The Ten Keys To Success In Your Business And Life

Finding success in your business requires many skills and talents.  Starting and running a business is like riding a roller coaster, you have to be ready to handle the climbs and drops without losing your lunch.  The ten keys to success below apply not only to your business but your life as well.  I’m sure you recognize everything on the list, as they are all basic concepts, but do you practice them every day?

You Become What You Think About

If you think positive thoughts, you will start to think and act in positive ways.  Same goes when you think negatively.  Everything you do and say begins with a thought.

 “You become what you think about all day long.” 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson                                                                                     

 

Decide On Your Goals and Put Them In Writing

Decide what you want out of your business and your life, then write out your plan for achieving it.  Most goals that haven’t been put to paper are merely dreams.

 “Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” 

-Fitzhugh Dodson

 

 

Become A Student Of Learning

Most people stop their education when they leave school.  Keep an open mind and learn something new every day.  Developing a love for learning is key to growing as a person.

 “Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

 

 

Do Something Now

It’s easy to put off something because the task seems too large to tackle.  The best remedy is to take action.  Even doing something small will move you closer to your goal and get you in an action oriented mindset.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
– Dale Carnegie

 

 Be Persistent

For many successful entrepreneurs, the difference between them and the ones that failed was that they didn’t give up when they met failure.  One of the things that most entrepreneurs credit to their success is persistence.

 “Persistent people begin their success where others end in failure.” 

-Edward Eggleston 

 

 

Pay Attention

Learn from your mistakes.  Learn from others mistakes.  Opportunities are everywhere, you just have to be on the lookout for them and be ready to grab them when they appear.

 “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

-Winston Churchill

 

 

Focus Your Resources

You can never get your time back, use it wisely.  Focus on the things that will have the biggest impact in reaching your goals.  Learn to work with others in helping to achieve your goals.

 “Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” 

-Tony Robbins 

 

Think and Act Differently

Like a three year old, learn to ask the question “why”.  Challenge assumptions.  Think differently and you will act differently.  Don’t be afraid to try something even though others tell you that you are crazy.  Maybe they are wrong and you are right.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

–Mark Twain

 

 Be a People Person

Treat people fairly and with respect.  Learn to get along with other people, even if you have differences of opinion.  Be helpful to those around you and they will be eager to help you when the need arises.

 “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.

-Charles Schwab 

 

Have Integrity

If you lack integrity, you will lose the trust and goodwill of others.  And if you lose that, the rest of the points above don’t really matter.

“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”
– Samuel Johnson

 

If you liked this article, you can also check out:  7 Signs You Should Not Start a Business

7 Keys To Successfully Running a Small Business

 

Small business and marriage have a lot in common, both have a pretty high failure rate (about 50%) and many of the ones that are still running, aren’t particularly happy with its current state.  Yet, there are a small number that thrive and get stronger as time goes on.  These small businesses (and marriages) have figured out how to overcome the challenges, weather the storms and to love their business.

So how do you become that small minority that thrives over the long term?  For me personally, it comes down to a few things that I’ve shared below.  This list may not apply to everyone, but if you can get a grasp on everything below, you will be way ahead of the game and on the road to continued business success.

 

Learning

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune” – Jim Rohn

The desire to continually learn more.  I personally think this is the single most important skill you can have as an entrepreneur because it affects how well you do everything else on this list.  Your business can’t grow faster than you can, so as your business grows, you need to grow along with it.

Any business owner will tell you that they have to wear dozens of different hats as a business owner.  You need to know how to market your business, manage finances, hire and train good people in addition to every other thing that comes your way in the course of doing business.  That’s a tall order for a business owner and the only way you won’t let all of these things drag you under is to continually educate yourself and get better as a business owner.

One of the most transformative things for me were audio books and podcasts.  Instead of listening to the radio during long commutes, I would listen to an audio book (first on CD, then eventually on Audible.com) and now podcasts whenever I was driving in the car or running on the treadmill.  Lame?  Boring?  Maybe, but not to me since I realized how much I was learning and how much better I was getting at running my business and managing others.

 

Responsibility

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of. ” -Jim Rohn

In my pre-entrepreneurial life, I was a fireman in NYC.  I remember my first assignment after getting promoted to Lieutenant, my Captain told me on my first shift, “Just so you know, as an officer you’re never in charge but you’re always responsible”.  Well said Captain Jim, I tell people that quote when they start complaining about employees not listening to them or when they start blaming everyone else for the business problems they are having.

What I have learned over the course of owning my own business for 10+ years and working with lots of other business owners is that ultimately, you are responsible for your business’s successes and failures and almost all problems are your fault.

This doesn’t mean to flog yourself everytime something goes wrong, it just means to look internally for the reason things went wrong instead of copping out and blaming external forces.  That’s the first step to solving problems and growing as a business owner.

When a problem arises, I ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this?”  Underperforming employees?  Were they trained and mentored properly so they can succeed at their position?  Major advertising fail?  Did I really do my homework and research before signing the contract? Fine print on your lease is coming back to haunt you?  Did I ever read the lease properly or did I abdicate responsibility to my real estate lawyer?

For the small business owner, all roads lead back to you.  Like I said, taking responsibility does not mean beating yourself up every time something go wrong, it means empowering yourself because if you caused it, you can fix it.  People that blame others take no responsibility for their actions and you can’t fix what you don’t own.

 

Delegation

“Trust but verify” – Ronald Reagan

Failure to delegate is the reason why the majority of small businesses cannot grow past the mom and pop stage, where the owner has control over every aspect of the business.  In order to grow your business and take some of the pressure off of you as the business owner, you need to learn how to delegate responsibilities to others.

Most first-time business owners lack experience in hiring, training and mentoring others.  They hire half hazardously, provide little training and get frustrated when their employees underperform.  The fastest way to grow and to take the pressure off you is to surround yourself with good people and give them responsibility. An excellent book of hiring and managing the right people is the book, “First Break All The Rules”.

Another major mistake business owners make is abdicating responsibility instead of delegating.  When you delegate, others are taking charge but you are still responsible for the end result and to ensure it was completed successfully.  When you abdicate, you are giving up ownership and responsibility to someone else, relieving yourself of responsibility and over-site for things you should not.  Like Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify”.

 

Marketing

“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.” – Joe Chernov

Marketing is the lifeblood of your business, it is how you continually keep the pipeline filled with business.  Without a new stream of customers, your business will slowly die.

On the surface, marketing is pretty easy, in reality, it can be very difficult to make it work economically.  I think many new business owners take marketing for granted thinking if they spend the money the customers will follow.  We’ve all spent thousands on newspaper ads or direct mail campaigns that produced nothing or blown through hundreds of dollars in pay per click advertising without so much as a phone call.  Trial and error, you learn from past experiences and get better as time goes on.

