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Deciding on a Business

Provided by My Own Business, Content Partner for the SME Toolkit

OBJECTIVE: The most common serious mistake made in business is not picking the right business to begin with. This session will provide you with important evaluation techniques to decide which business is right for you.

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Characteristics of a Successful Entrepreneur

Dr. Dan Nathanson Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA Dr. Dan Nathanson
Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA
Play Video
What are the biggest mistakes made when starting a business?

Guts: Guts means you must have an entrepreneurial instinct, which is an overwhelming desire to start your own business. You must have the guts and dedication to be completely devoted to your goal. Incidentally, devotion to your goal is much more likely if you have a love for your intended business. Life is too short to start your own business only to discover that it doesn't give you satisfaction and joy. And, through good times and bad times, you will stick with something you love.

Brains: While appropriate educational credentials are important, entrepreneurial "brains" means more than scholastic achievements. To become a successful entrepreneur, you must have a working knowledge about the business you plan to start before you start it. Common sense combined with appropriate experience is the necessary brainpower. Prudence, follow through and attention to detail are very important.

Gwyn Myers, Ph. D. Management Consultant Gwyn Myers,
Ph. D.
Management Consultant
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What would your top recommendations be for people just starting out in business?

Capital: To start your own business you will need seed money of your own plus sufficient cash to maintain a positive cash flow for at least the first year. In a future session you will learn how to forecast future cash requirements through cash flow control. Many businesses can be started on a very small scale with a small investment. Then, as the business grows and you gain experience, cash flow from your business can be used for growth. In some cases you don't need starting capital to hire other people because you might start by doing everything yourself. The "do it yourself" start is a good way to learn everything about your business and also makes you better qualified to delegate work to others later on. You can control your risk by placing a limit on how much you invest in your business.

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How To Start Your Own Business: A Step-by-Step Approach

Elaine Mitchell
Specialized Veterinarian
"Hiring good staff members who also share the same philosophy has been very important."
Transcription - html

Decide if you really want to be in business:

You will be putting some (not all, hopefully) of your net worth at risk when you take the plunge and start your own business. You will run the risk of becoming eccentric, meaning creating a life that is out of balance, with working hours taking away from other family or pleasurable activities. There may be levels of stress you have not experienced as an employee.

Decide what business and where:

Once you have decided you have the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur and that you definitely want to be in business, then you must decide which business is best for you and where to locate that business. Selection strategy is covered later on in this Session.

Decide whether to start full-time or moonlight:

Maureen Costello Wholesale Distributor Maureen Costello
Wholesale Distributor
Play Video
"Were your credentials helpful to you when you purchased your own business?"

There are some interesting advantages and some pitfalls in starting as a moonlight business. (That is, a business you start in your off hours while still working at your current job.) More often than not, the advantages of starting your business as a moonlighter outweigh the risks:

  • You avoid burning your bridges of earnings, including retirement, health and fringe benefits and vacations.
  • Your full-time job won't suffer if you maintain certain conflict of interest disciplines, including compartmentalizing your job and business into completely separate worlds.
  • You can avoid conflict of interest with your job by choosing a business that is appropriate for moonlighting, such as: single products, real estate, specialized food, e-commerce, direct marketing or family-run operations.
  • There are great advantages for operating a family business. The family can run the business while you are at work. You have a built-in organizational structure. You can teach your kids the benefits of being in business.

But there are also some pitfalls to consider in starting a moonlight business:

  • There is a temptation to spend time at your job working on your moonlight business. That is unfair to your employer and should not be done under any circumstances. (You may need a family member or some trusted person to cover emergencies when you are at your job.)
  • Another problem may be competing with your employer, which, again, is not right. Think of how you would feel or handle this employee if you were the boss.
  • Any kind of conflict with your regular work can jeopardize your job and your moonlight business.
  • Overwork and mental and physical exhaustion can also become a very real problem for moonlight entrepreneurs.

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Selection Strategy

Millard MacAdam
Pro Active Leadership
"As the saying goes, fail to plan and you are planning to fail."
Transcription - html

Selecting the wrong business is the most frequent mistake that start-up entrepreneurs make. Here is a checklist to help you select a successful one:

  • Take your time and wait for the business that is just right for you. You will not be penalized for missing opportunities. The selection process takes a lot of planning and your experience and complete knowledge is vital for your success when learning how to start your own business.
  • Don't tackle businesses that may be too challenging. It is better to identify a one-foot hurdle than try to jump a seven-footer.
  • Try to identify a business that has long-term economic potential. Follow Wayne Gretzky's advice, "Go to where the puck is going, not to where it is."
  • Stan Henslee Stan Henslee
    Play Video
    What recommendations do you have for someone just starting out in business?
  • A big mistake can be an error of omission. This means you may fail to see an opportunity that is right in front of you.
  • Look for a business that will grow in today's and tomorrow's markets. Many small retail stores are no longer in business because huge stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot provide more choices to the customer and often at a cheaper price.
  • Follow the advice of Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire-Hathaway Inc. and the most successful business picker in American history: Mr. Buffett looks for businesses that focus on a "consumer monopoly" with pricing power and long-term predictable growth prospects. Examples include: See's Candy's, Coca-Cola and Gillette Razors. Can you copycat this philosophy in a small way?
  • Dr. Dan Nathanson Dr. Dan Nathanson
    Anderson Graduate School of Business UCLA
    Play Video
    When should I plan to quit my job to start a business?
  • Businesses to avoid are "commodity" businesses where you must compete entirely on price and in which you must have the lowest cost to survive. As Mr. Buffett has said, "In a commodity type business you're only as smart as your dumbest competitor."
  • Most service businesses have pricing power.
  • Should you bet on a business you don't know when you can bet on a business you do know?
  • If you intend to manufacture a product, consider the pros and cons of contracting out production to a low-cost supplier. In other words, operate a "hollow corporation." A "hollow corporation" is a company that subcontracts manufacturing and packaging.

