Get Your Business Off The Ground (written November, 2004)

You are now – or very soon will be in business for yourself. According to a recent Dun & Bradstreet business failure record, approximately 28% of new businesses fail in the first three years. How can you make sure your venture will be one of the ones that stay afloat? Here are some suggestions to enhance your chances of success.

  1. Don’t quit your job right away if you have a job that brings you a regular salary. By all means hang on to it until your business is yielding enough for you to take a salary out of the profits. The disadvantage is you’ll only be able to devote evenings and weekends to your own enterprise and you’ll be putting in long hours for a while. If you don’t have a regular job, consider finding a position with part-time or flexible hours to give you income while launching your new business.
  1. Keep overhead costs as low as possible. Overhead costs include secretarial help, telephone service, postage, office or shop space and the other costs of staying in business. Many of today’s million-dollar operations started in somebody’s garage or rumpus room. A helpful spouse or friend may supply secretarial and bookkeeping services at little or no cost for the time being. Keep close tabs on postage, phone calls, labor and all other costs too. Be prepared for periods of belt tightening. Know where you can cut back.
  1. Get the support of your spouse, other family member or good friend. “Support” might be a check to help meet expenses as you’re starting out, but it’s no less valuable for someone to provide words of encouragement and may be a helping hand when you need it too. Let the people close to you understand what you’re trying to do. They may find it very exciting. Sometimes whole families pitch in and work together and share in the success of a venture.
  1. Listen to your customers. Good marketing is the secret to success in – any business you can name. It’s your job to stay in tune with what people want and react to their signals. When they don’t buy, find out why. This way you’ll be able to offer them the product or service that they want. Or you’ll modify the way you sell or distribute your product to meet their needs. If you don’t know what people want, ask them directly or have them fill out a questionnaire.
  1. Check out your competition. Unless you’re doing something totally unique, you’re competing with other individuals or companies. If the situation is one of friendly competition, you may be able to simply compare notes. More likely you’re trying hard to keep out of each other’s way and you’ll have to rely on what customers report to you. By all means, find out what your competitors are offering in the way of quality, selection, etc. What do they have that you don’t? How does their service compare to yours? Then ask yourself why would customers come to me instead of the other fellow? If you don’t have some good reasons why you’re ahead of the competition, find ways to make your product or service superior. Something small can make all the difference in the world. Perhaps you are one of many in your area selling gift items, but if you’re the only one to provide gift-wrapping and a bow or to deliver direct to people’s houses, you’ll have an edge over the others.
  1. Pay attention to criticism. Ask people you trust for comments, advice and help with what you’re trying to do. When they provide negative feedback listen. You’ll be tempted to defend yourself or find excuses for doing things your way. Put your ego aside long enough to find out what you might be doing differently. Much of the advice you get will be from people who really know less about your business than you do. Even so listen and thank them. Then make up your own mind about what to do with what they’ve told you.
  1. Keep careful records. Anyone in business needs records for the taxman and for himself. Always be aware of which items sell best, which day of the week you do the most business, which geographic area most of your business comes from. From records that show what works, you’ll be able to determine your own formula for success.

The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.