If you want your business to thrive, you need to develop the right marketing mix for your business. Every business is different, what works for someone else may not work for you.  The key with marketing success is not to get it right the first time, but to continually improve over time.  Learn to test and measure and make adjustments as time goes on.  Companies that do this eventually create powerful marketing systems for their business.

Business owners also fall into the trap of trying one marketing/advertising tactic one time and dropping it to try something else.  If you decide to try something, make sure you try it enough to make the determination that it’s not a good fit for your business.  Things like direct mail, SEO and networking take time to develop and to see results.  A business that runs a single direct mail campaign (or anything else) that fails and declares, “direct mail doesn’t work”, is like a person picking up a guitar for the first time, playing a few clunky cords and declares, “guitars don’t work”.  Yeah, they don’t work for you, but they work fine for people that know what they are doing.

 

Discipline

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” – Jim Rohn

I think one of the major advantages of a franchise over an independent business is discipline.  This discipline evolves out of past experience and successes of other franchisees in the system.  A franchiser may require you to do things you may find excessive and cost prohibitive, such as expanded hours even though you are not busy or requiring front desk staff when you are losing money keeping them there all week.  They may require continued advertising spend when you are not seeing results.  What the franchiser knows is that these things will eventually pay off and make you a more successful business in the long run.  An independent business may look at these as a waste of time and resources and start cutting back before they are able to pay off.

This continual corner cutting often leads to a downward spiral that many small businesses can’t pull out of.

It may be tempting to close early, stop advertising, cut staffing hours or use a cheaper quality material to save a few bucks, but often times they lead to longer term issues of customer trust, brand quality and poor service that leads to a poor business reputation and lost sales.  Sometimes you have to make tough decisions, just make sure you think about the long-term impact on your business before you make them.

 

Finances

“The only way you will ever permanently take control of your financial life is to dig deep and fix the root problem.” – Suze Orman

Most businesses shut down due to financial reasons.  The reasons the finances are in poor shape may be numerous, but lack of cash usually brings a business to a grinding halt.  As a business owner, you need to have a firm grasp on the finances of your business.  If you’re like me and hate financials, you need to get someone you trust to keep track of what is happening with your money.

You’d be surprised how many business owners ignore the financial problems they are having, thinking if they ignore it long enough, things will fix themselves.  What usually happens is that they ignore the financials until it is too late and lack the resources to pull themselves out of the financial hole they dug for themselves.

Not only do you need to understand profit and loss statements, you also need to have a firm understanding of the cash flow for your business.  Many profitable businesses went under, not because they couldn’t turn a profit, but because they had major cash flow problems they couldn’t fix in time.  How does that happen?  Account receivables, slow payers, having to pay for inventory and supplies up front and taking way to long to get paid by customers.  For many businesses, you need freely available cash to fill these gaps and if you take your eye off the ball, that gap can get so wide that you run out of cash.

As a business owner, know how your business works financially and never take your eye off the ball, no matter how bad you want to.  One thing I also learned is that lenders want to lend to you when you don’t need, the second you run into trouble and need money, good luck trying to get a loan.  Secure you lines of credit, financial reserves, etc long before you need them.

 

Balance

“You can have it all, just not at the same time” – Oprah Winfrey

News for you, despite what you read you will never have a perfect work/life/family balance.  It’s a lie.  Oprah Winfrey said it best, “You can have it all, just not at the same time”.  At any given time one part of your life will be dominating everything else, the key is understanding this and making an effort to bring some balance when the time comes.

Just starting a business?  No balance, your new business startup will consume you and take just about all of your time and mental capacity.  Starting your own business is hard work and very difficult so you it will need your full attention.

Crisis at home?  No balance, you will need to direct most of your attention to home life until things settle down.  Family comes first, your business success is pointless if it is at the expense of your family.  With your own business, there is no separation of work/home, it’s not a 9-5 job where you can physically and mentally clock out every day.  It also doesn’t mean that it should dominate your life, it just means that owning your own business becomes part of who you are, which is why you should enjoy what you do.

Don’t feel guilty working an 80 hour week because you have a tight deadline to meet, but also don’t feel guilty taking a day off to spend time with the family.  If you find yourself working 80 hours a week all the time, then there is a problem that needs to be fixed before you burn yourself out.  On the flip side, don’t ignore fires that could seriously hurt your business because you planned on doing some weekend gardening.

One more note, and this is my personal opinion, don’t go out and start a business unless your significant other is onboard with it.  You will hit some serious waves when starting a business and the stress can be unbearable, with the only thing keeping you together is knowing that you both jumped into entrepreneurship together.  This is a whole other article, but thought I would throw it in there.

Here’s to your business success

Continual learning, taking responsibility and never taking your eye off the important things will put you on a path to continued success.   Good luck.

How To Get an Entry Level Marketing Job

 

Are you looking for an entry level marketing job?

Maybe you’re close to finishing university and starting to look at the current job market or you’re switching careers and want to get into marketing.  In either case, you probably know by now that the competition for marketing jobs is fierce.

And when I mean marketing jobs, I don’t mean marketing jobs where you sit in a call center all day annoying people or selling door to door for some MLM scheme.  I mean a real marketing job with a real marketing agency doing real marketing.

I’ve hired my share of marketing newbies over the past 9 years and have also hosted  several marketing internships. I’ve also hired for many marketing positions on behalf of my clients.  What I have learned is that most universities (at least the ones I have hired from) do a poor job in preparing marketing majors for the real world.  Sure, they may learn all about brand positioning, AIDA, the P’s and C’s of marketing, market research, etc, but they rarely teach the skills that marketing agencies are really looking for.

Too Fast For School

I work primarily in the digital marketing space and I think it moves too fast for university curriculums to keep up to date with, which is why they mostly teach broad, timeless marketing principles. Many that are woefully outdated.   While this may serve as a good foundation for individuals just getting started in marketing, it still leaves marketing agencies with the heavy task of training new hires in pretty much everything.

Have you ever done a marketing internship?  If you’re like most students, you were either the office gopher (more coffee please?) or you were stuck doing the grunt work nobody else in the office wanted to do.  Why?  Because you did not have the skills that they were looking for and they did not have the time or energy to train you or hold your hand all summer so instead they matched you for what you were qualified for, not much.

Am I being harsh?  A little bit, but there is a lot of truth in what I am saying because I hear it from marketing students all the time.

So what do you do?

The first thing you do is to realize that a marketing degree gets you a ticket to the game, but it does not get you a ticket to a marketing job, or even a marketing internship position.  It’s nice that you graduated with a marketing degree, you and 50 thousand other people this year.

The second thing you need to realize is that what will get you your first entry-level marketing job is not what you have done in school, but what you have done outside of school while you were in school.  That’s a mouthful.

When I look at a marketing resume, the only things that jump out at me are the marketing accomplishments outside of school.  

Things I Look For

Your Own Blog

Do you have a blog?  No?  Why not? Having your own blog shows that you not only love marketing, but also love to write about it.  It’s your chance to show people and future employers your ideas about marketing, how you think and to show off how much you know.  Marketing today revolves a lot around content, showing future employers that you know how to write gives you a leg up on your competition.

Social Media Presence

On a personal level, I’m not that active on social media, though I do have a decent Twitter following.  This only happened once, but I had a marketing student interview for an internship and when I checked her Twitter profile, she had a following twice the size of mine.  Color me impressed!  Not only do I know that she understood social media, she was really good at it.  Moral of the story?  Actions speak much louder than words.

Certifications and Skills Earned Outside of School

Most people don’t realize this, but you don’t have to go to university in order to learn.  Want to walk into a marketing interview with accomplishments that 99.99% of your peers will not have?  Show up to an agency interview as a Google Certified Adwords Individual (you will have to get an agency to sponsor you or sign up as an agency)  or a graduate of Hubspot Inbound Marketing University or Hootsuite’s Podium.  What do all of these have in common?  They are freely available to anyone who wants to take them.  You can also sign up for courses on Udemy or similar platforms and start educating yourself on that is important in marketing today.

Dilbert Marketing Quote

Dilbert.com

Skills Most Agencies/Companies Look For In New Marketing Hires

Content Marketing

Content plays such a big role in marketing today.  From SEO to branding, inbound marketing is how many companies are spending their marketing resources and creating great content is the cornerstone of a great inbound marketing strategy.

You should have an understanding of copywriting, how to edit and format content for the web and how to use Content Management System,  like WordPress.  Having your own active blog will demonstrate all of these proficiencies for you to a prospective employer.

Conversion Optimization

Conversion Optimization gets its roots from direct mail, where you are creating an environment for people to take action.  It’s setting up your website, landing page, advertisements, and emails so they move prospective customers through the path you want to take them, which will eventually lead to a sale or similar conversion goal.

They really don’t teach this in school. but if you have a firm grasp on how conversion optimization works, you will be ahead of pretty much all of your peers, even many of the people you would be working with.  This is something you can learn on your own and practice on your own.  You can learn about Conversion Optimization here, here and here.

Search Engine Optimization

This is the holy grail of skills in marketing.  Many people claim to be good at SEO but most people don’t really understand what it is, let alone have the skills/knowledge to be good at it.  The reason is that good SEO involves a wide skill set and involves have a grasp of technical/coding knowledge, content creation, and the hardest one of all, link building (or link earning, as many new age SEO’s like to say).

Now, as an entry level marketer, you would not be expected to know all of this, but you can look like an all-star in your interview when you can demonstrate functional proficiency in SEO.  You can learn the basics of SEO here.

Social Media

Most companies (even agencies) are still trying to figure out how to make social media work for them.  Having a firm grasp on how social media works, and being able to prove it with your own social media profiles, will go a long way in demonstrating you can “walk the walk”.

It’s a big letdown when I read a resume saying they can have experience in social media and then check their social profiles to see that their online presence is lame at best.  The funnier thing is, you’ll see marketing agencies specializing in social media with pathetic online presences…..go figure.

If you are going to walk into an interview saying you get social media, be prepared to show them proof through your own social media accounts.

Pay Per Click and Social Media Advertising

Google Adwords and Facebook Ads are the two Kings of pay per click marketing, with the two of them giving you advertising options for a good chunk of the internet.   Pay Per Click advertising is when you show an advertisement and only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

The thing is that getting start with pay per click advertising is not very hard, but it is very hard to be good at it.  When it comes to online advertising, you need to be both a creative person and a data geek at the same time.  You have your creative side where you research and create the ads and the data side where you have to figure out what is working and how to make the ads perform better.

This is a skill I don’t think even gets touched on in University.  Like SEO, it changes so fast that it is difficult to create curriculums around it as they are usually outdated by the time you graduate.  The good news is that there are lots of great resources online to learn about pay per click advertising, you read about it here and here.

Analytics

So much of marketing today is data-driven, even branding is getting more and more data-driven as companies want to understand what is working and what is not with their marketing dollars.  The most popular web analytics platform used today is Google Analytics.  Looking through Google Analytics is like peeling a never ending onion, there are always additional layers of data underneath the data you are currently looking at.

Google Adwords and other ad platforms also have a plethora of data and you will need to be able to read through the data and derive meaning from it.

The real skill with analytics is being able to look at the data, pull the few points that are important to you and your business, and be able to derive meaning from it.  Analytics is useless without action, so someone good at understanding analytics can pull actionable insights out of the data.  You can learn more about the basics of Google Analytics here.

 

So, I need to learn all of this?

No, you don’t.  Even seasoned marketing professionals aren’t experts in all of the above, but they do have a solid understanding of them.

Most likely you will be applying for a specific position that will only require 1-3 of the above skill sets as many of them overlap.  But also, be prepared to be thrown into other areas of marketing not outlined in the job description, as many companies will try and use your skill sets across different marketing channels.

The more skills you have in your toolbelt, the more valuable you will become in the eyes of a marketing agency or company looking to hire an entry level marketer.  You don’t have to wait for school to teach you marketing, it is all around you if you look.

5 Signs Your Business Is On a Road To Nowhere

Road to nowhere

Do you feel like you’re getting nowhere with your business? Have you lost momentum and now feel like you’re just spinning your wheels?

In your first year or two of business, the enthusiasm is high, optimism is at its peak, and you can overcome most obstacles with sheer will.  That first year is awesome, scary and a roller coaster ride that non-entrepreneurs will never experience.

But what happens after the momentum fades, your new business shine fades, and the only thing you are left with is the day to day work of the business?

Welcome to the messy middle.

The messy middle is that part in your businesses life where you need to work on the day to day activities of your business.  Things you can’t ignore (or make excuses for) once you are out of that startup phase.  It’s the part where you actually turn your business into an actual business, one that will live on for many years to come.

The messy middle is where you figure out how to manage people, create processes, manage finances and learn how to refine your marketing as your startup marketing budget is long gone.  Entrepreneurs hate this part of the business, the part where you need to figure out how to make your business work for the long haul.  The term, “Serial Entrepreneur” simply means a person who loves to create and start businesses but hates running them.

Most small businesses fail within the first 5 years.  Almost none fail in the startup phase, where you have the funds and the will to weather the storm.  Most small businesses fail when they run out of money before they can figure out how to make their business work.

Businesses that succeed or fail all go through this messy middle phase.  The difference is that successful businesses learn how to make their businesses work before they run out of money, or the will to go on.

I’ve been in this situation a few times in my life, where I didn’t know if the business (or myself) would make it.  A few times the business didn’t make it, a few other times it did and eventually thrived.  I also know dozens of entrepreneurs who have been there, sometimes the business fails, other times it lives.  I have a few friends that have incredibly successful businesses, both in monetary terms and personal satisfaction, all of them at some point had some serious doubts about their business and themselves.

So what’s the difference between businesses that fail and ones that thrive?  It’s hard to tell the difference in those early years, but there are some key areas that successful business owners seem to get right eventually.

