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Starting a Business — It’s Not for the faint of heart

By Paul Brooks

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So much these days is written about entrepreneurship, but perhaps too little is written about the entrepreneur. What is an entrepreneur exactly? In fact the word itself has seen dramatically increasing popularity in recent years, probably due in large part to colleges adopting entrepreneurship programs of study. But how do we define entrepreneur in dictionary terms? The commonly accepted definition is: a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. That sounds so simple and easy to understand, doesn’t it? I submit that starting a business involves much more than this conventional definition.

After dealing with business startups for many years I have found that it is definitely not for the faint of heart, especially in this fast paced, hyper-competitive environment that characterizes today’s business climate. Entrepreneurs have hundreds of things to consider, but let’s start at the beginning. First, there are character traits to consider. The traits that most often are noticeable in business startup founders are ambition and commitment. Ambition manifests itself in a strong desire to achieve or be successful and commitment is most often seen in unwavering determination to be successful. Needless to say, there are other qualities that are frequently exhibited by the founder of a successful startup such as drive, persistence, flexibility, and passion.

Okay, you say, everyone recognizes those necessary qualities but a lot of people have them. Exactly, that is the reason that this business-startup business is not for the faint of heart because there are dozens if not hundreds of other considerations standing in the path to success. 

Let’s start with product or service. Creating a unique offering often depends on a unique idea. And many people have an interesting idea almost every day, but is it something that can be created and sold? This is where the hard work comes in and is often overlooked. Customer discovery is finding out if you have a solution to a problem or an excellent opportunity that people will actually pay for. The only way that really works well is to go out and ask people — lots of people.

Now that you’ve found a product or service that people need the fun has just begun. Considerations that must be brought to bear at this point are voluminous. Start with market research — how will you get the product to market and who exactly is your market? Now, how about a prototype to actually test market? And how are you going to finance this startup, where will the money come from? And how will you organize? — as a sole proprietor, an LLC, or will you incorporate? And where will you find your skilled employees to help you get the business off the ground? And how about pricing, engineering, distribution, legal, accounting, insurance, regulations, production, warehousing, shipping, receiving and more?

The point here is simple: over half of new business startups fail in the first five years and for good reason. Many of the above referenced considerations are overlooked, under considered, and inadequately planned for. Some of the best advice for a new business founder is to find a really good mentor that can regularly act as a sounding board and keep the entrepreneur on the right path. 

Although startups are not for everyone, they can be tremendously rewarding — both personally and financially. Choosing the right team and seeking the advice that is readily available in the entrepreneurial ecosystem is so important to success.            

Paul Brooks is a business advisor at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College. Contact him at p.c.brooks@sunyocc.edu

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