Q: I am 21 years old and am starting my own homebased business. I'm a college student, and I work part time. My mother is somewhat skeptical of me starting my own business. She doesn't understand a lot about it. I know I can do it, and I'm going to do it. I sometimes feel discouraged by her, and I don't know how to reassure her that I can do this. What should I tell her? I think she feels I should follow the traditional role of working for someone else. I have never followed the crowd, and I'm very excited about this business.
A: I think I speak for everyone reading this column when I say, "I've been there." The fact is, parents will always think they know what's best for their children. It's just a fact of life. And sometimes they're right; sometimes they're wrong. But hopefully I won't offend anyone by saying that in the end, what matters most is what you want to do, as long as you're not dealing drugs or committing some other crime.
That said, there are ways to make your (and your mother's) life more manageable. Throughout your entrepreneurial career, should you decide to pursue this route for many years to come, you're going to come across people who will challenge your idea, for whatever reason. Sometimes it will be a competitor, sometimes it will be an investor...and sometimes it will be your mother. At every turn, you've got to be prepared to handle criticism with finesse and without getting defensive.
The best way to accomplish this feat is by knowing your business inside and out. That way, you'll be able to weed out the bad advice and appreciate the constructive criticism. Yes, sometimes people will have good advice for you, so you have to know how to identify when someone's telling you something helpful. Since I don't know specifically what kind of business you're starting, I'll just give you some general advice about getting intimately familiar with your business.
First of all, figure out why you're so resolved that you "know" you can start this business. It's great that you've got passion for what you're doing--you'll need that just as much as you'll need a viable business idea--but it's not enough just to "know." What proof do you have that your idea will work? Have you figured out who you're going to sell your product or service to? And whether they'll buy your product or service? How much you'll sell it for? How much of a net profit you can expect? How you'll fund your business? How you'll keep money coming in--will you keep your part-time job? It's time to do some research, if you haven't done so already.
Your local SBA office or Small Business Development Center are good places to go if you're feeling overwhelmed by all these questions. SCORE also offers free e-mail counseling. These organizations can help you develop your ideas and answer all those questions you need answered.
Chances are, taking the time to do some research will not only put your mother's mind at ease, but also help you start your business smarter. As we've seen with the crash of countless dotcoms, it pays to take your time during the start-up phase--and often beyond that. Otherwise, you risk losing it all.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.