Q: I'm currently employed full time as a sales manager. But I really want to start my own business. The problem is, I make good money and I'm scared to give up my income for an uncertain future. What can I do to test out my idea and alleviate my fears?
A: Without knowing what type of business it is you want to start, it's difficult for me to predict the amount of time it will take to get your business off the ground, but I can offer some general guidelines that might help. You are wise to consider this decision carefully-as you say, giving up a steady income for something that may or may not work is just plain scary.
Don't let that stop you, however. You are approaching the issue of starting a business exactly as you should be: slowly and carefully, with the intent of testing out your idea before you bet the farm.
The best advice I can give you is to start your business part time, working on it at night and on weekends. That way, you still have an income, not only for the sake of security, but also to help you fund your start-up. As the saying goes, it takes money to make money, so you will need to invest some dollars in your new business.
Where should those dollars go? This will depend on whether your business is product- or service-oriented. Are you planning on selling homemade jewelry? Then you will need supplies. Are you planning on starting a Web design business? Perhaps you already have what you need in the way of technology. Sit down and do the math-figure out exactly what you need, at a bare minimum, to start your business.
Now think about the cornerstone of any successful business: marketing. You might have a wonderful product or service, but no one will know about it-or buy it-unless you tell them about it. At the most basic level, you will need a logo, business cards, letterhead, a Web site (either e-commerce-enabled or just informational) and signage (unless you plan to be homebased). But be creative here-think of unusual ways to get people's attention. Our article "Creative Marketing on a Shoestring" has some great ideas.
There are plenty of other things you need to do when starting a business, such as write a business plan, consult an attorney and an accountant, and hire employees (if necessary). But don't get ahead of yourself. Start small, in a limited market. Don't worry about making a lot of money at first-just get out in your community and find out whether there's a demand for your product or service. If there is, then you can start thinking about reaching out to a broader market. And you can also start thinking about quitting your job, if that's what you want to do.
Either way-whether your limited market embraces your idea or rejects it-you will have tested your idea without investing too much of yourself or your money. And remember, even if your market rejects the idea, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a dud-you might just need to tweak a few things or enhance your marketing efforts. A few consultations with some experts in the know will help you determine what needs tweaking.
Karen E. Spaeder is editor of Entrepreneur.com and managing editor ofEntrepreneur magazine.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.