The Small Business Start-Up Guide
by Robert Sullivan

. . . brought to you by The Small Business Advisor

Focus Your Energy

One of the major elements contributing to business failure is the lack of entrepre-neurial qualities. So what are they? Do you fit the criteria? Don't put your head in the sand on this issue. Starting a business is tough and it is very important that you determine early on if you have the "right stuff." Better you find out now what qualities you may need to strengthen rather than finding out once it is too late.

John and I were recently discussing the problems he was having with his new business venture. After chatting for a while it was clear to me that he should have never undertaken the venture-He simply did not have the entrepreneurial 'spirit.' John didn't discuss his venture with me even though he knew I was a business consultant. He knew that I would tell him not to do it. You see, John KNEW he needed to strengthen certain qualities, but was blinded by the dollar signs in his eyes!

You need to be more honest with yourself than John, so let's take a little test. This test is an entrepreneurial aptitude test, a sort of "self-evaluation" checklist. A high score places you in the profile more likely to succeed in starting and operating a business. Answer each question honestly! We will then discuss each question. Grade each question on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being yes, absolutely, and 0 being no, absolutely.


  • Are you a leader?
  • Are you a high-energy person?
  • Are you self-confident?
  • Are you organized?
  • Are you competitive?
  • Are you prepared to work long hours, every day for an indefinite period?
  • Do you have adequate resources?
  • Are you in good health?
  • Do you have a unique service or product?
  • Is your spouse on board with your ideas?
  • Are you willing to make short-term sacrifices in return for long term success?
  • Are you a risk taker?
  • Are you a good communicator?
  • Do you have adequate experience?
Now total your score ... Good news, there is no failing score! The list only serves to provide an "awareness" of what you need to be thinking about. Now let's look into each question with a bit more care. 1. Are you a leader?

It is hard to "define" a leader, but it is easy to know one when you see one. A good "manager," by the way, is not necessarily a leader. It has been said that leading is doing the right thing and managing is doing things right! An entrepreneur must, of course, be a competent manager, but, more importantly, must lead the way to success.

A few years ago while consulting for a relay manufacturing business I met with the founder and owner. It was easy to see he was an excellent manager and organizer. He had effectively set up his company, found satis-factory help, and was quickly manufacturing small runs of high quality electromechanical relays. When he called me, the company was in trouble - Poor sales, decreasing order backlog, etc. We determined the problem was that the market had been slowly moving towards solid-state relays and the electro-mechanical units simply were no longer being designed into equipment. In overlooking (or not being aware) of this fact, the owner, although a good manager, was not LEADING the company in a successful direction.

It takes a leader to successfully start, run, and grow a business.

A group of surveyors was lost in the jungle and had been wandering for a number of hours under the hot sun. They were following instructions from Harry, who was carefully organizing their route through the dense jungle underbrush. He made sure they were not going in circles, assigned one member of the party to keep the long knifes sharpened that they carried to cut the brush, ensured rest breaks were periodically taken, that water was being rationed, and so forth. Finally, Paul, nearly exhausted and anxious to end this adventure, climbed a tall tree, took a look, and yelled down to the group, "Hey, we're going the wrong direction, there's a town about 200-yards off to the left!" Harry was a good manager, but Paul is a leader!

To be a good leader you must focus your energy. If you are going to start a business, be prepared to focus on your objectives. If you feel you lack leadership qualities, read one or more of the many good books available on the subject. No one really knows if a leader is born or made, but it is possible to focus on those qualities that most leaders seem to possess. The reference section at the end of this chapter suggests some reading material on this subject.

2. Are you a "high energy" person?

Starting and running a business requires con-siderable energy and the ability to focus on your objectives. Long hours will be required which, if you are already employed full time, quickly takes its toll. A high-energy level is a must.

If you know in your heart that you're a ball of fire, but just can't get off the couch in the evenings, you might want to look into your diet and exercise programs.

