Part 1 - So, you're thinking of starting your own business
- What it takes to succeed
- Biggest myths
- How to find business ideas
- Importance of work-life balance
- Getting input
- Thinking of starting your own business: wrap-up
So, you're thinking of starting your own business. You've picked a good place for it. Canada is one of the easiest places in the world to start a business, according to the World Bank, and did you know that Ontario has more business establishments than any other province?
Starting a business is an appealing idea, but do you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? This section begins with an examination of entrepreneurial traits, and if you fit the bill, it will help you explore other big picture issues to be aware of as a budding entrepreneur.
"The wonderful thing about Ontario and Canada is that we have a great business environment for focusing on the niche and being the specialist."
Kokimo Candles Ltd.
"The biggest misconception new entrepreneurs have about running a business is that they think once you get to a certain point, you've arrived. The thing is, the challenges never stop. You have to be an innovator - and you have to like constant change."
Xystar Technologies Inc.
"You must love what you want to do in your business because, at the end of the day, it's a lot of work."
So now the question is: do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Even if you have a great idea, starting a new business is challenging. Certain characteristics and skills will maximize your chances of success. So before you even begin, ask yourself if you have the personality of an entrepreneur.
Top 10 traits of an entrepreneur
- independent and self-motivated
- self-disciplined and organized
- hard-working and committed
- determined and persistent
It may seem like a demanding list, but successful entrepreneurs possess all these characteristics--and, if you don't, your chances for success are diminished. Complete this more detailed self-assessment to see if entrepreneurial life will be a good fit for you.
If you can honestly say you're the right personality type, the next question you have to ask yourself is, are you fully prepared, at this point in your life, to:
- work long hours
- sacrifice time with family and friends
- receive little--or no--pay at first
- live with ongoing pressures
Finally, if you have a family, do they understand what's involved? Long hours and hectic schedules can take their toll on relationships. For your business to succeed, everybody has to be onside. So, talk it over with your family and make sure they know what you--and they--are getting into.
The fact is people start businesses all the time. Unfortunately, a lot of them fail over the first five-years. To avoid becoming one of those statistics, remember why the others succeed:
- they offer good value;
- they have a solid business plan; and
- the owners possess entrepreneurial qualities.
Give some thought to what success will look like to you. For some entrepreneurs, it is about making lots of money. For others, it can be broader, including such ideals as:
- control/being your own boss
- gaining flexibility
- having more time
- making a difference
Understanding if any of these shape your definition of success before you embark on starting a business will help you with making decisions and setting priorities along the way.
What the experts say about success
Those who run Ontario's network of Small Business Enterprise Centres see many aspiring and budding entrepreneurs day in and day out. They share their insights on the combination of skills and traits it takes to succeed:
- Open-mindedness."Almost everyone who comes into my office truly believes they have the next great idea. But if they're not open to criticism or to identifying new opportunities, that idea will never move forward." Ken Laffrenier, Manager, Enterprise Temiskaming, Temiskaming
- Passion plus business knowledge of marketing, sales and finance. "There are two main reasons why so many small businesses fail: first, because the owners do not know their numbers; and, second, because they really do not understand the marketing piece, so their businesses remain the best kept secret." Trudy Belanco, Manager, Brantford-Brant Business Resource Enterprise Centre, Brantford
- Determination and willingness to persevere. "These are the most important personality traits." Tony Cerasia, The Business Centre - Nipissing Parry Sound, Parry Sound
- The ability to learn from others and access information."This is one of the strongest traits that propels people to success because they understand the need to do research and to plan." Jane Phillips, Manager, Business Enterprise Centre Owen Sound & Area, Owen Sound
|I can be my own boss and do whatever I want.||You will have control as an entrepreneur; however, no business is an island. There are constant demands from employees and customers, as well as concerns like cash flow.|
|I can take off time whenever I want.||Most entrepreneurs work long hours, especially in the start-up years, and are often time-stretched.|
|My product (or service) will sell itself.||Don't fall into the 'If I build it, they will come' trap. Some of the best ideas fail as business ventures if the company remains the best kept secret around. Good sales and marketing, coupled with good customer service, is always a must.|
|I'm going to make lots of money.||That's a possibility, and hopefully, a strong one. But be prepared for some lean years before your business is established and profitable. And remember that profits are tied with forces beyond your control - market trends fluctuate, as does the economy.|
|There are many grants to start a business.||There's no such thing as free money. Government programs are available to help, but most involve a lot of work on your part, and payback when you're successful.|
|My business is small, so I don't need a business plan.||Regardless of size, the foundation must be solid or you'll have an unsturdy business. The business plan is that foundation.|
"Look at your own life and think about something you could use. If it's something that is marketable, it could be an opportunity. Beyond that, think about what you're passionate about. If you don't believe in what you're doing, it is not going to work."