From my experience as a business owner and working with lots of other business owners over the years, there are a few skills and mindsets that separate successful business owners with ones who will eventually have to close shop.  You can get away with these when you are starting up and still trying to figure things out, but eventually you will have to face them or risk hitting a wall that your business may not be able to overcome.

You have your hand in every aspect of your business

Ever hear of whack a mole?  That’s you and your business if you keep your hand in every pie.  It’s good in the beginning as you need to understand how things work before you can delegate, but if you are still doing this 2-3 years down the line and can’t trust/train others to take on non-essential roles, your days are numbered.  You can’t grow your business when you are the one doing everything, eventually you will hit a wall that you can’t overcome without other people.  This is also the number one reason for burnout, you become so overwhelmed doing things you don’t want to that you begin to hate your business.

Whack a Mole Meme

The most important things in business are marketing, sales and customer service/retention.  That should be your world and you should let others take care of everything else.

The book, The E-Myth Revisited, is a must-read for any business owner.

You refuse to spend money on marketing

If you refuse to spend money on your marketing efforts, you are doomed.  You can get away with sweat equity, networking and doing everything that involves time but not money, but eventually you will reach your limits as these are non-scalable activities that don’t let you generate business on demand.  You need to spend money to make.

As you grow your business, your time will become very valuable and you will need to figure out marketing strategies that don’t involve you spending all of your time trying to grow your social media networks, attending networking events and other time-consuming activities that are stopping you from growing your business.  While these activities may be important, you will see that successful business owners are very selective about how they spend their time and money.  Especially, if it means they can have more of their time back to concentrate on growing their business.

You can never find good employees

You may find a lemon once in awhile, but if every employee you hire is terrible, the problem is you, not them. Your job when hiring is to interview, hire, train and mentor your employees.  If you miss any of these or do them poorly, you will ultimately have sub-par employees.  But it’s your fault, you expected an off the shelf ace employee. You hire for talents and personality and you train for skills.  You need to keep people motivated and inspired to work for you.

You will reach a point in your business where you will need others to help you grow.  You can’t do everything forever.  Business owners that do not know how to hire and manage good people, will eventually implode as it creates an expensive and time-consuming cycle of revolving employees.  This leads to frustration for the business owner and poor service for your customers.

Charles M Schwab Quote about arousing enthusiasm in other men

Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steele and right-hand man of Andrew Carnegie, credited all of this success to his ability to create enthusiasm among the people around him.  He was also paid 1 million dollars a year by Andrew Carnegie to run his steel operations at a time when most men were lucky to earn a few hundred dollars a year.

Want to know how to hire and mentor great employees?  Read this book.

You’re not a people person

Everyone business has a customer, if you don’t like interacting with people or collaborating with others, then it will eventually show and reflect on your business.  If you don’t enjoy being around people or you get frustrated easily with others, it’ll be difficult to grow a successful  business.  Customers and employees won’t want to be around someone who doesn’t want to be around them.

You can probably see a theme in this article, that you need a team of people to help grow your business and to allow you to concentrate on the important aspects of your business.  These people may be employees, contractors peers,or 3rd party vendors but you will need to work with them all in order to grow your business.

Chinese Business Quote - Dont open a shop unless you are rpepared to smile

Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”, is a must-read for every business owner.

You’re not excited about your business

You may not love the actual product or service you offer, but you should love the business itself.  I know many business owners who aren’t necessarily passionate about the product or service they offer, but they are passionate about growing a business, serving others and the satisfaction that comes from building a successful business.

What makes business exciting are the possibilities. If you aren’t excited about that, then maybe you are in the wrong business or maybe owning your own business isn’t for you, there is nothing wrong with that.  When you are in that “Messy Middle” of your business, the only thing that is left is the work itself, so if you don’t find the work exciting and fulfilling, then what’s the point?

Whether you have your own business or work for someone else, who wants to spend 30-40 years doing something they don’t enjoy?

What road are you on?

You may be able to get away with one of the above and still have a successful business, but if you start identifying with a few of the above points, then maybe it is time to pause and reflect on your business and where it’s headed.

11 Questions To Ask When Conducting Market Research For Your Business

 

Before you start a business, you need to be sure that the marketplace wants what you are offering.  Nothing sucks more than pouring your heart and soul into a new business venture only to find out that people just aren’t interested in what you have to offer.

Conducting thorough market research also opens up additional questions you may need to answer about your business and may reveal opportunities in the marketplace that are not currently being met.

Before you start any kind of marketing or advertising campaigns, you’ll need to conduct some market research first.  It doesn’t need to be a seven-month-long process or a 100-page document that you create, but you do need to ask yourself some questions and do some work to find out the answers.

Without a thorough knowledge of the marketplace and existing businesses, you may be putting yourself in danger before you even start. The following questions will help you to identify some important issues in your marketplace, and it will help you to double-check if there are crucial issues that you may not have considered before you start your new business.

Market Research Questions

1- Are there other businesses similar to yours that are currently operating in your market? Existing businesses like yours is not a bad thing, it means there is a market for your business.

2- How do these businesses appear to be doing?  Do they look like healthy, thriving businesses?

3- What are these businesses doing well?

4- What are these businesses doing poorly?

5- What could you do to compete with these businesses?  How would you stand out?  Is there an opportunity to create a competitive advantage here?

6- How much competition is there?  Does the market appear to be saturated?

7- If yes, are there ways that you can alter your business plan to suit a niche market?

8- What kind of people would want to buy your product or pay for your service?  What’s your ideal customer profile?

9- Are there enough of these types of potential customers living in your community to support your business?  Where are they located?  Will they frequent the area you plan to be in?

10- Can the economic profile of the community support your business?  Are you selling a premium service with prices to match?  Can the community support this type of business?  Be sure your product or service matches the economics of the community.

11- Are these people the type of customers who are likely to become repeat customers? If so, why?

Market Research for Small Business Quote

Summary

Don’t think about the above questions as a way to rule out starting a business, they may actually lead you be become even more creative and innovative about your new venture.  usually what happens is that answering these questions opens up new insights and potential opportunities for you.  To get some further insight, have someone you trust answer these questions too, they might have some suggestions you never thought of.

Once you have finished answering these questions, make up a list of additional questions that may have arisen during this research and find answers to them.  Armed with this information, you’ll be able to make better decisions and help minimize mistakes that could have been avoided.

Once you have completed your market research, you can start working on your marketing research.  You can read a previous post titled, Five Steps to Conducting Great Marketing Research for Your Small Business

 

How To Create An Operations Manual For Your Business

 

Having a written plan is important to any business, big or small.  Putting the standards you set for yourself and your business on paper will not only help you create consistency for your business, it will help you to avoid a pitfall that many small business owners face;  Being able to maintain the quality the business owner has set for the business as they grow and hire new employees.  

