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By Elliot Raphaelson
Thanks in part to high unemployment and poor prospects for middle-aged job seekers, more people than ever are now considering starting a small business. In recent columns, I have mentioned a nonprofit organization called SCORE, which counsels and mentors small businesses across the United States.
I have volunteered with the organization for 10 years, and I've been able to learn from other volunteers who have had successful careers. One of the most experienced counselors at my chapter in Orlando, Fla., is Joseph Lefkowitz, who ran a successful catalog showroom business. Joe has helped many new business owners to prosper, and he has volunteered for SCORE for 27 years. I asked him what factors were most important in the success of his businesses. He thought that understanding marketplace demand is extremely important. If there is no demand for your product or service, you cannot succeed. He also had this advice for small business owners:
-- Hire competent personnel who understand the business, even if they are more expensive.
-- Perform the most important jobs yourself. You can't afford to delegate critical duties.
-- Monitor all revenues and expenses.
Joe and I also discussed the reasons a lot of fledgling businesses falter. These include:
-- The business owner failed to secure enough working capital to cover expenses until the business was profitable.
-- The owner lacked knowledge of his or her business.
-- The owner failed to do due diligence before starting. For example, he or she neglected to test market product or service to ensure demand; failed to identify a proper location; or failed to understand the competition.
New entrepreneurs are often quickly surprised by the realities of running a business, the chief one being that that it is a lot harder than they expected it to be. Many start their business assuming it will be easy to obtain financing or a grant. However, grants are few and far between. And if you are starting a new small business, don't expect your local bank to finance you.
Until you have been in business a few years and you are profitable, almost no financial institutions will consider providing you capital. Plan on either financing the start-up yourself or getting capital from relatives and friends. Even if you have been in business a few years, in order to obtain a loan, you will need a good business plan. SCORE can help you put one together.
I asked Joe whether his advice has changed over the years and, if so, how. He responded that the most important factor is new technology and new communication methods. He felt that more education is required for success in small business these days, as is knowing how to use the Internet and social networking technology. Social networking is becoming an important tool for business, and SCORE provides useful seminars in this field.
There are local SCORE chapters throughout the country, and they are an important resource for new and existing small business owners. Experienced counselors offer guidance at no cost, and well-designed, informative seminars are conducted at minimal cost. In the next few months, SCORE will be improving its website (SCORE.org) to enable prospective business owners to communicate with SCORE counselors throughout the United States. This nationwide database of experts in specific industries will be available to anybody who comes to a local chapter for counseling.
It's not easy to start a small business and make it succeed. It requires capital you won't be able to borrow, an in-depth knowledge of a business, and a lot of hard work and diligence. You will probably need support from business owners who have succeeded. Fortunately, the volunteers at SCORE can help you overcome these challenges.
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