Note at what times of day you are at your best. Some of us are "morning people" and others are "night people." A morning person might not do well running a business that requires late hours and conversely, a night person should not consider an early morning delivery business!

3. Are you self-confident?

You must believe in what you are doing. Get involved in something you are GOOD at doing. Familiarity and ability breed confidence. Don't make the mistake of getting into a business because it looks like a good money maker or it is the "business of choice" this year. If you know absolutely nothing about the restaurant business, don't start a restaurant!

If your business encompasses one or more of your hobbies or other long-term interests and/or exper-tise, your self-confidence will be enhanced. Your level of confidence is important …You must believe in what you are doing and be confident of attaining your business goals.

4. Are you organized?

You need to be organized in order to make good use of your time. Rest assured, you will never have all the time you think you need to accomplish what you feel needs to be done, but organization allows you to use time in the most effective manner. In other words, you will get more done in less time. How organized are you?

  • Do you get things done on time ... always?
  • Can you always find what you're looking for?
  • Do you keep a schedule? A "to-do" list?
  • Are you on time for appointments?
If you "feel" organized, you probably are. If you need some improvement, start by keeping a detailed schedule of your activities. Refer to references at end of this chapter for suggested information resources on this topic.

Time saving tip: Use e-mail rather than the telephone --no more "telephone tag."

5. Are you competitive?

From day one, you and your business will be in competition. A competitive spirit is almost man-datory. Are you competitive? Do you strive to be first or the best? Your hobbies and sporting interests can tell you a lot about your competitive nature. You are your own best judge. Give it some thought ... If you're a fighter, your chances for success are improved.

6. Are you prepared to work long hours?

During a recent lecture I asked the participants why they were contemplating starting their own business. One of the people in the audience responded by saying she was tired of being required by her supervisor to frequently work late. She wanted her own business so that she could have more free time and work her own hours.

There's an old joke that says an entrepreneur only works half time ... 12 hours a day. The fact is, 12 hours a day might be a little light. Building and operating your own business is considerably more time intensive then working for someone else. You can set your own hours all right ... From about 6AM to midnight! The typical entrepreneur does, like the old joke, work an average of 12 hours per day, six and sometimes seven days a week. However, this hard work can bring rewards and a feeling of accomplishment like nothing else can.

7. Do you have adequate resources?

Have you thought out what kind of monetary investment will be required? Do you have it? Can you borrow it? Lack of adequate resources is one of the major causes of business failure.

TRUISM 2 Your business is likely to operate at a loss for the first year of operation.

There are many excellent references that provide details about resources required and where and how to borrow what you need. The following list will give you a few preliminary guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Prepare a listing of start-up costs and first year expenses. Assume NO sales will be made and that you will be operating at a loss. You should have this much capital available the day you open your door for business. These expenses include, but are not limited to, items such as equipment, office supplies, deposits for utilities, legal fees, licenses, advertising, operating cash, wages, repairs, shipping, rent, utilities, insurance, and taxes. Many of these expenses can be reduced or eliminated if your business is conducted from your own residence.

  • If your personal financial resources are not adequate, line up other sources before the cash is required. Don't forget to obtain formal commitments.

    TRUISM 3
    A personal guarantee will probably be required if you
    borrow money from a bank.

  • Think very carefully about personal guarantees before you decide it is worth the risk. Chapter 11 has more details on this important topic.

  • Remember that most investors are more likely to invest in an entrepreneur that puts up some personal cash than one who is looking for 100% financing.
8. Are you in good health?

You're likely to be working hard, long hours and you need to be in good shape. This is not a trivial matter ... You need to look after yourself. If you are not already into an exercise program ... Start! If you smoke ... Quit! If you are a heavy drinker ... ease off. Take a stress management course to be prepared when it hits ... and it will.

9. Do you have a unique service or product?

Almost too obvious to even mention but amazingly enough, forgotten by many. Your product or service need not be "new" in the sense of "never before available." But it must be unique in the sense of providing better service, better support, or a new approach.

Dave, a good friend and fellow amateur radio operator, started a radio equipment and accessory retail store. Certainly not new, since there are hundreds of such stores throughout the country and, in fact, there were three within 50 miles of Dave's location. However, in less than a year, he was outselling the other two stores and had acquired a good share of their former customers. Why? Dave knew he needed to provide something unique that would make his store more useful than his competitors. Knowing that communications were "going digital" and there was a high interest in combining computers and radio equipment, Dave provided custom software to marry the customer's computer with the radio equip-ment he sold. He's still going strong.

TRUISM 4 In order to be successful, your business must provide a service or product that people want to buy.

10. Is your family on board with your ideas? Will you have the support of your significant other? Trouble at home is the last thing you need when starting a business. The statistics in this area are grim ... a lot of breakups occur during and immediately after a new business start-up. Don't let this happen to you ... talk it out first. Make sure you share common goals and objectives.

11. Are you willing to make short term sacrifices in return for long term success?

This may be obvious but think it through just the same. You may be spending less time with family and friends, taking fewer (if any) vacations, probably not wearing the latest fashions or driving a new car. All of these things, we hope, are temporary but a lot of people are simply not willing to give them up. If you can't, reconsider your priorities before making a decision that may not be right for you.

12. Are you a risk taker?

You need to be! Starting a business can be a big risk and you need to be able to make risky decisions and cope with the consequences. Taking risks is commonplace with the entrepreneur ... opportunity comes with risk.

A few years back, I gave up a government job, and moved to Venezuela to start a business with partners from that country. I didn't speak the language nor was I familiar with the legal system. I was in a strange country, not understanding the language, and was de-pendent upon my partners to get business. The venture turned out to be successful after some quick learning experiences, but it certainly was a risk. I still remember my friends saying to me, "You're giving up your government job for what??" Risk? Yes! But what an experience!

My example above is an extreme one, but you get the idea. If you think what I did is completely crazy, you may not be a risk taker yourself. (Of course, personal situations play a big part in these kinds of decisions but it's the mental attitude we're interested in here.)

There is risk of some sort in just about every decision you make but your business decisions (Should I hire another worker? Should I purchase that machine? Should I sign the contract?) carry major financial consequences and in some cases can spell life or death for your company. Someone who is somewhat comfortable with taking risk is more likely to make the decision that will result in the bigger payoffs. Those kinds of decisions can spell growth for your company.

13. Are you a good communicator?

Strong writing and speaking skills are essential to selling your product or service and yourself. Be honest here; if you need improvement, take a writing or public speaking course at your local university and visit your library for books on the subject. Consider joining Toastmasters, for ex-ample, or take a Dale Carnegie course. Consider enrolling in a correspondence course.

14. Do you have the necessary experience?

You should start your business in an area where you have both an interest and experience. Don't get involved in something you know little about ... it's a strike against you that you do not need. Mind you, you don't have to be an expert in everything - in fact, you can't be. For example, you can always hire professional help in the area of marketing, finance, and taxes. If you lack some of the technical expertise required, you might consider a partnership with someone who will complement your expertise. Make sure this person shares your goals and objectives. Chapter 5 includes infor-mation about selecting a partner.

Some so-called "experts" have written that a real entrepreneur should not care what business he or she is in since "business is business." Not so! As an entrepreneur, you want the best odds for success. You should get involved only with some-thing you are both good at and interested in.

Now that you have a better idea of the meaning of each of the "entrepreneurial elements," go back and review the marks you gave yourself in the test and adjust them if necessary. If you still feel you need to improve in any area, consider some of the suggestions in the chart on the following page, which suggests ways in which you can improve.


It is important that you understand the qualities that most successful entrepreneurs have and take steps to strengthen those in which you are weak. An honest assessment of yourself is essential. When you're satisfied and know you are ready, get your business started NOW ... or someone else will!

A really good idea will not last for long
before someone else runs with it.