FOREWORD: Recently, my eldest son, George Phillip Farris went into business for himself. George and his new bride Jennifer returned from their honeymoon and used their wedding gift funds to buy a used septic tank truck and start an environmentally-friendly portable bathroom business. I’m sure that my wife and Jennifer’s mother were thinking, “Hmmm, that could have went toward a down payment on a house.” But George and Jenn knew that what they were looking for wasn’t available working 9 to 5 for anyone — including (or maybe especially) me. They wanted more than financial security. They wanted personal freedom and job satisfaction and a chance to accomplish something on their own. My son did not ask for advice or help when he started his business. In fact, it wasn’t until after he had his Federal tax ID number and his LLC all set up that he told me the news. I’ve given him a few tips here and there and I thought a lot about what basic advice I would give him about being a first time business owner. And that’s what inspired me to write the following letter to all first time new business owners.
Dear Business Owner:
Are you excited? Of course you are. Are you full of energy? I hope so… you’re gonna need it. Is your spouse a supporting and patient person? He or she better be – because you may be spending more time with your business than with them.
I DID IT AND YOU CAN
I started my first business when I still had a full-time job at a grocery store. I was 21-years old. My partner and I started a photography business. It was a blast. And having the cushion of steady income from another source made it a lot less stressful. The hours were tough because after 40-50 hours at my regular job, I still had another 20 or so to put in with my business. I got involved in other ventures, went to part time and then finally quit my job when I was 29. I remember that I was so nervous and worried about feeding my young family that I would run miles and miles each evening just so I could sleep.
AMERICA IS YOUR BEST SHOT
America is truly a land of opportunity for entrepreneurs. It’s easier to start a business here than anywhere in the world . But even in America you can fail if you don’t follow some basics.
Is there a need for your product or service? Will the market support it? What can you offer that others do not? How are you going to get business?
Many small business owners think they are prepared when they have their accounting set up, have stock for their store and have a flashy new name to print on their business cards. I’m sorry, but the most important aspect of starting a new business is getting and sustaining SALES. It’s called MARKETING. You must be able to sell and have funds to help you sell. People do not flock to you just because you opened a store. If you opened your store in the middle of the mall with built in traffic – you might have a shot. But even then, you need to make sure the people walking by know you are open.
The lack of marketing is the number one reason businesses fail. Make sure you have a marketing budget – or some system for ongoing sales effort – and then prepare to spend DOUBLE the time or money you think you need.
Most new business owners see themselves succeeding in an average of two years. They figure they will work like crazy for the first 2-3 years then kick back a little. I’ve been in business for 30 years and I can’t say I am kicked back. Once you climb one hill, there is another you want to climb. And sometimes you lose your footing and need to start again at the bottom of your first hill. If you are a business owner, it will get under your skin and in your blood. It will dominate your life, but you don’t have to let it ruin your life or your family’s life. I never missed a football game, a school play or other key event with my kids. I did cut a few vacations short, while making sure my spouse and kids stayed and enjoyed their time. That I regret. I should have stayed with them. A few years later I realized it was better to take shorter but more frequent trips with the family which we all enjoyed. And if your spouse is not in business with you, it could be lonely for both of you. I would always come home for dinner and stay with the kids until bed time. Then trudge back to the office (laptops and home computers were rare) to work from 10pm until 1 or 2am. That was not fun, but sometimes that is the reality.
Everyone wants to have a great relationship with customers. You try your best. You agonize over what went wrong when you lose one. You are upset that a customer or client treats you poorly. But customers/clients are people and people are not perfect. Sometimes the best thing to do when you have a really difficult customer or client is to get a NEW customer or client. Move on. No one account or one customer is worth your sanity or peace of mind. Just check your own motives. Keep your side of the street clean and if you are doing everything right, don’t fret about losing or leaving a customer.
WATCH WHAT YOU SPEND
One of great things about having your own business is that your earning potential is higher than a lot of jobs. But so is your loss potential. Instead of buying 3 BMWs in one day (ahem… who would do that?), buy one luxury American car and stash the rest of the cash. When things are going well it’s easy to think that things will ALWAYS go well. But business has ups and downs and you need to spend like you are always going to be in the middle. Then you won’t be caught short when you need to reinvest in your business or another opportunity.
WHAT IF YOU FAIL?
Even if you fail at your first attempt to start and run a business, you can take the lessons you learn and start again. I’ve seen many people learn from their mistakes and bounce back from misfortune. This again is another benefit of living and doing business in America.
WHAT IF YOU SUCCEED?
Don’t let success change your thinking or hard working habits. Don’t start preaching. And don’t assume your success in your business translates into success in other businesses. Do you think you can run a restaurant because you are good at selling medical equipment? Success in a small business can cause the owner disconnect from his or her customers. Keep seeking to understand your customer’s needs and wants. Ask them on a regular basis.
ALWAYS SEEK TO SERVE
If you keep an attitude of service you will be much more likely to become and stay successful. Every CEO should be seen as the honorary head of the customer service department. Be the customer’s advocate. Keep making their lives better and they will make your life better.
Good luck on your new venture. Enjoy your new business. And God Bless your efforts.
George F. Farris
Stay Tuned and Stay Smart.