I find people fascinating. If you don’t think so, just sit in an airport on a 5 hour layover anywhere in America and people watch. It is quite the education as anyone who is an avid people watcher can tell you. Airports are some of the best places to re-connect with the cross section of culture that is America. It is all there and can be the best show in the world without ever having to leave your departure gate seat.
Wherever I may be going, I do my best to engage anyone in conversation that is so inclined, to share their life and occupation with me. It doesn’t matter if it the person sitting next to me on my flight, at a local restaurant, or sitting in a taxi for 10 minutes. It reminds me of the greatness of this country’s incredible and enterprising people. Most specifically, I love talking to people and finding out what they do for a living, discovering their passion in life. Whether it is a CEO of a company or someone who works for themselves, I often get a real education into the psyche of Americans in the work force: those either out of it, those trying to get into it, those trying to change the course of their lives or most sadly, those who have recently been forced to leave (laid off, company downsizing or out of business) and who desperately want to be in.
Recently, I spoke with a very capable young lady on my flight home from Dallas. She was a real estate assistant and was looking to start her own business selling insurance. She was an attractive, confident person who presented herself well, and would do well in the sales of any kind. But she had decided to jump into something she didn’t know a lot about except that she was good at sales. She wanted to own her own business so she could control more of her personal time, but was willing to work hard to learn and educate herself. After listening to what options she was researching, she mentioned that she wished there was a way to find people in the industry to talk to, organizations that could that could help her along, give her some guidance, and, most of all, she wished there were more mentors out there for people like her. Her disappointment was that she felt often that she didn’t want to bother anyone in her industry by asking them questions or taking up their time. She also knew that a lot of people would not take the time to spend with a new person in trying to break into the industry.
I am not an expert,especially in the insurance industry. But I have always owned my own businesses and told her that I was willing to answer any questions she might have about starting up a business. You see, I often get asked this question,and not just when I travel. Perhaps it would be helpful to put down some thoughts which may be useful for the person sitting next to me in 7A, or sitting by me in and airport departure gate.
The basics are the same whatever kind of a business you may want to start. But how do you proceed from an idea to actually making it happen? As a farm girl, I use the analogy of training a horse. You use relatively the same techniques and fundamentals to train, but remind yourself, like children, all horses are different. So you must be flexible to change your methods to suit a particular personality. It is the same for business. Here are some of the things I advise people to do if they want to get into their own business. These are the sort of things that often get missed in the “How to Start a Business” books at Barnes and Noble.
1. Be Honest with Yourself – How badly do you want to own your own business? Is your idea viable (would people buy your idea or product) and what is the competition like? How will you make your idea stand out to capture market share against those that already exist in the marketplace? Will your business involve hiring other people to be competitive and, if so, do you have the temperament to administrate or supervise employees? Are you self-motivated and can you motivate others? (If not, stop right here. You shouldn’t be in business for yourself) Will you need a store or office location or can this be done from your home? All of these are just a smattering of questions that you should answer honestly before you even pull out the pencil and calculator. After the end of a day, will you still be passionate about what you do?
2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job – If you are presently working, stay where you are at until you have time to research fully your idea, develop your goals, and explore the viability of the business. Too many people jump off the deep end just to find out the water is very shallow, or worse, there isn’t even any water in the pool. Unless you are independently wealthy or have some other funding source of financial support while you research your idea, you must recognize that to make this idea a reality you must have some income to pay your bills. This will mean that you will have to work on your idea before and after your regular working hours. Don’t attempt to do it while you are on your regular job. It might jeopardize the job you presently have.
3. Show me the money – You must sit down and do a business plan and a prospectus for your idea and your business. You MUST have an idea, even if you aren’t asking for outside investment, as to what this operation will cost. Don’t even think about the potential profit. The cold hard fact of starting most businesses is that often people fail to do this homework and end up finding out –SURPRISE!- They didn’t realize how much it was going to cost! These very hard numbers may give you a wake-up call as to whether you even want to go forward. Write down everything, including the cost of light bulbs and toilet paper. It sounds silly but those things are all part of your business plan. Be honest with yourself and, if anything, overestimate. It will give you a financial cushion that you may need down the line. Sourcing and costing allof this out will take time so please see Item #1.
