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Journey Of A Thousand Miles

Take your first step by conducting a personal assessment.

Be prepared to go on a journey of self-discovery when you start your own business," says Kimberly Stanséll, a small-business expert and author.

Stanséll was employed as a corporate personnel director when she decided to turn her part-time hobby of making jewelry into a full-time mail order business. The knowledge she gained from starting that business led her to start Research Done Write!, a Los Angeles research and publishing firm focusing on small-business information needs. Among the company's products is "Bootstrappin' Entrepreneur," a quarterly newsletter that helps business owners market and manage with limited budgets.

"If someone would have asked me 10 years ago whether I thought I'd ever own my own business, I might have said `yes,' but I really would have thought I'd do something that was connected to my experience in personnel. I never would have thought of what I'm doing now," says Stanséll. "When you start a business, you reinvent yourself."

As a business consultant, would-be entrepreneurs frequently ask me for advice on how to determine which business opportunity they should pursue. The answer is deceptively simple: Begin with yourself.

Start by evaluating your personal strengths. What do you do well? What experiences in your past have prepared you to become an entrepreneur? Do you have any particular areas of expertise? Don't overlook other, less obvious attributes that can help you succeed. Stanséll, for instance, didn't think of herself as a creative person in her role as a personnel director. But, she admits, she'd majored in communications in college and had always been interested in writing.

Next, take a realistic look at your weaknesses. What skills do business owners need that you don't yet have? Do you have adequate knowledge of such necessary business skills as accounting, marketing and planning?

Other deficiencies can stand in your way, as well. For instance, do you have limitations on time, money or other resources? Are there elements of your personality--such as being highly emotional when you're under stress--that may work against your success? What other factors in your life may negatively influence your ability to devote yourself to starting and growing a business?

After you've developed an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, ask yourself, "Am I ready to start a business?"

If the answer is "no," take a closer look at your weaknesses. Are there steps you can take to minimize or eliminate them? For instance, if you lack marketing skills, you could choose to take a course in marketing, or hire a consultant to help you plan your strategies.

Once you've analyzed what you need to do, you can get down to choosing the business that's right for you. Even if you have a specific business idea in mind, give yourself permission to look at some other options and dream a bit. Write a list of your hobbies and interests, and brainstorm to see if there are any related business possibilities. Of course, your business should also allow you to capitalize on your personal strengths.

Entrepreneurs who start with self-knowledge may find that they not only succeed in business but also improve their quality of life. "People thinking of starting a business should really search inside themselves and say, `I want to know what I'm born to do,' " says Stanséll. "If you can wake up every day knowing you're doing what you were born to do, your life takes on a whole different dimension."

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