You’ve heard it said a million times: “There are two kinds of people. Those who make it happen and those who sit back and watch it happen.” That is so true! I asked some people this past week what they would love to see in this blog. One mother of four boys said, “The economy is so scary! There are no jobs! We need to teach our kids how to start their own business.
I would love to start a business. What does it take to do something like that?” With unemployment at an all time high (much higher than what the government is telling you!) why not take matters into your own hands? Many people may think that they don’t have what it takes to start a business but I say that you do! America’s Capitalistic system has offered more people than any other the opportunity to flourish and prosper with very little education or money. Starting your own business could eventually produce the capital to recoup your start-up costs and provide a comfortable income while working at home. How do I know this? I did it. And it’s even easier now! But also be aware that most businesses fail within the first two years. Why? Shhhhhh! I’ll let you in on a secret.
In 1997 I stopped teaching high school English and started my own ad specialty business. I had traveled to Utah to meet up with an old college friend who had her own ad specialty business and seemed to be pretty successful. She even had a car phone!!! In 1997 that was impressive. I was so intrigued and thought if she could do it I could do it. I became a giant sponge that internalized her every word of training. Result? Big success.
I came home and discussed it with my husband, who is the most wonderful and supportive man on the planet, and he said, “Go for it!” So with $1,000 start-up, I bought a second computer, came up with a name, registered with the state, and attacked my husband’s Rolodex (a historical 1997 word) and got his “ok” to contact certain clients for sales calls. To make a long story short, by the time I sold the business in 2004, my sales were just under $800,000 with just myself and an office assistant. Companies interested in buying my business were amazed. “We’ve never even heard of you! How did you stay under the radar?” How did I do it? Ridiculously simple concepts. I’m going to let you in on a couple of basic business secrets that are really not so secret.
First of all, it wasn’t all fun and games with that business. Almost every day I was up before 5:00 and on the computer. It was a “get it yesterday,” stressful business and the possibility for human error was often, quick and expensive. I ran a company store for one of the largest utility companies in Arizona from my living room. Many days were nightmarish, but most days were great. From this business I was able to contribute to the family income, upgrade to a bigger and nicer home, help employ my married daughter, employ a dear friend for many years, donate to many causes that were dear to my heart, and log many volunteer hours in the community as well as train at least four other moms to do the same in their hometowns. No matter what business you start, there will be definite pros and cons. The greater the business potential, the greater the headache potential. You have to weigh the costs of both of those. If you can’t handle that, stop reading and go eat a couple of Snickers Bars. That will be way more fun.
Still with me? Ok, let’s get serious. The first thing I would do if I were going to start a business is assess my passions and do some serious research and/or on-the-job training. What is it that you love? There are two schools of thought here. Some say that you should never make a business out of what you love, or you won’t love it anymore. Some say absolutely do what you love! Then it’s not really work. Do you ever watch “Shark Tank”? I love that show. It’s about entrepreneurs seeking investment capital from four ruthless “sharks” or business moguls. The ideas these people come up with are so cool! People like me and you! Trying to create a better way to do something. Sometimes they’re a bust, but oh well! Failure is a part of any business or worthwhile adventure. Deal with it, dust off and get back in the saddle.
Case in point. I love to quilt! I would sit in my sewing room all day every day if I could. I am in love with fabric. So… a few years ago, after I sold my business, I wanted to open the cutest quilt shop in Arizona. My Sensei, aka husband, made me a deal. “Ok, but first I want you to go work for a quilt shop. Then go to Utah (mecca of great quilt shops) and you pick the brains of the shop owners to see what advice they have.” Done! I thought this was pretty dumb on his part. He’s sending me right into the candy shop!! Well… once again, he proved to be the smarty pants. I did go to about ten shops in Utah and the owners were depressingly honest. “If you love to quilt, don’t think you’re ever going to quilt again. You won’t have time!” One talked about the incessant daily theft, (I would want to cut off their hand. Is there a problem with that?) One lamented the mothers with small chocolatey-fingered children, pulling the inventory off the shelves, etc. (Could I install a fire hose and finger inspector at the front door?) One said to be ready for filling in for someone who’s sick, late, quits, orders that don’t come in, orders that don’t go out, grumpy customers, toilets overflowing, etc. “Arrggghhh, forget it!” I thought. I screamed in horror all the way home to AZ.
