OWNER'S MANUAL

The Best (and Hardest) Way to Start a Company

How to live the entrepreneurial dream while minimizing your risks and maximizing your success. (Warning: This ain't easy.)
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Starting a business is easy. You can do it in a day.

Starting a business that lasts is a lot harder, even if you put all your time and money into it. And the all-in approach is a lot riskier, since the more time and money you invest the more you put at risk.

So if you haven't yet taken the entrepreneurial plunge, how can you live your entrepreneurial dream while minimizing your risks and maximizing your chances of success?

Simple: Start your business—and keep your full-time job.

Except in rare cases, keeping a full-time job is the best approach for first-time business owners.

It's also the hardest approach, since sacrifice, discipline, and a massive amount of hard work will be necessary. But that's okay; if you aren't willing to work hard and sacrifice, your new business will fail whether you keep your full-time job or not.

Here are six steps to minimizing risk while building a solid foundation for small business success:

1. Live like a college student.

Almost every business venture requires spending money before making money. (And if money isn't required, time certainly is... and time is money.) Some small businesses take years to turn a profit.

A huge percentage of start-ups fail because they run out of money, and even if you do not, chronic money problems can lead to making poor long-term decisions.

Never assume personal savings will see you through. Eliminate every bit of personal spending that isn't necessary.

Before you start your business, cut all your personal expenses to the bone.

2. Work incredibly hard at your current job.

When small business capital and cash flow are tight, losing your income is the last thing you can afford. Be a superstar. Work as hard and efficiently as possible. Get more done than anyone else you so you can leave on time without regret—and without raising concerns about your performance and dedication.

Work incredibly hard at your job so your evening and weekend time is yours, not your employer's.

You'll need it.

3. Set a daunting schedule.

When your "normal" work day ends, your start-up workday is just beginning.

Decide how many hours you think you can spend on your start-up every evening and add 25 to 50%.

Then commit to that schedule. Write it down, and if your schedule says you will work from 5.30 p.m. to 9 p.m. every evening, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends, work those hours.

See the schedule you create for your start-up the same way you see your schedule for your current job—as non-negotiable.

Then work that schedule.

4. Ignore the temptation to whine about your daunting schedule.

Say you start a consulting business. Once you land a few clients you'll be working every evening and most weekends.

That's not a bad thing; it's a good thing. Landing clients means you're generating revenue.

You may have to get up early every day to take care of emails and voicemails before you head off to work. In large part your clients will choose your work hours for you.

Don't whine. Don't complain. Keep reminding yourself that having demanding clients is great because it means you actually have clients.

Resist the temptation to complain or feel sorry for yourself. Happily pay the price—it's a price most other people won't pay.

5. Be Ebenezer Scrooge.

At first you'll be tempted to spend your profits. That's natural.

Don't. Reinvest every dollar you earn. Use profits to set up the business infrastructure you need (not the one you want, but the one you need.) Buy supplies. Buy equipment you've been renting. Advertise. Or save cash to tide you through inevitable revenue downswings.

Don't think of profits as income; think of profits as a tool to further establish your business.

6. Keep your full-time job longer than you want.

Deciding when to quit your job and go into business full-time is the hardest decision you will make.

It's impossible to make an objective decision when you're tired, stressed, sick of your full-time job, sick of your boss... or when you just want your life back.

But don't quit too soon. When in doubt, hold out. Always focus on numbers, not emotions.

Your financials—personal and business—will tell you when it's finally time to quit your job.

Last updated: May 15, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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