1. Does this business get you excited?
Someone once said that shopping for a business is like watching a peep show. OK. But will you stay excited after that first peek? I don't mean about the money or the success. I'm talking about staying motivated to do the grunt work-like getting customers and moving product. "It's so cool to think about it" isn't enough to make a business happen. On a scale from 1 to 10, rank your motivation:
5 points: "I'm willing to work hard."
1 point: "We can finish this business plan later. Isn't Friends on?"
2. Is this business "you"?
Describe the perfect CEO for the business you've chosen. ("She's daring." "He can mix with all kinds of people.") Now describe you.
5 points: "There's a resemblance. But that person can do some things that I can't."
1 point: "Who is this stranger? And how did he get here?"
A word to the wise. If you need to re-tool your entire personality to make a business fly, then it's not the business for you. No matter what some guru might tell you, you already have what it takes to succeed-when you pick a business that's in your hot zone.
3. Have you done this before?
You have "past lives." They're the skills, contacts and experiences you've sucked up and stored away during 20-odd years of doing, working and fooling around. OK, so you've never run a software firm. But you have written code (in college), handled finances (for your dad's store) and connected with all the suppliers (that job at cyberland). This seance says "You have the experience."
So do the déjà vu. List the key duties in your new business (such as dealing with vendors and getting product on the shelves). And for each one you've done (somewhere) before-give yourself 3 points.
4. Can you walk the walk?
There was once a waiter who wrote a screenplay for Jack Nicholson. Trouble was, the only thing Jack wanted to buy from him was coffee.
This question is about "being a player," or selecting a business that's at the right level for you. Customers need to trust your ability to deliver. Do people "see" you in the business you want to start? That's terrific! Because before they buy your product, they must buy you.
7 points: There's a gap here. But I can close it.
1 point: Picture a short, bald Abraham Lincoln. And I'm not even that close.
5. Got customers?
Vague plans, like "we'll advertise," just won't do. But the good news is, you don't have to! In your hot zone, you already know your customers. They're the moms at your Gymboree class, the shops in your town. Or other moms and shops just like them. They're the customers you've lived, worked or played with. That's why you know what they need.
Right now, start naming every real, living, breathing customer that you can actually reach with your product or service-give yourself 2 points for each.
6. What's your "natural advantage"?
"I'll use my DJ contacts to start a catering firm." "My cousin runs a bait shop-I can sell my lures there." "I can do Web sites for my alumni group." There's something about you (your friends, your job, where you live), that gives your hot zone business a foot in the door. That's your "natural advantage." "My natural advantage in this business is _____." Fill in that blank, and give yourself 10 points.
7. Can you do it now?
The clock is ticking. And a million distractions (collectively, we call them "life") want to trip your plans down the black hole of never-never land. Believe the fortune cookie. It says "New business is like used car. Longer it takes to start-less likely it starts at all." If you can make at least one sale in the next six months, give yourself 10 points. But subtract 1 point for each extra month you'll need.
8. Will it support you?
They asked that of the man on the flying trapeze. But it's just as true for entrepreneurs, because they walk a tightrope called making your own pay. And until that business takes off, you're working without a net. So it's not in the hot zone unless it makes the money you need. If it will-before time, patience or your marriage runs out-give yourself 10 points.
75 and Up: I call this the "Marilyn Monroe" zone, because some like it hot, and a business can't get hotter than this!
55-74: You're like a cat on a hot tin roof. I'd say this business is a go!
35-54: Definitely warm; you have something.
25-34: Trouble; I'm starting to feel a chill in the air.
Below 25: Iceberg, dead ahead! And the water's freezing! To avoid one hell of an impact, I'd think about changing directions fast.
Nick D'Alto is director of IEG, a nonprofit that helps people create new businesses and careers. E-mail him at ND2020@aol.com.