Often when I work with small business owners, we discover that underlying whatever problem brought them to see me is a lack of clarity about direction. Even motivated individuals can lack an understanding of what they want out of their business or lack a vision of where business ownership fits into the greater picture of what they want out of life. That makes it difficult to set goals let alone work through strategies for succeeding.
I see this, for example, when people start businesses but seem unwilling to take the steps that they need to take to in order succeed – such as borrowing money to get the business off the ground or leaving another job to work full-time at the business. Don’t be mistaken. I’m not recommending that people throw caution to the wind and quit their jobs or borrow large amounts of money to get their business established without doing their homework first. Analyzing market research, thinking through operations, and making a serious attempt to figure out realistic financial projections are important steps to take. So is thinking about what one really wants, what counts as succeeding, and what level of commitment one has to achieving that success – and developing a degree of clarity on these matters.
5 Important Questions for Business Owners
- What do you want (or need to get) out of your business?
- What are your criteria for success?
- What steps do you need to take to succeed?
- How will taking those steps affect your personal life/your family/your financial situation?
- What is your level of commitment to taking these steps?
Reflection on these personal questions about success and commitment are important at any stage of business ownership, not just at the beginning. For one’s vision impacts not just the goals that one sets for the business but also how business ownership fits into one’s life – the time that one has to spend on other interests or with family and friends, the sacrifices one might have to make, and what one has to gain or to lose by pursuing (or failing to pursue) certain aspirations.
These questions can be difficult to answer, and one’s answers might change over time; but having answers can help one understand one’s objectives and set goals for one’s business (e.g., increasing owner’s retained earnings, expanding to another location, changing the focus of services or products offered, moving into exporting, or getting ready to downsize). Goals give us something to work toward, something for which we can develop a plan. The alternatives are to stay in the same place or to move without conscious direction – and that is something worth reflecting upon.
Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
Kansas SBDC at Washburn University