Getting started for love or money: be sure the love comes first
``There must be more to life than four walls of an office,'' thought Louise Berenson, as she trudged through each day at her job as a busy administrative assistant. Ms. Berenson longed for the freedom of making her own decisions. She dreamed about starting her own business. But what kind of business should she start? Her skills -- typing, office managing -- suggested little. Ditto with her work experience to date.
She might still be working as an administrative assistant except for one thing: She loved the color purple.
But though she searched for purple gifts and trinkets everywhere she shopped, they were not to be found.
``I thought other people must have the same problem finding purple things,'' she says. So she bought a few items -- finally evolving into mugs, T-shirts, and teddy bears -- of the purple hue and started selling them from a small stand in Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Three years later, she concludes that ``the experiment'' is a success. Her business, Purple Panache, ``is doing very well.''
Ms. Berenson's success stems from two things. She found a need, or specific niche, in the marketplace and filled it. And because she is doing something she loves, she finds herself constantly planning new packaging ideas and marketing methods to pamper and catch the eyes of her customers, thereby bringing in more business.
``If you're in it for the money, it just won't work,'' says David Birch, president of Cognetics Inc., a research firm in Cambridge, Mass. ``It should flow out of something you really enjoy. The risks are great, and the hours are unbelievable. It's like running a marathon. If you don't like to run, you're not going to make it.''
Entrepreneurs are more often motivated by the drive to ``create something, to do something the way [they think] it should be done,'' he explains.
So when choosing a business to start for your very own, sure, consider your location, the amount of money you have to put into it, and definitely how many people may want your goods or services enough to buy them. But first, please consider what you like to do.
Here is one way to dig out specific activities you really love: List all the activities you've ever felt good about, that made you feel successful. Be sure to include those you didn't get paid for.
Did you enjoy helping out the local Scout troop? Put that down.
Weren't you pleased when the bazaar you helped organize pulled in a record amount to repair the roof? That goes on the list, too.
Now: What specifically did you like about these activities? Did you like teaching and helping others? Did you like being outdoors? Did you like pulling people together in a team to accomplish a purpose?
Take a hard look at this second list. What kind of businesses could allow you to use your enthusiasm for these interests? You could use those teaching talents in free-lance teaching at local colleges, in a consulting service to train executives, or in your own day-care service.
Now take inventory of your skills. Learn to ``transfer abilities,'' suggests Ron Smith, editor of Entrepreneur magazine. Do you handle a checkbook now? Then you already have experience making out a budget. Your experience dealing with children can be transferred to dealing with other people.
OK: You've decided that you love skiing, sitting by the fireplace and drinking hot chocolate, and inviting your friends over for large parties.
What is the specific economic need you can fill? Is anyone going to pay to watch you drink hot chocolate?
But individuals might beat their way to your door to buy your custom-packaged skiing trips.
A quick way to find out is to do a market survey.
Will you need to start this business part-time or will you be able to devote all your time to it? This will be a factor in what kind of business you start, unless you can afford to hire a full-time manager.
Before you hire that manager, consider this: No one is going to be as motivated and as interested in your new business as you are. Be sure, though, to do all your planning and set up your office, factory, and equipment before you let go of that full-time-salary ``safety net.''
If you've an abundance of money but few management skills, you may want to buy a franchise. In return for a franchise fee and a percentage of your profit, the franchisor generally provides help in finding and setting up your location, hiring your employees, and lining up suppliers. The up-front money needed ranges from a few hundred dollars to millions.
When investigating a franchise, says Paul Curry, a franchise consultant in Boston, ask other franchisees, ``Have they [the franchisors] given you everything they promised you?''
And although many people find the franchisor's help invaluable, other franchisees find the neatly outlined plan cramps their entrepreneurial style. Many people go into business for themselves so that they can do things their own way.
The second in a series of articles detailing a step-by-step process for going into business for yourself. They include drawing up marketing plans, keeping an eye on that all-important cash flow, and getting financing for your new venture. Next: Your business plan helps you solve problems before they arise.