District Director's Corner - December 2013

As the new year approaches many people are making resolutions and setting a course for the coming year. Some people are contemplating starting a small business. If you are one of those people, take a careful look at yourself, your circumstances, your skill sets, and your proposed small business’ potential viability.

The first things you’ll need to consider are your personal character traits. Are you a self-starter? Are you willing to work long hours (sometimes 12-plus hour days six or seven days a week)? Can you bounce back from adversity? Are you disciplined? Are you willing to give up much of your social life for months or even years? Are you willing to listen to criticism and feedback? Do you have the personality to deal with customers, sometimes in contentious situations? Do you have the stamina to continue in spite of setbacks? 

Owning a small business takes a lot of hard work, drive, and dedication. While most small business owners love what they do, they will also caution others about the amount of time it takes to start and run a small business. They often speak disappointedly of missed anniversaries and kids’ events.

Starting and/or running a small business can be extremely challenging. It may take months or even years before you are profitable. Others may criticize your decision or tell you things you’d rather not hear—some of which will probably be things you need to hear. 

Working long days and weeks with little positive reinforcement can be tough. Those sales and glowing reviews may not always come just when you need them. Some customers can be tough to deal with. Many are precise and demanding—some are unreasonable. Try to recognize that their complaints are opportunities to resolve issues or even impress these clients with your firm’s capabilities and responsiveness.  When done properly you can turn a complainer into an evangelist for your business. 

We at the SBA recommend writing a business plan and working with counselors or mentors with a willingness to consider and even follow their advice. Be receptive to assistance and be willing to form an advisory board or group.
If your small business will be home-based, you’ll need to be able to deal with distractions such as your spouse, children, pets, and visitors. These folks may not always understand that you are WORKING. You need to be honest with them and yourself about whether you have the patience and capabilities to take on this challenge. 

Veterans start more small businesses than any other group and tend to be successful because they possess many of these traits. They are accustomed to long hours, strategic planning, and attaining objectives. Thanks to their ability to endure the corrective abuse often heaped on them by a demanding drill instructor or tactical officer, they can certainly tolerate criticism, and better yet, satisfy expectations in a professional and non-defensive manner.

Starting a small business can be an expensive proposition. Analyze your revenue sources before investing money into a business.  If you can rely on support from your spouse, retirement income, or some other avenue address it in your business plan.  Determine if you will need to borrow money and its source (e.g., family, friends, or commercial lenders). We encourage you to learn about SBA loan programs or other commercial loan possibilities to start or expand your small business as we discourage using credit cards for this purpose as this method can quickly become an extremely expensive form of borrowed capital. 

Attend entrepreneurship training and/or join entrepreneurial organizations and networks to allow you to learn from more experienced entrepreneurs. Support and advice from friends, trainers, coaches, and mentors can be a real benefit to both the novice and experienced business owner. Ongoing support from a no-cost counselor with one of SBA’s resource partners (i.e., SCORE, the Small Business and Technology Development Centers, the Women’s Business Center, and the Veterans Business Resource Center) is always recommended.

Likewise, as a small business owner you most probably can’t do everything. You might be weak with numbers so you’ll need to plan on a bookkeeping service. If you aren’t computer savvy, while you probably will want to improve your skills, you will certainly need to hire a web designer for a planned website. If you’re uncomfortable with people, you might need to hire a salesperson or office manager to interact with customers. Most constraints don’t mean you can’t have a successful small business, but you will need to make plans to address any skills you lack. 

We at the Small Business Administration are here to help small businesses start, grow, and prosper because small businesses are the primary growth engine of our economy. Small business ownership can be one of the most rewarding things you do in life. But we also want prospective small business owners to go into the process with their eyes open. The chances of success are much greater when you anticipate issues/problems and plan for contingencies. Let the SBA and our resource partners help you become an “informed” risk-taker.  We at the St. Louis District Office wish you all Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year with the hopes that your firm starts or grows into a successful small business in 2014!