Entrepreneurs share tips on business success

Harriet Joynes and Lila Coleburn share these pointers on how to be successful when starting a business. Choose the right moment to open a new business. If it's at a transitional point in life -- such as just after having a baby, between jobs, or as your nest is emptying -- don't let eagerness to begin a new project cloud the issue of the risks involved or the factors that must come together in order to have success.

These include having enough money, your own or someone else's, and a product for which you can find a market and which you can shape to meet the needs of the public.

Take a basic course in what is required to start up a business., either from a school or from an agency such as American Woman's Economic Development (a nonprofit corporation), which also offers one-to-one counseling from experts in many fields. Talk to people who have already been through the start-up process so you know the pitfalls of opening a new business like the one you plan. Listen to them. Learn from their mistakes. Their hard-nosed, practical advice can help you get things right at the beginning, not after a series of costly errors.

Make a clear business plan that will project your idea, define your goal, and help you plan your finances. Describe what the product or service is, how much you think it will cost to make or produce, how much you expect to sell in a year, what you expect your profit margin to be, and how you are going to market it. Then go over your plan with someone who is more objective and realistic than you might be to see if it is actually feasible.

You don't have to be in a partnership to go into business, but it sure helps to have another person to share the investment, the workload, and the decisions, and to be a sounding board for resolving problems and discussing new ideas. But have a lawyer who has had experience with partnerships and who can foresee some of the problems draw up your partnership agreement. The agreement should clearly define each partner's role, or state that the roles should be looked at and redefined every six months as the business develops and changes.

Build a firm support network. This includes husband, children, any other family members who may help out, a good lawyer, a competent accountant, and perhaps even a public relations person who will help herald your business debut in the press.

When seeking an accountant, look for someone who has had experience with small businesses and who is willing to steer you through start-up throes and then hang in with you until you become profitable. Ask people in the same business that you plan to be in to recommend a good lawyer or accountant, or call a professional association for recommendations. It may take several tries before you find just the right professionals to help, but persevere. The result is worth it. Having dependable people that you can talk with and work with is absolutely essential.

Decide what is crucial to your business and then spend your money and time on the ideas that really count. For example, know who your customers are or might be, and set about cultivating them.

Listen to your clients because they will teach you a great deal about what they want and are willing to pay for. Don't get too wrapped up in what you think they should have.

Don't brood over mistakes; cut your losses quickly and go on. Don't waste your management time trying to figure out what is past. And don't think of your business as a hobby, or that is what it will remain.

Keep what you are doing fun and fresh and consciously enjoy it. Remember that people everywhere, and particularly those in large corporations, are often looking for someone outside themselves or their organizations to help them. If you can provide the kind of service, product, energy, and vision they may be looking for, then you may find yourself in a successful business.

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