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Want to Start Your Own Business? What to Say to Naysayers

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Tell people that you plan to start a business, and there’s a good chance that they will tell you why you shouldn’t. Some of their criticisms might raise legitimate concerns about your business plan, but many others will reflect nothing more than the critics’ inexperience in business or their personal insecurities. Hearing about business plans brings to the surface people’s fears and regrets about their own finances and careers—feelings they might unknowingly ­project onto you and your idea, which can undermine your own confidence if you let it.

Here’s how to respond to the doubts prospective entrepreneurs often face…

Why would you give up a secure job to chase a dream?

Response: “Why would I stay in a job where an employer controls my fate when I could have the security of controlling my own future?”

Would-be entrepreneurs can expect to hear many questions about their decision to give up a steady paycheck for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. The truth is, the questioner might be unwilling to admit to himself/herself that even his career with an established company is not all that secure. Employees get passed over for raises and promotions. Companies have layoffs.

And the questioner is ignoring the fact that financial security might not be your primary career goal. Consider which scares you more—the possibility that your income might be irregular for a while, or the possibility that you might spend your life working for ­others and never know what you could have accomplished if you had taken your own shot. If it’s the latter, then the greater risk for you lies in not starting a business.

Alternate response: “Who said I was leaving my job?” Some entrepreneurs launch businesses in their spare time and leave their jobs only when those businesses appear well on their way to success.

Why are you trying to launch a business when you should be trying to find a job?

Response: “Launching a business could help me find a job.”

If you’re unemployed when you decide to start a business, expect people to question your priorities. But submitting résumés isn’t the only way to land a job. In fact, it usually isn’t the best way—employers often receive hundreds of résumés when they advertise an opening, making it hard for job applicants to even get a foot in the door.

If you start a business (or even investigate the possibility of starting one), you have a better way to get a foot in the door. You can contact business people to discuss the goods or services that your company could provide to them…or projects your companies could explore together. Such meetings can lead to job offers. Many employers are entrepreneurs themselves, making them predisposed to hiring other ­entrepreneurial types.

Example: While unemployed, Brett Kelly wrote Evernote Essentials, an eBook about the note-taking app Evernote. The makers of Evernote were so impressed with the book that they hired him.

Launching a business also avoids having a period of unemployment in your work history. Fairly or not, employment gaps are red flags for many potential employers.

You’re too old to start a business.

Response: “My decades of experience and business contacts are pluses, not minuses.”

One of the underappreciated aspects of entrepreneurship is that your age is more likely to work for you than against you. Older entrepreneurs tend to know their industry sectors and the sectors’ key players better than younger people do.

Example: Ray Kroc was in his 50s when he bought a small restaurant chain called McDonald’s and started building it into an empire.

Working for yourself when you’re over 50 also is a way around the ageism that might hold back your career if you continued working for others.

Also, one of the biggest hurdles facing entrepreneurs above age 50 soon will become much less of a problem. Starting in 2014 under Obamacare, self-employed people will be able to obtain relatively affordable health insurance through new insurance marketplaces. Until now, individual health insurance could be very expensive or difficult to obtain for self-employed people who were older than 50 and/or who had health problems.

Most new businesses fail.

Response: “According to whom?”

There are some daunting statistics floating around about the failure rate of new businesses. You might hear that more than half fail in the first year. But such statistics are deceptive. Many of those failed new businesses actually were just hobby businesses that were never meant to last long or provide more than a few extra dollars on the side.

What’s the true failure rate for new businesses? It’s tricky to measure, but figures compiled by the Small Business Administration suggest that about 70% of new firms last at least two years, and about half last five years or more. Even those numbers significantly overstate the failure rate. Some of the new businesses that didn’t last didn’t fail. They closed because the entrepreneurs who launched them accepted attractive job offers, identified even better business opportunities or sold out to larger companies.

Why do you think you’ll succeed this time? Your previous business ideas failed.

Response: “The fact that I’ve tried before increases my odds of success.”

Previous business failures aren’t signs that you shouldn’t try again. They’re signs that you already have paid your dues learning hard lessons about entrepreneurship. Those lessons should serve you well this time around.

Example: Mignon Fogarty launched her hugely popular Grammar Girl podcast (a guide to grammar and punctuation) only after her earlier Absolute Science podcast failed to attract a large audience. That failed project taught Fogarty the basics of running a podcast and a business, setting the stage for her later success.

This isn’t a good time to be starting a business. The economy still is too unsettled.

Response: “Times of economic uncertainty are great times to launch a business.”

Consumers and businesses reevaluate their spending habits during unsettled economic times such as these. That reevaluation makes them more open to working with a new company—particularly one that offers good value.

Examples: Blue-chip companies launched during weak economies include FedEx, General Electric, General Motors, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble.

No one will want what it is you’re ­selling.

Response: “How would you know?”

Is the person making this criticism one of your potential customers? If not, then give much, much more weight to the feedback you have received from people you actually intend to sell to. If potential customers have been enthusiastic, criticism about your product or service from noncustomers likely can be dismissed.

Example: Genevieve Thiers heard many disparaging comments about her idea for a Web site that connects babysitters and parents. But the negative comments came mainly from the investment community—the mothers she spoke with liked her idea. The Web site Sittercity.com became a success.

What do you know about starting and running a business?

Response: “I know plenty about the sector I’m entering, and I can learn what I need to know about business. That’s the easy part.”

It is fair for critics to raise this issue if you haven’t started and run a business before—being an entrepreneur does require some basic business skills. But these skills can be acquired relatively quickly. Josh Kaufman’s book The Personal MBA (Portfolio) and John Jantsch’s “Duct Tape Marketing” blog (DuctTapeMarketing.com/blog) are great places to start.

You can’t afford to start a business.

Response: “So I will start it on the cheap.”

It can be very pricey to enter the manufacturing sector or even the retailing sector if your business idea requires an extensive inventory and/or a storefront. But there are plenty of business ideas that can be launched for just a few thousand dollars or less.

Examples: It can cost very little to start an online business or a consulting business.

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Chris ­Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future (Crown Business). Based in Portland, Oregon, he is founder of The Art of Non-Conformity, a blog about changing the world by achieving personal goals. ChrisGuillebeau.com

Date: November 1, 2013 Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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