How do I forge ahead?

marie26December 13, 2005

I had touched on this on another thread but I really do need your help. I have folders and binders that are sorted into different business ideas that I want to start. I am one of those people who has always had the entrepreneural spirit but the day job and kids seemed to get in the way. Anyways, now the kids are out of the house and I just have dh and the day job.

I need help on how to organize my thought process now that I've organized all this information. I look at the shelf these are on and just want to close the door and walk away because it seems overwhelming even though I created all of this over many years. But I promised myself that 2006 is the year that it will happen.

I've been to Score but they want "the" business idea that you want to start. My problem is choosing which one. How do I weed through all this? Just today I was talking to someone who said her dh was like me, able to think up the ideas but never got them off the ground. I refuse to be this way anymore.

I hope someone can give me guidance. Unfortunately, I am living in a rural area and there are no courses that I can even take here.

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TAKE SOME ONLINE COURSES IN FINANCE! Basic accounting, and small business principles will keep you out of trouble.

Start by going through the binders with a critical eye. They have sat there for a while and you can evaluate them better.

If it flunks ANY of the following questions, it's not for you - toss the binder as an idea that was just an idea.

1 - Is it feasible in this area? (a dog-walking service or a faux painting business would find few customers)

2 - Do I REALLY have the skill this takes, or can I learn it quickly and effectively?

3 - Do I have the money this would take to get off the ground, or can I get it without risking the house and my retirement m oney? You need to be able to operate the first year with no income.

4 - Can I quit the day job and dedicate myself to ____ for 60 hours a week for two years? (that's what it takes to get something going, unless it's an idea that can start small and grow slowly. Shops and restaurants usually take massive effort.)

5 - Is the idea out of date ... hot businesses don't stay hot for long.

With the non-starters out of the way (and don't worry if you throw out 90% of them), evaluate the others:

Is there local competition? Could the area support one more of you?

Think about doing "it" for the next 5 years ... does the thought make you cringe?

See if you can try out the idea. If you want to start a _____, get a job in one and see how much work it is. Then picture yourself doing it for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The usual self-employed small business owner has 50-60 hour weeks. (it's way easier working FOR someone ... maybe not as exciting, but less stressful)


    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 8:00AM
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I've been to Score but they want "the" business idea that you want to start. My problem is choosing which one.

Of all the ideas on that shelf, which is the idea that pops into your mind most frequently at odd moments? Which has the biggest pile -- the idea you've researched most thoroughly and avidly? Which job do you see yourself describing to friends and relatives with a swell of pride ("I am a ___________.")?

lazygardens touches on very valuable points, and they should be taken into consideration. But you will be spending a lot of time and energy on this business -- it should be work that energizes you, not work chosen to fill a blank space in the local community or look good on a business plan.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 10:03AM
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Marie26 wrote:

Just today I was talking to someone who said her dh was like me, able to think up the ideas but never got them off the ground. I refuse to be this way anymore.

One of my guiding principles in life is to play to your strengths. Your strength (like mine, by the way) is generating ideas, not implementing them. You can try to go against type and become adept at the practicalities, or you can find someone else whose strength is exactly what you lack. Find a partner, or at least someone who can help you at this stage.

In my experience, while it's possible to become more proficient at the things you don't enjoy or naturally gravitate towards, you seldom become really good at them. And I think a new business should have someone onboard who's really good at getting it up and running.

Best of luck.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 11:33AM
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Joann, my father had given me the same advice many years ago. Unfortunately, I've moved around so much that I've never been able to figure out how to find a partner. The type of business that will work for my situation is obviously one that requires selling a product over the internet.

I am working at a new job at a small company right now in customer service that uses Quickbooks. This position requires entering the order, invoicing, pulling the product, packaging and shipping it, taking credit card payments, etc., marking orders as paid, etc. The pay is not great but I figure they are paying me to learn something that I will be able to use in my own venture. I had done customer service before (never Quickbooks) but never had to do anything other than enter an order into the system and make sure someone else shipped it. So the learning curve here is great.

Lazygardens, what accounting courses should I take?

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 1:38PM
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Ideas are a dime a dozen. Really, we all have them.

Marie, just jump in and get going. Coming from a family with all self-employed people, the main thing you need is the belief that you can suceed. The stick-to-it-ness to see the process through the tough times. That's what shakes out the winners from those with only ideas.

Hire an accountant to help you set up your books. Unless you are running something major, it isn't very complicated. You want to know how to keep records and items for your taxes. Except for the DH who has a CPA firm, none of us ever took accounting.

If you are going to sell something over the Internet, you need a product, a website and a way to get that website seen. Lots of information on the web for that. Even just selling on eBay.

