Maybe it’s something you’ve been dying to do for years. Or maybe — like so many others these days — the idea of starting your own business only suddenly became attractive after you’d either lost your job or felt about as secure as a politician caught sexting in the one you now have.
Whatever the reason, know that while your passion for your product or service may be your best secret weapon — “The Wall Street Journal Complete Small Business Guidebook” says it’s “often the difference that hooks customers, lands deals and attracts investors” — that alone won’t guarantee success.
Herewith, then, some tips for avoiding the pitfalls ahead:
* Use technology to stay lean. Clearly, one reason the average size of all start-ups has dropped to 4.9 employees today from 7.5 in the 1990s is that the web exists to help minimize your expenses. The National Small Business Administration reports, for example, that “most small companies” now buy supplies, pay bills and manage payrolls through web-based services. Even if it’s only your sister-in-law doing your books, you might want to rethink it.
* Protect your ideas. If you think you’ve devised the proverbial “better mousetrap” and are looking for a financial backer to market it, take heed: Before sharing anything patentable with anyone, at the very least get a signed nondisclosure agreement promising they won’t steal it. “In the end,” the Wall Street Journal warns, “the best way to protect yourself is by being extra cautious about whom you share your idea with.”
* Learn from what works. “Continuing to innovate has been key to our success,” says Bob Tafaro, CEO of the New Jersey-based GAF (www.gaf.com). The company was already North America’s largest roofing manufacturer when it decided a few years ago to also embrace the whole green movement — a decision that (pay attention here, would-be entrepreneurs) not so incidentally resulted in glowing free press coverage of its “cool roofs” initiative even as it readied to celebrate its 125th anniversary.
* Do your homework. For those looking for a shortcut to becoming their own bosses, buying into an existing franchise has become increasingly popular. But there are literally thousands of franchise systems operating in dozens of industries, and deciding whether any are right for you should include researching questions like: Is there a demand for the service in your neighborhood? Could it be just a fad?
One last statistic for you: According to the Small Business Administration, small employers — led by start-ups — have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years. Among other things, that at least means you’re not alone.