Business success begins with a blueprint

Here’s a new kind of New Year’s Resolution to consider for the coming year. Why not mark the start of 2017 by starting to formulate a plan for going into business for yourself?

No doubt, timing is key for launching any profit-seeking venture. Getting off on the wrong foot when you’re getting off the ground can greatly extend the time it takes to hit your stride, or even prevent it altogether.

But it’s never too early to start planning, even if you know you’re nowhere near ready to launch an enterprise.

“The more homework you can do, the more research you can do to find out about the industry and the markets you’re heading into, then the more successful you will be,” advises Jen Dangelo, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Cookeville.

Gathering information and organizing intel with respect to business development and potential markets is guaranteed to enhance your startup’s strength when you finally do take the entrepreneurial plunge.

“We prefer people come to us when they are in those beginning stages, so that we can help point them in the right direction,” said Dangelo. Her office, which is affiliated with Tennessee Tech University, offers free counseling and seminars to small businesses in all stages of development and operation.

“It takes a lot of time and thought to do a good business plan, which should be a full feasibility study on paper,” she said.

Is Starting a Business for You?

The reasons people give for going into business are diverse. Making your own schedule, making important decisions for yourself, making more exciting and rewarding use of your time and making more money — all are common explanations people offer for making the decision to strike out on their own.

All have merit, too — but with caveats, said Dangelo.

For example, thinking about going into business because “you don’t want to work for somebody else” is shortsighted and unrealistic, as novice entrepreneurs tend quickly to discover, she said.

“We have to remind people that, while they may not actually have a boss telling them what to do, there is the federal, state and local governments telling them what they can and can’t do,” she said.

And, of course, clients and customers always get their two cents worth in — or else they’ll take it, along with the rest of their spending money, somewhere else.

“At the end of the day, you’re the only one responsible when something goes wrong,” said Dangelo.

Interested in making big bucks in a big hurry?

“People are often surprised to discover that entrepreneurs usually don’t draw a salary from their business for at least the first six months to a year,” said Dangelo. She noted that it is helpful for one domestic partner to continue holding a fulltime job to augment family income in the lean startup phase.

And all that free time you’ll find when you start “setting your own hours”? Don’t count on it, said Dangelo.

“The amount of time it takes to run the business — it does tend to spill over and become a lot bigger job than most people realize,” she said. “It usually takes years to get to the point when you have employees under you to man-the-shop when you want a day off.”

Sometimes startup operators fail to size up the government’s bite that they’ll be on the hook to supply. “People who don’t anticipate how much they’re going to pay in taxes don’t price their products at a level that makes them money,” said Dangelo.

There, again, planning and anticipating well ahead of time is critical.

Talk to any successful entrepreneur and they’ll usually describe a host of things they’d have done differently were they awarded a do-over. But likely as not, many of those early-on difficulties could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, with better frontside planning.

“You want to do what it is that you love. But you want to make sure it makes you money at the end of the day,” said the John Woodard, who leads seminars for SBDC.

Think of it this way, said Woodard: “Business is a game, and money is how you keep score.”

SBDC introduction seminars are held on the second Tuesday of the month in the agency’s offices at the Regions Bank Building, 10 West Broad Street.