Entrepreneurship experts offer 10 tips for starting a new business in 2012

Earlier this month, I assembled a list of top ten tips for starting a new business in 2012 based on recommendations I gathered from members of my client, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. These folks are all experts who advise and mentor small business owners and those would like to be small business owners. It occurred to me that this advice might be helpful to my blog readers, so here it is. Enjoy! (And if your local community college has an entrepreneurship program, consider knocking on their door and asking for advice on the challenges you’re tackling this year.)

1. Have a Solid Idea – According to Tim Mittan, Director Entrepreneurship Center at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, NE, “When you are looking to start your own business, make sure your idea is everything you want it to be. Remember, you will be doing this every day and you want your days to be fun, not a drag. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will never feel like you are going to work. Stay flexible as you plan, but stay focused on your idea. You may have to conduct extra research, but take the time and do it right.”

2. Answer the Big Questions – Mittan advises that you need to be able to answer these questions: What is my product? – Who will buy my product? – How will they get my product? – How much will they pay for it? “Being able to answer these questions will allow you to be more specific with your business planning,” he says. “With these answers you will make good marketing decisions, create a good online strategy and keep your books in the black. And most important, you will get what you are passionate about out to others in the most effective way possible.”

3. Develop a Solid Business Plan. Once you’ve answered the questions Mittan raises, you have some of the building blocks of a business plan. According to Associate Dean Jan Pagano, head of Indian River State College’s Entrepreneur Development Institute in Fort Pierce, FL, “A business plan is your ‘roadmap’ and should outline your attainable and reasonable goals that are both strategic and financial. Think of it this way: You would not take an extensive trip cross country without a GPS or roadmap. Your business plan is just that – and without it you could end up on a dead end road!”

“It does not matter how large or small your business is, you have to assertively plan the work – and then work the plan,” says Joyce Presby, Entrepreneurial Resource Consultant at White Mountain Community College in Berlin, NH. “Having a plan will keep you on track and will show where there are variances in plenty of time to make adjustments. Sticking to the plan and really working it is vital to a strong business.”

4. Get a Mentor – “The old adage is to make sure you have an accountant, banker and lawyer on speed dial,” says Tim Mittan. “That is still sound advice, however, in this day and age having access to a business coach or mentor is also extremely important. You never want to feel like you are going it alone. Make sure you find someone at your local community college, SBDC, or economic development center that can help you. If any of those are not available, go online or find a networking group in your area.”

“It’s always great to bounce ideas off someone who has experience and has ‘been there,’” Jan Pagano says.  “We don’t always have all the answers and oftentimes we become so closed minded that we don’t see the whole picture. A coach and/or mentor will be objective, keep you focused and hold you accountable in getting results.”

Jerry Lintz, an instructor in the business and entrepreneurship program at Northeast Wisconsin Community College in Green Bay, WI, puts it this way, “Secure a confidant. Every entrepreneur needs someone to share your successes, your failures, your ideas, your passion, your pain and your joy with (not a family member, not a lender/investor, not your lawyer/accountant – someone with great faith that you trust and admire greatly).”

5. Get Trained and Be Willing to Learn New Skills – “As an entrepreneur you will soon learn you will be the ‘jack of all trades – master of none,’” says Jan Pagano.  “You’ll be spending a lot of time doing things that have nothing to do with your area of expertise, like bookkeeping, marketing, and IT support!  Some of this you will be able to delegate but much of this you will have to learn as you embark on your entrepreneurial journey.”

6. Develop a Solid Marketing Plan –  “Like the business plan, the marketing plan is an essential part of your business planning. It’s not enough to know your product and services,” Pagano says. “It’s critical that you research your competition, analyze your strengths and weaknesses, and identify the risks, opportunities and threats posed by both internal and external factors. By doing so, you can easily identify your niche, the best way to enter the market, and how to turn your marketing efforts into revenue.”

Otis White, Faculty Chair, Business & Management; Public Administration at  Rio Salado College, in Tempe, AZ, suggests implementing  these two tips adapted from Effectual Entrepreneurship by Stuart Read and Saras Sarasvath:

7. Start Within Your Means – There will never be a perfect time to begin a business; assess what you have to work with and think about how you can get started with those resources. Bootstrap if you have to, but get started!

8. Set an Affordable Loss – Decide how much you can afford to lose on the business before you begin. Measure the losses closely and be aware of your loss goal. Read and Sarasvath recommend evaluating opportunities based on whether the downside is acceptable, rather than on the attractiveness of the hope-for upside.

“The pain of losing money far exceeds the joy of making money,” says Jerry Lintz. “When asked ‘What is it like to stand over a three-foot putt for a million dollars?’ pro golfer Brian Swarbrick responded, ‘Standing over a three-foot putt for a million bucks is no big deal; real pressure is playing for ten dollars when you only have five dollars in your pocket.’”

“Cash-flow problems will never take care of themselves,” advises Joyce Presby. “From time to time every business can face cash-flow problems. A shortfall once in a while is not the end of the world-unless you ignore it completely. If you do, it is likely to be the end of your business. Cash-flow problems indicate a need for reconsidering, altering methods, adjusting marketing strategies, etc.”

9. Remain Flexible – “If you cannot afford a big office, get a small one,” advises Otis White. “If you cannot afford another staff member, then figure out a way to do without. Be creative and frugal with your resources and avoid debt used for ‘wants’…only use debt for critical ‘needs.’”

10. Tap into Your Community’s Resources, Including Those at Your Local Community College – Hundreds of community colleges across the nation, including NACCE’s 300 member schools, have invaluable resources for would-be business owners and entrepreneurs. These include degree programs in Entrepreneurship, workshops, entrepreneurship centers that provide mentorship and other services, and on-campus and virtual incubators.

“Research the Small Business Development Center in your community and/or SCORE and work with them,” says Mechele Hesbrook, Dean of the School of Arts + Design at Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, NM. “Research the entrepreneurship programs offered at your local colleges or community college. Enroll in classes. And research online virtual incubators or on-ground incubators in your community and join up.”

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover