Second Sunday Series – Editor’s Note: This is the last of 12 columns on starting a business — one on each second Sunday of the month, from September through August. Last month’s column discussed building your brand, while the months before reviewed money issues, the importance of staying focused, business systems to set up, making the first sale, ways to choose the startup’s focus, goal-setting processes, key startup steps, burnout, the entrepreneur’s personal strengths and weaknesses, and self-employment as a career choice.
It’s astonishing how quickly a year can pass.
If you’ve been following this series, then you know this is the last of 12 monthly columns discussing different aspects of starting a business. And if you’re actually in the process of business startup, you know we could have covered a different topic every day of the week for the same 12 months. That’s just how varied this subject is.
Luckily, the entrepreneurial mindset wouldn’t allow for that much talkin’ instead of doin’. This is one of those processes that really can be talked to death. Which brings me to the first of my three points of advice in wrapping up the series:
1. Just do it. In some contexts, being told to just do something sounds dismissive, as if the adviser is tired of hearing your questions. But for business startup, there really is a diminishing return on repeated conversations about the same or similar topics.
Not only that, but some discussion points are less helpful if they’re not informed by actual experience. You can only theorize so long about whether customers will buy what you plan to offer. That’s why prospective business owners are well-advised to take their idea on trial runs, or to start the business as a side gig.
However you “just do it,” remember to keep good records. The information from these early stages can be gold later when you’re deciding where to invest your startup resources of time and money.
2. Don’t believe the hype. Small business is having a moment, as they say. Everyone from politicians to nonprofits to your average consumer is declaring their support for local and small businesses. This trend follows two decades of adulation for uber-rich tech founders who started their companies while still in school. As a nation, it seems we all want to either run a startup, invest in a startup, or build a system to create more startups.
All I can say is that after decades of running multiple small businesses, I’m not seeing a lot of the love I’m hearing about — at least from those most able to actually help.
Regulations are still insanely arcane, employment laws are confusing enough to require special expertise, tax rules still benefit large corporations almost exclusively, health care access may never catch up to the realities of a self-employed person’s up-and-down finances, lenders still act as if small equals insolvent … I could go on. Believe me, I could go on.
This doesn’t make me bitter, or even angry most of the time. But it does inspire this advice to would-be business owners: Expect others to talk big while helping little. This somewhat cynical approach lets you sift through the hyperbole to reach the programs, information or individuals that will actually be of use to you.
3. Feel free to stay small. Have you heard the business mantra, “Grow or die”? If so, feel free to ignore it. Perhaps a good replacement could be, “Grow if you’d like,” or, “Grow if you can handle it.” I’d even sanction, “Feel free to get smaller.”
The truth is, most businesses in the United States are micro, to the point that they’re not even on the radar. We literally have no idea how many people are running businesses, or how many businesses they’re running. That changes when the owner takes on employees, leases space, obtains licenses, or otherwise becomes visible.
The point is that untold numbers of businesses do, indeed, stay small without “dying.” Others, of course, intentionally work to grow, achieving various levels of success for their goals. And others follow cycles of growth and falling back, accepting the rhythms as part of the process.
Whether you grow or not should be a choice you make, not an imperative you take on as a cultural expectation. Which is exactly what I’d wish for you in starting a business: Choice. Enjoy the fun and freedom of pursuing an idea, finding a new way to earn income, or just exploring something you’ve always wanted to do. Go ahead, give it a try!
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected]
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