Have you always wanted to be your own boss? Are you facing downsizing? Do you suddenly pay attention to late-night infomercials about making a fortune working at home? It's time to start thinking seriously about starting your own business. But what kind?
When I started my business 15 years ago, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to pursue. But I completely refocused my business within my first year, focusing on an area of specialization - business plans - I didn't even know existed when I set out on my own. So don't worry if you could use a few hints to help choose your field. Start by looking at:
What you REALLY want to do. Maybe you're one of the seemingly lucky ones who know exactly what business they'd like to start. But just because you've got a passion to do something doesn't mean you should necessarily "follow your bliss." You may, for instance, always have dreamt of opening a restaurant or running a bed-and-breakfast, both very challenging businesses. Before plunging in, take a good clear hard look at the realities.
What you've done. If you need income fast, pursuing a business in which you already have experience will generally be the quickest source. It's also often the most comfortable transition to being self-employed. You may already have contacts or potential customers in your address book, know the market and industry well, and have strong referral sources. But look closely at whether you can do this business on your own. And just because you've done something for a long time (and are presumably good at it) doesn't mean you necessarily want to keep doing it any longer.
Your hobbies or interests. Likewise, many people dream of turning their hobbies into their profession. And sometimes that works really well, especially if it's a retirement business. But I'm not always a big proponent of turning your hobby into your full-time occupation. After all, why take something that's now a source of pleasure and potentially turn it into a source of stress? Remember, doing something to please yourself isn't necessarily the same as doing it to please customers. You may love photography, but it may get old after you've had to go to 50 weddings.
Who you know. Let's face it, lots of people start their businesses because they have a contact making the transition to self-employment easier. Perhaps you know someone who needs an independent sales representative for their company, or someone in a big corporation who can outsource work to your new consulting business. Also, many people go into business after a potential partner asks them to join the company. Just be cautious. Make certain you like the kind of work you're going into, and whenever you enter into a relationship, put the details in writing.
What you're good at. Why not use your skills? This may be different than your experience or your hobbies. For instance, you may be the person your neighbors turn to for help installing electronic equipment or decorating their homes. Perhaps there's a business opportunity there if many others in your community need the same type of assistance.
A market opportunity. Look around: what's missing in your community, industry, or profession that you might be able to provide? There are usually many services or products that still need to be provided. Maybe it's a service available elsewhere but not locally; perhaps you see a big company neglecting or leaving a line of business that you could serve instead.
What you want to learn. Believe it or not, one good way to learn something is to start a business doing it. Yes, you may need to get some additional training or education, and you won't be able to charge as much as those who know more than you, but you can learn a lot while you're on the job. For instance, you may want to learn more about nature and so decide to organize ecology-based tours.
If you've got the entrepreneurial bug - but don't know exactly what form your business should take, don't worry. Many successful entrepreneurs have started without a clue as to what they wanted to do.
Rhonda Abrams writes the nation's most read small business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies. Her newest book, The Successful Business Organizer has just been published. For free business tips, write her at Rhonda@RhondaOnline.com or 555 Bryant St, number 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.