University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Confessions of an Entrepreneur: Actually Getting Your New Business Off the Ground

November 17, 2020 | By Mark Zweig

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It’s one thing to endlessly talk and fantasize about starting a business.

It is glamorized in the popular culture and media, and of course, the potential is often unlimited — which is always exciting. But being real entrepreneurs who earn a living from the businesses they create is a lot different from being coffee shop “wantrepreneurs.”

So how do people actually get started? Here are my observations:

  1. They prepare themselves by minimizing their personal overhead and stockpiling.
  2. One big barrier to starting a business is when your personal overhead is so high you cannot take any reduction in income and still be able to pay your bills. That’s not a good place to be when you may need to quit your job to launch your business, and even if not, you don’t want to be in a position where a single dollar has to come out of your business that doesn’t need to because it is beneficial to the business.

    The other point here is stockpiling of everything that may help you get by with little to no money helps buy you time. Once your personal overhead is low and you feel you can get by with little for a while you will be more likely to actually start your business.

  3. They get all the credit they can before they need it.
  4. This is so important. That may mean more credit cards, home equity credit line, personal credit line — everything. This is especially important for those who plan on quitting their W-2 earning jobs when they start their business. When you are employed and have W-2 income is when you want to get credit — not afterward. Ask any banker if you don’t believe me!

    And if you take the steps to secure this credit you may be more willing to start this business.

  5. They are willing to make the total commitment that it takes.
  6. That means doing whatever it takes because you have faith in your business plan and yourself or selves. I have seen two cases recently of new ventures that probably could have borrowed the operating capital they needed based on certain assets that could be financed with bank loans but the owners were seeking equity instead because they would not personally guarantee the debt.

    That is a huge red flag for investors when the founders have so little faith that they won’t make the commitment it takes to sign up for debt. Same thing when it comes to contributing cash as a founder. No “skin in the game” is not a good sign. No commitment.

    Be willing to make that commitment if you really want to start this thing. 

  7. They surround themselves with people who encourage them.
  8. There is a big difference between people who just tell you what you want to hear, and those who are supportive and encouraging but urge caution and diligence before starting a new business. You want to surround yourself with the latter, if possible.

    And as for those who are completely negative and only discourage you from doing your own thing — too much time with people like that and you will never take the plunge.

    A lot of that depends on the life experiences of those you surround yourself with. If they are all people who never had a business or didn’t grow up in a business-owning family, they may think that any venture is too risky and discourage you. Find those who are encouraging you to do it and make them a big part of your social circle — and you will be more likely to do it (start your business).

  9. They seek out a lot of advice and input from people who know what they are talking about.
  10. Experts in the industry. People who represent targeted client or customer groups. Regulators. Experienced attorneys. Good accountants. Mentors. All of these people can provide valuable input and should be sought out because they may have critical information you need to launch and operate your business successfully.

    Having all of this input could make you more likely to actually launch. It could help your confidence because you have information.

  11. They break down the process into a lot of small steps and start taking those steps.
  12. Starting a business from scratch can seem like an overwhelming task. But maybe if you can break it down into 30 or 50 or 100 small steps and start taking those steps, you can gain momentum that will help you see it through.

    Breaking a problem down into many small tasks is a technique many of those people use who accomplish great things. Try it and see if it helps get you off the starting line. 

  13. They test their concept and get someone to pay them for doing something.
  14. Once you actually have a client or customer willing to buy, you will likely have a lot more confidence that you could actually start your business. The whole idea of creating a minimum viable product is one approach to validate your idea and get the thing going. Sure, it won’t be perfect at first but you will refine your offerings and business plan over time — and meanwhile there will be some revenue coming in and a chance to get a lot of real customer feedback.

    When people do this and prove their concept they will be more likely to keep it all going and actually make the commitment to launch the business.

In conclusion, I know it isn’t easy to start a business. My wife and I have a business plan on the shelf right now for a business that we think would do well for the times we are in. That said, even we, who have done it many times are feeling very risk-averse.

But if and when we do this start-up, you can rest assured we will follow every one of these seven steps listed above.

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Mark ZweigMark Zweig – a leading expert in management and business for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental industry – is president of Mark Zweig, Inc., which has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies; chairman and founder of Zweig Group – named to the Inc. list three times – and entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.