Operations Manual Template

Operations manual

Too many times a business with a rock solid level of service starts to slowly degrade as they grow and new employees are added to the mix.  A written operations manual will help give you the discipline to stay on track as your business grows.

A Business Plan is Not an Operations Manual

Most likely when you were first starting your business, everyone was telling you that a written business plan is a must. You need to get your vision, your plan and financials on paper so you (and your bank) can see that you have thought things through and have a clear plan of how your business will make money.

Once your business is actually up and running, how many times do you think you will refer back to your business plan?  If you are like most people, the answer is somewhere between rarely to never. A business plan is just that, a plan for your business.  It’s an overview of what your business is about and how it will make money.  It’s your vision of how you see your business now and in the future.  While this is very important, you also need a written plan on how you will run your business, day in and day out.  This is where a written operations manual becomes so important.

The Entrepreneurial Model has less to do with what’s done in a business and more to do with how it’s done. The commodity isn’t what’s important—the way it’s delivered is.  – Michael Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

What is an Operations Manual?

An operations manual is something different for every business.  For some it may be a 1000 page, phone book sized manual, detailing every little detail of the business in a step by step guide.  For others, it may simply be a series of checklists that are stored in a binder or as an online document. The only requirement is that you have some sort of written plan that you and your employees can reference when they need to know something. While many operation manuals will be chock full of details such as the company’s mission statement, values, organizational charts and sections for each key component of a business, you do not need all of that.  At least not when you are just starting out.  I think this is the misconception that many people face when it comes to writing an operational plan for their business, it does not have to be large and comprehensive, it just needs to be useful.

“Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression” (Sir John Harvey-Jones)

Why Do You Need an Operations Manual?

Purchase our 300+ page Operations Manual Template for only $29.99. Originally sold to franchises for over $1,000. Instant download. Click here to learn more or add to cart now.

There are lots of reasons for having a written operational plan for you business, the ones I feel are most important are:

Create a standard for your business.  For the most part, customers would prefer consistency from a business over random and inconsistent acts of awesomeness when it comes to customer service.  If the owner gives a customer one experience but your employees give that same customer (usually not as good) another experience, it will confuse and diminish the quality of the business in the eyes of that customer. A written plan will make sure everyone knows what expectations you have set for your business and employees.

Better trained employees.  If you are like most small business owners, you probably walk new employees through every step personally, explaining what needs to be done and what you expect from them.  Do you do the same exact thing for every employee that you hire?  Probably not.  What will happen if your manager needed to start training new hires? Would the training be the same? A written training plan will ensure that all new hires are given the same information to help create consistency among all of your employees.  It will also allow you to delegate some training responsibilities to other employees without diminishing the impact of that training.

Easier to scale your business.  To take a quote from Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited, “How is it that McDonald’s can deliver on it’s customer promise in every one of it’s 20K plus restaurants, each and every day, when a small business owner can’t do it with a single location?”  You can say alot of things about McDonald’s but the one thing you can’t say is that they are inconsistent. When operating multiple locations, or even franchising your concept, it’s impossible to deliver on your brand promise without a comprehensive operational plan in place.

Make your business more valuable.  One day, for various reasons, you may need to sell your business. Telling a prospective buyer “This is the way I do it” and “This is what I tell my employees” is much less valuable in the eyes of a prospective buyer than “Here is the way we operate our business”. Nobody is going to want to buy the ideas in your head, they want something tangible, proof that your business is an actual business, not you running around telling everyone what to do. An operations manual will be proof that there is an actual business going on here, something that can run with or without the owner present.  Now that is valuable.

“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire”  Napoleon Hill

What Should You Put In Your Operations Manual? The most important thing when writing an operations manual is for it to be useful, otherwise it won’t get used.  Start with the information that you will need to reference the most and would like to keep handy.  Whenever I help to create a written plan for one of my clients, I usually start with the following:

  • A contact list for all employees, vendors, emergency numbers, insurance company, landlord (if you have one) and anyone else that may need to be contacted in case an issue arises and the owner is not present.
  • A series of checklists on the basic functions of the business.  Create checklists for cleaning, opening/closing the business, supplies and any other task that requires easy and repeatable steps to follow.
  • How to guides.  Create simple “how to” guides that you and your employees can reference in various situations.  If the POS (Point of Sale) machine crashes on you in the middle of the day, do your employees know what to do?  Create a quick guide outlining the steps on what they should do if this should happen.  What if an employee needs to call in sick?  There is an injury in your store?  Write simple 1-2 page guides on what needs to be done in each case.
  • Policies.  While i’m not a huge fan of policies (i know they are needed, they are just not always used for the right reasons), outline your customer policies (or promises if that’s what you call them) so all of your employees are on the same page. Refund, exchange and payment methods are all good policies to start with.

Once these sections are complete I like to concentrate on the daily operations of the business.  I start here because this is (hopefully) the first part of the business that you can start delegating to others.   Just like in the “how to guides” above, start creating “mini guides” of your daily operations.  It may include ordering procedures, daily tasks that your manager must ensure is completed every day or anything else that is relevant to your business that needs to be done on a daily basis. If you only created the above sections for your business and stopped there, you should be proud of yourself because most small businesses will go their entire existence and never even get that far.

As you can probably see by now, a written operations manual is made up of a series of short sections that are strung together to create a bigger manual.  It’s actually very easy to start creating one, just start with the sections outlined above and you will be on your way to having your own written plan for your business.

Purchase our 300+ page Operations Manual Template for only $29.99. Originally sold to franchises for over $1,000. Instant download. Click here to learn more or add to cart now.

Resources

Creating your operations manual.  There is no easier way that I know of to create training guides than with Screen Steps. One of the biggest headaches in creating a training manual is inserting screen shots and images, if you use Microsoft Word you know what I’m talking about.  Having to take a screen shot, download the image, insert it in the document and then re-size it is a major pain and consumes a lot of time. Screen Steps let’s you  snap a screen shot of your computer screen and automatically inserts the image into your document in about 3 seconds without having to download the image first.  Screen Steps is the reason that I actually enjoy creating how-to guides for this blog.

Hosting your operations manual online.  I’m a fan of Google Apps and use it for all of my businesses.  What I do is upload the finished documents to my Google Docs account and then create a password protected intranet site using Google Sites to host the manual. It can then be easily accessed by any employee from any computer.  Both products come free with a Gmail or Google Apps account.  I hope to come out with a video tutorial shortly outlining exactly how to set this up so stay tuned.

Three Ring Binder.  After I upload each document, I print a copy to place it in a three ring binder which is left in a spot where employees can easily reference it when needed.  I use page inserts to keep the pages from tearing and use tabs for easy reference.

Start Creating Your Manual

I have outlined why and how to start creating your own operations manual for your business.  As you can see it’s easy to get started, you just have to start. Making it relevant to your business and employees is the key. Your operations manual will never be complete, it will always need revising so don’t think of it as something you need to do all at once.