A dog can only chase one rabbit at a time or he never catches anything. Pick something.

I don't believe that being in a rural area is totally limiting. My ex-DH made a darn good living in rural areas being self-employed. Services are needed all over.

So, I'll ask again, what's really holding you back?


    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 3:55PM
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Gloria wrote "So, I'll ask again, what's really holding you back?"

Through the years, people have analyzed this and called it fear of either failure or success. Part of my not doing anything is my over analyzing and having to include every little thing with a product when it's probably not necessary. I think that my finally organizing my house and getting rid of things has helped me to see this more clearly.

But when people ask me why, the first thought that comes to my head is "Which one?". I had taken a seminar this year and was told that you cannot even think to start a business if you don't have a business plan. He gave us all the sheets that needed to be filled in and that overwhelmed me especially since I imagined writing business plans for every idea until one showed that it would make a profit.

There is one idea that is a recurring theme among other ideas. I guess you could say this is my passionate one. It would have to be produced but it's made of paper so that shouldn't be such a big expense. I should probably just bite the bullet and say that I will try out this idea.

Should I go to my tax "bookkeeper" to help me set up as a business? Would that be a good first step? I could mock up a prototype for her to see.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 5:57PM
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Marie -
Start with "Accounting 101", just an introductory one ... and ask the SCORE people what they recommend.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 8:22PM
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Quiltglo is right. I don't think you really need to take an accounting course. (I'm a CPA, and have taught Accounting 101, among others.) It's way too much information, and will probably bog you down, which you don't need.

I would suggest you find a good local accountant, and make an appointment to pay for an hour of his/her time, to explain what you need to do for bookkeeping for a new business. Take notes while you're there and do what he/she suggests, such as opening a separate checking account (which you'll initially fund with some of your own money to get started), pay all expenses related to the business out of this account, and save every single receipt. Some accountants will not even charge you for the whole hour. They're hoping you'll have them do your year-end work and tax return, and that's exactly what should happen. Your time should be devoted to running/growing your business, not fumbling around with accounting and taxes.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 9:07PM
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I'm not sure how rural you are, or what zone you are in, but how about providing up-scale restaurants with organically grown herbs and vegetables? Just a thought, and best of luck.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 9:41PM
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I think you nailed your problem on the head when you said you "analyze to death". While I think you definitely need to know what it is you are getting into, you also at some point need to be able to say "Go!" Sometimes I think analyzing to the extreme is a way of postponing something because of fear or insecurity. I am a complete "Sanguin" which means my personality bounces from thing to thing (Sanguins are often called "Tiggers" for obvious reasons!) so people like you drive me crazy!! LOL! I hate having to analyze every aspect of everything and am so sick of meetings to discuss our goals, mission statements and visions! To me it seems like it is wasting time when we could be moving forward. In reality, I know for many people they need this processing time and that it does have its value. I just don't have the patience for it!! But I know I am weak in the opposite way of you (I leap and look later!) More than anything your decision should be to do what you really LOVE, not just what you are skilled at. For instance, I love antiques, so for me selling on ebay was a natural and worked great (though after almost 7 years of it I am burned out on it now! I am taking a break but will be back at it.) and doing the antique shows that I now put on is great fun, because I am in "my element". I am going to have to take on responsibilities for my husband's new venture that I really (I mean REALLY) don't want to do, but I know it is temporary until the business is large enough to hire someone else, so I can do it. If you don't get excited about it and see yourself loving it, don't do it. Money, hours, etc. mean nothing if you are miserable. As Steve suggested, whichever file is the thickest is probably the one that interests you the most. Best of luck in figuring it all out!!


    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 10:04PM
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Marie, have you ever made up a prototype? Is this something you could manufacture yourself or will it have to be manufactured by some company?

A business plan is just that. A plan. Many business owners do it in their head, but they have gone through the same exercise of answering questions and projecting their ideas. Unless you are trying to borrow money, it doesn't have to be some form filled out. You should know the information though.

I don't know what a tax bookeeper is. Your tax professional (if you have one) should be able to help you get your record keeping started. You can always change later. They don't need to see a prototype.

Surely you can quickly answer who your market is, what pricing, what packaging, how to distribute the product, what your costs would be, etc.

I'm not sure that I feel that you have to be passionate about something to be successful. My parents had what would be called an assistsed living facility today. We needed income. They never had any great desire to have a boarding home for old women, but due to their work ethic, they did a very good job. It provided us a good living.

Now, my brother started off with his business videas at a very young age. He found an old Playboy magazine and cut up all the pictures and sold them to the other boys for a quarter a picture. I think he was in something like 5th grade. I still think it's funny.

