I started my first “grown-up” business when I was 24. I say “grown-up” because like many people I had small businesses when I was a kid, mostly flea market stands. My “grown-up” business was different of course because not only was I a grown up and on my own but I no longer had any one to fall back on should things go wrong. And if you take nothing else away from anything I ever write take this away: Something will go wrong! It is just the nature of any business that things will not always go according to plan. It might be a big thing it might be a little thing, trust me, there will be problems along the way.
The problems are not in and of themselves truly the problem though and here’s where I could have used advice and guidance when I first started. Recognizing that there will be problems is important and even more important than that is creating a framework for how you will solve problems which can and do come up over the course of running a business. There are problems specific to a business and there are general problems that are true of most businesses. Your ability to diagnose and react to these issues quickly and effectively are what will separate you from your neighbor that just hung up a going out of business sign. Here’s a list of ways to approach potential problems. Some of this list may sound obvious but it’s always good to remind yourself because sometimes the most obvious things are the ones that can get overlooked.
While I am not an advocate for exhaustive business plans for most needs, it is still important to write and and articulate your business vision. After you have done this and started to get down to the actual planning stages, take time to list any issues that you might see as a hurdle. These could be one time start up issues (see my post on getting a liquor license) or ongoing problems such as lack of parking or poor visibility from the main road. In creating the list you might find that your dream location isn’t such a dream or that your can’t miss model has a few gaping holes.
Create a Future Plan
You have identified a few potential issues that can arise even before opening; now you have the ability to project solutions on them. This is not wishing these things happen it is basically a contingency plan. Your ability to react is crucial: time is money. This can be a simple as keeping a list of direct phone numbers to service providers (Telephone,internet, utilities etc) to more advanced pre-planning as employing off-site data back-up.
Have a Sounding Board
Identify a confidant that can help you in specific areas (a business coach/consultant is one example). If you’re purchasing a franchise you will have corporate resources, plan on using them. Don’t worry about calling them often, they are there for your support and success. The well worn cliche about there being no such thing as a dumb question is true. Ask away. If you don’t have that access then seek out experienced friends. Former business owners have been down the same road and can not only provide appropriate advice but some empathy as well, which can go a long way sometimes in helping you realize that you are not the only one to have experienced these issues. There are also volunteer groups of retired business executives that are able to provide advice. they may be in your area or available over the web. Whichever way you go, a second ear can be invaluable; when you are so immersed in your business and vision it is sometimes hard to see objectively.
Expect don’t Embrace
This whole essay has been about expecting problems to arise. This does not mean that you should check them off a list as they come up and assume they’ll never happen again. Creating awareness of all aspects of your business is the point of this exercise. Starting a business is fun and exciting, the last thing you want is problems but problems are part of every business. recognizing them, dealing with then quickly and moving on will keep the fun and minimize the headaches.
Keep Moving Forward
Every business has ups and downs. The hard part is to not dwell on the bad when problems do arise. Most of the time they can be solved. Your ability to look beyond these problems while still dealing with them efficiently will make you a happier person. That said, it’s not easy, in fact I can tell you from too much experience that it’s hard. When a problem arises it can suck all your energy and you might even feel like quitting, it is at times like these that you must remember why you started your business in the first place, focus on a solution and look to the next reward. Like I said it’s not easy but there is nothing easy about running your own business and you wouldn’t want it any other way.