When you find things that work for your business, take the time to write them down and add them to your manual a little at a time.  It should grow and change over time,  just like your business.  I usually take a few hours quarterly to update and revise my manual. If you have questions about getting started, you can contact me here.

5 Things a Small Business Owner Will Never Tell You

What are you struggling with as a business owner?Starting and running your own business is hard…..really hard.  Some days in fact you may question why you ever made the entrepreneurial leap of faith.  Having your own business is alot like riding a roller coaster, lots of highs and lows, and sometimes you may get queasy.

Anyone that has their own business has, at times, experienced the freedom and joy that only being your own boss can bring.  But has also experienced the stomach turning, stress inducing moments where you wish you were back in a safe warm cubicle somewhere, trying to look busy until 5PM comes around.

When things are stressful in your business, and they often are, having friends and family ask you “how’s it going?”, can be one of the most annoying things on earth.  And you will almost always give the same response…..”it’s good”

Below are five things you will almost never tell your non-business owning friends, family and former co-workers.

1. It’s Alot Harder Than I Thought

Before you start your own business you have everything figured out, a plan for everything.  But just like this old boxing quote says “everyone has a plan until they punched in the face”.  About six months into your business you probably feel like you’ve gone ten rounds with George Foreman.

What happened?

Nothing happened, it’s called owning your own business.

The problem is that before you started your business, everything was crystal clear, you could walk into any business and instantly spot a dozen things you could do better than the current owner.  You probably felt pretty smart, how you had this amazing power to spot flaws and inefficiencies in any business.

Fast forward  six months into your own business, guess what?  People are walking into your business everyday thinking of all the ways they could make your business better if they were the owner.

Just like having kids, the problems and solutions are so clear before you start a business (or have children).  What almost all non-business owners (and non-parents) don’t realize is that the ideas are only 1% of the equation……….implementation is the other 99%.  You quickly realize that as a business owner you are never short on ideas, the catch is always in putting those ideas into action.

The thing is, it’s hard to relate that to people who don’t own their own business, they still think having the idea is the most important thing.

2. I Constantly Doubt Myself

You may give off an aura of super confidence, but inside you are always having that conversation with yourself  “do I really know what i’m doing?”, “am I good enough to do this?”.

You probably found out pretty quickly how many hats you must wear and how much you need to know as a business owner.  Most people think they know before they start their business, but they don’t truly understand until they are knee deep in it.

Doubting yourself is normal, in fact healthy.  It’ll keep you on your toes and ensure that you never get too complacent about yourself or your business.

The problem is that you don’t want to let your friends or family know that you have these daily debates inside your head.  While us business owners know this is normal, anyone else may think you are either going crazy or the stress of owning a business is too much for you.  Both may or may not be true.

3. It’s Not Going as Well as Planned

Ask any small business owner “how’s business?” and you’ll usually get the same answer, “it’s good!”.

From my experience I usually interpret this answer as somewhere between, things are pretty good to I don’t know if i’ll be open next month.

It’s much easier to tell your friends and former co-workers that “things are going well” than the fact that you just barely made enough money last month to pay the rent and payroll.

You were so confidant and enthusiastic when you were first starting out, how would it look if you started telling people that your business is not turning out as planned?  That almost everything you thought would happen, didn’t.  It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.  Look at just about any successful business person and you will see repeated stories of failures, course changes and close calls.  It comes with owning your own business.

The only person you might really confide in is another business owner.  You probably feel like they are the only ones that really know what you are going through.  That’s why war veterans spend countless hours talking about the battlefield with their military buddies but will go a lifetime and never mention any details of what they saw to friends and even family. They just can’t relate to what you have gone through.

People that work for others are used to consistency and predictability.  Put in 40 hours of work and get a paycheck.  Rinse and repeat for 40-50 years and you can relax and enjoy even more predictability with a steady retirement check.  Unfortunately, owning your own business does not afford those luxuries, we usually don’t know what will happen next week, let alone next year or the year after.

4. Some Days I Wish I Worked for Someone Else

Some days I long to be a “Yes Man”, stuck in middle management in a job that i’m apathetic about.  At least it’s a steady paycheck!

One thing that business owners learn early on, and what separates working for yourself rather then for someone else, is that you are ultimatly responsible…..for everything.  Having that weight on you all the time can really wear you down.

When I was promoted to Lieutenant in the Fire Department, a fellow officer gave me this advice, “you’re never in charge, but you’re always responsible”.  I think this applies equally to owning your own business.  Things may happen that are out of your control (or at least you feel like they are), but it doesn’t really matter, the buck will always stop with you.

Don’t you long for the days when you screwed up at work, said you were sorry, and let those higher up sort everything out?  Sometimes it sucks not having anyone higher up on the food chain to take care of your problems.

Of course you would never tell this to anyone.  Starting your own business was supposed to be your one way ticket out of “Mediocreville”, a place where you were free from bosses, creative constraints and anything else that bugged you.

You would never admit to your former co-workers that sometimes you daydream about answering to someone else, having someone else tell you what to do and having little responsibility.

Guess what?  Your former co-workers are daydreaming that they had the guts to go out into the unknown and start their own business.  The only difference is that you actually did it.  Whether your business succeeds or fails, you should be proud of that as most people don’t have the stomach to ride the perpetual roller coaster that is running your own business.

5. I’m overwhelmed

No matter how much you prepare, there is too much to learn to ever be fully prepared before starting your own business.

When things go wrong, they usually go wrong in bunches.  You may be able to handle the customer who complains that you’re too expensive, or the key employee who can’t work weekends anymore, or even the misprint (it was your fault) on the five thousand brochures you just printed, but all at the same time?  Ahhh!

Back in your corporate days you were able to call (or blame) the marketing department if there was a problem with the brochures or pass that rude customer off to the customer service department.  If the toilet backed up, call housekeeping.  What?  No housekeeping department?  Oh, wait, that’s me.

You learn pretty quickly that the things you were able to pass off to others in the corporate world now become you and you alone.  Running your own business is overwhelming, there is a constant demand on your time and energy (both mental and physical).  The important thing is to learn as fast as you make mistakes, that’s the only way to stay ahead and not drown in an ever rising sea of demands.

Owning Your Own Business Is Rewarding and Sometimes Lonely

If any of the above thoughts have run through your head, don’t worry, almost all small business owners have thoughts like these. It’s normal.  The more time you spend with other business owners the more you will see you are not alone.

Sometimes you may want to get off the roller coaster you call your business, but you know that if don’t stay on, you won’t find out what the thrills are just around the bend.

If you are like most small business owners, you probably spend most of your days either with customers or with your employees.  It can feel lonely not having anyone that can relate to the excitement, stress and problems you face everyday.

One of the best things you can do as a business owner is to find a group of like minded business owners, sometimes they are referred to as Mastermind Groups.  It’s a great way to meet other business owners, exchange ideas, or just trade some old fashioned “War Stories” with them.