I'm more like Brenda, so I'm better off punching a timeclock. I have a great time with my business ideas. I just don't always make money.


    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 10:47PM
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The product requires a special envelope with writing on one side. Card stock would be preferable. It's really a simplistic idea. I just put 2 different products together to make these 2 much more efficient. There are many of these around but not put together as one product.

My analyzing to death has definitely stopped me in my tracks. I have faith in this idea but then I think I should be adding software with it (which would be very beneficial but not mandatory). And then there are other ideas of mine that tie into this one that I think should also be added so that it becomes a complete system instead of just an item for sale.

I think I will just do this one idea. If it takes off, I can add more items. And if it doesn't take off, I can still add more items as freebies. Do you agree?

The tax bookkeeper is my tax accountant but she isn't a CPA. I will set up an appointment with someone who can guide me through this. Perhaps that's all I've ever really needed. I suppose talking to a lawyer wouldn't hurt either.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 11:31PM
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Watching my husband start businesses made me realize that I naturally would not have had what it takes to start one myself. I think I could now, knowing what I know now. But mostly, it is his strong belief in what he is doing, even when everyone else thinks he's crazy. He just forges ahead, and the businesses change and expand. His initial ideas of how it will work are always subject to change. Things will work out in ways that you don't expect, and you have to be able to be flexible to deal with that and to do whatever is necessary to make it work.

I have seen businesses where people are so concerned with every detail that nothing ends up happening, and though the business is there, ready to go, the concern with details prohibits the business from every really being marketed. I think, sometimes, there is a fear of being too successful. Don't worry about that. You can deal with that if it happens, but it is unlikely to happen over night.

I guess, from being involved in several homes businesses, my opinion is to just jump in somewhere, even if it is to market your product on a website (not hard), local craft shows or flea markets, or whatever (sorry, I am not sure what the product is, so you would have to figure out what a good market is). Starting small is good because you can get feedback from customers. And, number one for us, start a mailing list right away. Those with any interest in your product are your best bets for customers, so keep track of them! This has helped us immensely in going from one business to another.

Good luck, and don't get bogged down. You cannot think of all the details in advance. You have to work them out as you go. I think all businesses are a work in progress.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 9:13AM
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RJVT, thank you for that insight. You confirmed to me that I should just start small, get a mailing list going and add products further down the road and offer them to the people on the mailing list. As I said, many of these products intertwine somewhat so the mailing list would definitely be an asset for me.

Before I get going, should I see an accountant and a lawyer or just go to SCORE (which isn't anywhere near me)?

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 12:02PM
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Is there a branch of the Small Business Administration near you?

I know nothng, so this advice is probably stupid. But here goes.

A checking account that you ALWAYS use for the business can be your bookkeeping (every single purchase, no matter how small, can be made w/ a debit card). You can start with that, even before you have a bookkeeper. That, and an envelope for receipts.

My vote would be, if this involves making something (crafting) and selling it, that you start sort of small. Just get going. Find a craft show (or some other sort of outlet, like a flea market), sign up for it, and make a bunch of stuff to take. See what happens.

You don't need a huge accounting thing for an operation like that.

I used to do the taxes for my dad's photography business--years ago; I was in HS, so maybe laws have changed.

BUT...I only had to add up all the expenses (from the receipts he'd saved--"out-go" I called it for him bcs "debit" confused him), and write them in on a form. Then, add up all the money people had paid him ("income" he understood), and write IT on that form.

Since he never really made money, there were no taxes to pay. And I think in our state he didn't have wholesaler's taxes. Or maybe they don't kick in until you reach a certain dollar income.

It only gets complicated once you start employing people, or if you have to pay a resale tax or sales tax.

For that, I'd ask an accountant, maybe.

And if you just start with one craft show or flea market, that would give you an idea of how well your products will sell, and how much you enjoy the making of them.

Also, if you're making something like stationery, you can eventually find local stores to carry your products, and you might be able to find a local printing press to make them for you to resell.

One of the points I'm trying to make it that it's easier to steer a moving vehicle. If you're actually used to the idea of making and selling these products, you will find it easier to think of (and IMPLEMENT) new markets, new ways of manufacturing them, new distribution methods, etc.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 4:01PM
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The item is not a craft item. It is actually something that will help people to save money when shopping but it is not a how-to book. I can have it printed and assemble it at home by myself. I have marketing ideas (like getting on certain radio shows) and I will be selling this over the internet to start. If there is an interest in it, I will try to present it at a trade show.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 5:14PM
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Overall I'm totally confused on why you would start a business just to start one, not because it's something you feel passionate about.

