I have never met anyone who left his or her job -- whether fired or voluntarily -- who started his or her own business and regretted it. What these people always regret is not having done it sooner. This includes people who eventually failed and had to go back to work for someone else.
Afraid to try something new? Most of us are. But our regrets will invariably be for what we didn't do rather than for what we did.
So are you ready to be an entrepreneur? Do you have the right stuff? Before you take the plunge and start your own business, take this test:
Do you need a new idea? It isn't the quality of the ideas you have that will determine whether you are successful, it's the qualities you bring to those ideas. New ideas are wonderful if you can come up with them. But your best chance of success is working hard, using established values and ideas if necessary.
Who are your customers? "Everyone" is the wrong answer. If your concept is going to succeed, you have to identify a realistic target audience, big enough to be profitable yet small enough for you to serve.
Why should anyone want to buy your product or service? Find an unmet, unanswered need by identifying a market segment that isn't being served or is being served inadequately. For example, the post office served everybody, but unprofitably. Then FedEx and UPS jumped in and redefined the industry. They are profitable, while the post office is bleeding red ink.
Who is your competition? If there is a market for your product or service, someone is supplying that market. He may be using another product. Or she may be using a nearly identical product that you can beat on quality, performance or service. It doesn't really matter how many others are doing something similar. All you have to do is find a way to do it better.
What advantages does your organization have over the competition? Management? People? Product? Service? Financial strength? Reputation? Recognition? Marketing? One is not enough. Sometimes all are not enough. But you can usually beat better-financed competition with superior customer advantages.
Do you have a business plan? If you haven't gotten around to that, make one before you do anything else. It serves several very useful purposes. It forces you to think your way through the start-up process and your long-range goals. It's also a document you'll need if you plan on getting outside financing from anyone beyond your relatives. If it isn't persuasive and effective to an independent outside businessperson that might tell you something about your real chances for success. Your plan should include a situation analysis, objectives, target audiences, mission statement, objective, strategy and tactics, execution, budget, measurement, and time and action calendar.
What do your banker and lawyer say? Bankers see and evaluate business plans all day long. That's their business. They might even have seen one like yours. And while you're at it, ask if they would lend you money to finance your business. Attorneys can help you avoid pitfalls. They are there to protect you.
What does your mentor say? Find a "tiger," preferably someone who's been around the block. Retired professionals are a marvelous resource for this kind of advice. I can't urge you enough to check out SCORE. They have access to people with every imaginable kind of business experience. They also have the time, patience, skill, wisdom and understanding to help and sometimes just to listen. They are invaluable at helping you expand your network of contacts.
Have you done an honest self-survey? Do you really want to do this or are you just trying to escape your own problems? Be brutally honest and make sure the problem is not you. If you're going to be an entrepreneur, you have to believe in yourself more than you believe in anything else in the world.
What will you do if you fail? Don't be discouraged if you do fail. Few entrepreneurs make it the first time they try. Failure teaches you not to fear failure, because if you can survive it to fight again you haven't failed. You have only heightened your appreciation of success.
Mackay's Moral: If you're looking for a big opportunity, look for a big challenge.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.