Photo Credit: Chilombiano

 

7 Signs You Should Not Start A Business

starting-lemonaide-stand-businessStarting and running your own business requires many skills and talents, much more than you need when working for someone else.  Most people that start a business  are quickly overwhelmed when the avalanche of demands that a business requires of its owner comes crashing down on them.

That weight and accompanying stress can really take a toll on you.

From marketing to sales to janitorial services, you will need to wear dozens of hats in the early years of your business.  Some people make it and some don’t.  Below are some of the traits that may NOT make you a good candidate to start your own business.  Some traits on the list can be overcome while others, if you have them, will most likely doom you from the start.

 

You Cannot Delegate

When you are first starting a business, this isn’t very important as it’s expected that the owner will do everything.  And you should be doing everything, that’s how you will learn the ins and outs of your business and will be able to teach the employees who you will eventually hire.  The problem is that many business owners never get out of this stage.

As your business grows and you start to expand past a one man band, you will need to hire and train new people, who will do things that you used to do.  If you’re the micromanaging, “get out of my way, I can do it better” kind of guy, you may be in trouble.

The good news is that delegating can be learned, though it can be a difficult skill to acquire as you have to learn to let go of things you may want to keep close.

 

You Are Indecisive

If you are the type of person who spends 10 minutes in line trying to decide what extra value meal to order, you better start to sharpen your decision making skills.  The truth is this, as a business owner you will have to make lots and lots of decisions everyday…….and a lot of them will be wrong.  But you still have to make them.

You will not have time to hem and haw over every little decision, sometimes you have to make a quick decision and adjust as time goes on.  The key is to make your good decisions count and to minimize the impact of your less than stellar ones.  The truth is, is that most decisions you will make will not be great or bad but somewhere in the middle.  The key is being able to pull the trigger with limited information and to trust yourself.

 

You Are Financially Challenged

Do you know the difference between revenue and cash flow?  If you don’t, you may not last very long.  I admit, this is my weak point.  I like ideas and challenges, not bookkeeping and budgets.  But just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I don’t have to have a working knowledge of it.  If you abdicate all of your financial responsibilities to your accountant, you’ll be in for a nice surprise when he tells you that you won’t be making payroll next week….ouch!

 

You Are Not a People Person

An old Chinese proverb says “Don’t open a shop unless you like to smile”.  I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a business that does not have customers, but chances are that yours will.  If you are not good with people, most likely your employees will not like working for you and your customers will not like buying from you.  It might be hard to be successful with that one, two punch.

 

You Are a Know It All

Nobody likes a know it all.  I had a chief that I worked for in the fire department, we called him “Joe It All”.  He really wasn’t liked or respected.  Even if you are the smartest person in the room, you don’t have to constantly let other people know it.

As a business owner and a leader, your job is to make your employees and your customers the stars of the show.  If you’re the type that always needs the credit and the spotlight, your employees will most likely hate you and will not work very hard for you.  Why would they?, you’ll most likely hog the glory anyway.

 

You Are Afraid of Confrontation

As a business owner, you will have to step right into the middle of uncomfortable positions.  Whether it’s reprimanding (or firing) an employee, dealing with an angry customer, or even worse….a customer you have disappointed.  As the head honcho, your employees and customers will look to you when difficult situations arise.  If the thought of that gives you a tingling sensation in your belly button, maybe you should re-think being the boss.

 

 You Are Not a “Learner”

This may be the most important trait that dooms most business owners, though the rest of them do make it difficult to succeed.  Running your own business requires so many skills, most of which you will not have when you first start out.

The most successful business owners are the ones that learn new skills, learn from their mistakes and make learning a part of their daily life.  Ask any successful business owner how much more they know now than when they started their business and they will laugh at the idea of how stupid they were when they first started out.

 

After reading this article, you’ll probably still run out and start a business, even if you have many of the above traits.  That’s exactly what I did, despite having several of them (I still have a few).  The key is to learn from your mistakes, move on and try to improve a little everyday.

Check out what traits DO lead to a successful business, “Ten Keys To A Successful Business And Life”

photo credit: scottchan

Enloop: A Free And Easy Way To Create A Business Plan

Enloop business plan logoCreating a business plan can be a daunting task for a first time business owner. Creating financial projections, an operational plan and a management team profile before you even start your business can seem a little overwhelming.

Unfortunately, if you will be seeking funding, a properly written business plan is a must.  Even if you’re not seeking formal financing, you should still have a business plan in place, even if it’s written on the back of a napkin.

While there are several software programs and templates available to the small business owner, most of them come at a financial cost, and at the critical start up phase of your business, finances may be a limited resource for you. If you have never created a business plan before, trying to create one from scratch can be painfully slow and opens the possibility that you may miss important parts of the plan that your funding sources may be looking for.

For a free and easy way to create a business plan check out Enloop, a terrific tool for creating a customized business plan. They offer a generous free plan as well as paid plans for more advanced features and multiple business plans.

While I think every budding business owner should sit down with an experienced person to map out a proper business strategy and to make sure you know what you’re getting into, I think a tool like Enloop is great to help get your plans on paper and to see if your financial calculations make sense.

Enloop

media_1313594436743.png

Enloop is a an easy way for you to create a customized business plan, ensuring that you will not miss important steps while preparing your plan. While they do have paid plans available, they currently offer one free business plan that you can create for your business.

Some of the benefits of using Enloop are:

  • You can download and print a PDF copy of your business plan when you are finished
  • Automatically calculates and creates all of your financial projections for you
  • By answering some easy questions, Enloop produces each section of your business plan for you
  • Although you are working off of a template, you can easilly customize your plan by adding and editing  text that Enloop creates
  • You receive useful tips and best practices from Enloop as you you prepare your business plan

One of the coolest features of Enloop is it’s EPS (Enloop Performance Score). As you create your business plan, Enloop assigns a score to your plan which is displayed as you move through each step of your plan. This score is Enloops scoring of the projected success of your business, which is calculated as a score (1-1000) using Enloop’s proprietary algorithm. While I would not start or stop my business planning based on this score, it is a usefull tool as it may make you stop and revisit certain parts of your plan that you might not have otherwise.

 

EPS Score

media_1313595537854.png

Creating A Business Plan Is Easy

After signing up, you will just follow the directions and add your personal and business information.

media_1313595697420.png

Once you finish answering some basic personal and business information, Enloop creates the first part of your business plan.

media_1313595832257.png

As you can see, the text is automatically created for you, entering all of the personal and business information that you provided in the previous step. At this point, you can edit or add your own text to further customize your plan. I told you it was easy!
Also note how your EPS score changes as you add details to your business plan.
As you move through each step, from products to pricing, Enloop will create each section of your business plan, allowing you to make changes and corrections along the way.

media_1313596088320.png

Once you are finished completeing all of the steps, Enloop will create the financial projections for your business plan.

media_1313596422593.png

At this stage, you can review your completed business plan and go back and revise your plan if things do not turn out as you originally projected

media_1313596530902.png
media_1313596580580.png

While all of the steps were not covered here, you should have no problem creating your business plan as it really couldn’t get any easier than with Enloop. One of things I like best about creating your business plan online like this is that you get immediate feedback as you create your plan and can go back and edit detials of you plan as you create it.