However, check your state universities for online business classes. They're pretty common here, even for students who live on campus. You should be able to find one that covers basic principles of starting your own business.

Be cautious of any business plan you've made that is more than a year old. Things change fast. Your key concern now should be start-up costs, time investment, and how long until you show a true profit. It's definitely worth having professionals review your plan to make sure all bases are covered realistically. There is a reason most new businesses fail.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 7:54PM
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I have many ideas, some that I feel are money makers but I'm not passionate about. There are others that I do have an interest in. I wish I could say that I am wealthy enough that this would just be something that I want to do on a whim. The truth is that I do need the extra money and too many people are actually earning money for themselves. I honestly would hate to look back on my life, struggling in retirement years (which is creeping up) because I didn't even try to help myself.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 8:50PM
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I realized last night after I sent my message that it sounded negative rather than cautious, but the site wouldn't let me post again!

If making money is your primary goal, just be very very careful. We have seen too many friends and family start their own businesses using money they couldn't spare, and come out poorer because of it.

Best wishes for finding a business plan that works for you!


    Bookmark   December 16, 2005 at 5:48AM
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I appreciate that you wrote back, Julie. I always look forward to what you have to say of this forum and maybe, because of that, I did take your previous comments a little too seriously. Making money is one of my primary goals. The other is using the entrepreneural spirit I claim to have, proving to myself and everyone else that I am not just an idea person but someone who will follow through.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2005 at 10:22AM
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I usually hang out in kitchens and occassionally lurk here.. ;-)

My husband and I started a web development business 4.5 years ago (after he got laid off in the dot bomb era-- we live in the SF Bay Area) and some of the things that I think we did right in the beginning:

Had a brief consultation with an accountant-- (an hour and a half)-- I had questions about sole proprietorships for example and he quickly helped us figure out that it was fine for our situation.

Starting using Quickbooks immediately

Set up a bank account

Got a business license from our local jurisdiction as well as our fictitious name

Got a professionaly designed logo (this made us feel "real" from the very beginning and although it was pricey I think it was worth it)

Had the two of us working together (although I don't do it full-time as I also teach part-time at some local colleges)- we have complementary skill sets. My DH couldn't have done it alone esp. on the selling/marketing side and I didn't have the tech skills to do the production ;-) There's a good book called the E-myth that really gets to the idea that it's hard for one person to have *all* the skills they need.

Our current target market is quite different from when we first started; we also now have a team of four folks working for us; we still haven't made that much money from this-- although the first quarter of 2006 is looking like it will be very profitable for us.


    Bookmark   December 25, 2005 at 11:34AM
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Thank you, Lisa, for all the steps that I need to take. A BIG problem has been to find someone who is interested in becoming a partner. I've moved around a lot and have left potential partners behind. DH doesn't have an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit in him. He'd just like the rewards when it's working.

Since there are no meet-ups in this area, I've often thought of putting an ad in the paper looking for a partner. Is this a ridiculous idea or one so off the wall it might work?

I took out my "bin" of information for this project and "AGAIN" started with the book that was to be a supplement for the product. At least, this time, I realized a few days into this that this is a supplement and really is not necessary to sell the product. Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy as I seem to be able to sabotage myself.

So, I put that information away for another time and will take out the actual product that I had been working on to sell.

Lisa, you are lucky to be with someone that has complementary skills.

I do have friends that are trained in designing logos so I can get that done.

My new job uses Quickbooks and my position requires me to do accounting on it as well as customer service. I also pack and ship using FedEx and UPS. The pay is lousy but they are paying me to learn every facet of running a small business.

Which Quickbooks features do I need to focus on the most at the beginning of the venture?

This probably doesn't belong in this forum but I am trying to organize my thoughts.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2005 at 2:47PM
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For QB- the main things are to establish a chart of accounts that will help you. If there's only one product you're selling and the expenses are pretty clear- I'd use the default chart of accounts in QB for now. I'd primarily use it to chart all your expenses in the beginning and then of course your revenues/invoicing/accounts receivable ;-)

I don't know how much money you want to invest in this early stage-- but one other thing we've done is have a business consultant/coach. It sounds like having someone to bounce ideas off of will be helpful (for us, having a third party to help us when we had differences of opinion was helpful ;-)) My DH recently told someone that for a husband/wife team to work in a business they need a business coach and a shrink ;-)

The short version of the marketing classes I teach:
Segmentation, targeting, positioning (who would want to buy your product? Where can you find them? And how is your product different than the other stuff out there?)

Now, how will your product, pricing, marketing communications, distribution channels help to convey your positioning to your target market?

Good luck! Lisa

    Bookmark   December 25, 2005 at 5:16PM
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