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Try Before You Buy

It is possible to test-drive your dream business.

Rob Blood, 29, and his wife, Leigh, 27, were dissatisfied with the demands of their boarding school teaching jobs. They had long dreamed of opening a bed and breakfast, so when they spotted an ad looking for a couple to oversee two inns in Nantucket, Massachusetts, they quickly dashed off a letter in response. Soon, they were hired--and realized that their dream was far different from reality.

"The physical work was a big adjustment," says Rob. "There was a lot of lifting, making beds, cleaning toilets. Doing that kind of work repetitively until you get in shape for it is difficult."

That type of reality check is the goal of the New England Inns & Resorts Association's "Innkeeper for a Day" program. For a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the location and length of stay, would-be innkeepers can test drive the bed-and-breakfast lifestyle before they sink their life savings into a property. After fielding many calls from people in love with the idea of owning an inn, Beth Steucek, executive vice president of the New England Inns & Resorts Association, says knowing what's really involved can mean the difference between success and failure. "If I were about to put my life savings into an inn, I'd want the opportunity to shadow a successful property owner [first]," says Steucek.

Another company is taking the "try before you buy" concept beyond bed and breakfasts. For anywhere from $350 to more than $5,000, VocationVacations in Portland, Oregon, lets so-called "vocationers" learn what it's like to own a winery, organize celebrity events, run a cattle ranch or try any of over 30 careers.

VocationVacations founder and president, Brian Kurth, 38, says such programs can save entrepreneurs headaches and money in the long run. Recently, two "vocationers" who spent time with a cheese-maker in upstate New York had a change of heart about that business. "They walked away understanding the cheese-making process, but realized they were a bit like deer in the headlights when it came to the business side," Kurth says

And the Bloods? They now own the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. "I'd definitely participate in a program like this if we were to go into a new [field]," says Rob. "It really shapes your vision."

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the February 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Try Before You Buy.

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