4. Always pay yourself – Make sure you pay yourself some sort of salary to cover your basic expenses at home. Too many people don’t pay themselves anything until, as they say, “the business gets on its feet’ and they end up being resentful and stressed because you can’t even meet their own personal basic needs.Be realistic. You don’t want to pay yourself like Donald Trump if doing so you can’t make the payroll for the employees. Trust me. No employee wants to hear you don’t have the money to pay them as you drive out of the business in a Ferrari. But pay yourself a living wage.
5. Learn the most important word in the English language – “NO”. One of the biggest challenges most entrepreneurs face is over-committing themselves and spreading themselves too thin. Trying to be everything to everybody makes you less effective and the business less productive. You need to know when to say no. If you are feeling that you are over-committed or spread too thin, you have one of two choices here. Narrow your focus and goals to a manageable state that you can personally handle. Biting off more than you can chew will make itself very evident before you even realize it. As much as you might like to take business in, if you don’t have the manpower or capability to service the request, you will just be setting yourself and the business up for failure. Don’t commit to anything you even think you can’t deliver. Under promise. Over deliver. Sometimes it is best to explain to a customer that as much as you’d love to have their business, you won’t be able to service their request at this time because of prior commitments to other customers(even if you don’t have any commitments). This might actually make your business seem more attractive to them. People always want to do business with someone who is in demand. Say no, for now, and build up the resources to service your customer in a superior manner, rather than a mediocre one, because you were more desperate for the work rather than desperate for a way to do it in an excellent manner. Otherwise you will eventually be pushing yourself to the point that you start looking for a bridge and two rusty razor blades.
The other option is to hire qualified people or outsource the work to people that can get it done for you. The second selection usually scares new business owners because they don’t know if they can afford it. Ask yourself, “What is my time worth”? If you end up doing this work yourself, what else is not getting done that is putting the business behind and ultimately costing you more money? Sometimes you will find it more economical long-term to make the additional expenditure now.
6. Ignore the critics – One of my favorite sayings is something my father always instilled in me: “Never pay attention to those who will tell you that something cannot be done or that it will never work. They will be the same people that, once you are successful, will say they knew it would work all the time.” He was so right. Believe in yourself, focus on the goal and ignore those who have no skin in the game. Often people want to see you fail because they do not have the courage to take the risk.Don’t misunderstand. There will be days that you will feel like just throwing in the towel. But, in order to be successful,remember it isn’t how many times you are knocked down. What matters is how many times you get up.
7. Social Media – Get up to speed or hire someone who knows the social media inside and out. It is a necessity in today’s business climate. Don’t forget the personal touch. I always believe that nothing beats face-to-face contact or speaking directly to someone on the phone. I had a 90-year-old friend, known as Mr. Pasadena. Everyone knew him. He was fascinated with new technology, social media and the like. However, if he ever needed anything done, he didn’t tweet you, e-mail or Facebook you. He picked up the phone or drove to your office to meet with you. That is the right approach. With technology so dominant in today’s communication, it may just give you the edge in “getting the business” if you make the effort to personally reach out to someone rather than hiding behind your e-mail address.
8. Join industry organizations and networking groups – It is a good idea to join these organizations and groups even before you start your business. In this way you can meet people in the industry who can offer help and advice. They may even help to narrow your focus. Most people who are in business for themselves don’t have any trouble discussing themselves or their business. They enjoy sharing that information. That is the purpose of these organizations. They are usually happy to give a hand to someone who is passionate about their own industry or their services.
9. Pay it forward – One of the keys for keeping your business fresh and staying passionate is to pass your knowledge on to the new people who want to break into the business. I once had someone refuse payment for a service that they had performed for me and their only request was that “when someone asks you for payment for something that took little or no effort on your part, do it for free with the stipulation that once they’ve made it, they do the same for someone else.”
Finally, even in this world of impersonal communication, people are still people and want to be treated with respect. Employees, customers, suppliers – everyone. Remember those you step upon on your way up the ladder of success will be the same ones waving to you as you plummet back to earth.
Good luck, keep the faith and, as long as you have your head above water, remember the famous words of Winston Churchill; “Never, never, never give in.”