Then I got a $8 per hour job with a local quilt shop with the grumpiest shop owner ever. (Ya think someone was trying to tell me something?) That lasted seven months until I told her that the reason I was late was that I was sick, quitting and outta here! Thank you sweet husband for sending me to school before investing over $100K into quilt jail!
Wheeww! The other school of thought is that if I’m doing what I love every day, then it’s really not work. I have a friend who just built my pool. He loves his work and he’s awesome at it! What makes him so great? Yes, the pool is beautiful and we love it. But almost anyone with that knowledge could have done the same job. His work ethic is second to none though. He has mastered some simple concepts that I will cover in a sec. Work my passion or not? You’ll have to weigh those options yourself.
So after you’ve done your research on jobs related to your passion, let’s say you start your own web design, pool building, doll-making, photography, furniture-painting business, etc. What do all those industries have in common? Plenty. Some basic secrets that will give you a “slight edge” over your competition. Most of these will sound like very basic common sense. If they do, and you’re saying to yourself, “Well duh!” you’ve got it. You learned these growing up in a home that taught you self-discipline and responsibility. You may have had parents and teachers who didn’t put up with nonsense. They held you accountable. Bravo. Call and thank them for not being helicopter parents/teachers and bailing you out of every stupid thing you did. You’re already ahead of the game. However, if these are startling news flashes to you, you may want to study and master them a little further until they become second nature because these are critical and essential to your being successful.
* Do what you say you’re going to do. Sounds silly, huh? Yet a vast majority of people do not follow through with this basic concept. “I’ll call you tomorrow at 2:00, I’ll send you a sample in the mail, I’ll come help you on Thursday, I’ll drop these off on Friday morning at 9:00.”
Don’t say it unless you’re going to do it. 100% of the time. No excuses.
* Go the extra mile. Do nice things for clients and their support staff. But do them sincerely. Everyone can see through the “I’m doing this to see what I can get out of it” patronizing. When my utility client would call me at any time of day and say, “Can you come help me with a project?” I would jump if at all possible. Yup, modern-day slavery. But I got paid good money for it. He appreciated it and he could trust me. You can’t put a price on that.
* Look at the big picture: You educate your client to react how you want them to react. If there is a crisis: their order didn’t come in, the item was printed wrong, the supplier keyed in the wrong item, etc. You’re freaking out inside. What are you going to tell your client? This is a disaster!! The world is coming to an end! Warning: If you relay this message to your client, regardless of whether it’s true or not, you’re dead. Your client wants to be reassured that you will take care of him/her and make the order right. They don’t care a hoot whose fault it is; even if it’s theirs! It’s your job to make it right. Here’s your choice: “I can be right or I can make money.” Hmmm… which should I choose? Even if you screwed up, you must come across confident and reassuring that you can make it right and “fix” the problem for all involved. Stay calm and assess all solutions before you call your client.
* Don’t get greedy. This is suicide for a new business! In all reality, you’re not going to be able to pay yourself for a long time. All profits must be put right back into the business at first. The person that bought my business (yup! I made a huge error on that one) was so greedy that she took $10,000 a month out for herself day one. This was capital to pay bills and obligations, not her. She was out of business within a year. Broke my heart, but… it wasn’t my business anymore. Live and learn! Come up with a business plan and stick to it. Use wisdom.
* Be 100% honest and have impeccable integrity 100% of the time. Anyone can be a sleeze. You do not want that reputation. And believe me, most businesses are a small community and word travels quickly. I actually love that about the free market system. You may fool someone once, but don’t try it again. Your name will be mud; as it should be. Be honest in all your dealings.
Well, this post is going way too long. Next time we will delve into helping young and teen entrepreneurs. There is a ton of information available and so many resources! It’s so exciting! Look around on the internet and let’s meet in two weeks! Meanwhile, sit down with your energetic, smart son or daughter and let them spill their dreams to you. Who knows America! This time next year he/she may be the next Mark Zuckerberg!