of this.)
3. Can you write a business plan about this idea that shows profits, losses and cash-flow analysis? (You’ll get nowhere with financing without it.)
4. Can you find start-up financing? (Maybe it’s friends and family, maybe it’s more structured.)
5. Can you design a basic marketing plan? (This leads back to number 3; you have to show that the customers are out there and you know how to get them in here.)
The answer to all of these questions must be “yes” for the business to thrive.
Does the business suit you?
Start by (1) doing what you know best and then (2) set out to know it better.
Remember: customers only part with their hard-earned money if they think it’s worth it, and you won’t convince them your business is a fit for them if you aren’t a fit for your business. It will show in your enthusiasm and your commitment. On the other hand, if you start a business you know, you’re on a solid foundation: you’re already trained and you may even have a network of contacts to help you find financing, suppliers, and customers.
Still, you need to learn about start-up costs, overhead and expenses, and the amount of revenue you can realistically expect to produce. You also have to translate your strengths, education, and skills into business opportunities. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, insurance agents and financial professionals are constantly going back to school for “continuing education.” You have to be willing to learn, regardless of what type of business you get into.
If you don’t know much about the business you want to start, but are set on it, then stop reading this and start learning about it. Talk to people in that field. From personal experience, I can’t stress this enough. In my own case, I was going from big in-house corporate work to running my own firm as a sole practitioner I knew what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. But they don’t teach you how to run a business in law school.
So I sought out other solo practitioners to ask them their experiences. I sought some who, like me, were coming out of the corporate world, some who left other firms and some who had always been there. I varied my questions to get the full picture. Just remember to respect their time.
Love every aspect of your business.
You think these guys don’t love what they do? They are window washers on children’s hospital in Pittsburgh. They don’t work for the hospital. This is a contract job. But somebody came up with this idea because they love what they do and they knew what it would mean to the sick children on the other side of the window.
If you prepared to help with anything that needs to be done — whether it involves manufacturing a product, juggling customers, or keeping the books — you should think twice about starting that kind of business. If you don’t like it, find a new venture. It’s a lot harder to make a success of a business without passion, and it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy something at which you are unsuccessful.
Passion and suitability come before determining whether you can make money with your idea because if you don’t care about your business and you aren’t knowledgeable, you won’t have the commitment it takes to stay up all hours of the night perfecting your work. If you lack that kind of drive, your business won’t make money — at least, not nearly as much as it could. But we’ll discuss making money another time.
For now, good luck and good hunting.
The Fisher Law Office is renowned for its experience in estate planning, probate administration, asset protection, and business development. Annapolis attorney Randall D. Fisher has practiced for over 20 years, maintains the highest peer review rating for ethics (AV Preeminent) by Martindale-Hubbell, and is a sucker for long walks on the fairways.