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Things to Watch Out For

Sophia Garcia
A-Z Glass Company
"To get ahead in this business you do everything to get the job."
Transcription - html
  • Impatience
  • Do not let overconfidence short-circuit you from analyzing your selection of businesses carefully. You must not fear of hearing the negative aspects; it is much better to be aware of them and face them early on.
  • Be realistic. Do not become lured by high rewards. They will come if you choose the right business and if you understand every aspect of the business before you open its doors.

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Required Activities

Crucial when learning how to start your own business, it is worth repeating again: The most common mistake and the most costly one is not picking the right business to begin with. This is the time for soul searching.


On the top of a blank sheet of paper, write an activity you like to do (make this the heading). Do a separate page for each activity or interest you have.

On those same sheets list as many businesses you can think of that are related to that activity.

On the same sheets list all the products or services you can think of that are related to that activity. Use your imagination and think of every possible product or service you could do.

Make a list of businesses that do better in bad times (one may be appropriate for you). Some examples might be pawnshops, auto repairs and fabric stores.


Let's assume you end up with three potential businesses: towing service, selling used cars and auto repairs. You can now make a comparative evaluation using the following check-list (or better still your own checklist) with a 1-10 scoring system:


Objective Towing
Used Cars

Can I do what I love to do? 6 3 10
Will I fill an expanding need? 8 5 10
Can I specialize? 7 8 10
Can I learn it and test it first? 9 8 9


This kind of analysis can help you gain objectivity in selecting your business.

How to Evaluate a Specific Business you have in mind.

Here are some questions to help clarify your thoughts:

  • Is it something I will enjoy doing?
    My favorite activities are: __________________________
    I like to serve people by: ________________________________
  • Will it serve an expanding need for which there is no close substitute?
  • Can I be so good at a specialized, targeted need that customers will think there is no close substitute?
  • Can I handle the capital requirements?
  • Can I learn the business by working for someone else first?
  • Could I operate as a hollow corporation, without a factory and with a minimum number of employees? ("Hollow corporation" refers to a business where everything is "outsourced," meaning you would subcontract manufacturing and packaging to outside sources. )
  • Is this a product or service that I can test first?
  • Should I consider a partner who has complementary skills to mine or who could help finance the business?

Once you have decided what business you want to start, do this:

Pick a business template
Click To View

Make a "for" and "against" list regarding characteristics of the business. On a blank piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the middle of the page and list on one side all the "for's" and on the other all the "against's." Sometimes this will help clarify your thinking.

Write down the names of at least five successful businesses in your chosen field. Analyze what these five businesses have in common and make a list of reasons that make them successful.

Talk to several people in your intended business. Don't be afraid of the negative aspects of your intended business. Instead, seek out the pitfalls: better now than after you open your doors. Take notes if possible. Write down the information as soon as you can.

Analyze the competition that are not doing well and write down the reasons.

Get Completely Qualified

Before you start, get completely qualified:

  • The best way to become qualified is to go to work for someone in the same business.
  • Attend all classes you can on the subjects you need, for example: accounting, computer and selling.
  • Read all the appropriate "how-to" books you can.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek help from the most successful people in your intended business.

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Decision Time

What could you sell or what services could you perform that would make money and you would enjoy?

To complete this session you should have decided on a business or at least selected a business you think would be best for you. To get the most benefit out of the next eleven sessions you should have a definite plan in mind. Session Two will show you how to prepare your business plan.

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Top Ten Do's and Don'ts


  1. Live frugally and begin saving up money for operating your business.
  2. Learn your business by working for someone else in the same business first.
  3. Consider the benefits of starting a moonlight business.
  4. Consider the advantages of operating a family business.
  5. Objectively measure your skills and training against potential competition.
  6. Consider subcontracting to low cost suppliers if you're manufacturing a product.
  7. Test market your product or service before starting or expanding.
  8. Make a "for" and "against" list describing the business you are in or considering.
  9. Talk to lots of people for advice.
  10. Make a comparative analysis of all opportunities you are considering.
  1. Quit your job before you have completed start-up plans.
  2. Consider operating a business in a field you do not enjoy.
  3. Risk all the family assets. Limit your liabilities to a predetermined amount.
  4. Compete with your employer in a moonlight business.
  5. Be in a hurry to select a business. There is no penalty for missed opportunities.
  6. Select a business that is too high a risk or hurdle. Go for the 2-foot hurdle.
  7. Operate a business in which you must have the lowest price to succeed.
  8. Neglect to learn the negative aspects of an intended business.
  9. Permit entrepreneurial self-confidence to outweigh careful diligence.
  10. Allow the promise of a conceptual high reward to deter reality-testing first.

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Session Feedback and Quiz

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  • Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
adeola adeleke  |  December 19, 2014
Very interesting and detailed information. With this no one will make mistake in getting started. Great work!!
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Chidubem Akinyede  |  July 22, 2014
Honestly, I do think that you guys have done a real good job here. If I had not heard anything about business at all, I may have rated you 5 and ticked 'yes, a great deal' and 'yes absolutely'. However, I am rating you 4 and have ticked ‘somewhat’ and ‘yes, probably’. You have taken your time to be comprehensive, detailed, touching relevant and salient aspects or points. I do appreciate this piece. It does add value to what I am learning presently. What for me somewhat encapsulates everything, is what you have outlined under getting completely qualified, before you start. Thank you very much indeed!
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Seye Onitiri  |  March 29, 2013
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REUBEN ONWUBIKO, LAGOS, Nigeria  |  May 25, 2012
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UMAR DAUDA HASSAN  |  August 11, 2011