Like I said earlier, there are lots of great services online that can help you create a business plan, though many of them are paid and many of the free ones are not of the highest quality. One thing I would also add is that when you finish your business plan is to have other people review your completed plan before you submit it to a financial institution to obtain funding. Ask family, friends and more importantly, someone who has experience reviewing business plans to look it over and to provide some feedback. The more people who read your business plan, the more questions that may arise, questions that you may not have thought of.

You can sign up for a free Enloop account here and start your journey to a successful and profitable business! If you do use Enloop to create your business plan, i’d love to hear from you about your experience. Good luck!

 

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

Ask yourself the right questions quoteEveryone dreams about starting their own business.  Who doesn’t want to be their own boss?  Who wouldn’t love to tell their current boss to “get lost, I’m outta here!”.  Just the thought is liberating, though almost everyone who dreams of it will never do it.

Taking the leap of faith, leaving a secure career (is it really secure?) and venturing out on your own is one of the most liberating but scariest experiences you will ever have.  The euphoric feeling of freedom followed by the stomach dropping feeling of “holy shit, I really did it”.

Starting your own business is like having children, you may think you know what it’s like, but you really have no idea what it’s like until you actually do it.  The excitement and energy you feel as you get closer to making the leap is incredible, you’re like a kid on Christmas Eve, nothing but possibilities await you.  But before you jump in with both feet, you need to stop and have a conversation with yourself.

You have to ask and answer some serious questions that could get you into trouble later on down the line if you don’t.  While there are many questions that need answers, from my experience, these are the most important one’s you need to address.

Why do I want to start my own business?

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to start a business.  From my experience, two of the wost reasons are because you want to make a lot of money or because you hate your job.  When it comes to money, many entrepreneurs made more when they were working for someone else…..and spent less hours doing it.  If you say it’s because you hate your job, I got some news for you….you’re going to hate your new boss because you can never leave him.  Being your own boss and being responsible for your own destiny is one of the most liberating things that can ever happen to you but it can also be the scariest as you now have no one to blame except yourself.

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ~Steve Jobs

Some great reasons to start a business?  As Steve Jobs put it, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”  If you feel like your work is not fulfilling and lacks meaning, maybe it’s time to consider doing something else.  Maybe it’s not starting your own business, maybe it’s changing careers, but you have that desire to lead a more fulfilling life.  Another reason is that you want to be your own boss, not because you hate your old career, but you find it too restricting working for someone else.  You have big dreams and a major itch that needs scratching.  Maybe you want to create a business that is more in tune with your life and will give you the freedom to pursue other opportunities while still maintaining an income.  You only live life once.

Am I prepared to do the work and make the sacrifices?

You make a lot of sacrifices when you start your own business, more than most people realize.  Having your own business means being on call, at least mentally, 24 hours a day.  At least for the first few years as you are building your business.  It’s not like working for someone else where you check out at 5pm every Friday, both physically and mentally, and don’t have to think about work until 9am Monday morning.  If you’re someone who has to have their leisure time and loves spending Sundays on the couch reading the paper and watching football, starting your own business may not be for you.  Most business owners will tell you that they had to cut out a lot of non-essentials in their life during the first few years.  No vegging out in front of the tv every night, no spontaneous weekend trips.  Building a successful business requires a massive  commitment and you need to be ready for that.

Am I financially able to start my own business?

Don’t count on bringing home an income your first year, and possibly longer.  If you are leaving work cold turkey and jumping into entrepreneurship with both feet, make sure you have enough money stashed away so you can live during that lean startup period.  It doesn’t matter what your financial projections tell you, during that first year or so you will either not be making enough money for you to draw a salary, or if there is money, it will need to go back into the business in order to keep it going or to grow it to a self-sustaining position.

The pressure of starting a business is punishing enough, feeling that additional financial pressure can break you.  One of the best things you can do is to take that financial pressure off of yourself while you try and build your business.  If you don’t have the resources to carry you through financially during that first year, consider starting your business part time while you’re still drawing an income from your job.  Work your job by day and build your future at night and on the weekends.

“I’m working full-time on my job and part time on my fortune.  But it won’t be long before I’m working full-time on my fortune… …. can you imagine what my life will look like?” ~ Jim Rohn

Is my family on board?

It’s hard enough maintaining a healthy and happy marriage during the best of times.  Throw in the additional financial and time pressures of starting your own business and you will truly test how strong your relationship is.  If you want to start a business and your spouse or loved one is against it, think carefully before you proceed.  Some marriages fail because the additional pressures introduced by starting a business created too much pressure, stress and resentment in the relationship. Starting a business can test even the strongest marriages. If you want to read what it’s like being the spouse of an entrepreneur, you should read Meg Cadoux Hirshberg’s blog over at Inc magazine.

It’s better for both of you to make the decision together, that way at least if things go south, there is no one to blame, there is only each other.  I’ve seen people with successful businesses with failed marriages because it was one persons dream and not the other’s and it drove a wedge between the relationship.  I’ve also seen couples go bankrupt from a business, but ultimately happy and with a stronger relationship because they went into it together, for better or for worse.

Is this business in-line with my life plan?

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started out was starting  a location based business when my ultimate life plan was to have the freedom to travel and explore life with my family.  Before you go all-in on a business idea, make sure that it supports what your personal life goals are and that your business idea doesn’t conflict with it.  If you want to travel and explore the world, maybe a retail shop isn’t the best business model to go with.  If you want to be able to take extended periods of time off to pursue other activities, maybe a service business where you are the key equation isn’t the model for you.  If you need to be around people, maybe an e-commerce store won’t be able to fulfill that social need.  If you don’t choose correctly, you could be faced with a successful business at the expense of personal happiness.

Am I prepared to learn?

You don’t have to know everything when you’re starting out, what you need though is the ability and desire to learn as you go.  Any successful entrepreneur will tell you stories about the idiotic mistakes they made when they were starting out, how little they knew, and how much they thought they knew.  It’s really funny when you look back and realize how little you knew a year ago compared to what you know now.  The best entrepreneurs continually learn and improve month after month, year after year.  That’s how they get to where they are, they never stop learning.  You don’t have to know it all when you start, but you better be able to learn as you go or else you’ll have a hard time growing your business because it’s impossible to improve a business if you don’t improve yourself.

Answer slowly then take action

Asking and answering the above questions honestly will potentially save you a lot of heartaches later on down the line.  Take time to think things through, talk to other business owners and do some self reflection before you move forward.  Doing so will allow you to steam roll your way to building an awesome business because you know you made the right decision.