Ken Laffrenier, Manager
You know you want to start a business. Now what? Perhaps the most obvious, yet most difficult, question is what kind of business are you thinking about starting? If you don't already have an idea or concept, here are some guidelines to help you find the opportunity that's right for you.
Find a niche. If there is something you could use in your own life that does not exist, it could represent an opportunity to start a business.
Follow your passion. Carefully examine what you love to do and see if that can form the basis of a viable business idea.
Look at trends. That means being acutely aware of everything going on around you and being able to translate trends into practical concepts.
Begin with what you know. Examine your current career - your skill sets, your industry knowledge. What would you be good at?
Make a better mousetrap. Add value to an existing product or service instead of trying to come up with an idea that changes the world. Look around you and see where there might be a void that needs filling or a business concept that needs improvement.
Quick Tip from an Entrepreneur
"Start in an area where you're comfortable. I chose the ski business because it was an area where I had contacts and a good comfort level." Kirsty Stevenson, Bling Snaps
"Look at your strengths and weaknesses realistically and bring in others when you need help. For example, you may do all your own paperwork in the beginning but, as you grow, you could find a bookkeeper to do that, especially if it is not a strength."
Trudy Belanco, Manager
Brantford-Brant Business Resource Enterprise Centre
There will always be more things you feel you should be doing as an entrepreneur than there will ever be hours in the day to accomplish them. The challenge is to try to maintain a healthy sense of work-life balance. This may often seem like an elusive goal when there are so many work-related matters demanding your attention.
Ask yourself these questions:
Are you comfortable delegating? Many entrepreneurs want to control everything, which can be good up to a point, but getting talented support to fill in your weak spots is part of what makes a business prosper and permits you to take some time off. The art of good delegation involves empowering employees to make decisions and to be accountable. That means no micro-managing.
Do you have a good support network? This includes both a family who will understand the demands of your business as well as a network of fellow business owners who can relate to your challenges and offer advice.
Can you ask for help when you need it? There will be many times when you should seek the support of employees, family, or others around you.
Are you able to set limits? This means being able to say "no" to the things that don't fit your goals and not sweating the small stuff.
Do you have hobbies or interests important to you? Time spent away from the business on hobbies, exercise and the occasional trip are important to re-energize your batteries and make you more effective on your return.
If you can honestly say yes to most of these questions, then it will be easier to ensure that you carve out some time for yourself and stay healthy. Starting and growing a business can be one of the most empowering things you pursue. The key to integrating this with a balanced life is to be brutally honest with yourself about what you want and need from the business in order to have the life you want.
Quick Tip from an Entrepreneur
"It's easy to get consumed by work as a business owner, but reminding yourself of the importance of your health and your family will help put work/life balance into perspective."
"As entrepreneurs, it's not only difficult to ask for help but also hard to find someone outside our circle to bounce off ideas and get a realistic perspective. The Small Business Enterprise Centre advisor kept me focused and brought a reality to the business potential... asking me all the things that someone needed to in order to keep me moving."
Getting some objective advice on your idea before you plunge in and start your business is recommended since you may be too close to it to assess if it really has merit and if you have what it takes to make it fly. You can utilize advice centres like the Small Business Enterprise Centres, talk to successful entrepreneurs in other industries, seek out a mentor, bounce it off your banker and accountant, attend seminars and workshops or enrol in programs on starting a business.
It is worth taking the time upfront to get this initial input. If your idea is solid, you may be surprised how others can suggest how to build on it and move forward in ways you may never have dreamed.
Quick Tip from an Entrepreneur
"Programs on starting a business are absolutely helpful. Rather than feeling like you are from another planet, you can speak to people about the pitfalls to avoid and they will get you excited about all the benefits." Adrian Quinn,
Kokimo Candles Ltd.
As you can see, there is a great deal of self-reflection required for a successful business venture. This is summarized in the Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Starting a Business. If you can answer these with a resounding 'yes', then it's time to start preparing for your successful launch!