Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a New Business

by : Nancy Wurtzel

Owning a home used to be the “American Dream." However, this long-standing goal that so many aspired to, and ultimately reached, has been replaced with a new goal -- becoming a business owner.

At first glance it sounds perfect: Leave the corporate world behind and become an entrepreneur. No more commuting, office politics, difficult co-workers and demanding supervisors. You’ll be your own boss and reap all the financial rewards. It will be a brand-new lifestyle with incredible opportunities and much less stress.

Others have achieved the new “American Dream." Look at the young kids who started Apple on a shoestring in the late 1970s. Don’t forget the two engineers who launched a little company called Hewlett Packard out of a small backyard garage. Mrs. Fields took a cookie recipe -- of all things -- and built it into a national model that is taught in many business schools.

Why not you? Yes, you could have the next great business idea, but that alone might not be enough. Ask yourself, do you have the right stuff to launch and run a successful business? Here are five questions to consider before making the big leap from a steady paycheck to business owner.

1. Are you a self-starter?

With no one looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to procrastinate. You must have the discipline that is needed to plan, set goals and stay focused.

Since many small businesses initially start out as home-based to keep overhead low, working from home brings additional distractions. Can you resist the temptation to eat cookies and watch reruns of “Law and Order" when you should be making marketing calls?

2. What are your expectations?

If your goal is to work fewer hours and feel less stress, then think again.

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that business ownership requires a tremendous commitment, with 12-hour workdays, often seven days a week. Needless to say, this can be a strain on family life. If you think it might be too much, then consider a job change instead or a new career with an established company rather than launching your own business.

3. What are your financial goals?

In the short-term your income will probably be lower, and it could stay this way for a long time. Additionally, no one pays for vacations, health care plan, profit sharing or stock options. You must set up your own retirement plan as well.

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers some sobering statistics. It reports that half of the small businesses started will fail within the first year. Furthermore, by the fifth year 95 percent will have ceased operations. While the reasons for failure vary, one of the most common is a lack of adequate financing. To beat the odds, meet with an independent accountant to honestly discuss your finances and expectations. The good news is that if your business takes off you will reap the financial benefits.

4. Are you a “water-cooler person" at heart?

When you become a business owner, your days of taking a long lunch or chatting with the guys around the water cooler are over. Can you make the transition from “worker bee" to boss? It can be lonely.

On your own, you’ll be making countless decisions every day -- from the mundane to the critical. And, you alone must shoulder the daily ups and downs that come with running a business. However, it can also have tremendous rewards in that you are building something from scratch. So, if you believe you can weather the isolation and roll with the punches, you might be a good candidate for owning your own business.

5. Can you create an organized environment?

Where you work is certainly important. You’ll need an acceptable work space and the right office tools in order to be creative and successful. Even more important, however, is how you work.

For example, you can have an incredible sales presentation with the latest technology that will wow clients, but if you’re constantly late for meetings and lose important documents, you’ll probably also lose business. Ask yourself if you can flourish in an environment where creativity and operational systems are equally important? Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking the company will simply “run itself" if they just come up with great ideas and business leads. They pay scant attention to the details of building a business. Too often this is a recipe for failure.

To be a success, you must combine your fantastic ideas and business tools with solid planning and organization.

Success for any new business is never guaranteed. There are too many variables, and many factors will be totally out of your control. But you can avoid making a costly mistake by asking yourself, honestly -- before you take the plunge: Do I have what it takes to run a business? The answer should tell you if the new “American Dream" is the right fit for you.