Answering the “What Business Should I Start” Question

You guessed it.  The most common question posed to me by transitioning military and Veterans when they visit our center is “what business should I start?” I must admit that I have come up with some pretty snarky responses over the last 8 years.  My favorite is “tape cassette recorders, retro is in”.   In all seriousness, the real response is “it depends”.  What makes you happy? What do you want to accomplish being a small business owner? How much money do you want to make? What kind of impact to you want to make in the world?

For that reason I push back and ask you to hit the pause button to evaluate priorities before trying to find a quick answer about what small business to begin.  When we were in the service, we never just ran into a situation without scanning the environment. In fact, sometimes we over planned but that is a discussion for another day. There are a few steps you should take before deciding the business to start.

Step 1: Assess Your Reasons For Entering Small Business:  When you are considering what business opportunity you are going to invest your hard earned dollars. What opportunity you are going to bleed, sweat and cry over. What business you are going to potentially give up missing important milestones in your family’s life to do. You had better make sure it is something that you love. Something that makes you happy.  Something that is going to achieve your ultimate goal whatever that may be.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my end goal in starting this business? You should know what the desired outcome is for you personally.  Perhaps you want to make a specific dollar amount or when your children have made it through college or you want to give back to a community.  Knowing what the end looks like will help you determine which business opportunities might be right for you.
  • What would I do for free if money were no object?  Make a list of all the ideas you have in your mind. Review that list and whittle it down to three ideas that really make you smile.  This is important because there are days when you might just be working for free and a smile is all you have that day.
  • Ask if what you are creating is a job for yourself? Creating a job for yourself is counterproductive to your happiness as an entrepreneur.  We are Veterans. There are hundreds of initiatives designed to help us find employment.  If you simply need a job to pay bills, there are many to be had.  I am not arguing these are jobs you want to do or that will make you happy. This is exactly my point. If you are going to do something that is not fun, you do not like, and does not make you joyful, then let someone else worry about making payroll or keeping the lights on.

Step 2:  Look At Your Surrounding Community For This Answer:  I am never surprised by how many people believe that they need to reinvent the wheel in order to create a small business.  The community in which you live is telling you what they need.  Start with your immediate environment then look to the region and then nationally.  Listen to your friends when they say “I wish someone would invent something to help me” fill in the blank.  Have you noticed in the greeting card isle there are more 90th or 100th birthday cards?  With the rising age of our population there are tremendous opportunities.  Adult day care, computer education classes and mobilization concerns are a few that come to mind. Take a few days, no more than a few weeks, to scan your environment for opportunities. Read periodicals, watch or listen to news programs and pay attention to your surroundings. Your market is calling you.

Step 3:  Decide Ground up or Franchise:  Once you have completed these exercises you can then begin to ask if you want to start one of these opportunities on your own or if there is a franchise that already exist in which you can invest.  If the answer is a franchise, then our business consultant Damon Chaffin, who has over 20 years of experience in developing strong franchises offers up this advice. “When looking at a franchise, you should be evaluating three things: 1) the brand, 2) the operating system, and 3) the ongoing support.”  We rarely see few franchises that excel in all three areas. To determine which is right for you, Damon suggests the following actions:

Speak to Existing Franchise Owners:  Contact as many existing owners as you can in order to determine if they are satisfied with the franchise, how they do financially, and if they would make the same decision.  Look at how the brand is perceived in their marketplace, ask what tools are available to ensure success, and whether or not the organization is responsive to their concerns.  A negative franchise owner is not a deal killer in and of itself, but if many are unhappy and/or doing poorly, this should be a concern.

Obtain and Read the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD): This is an arduous task however the FDD is a legal document that explains the franchise – what each party is responsible for in the enterprise.  This is a critical document that explains the franchise in legal terms. Pay particular attention to costs to open, fees, litigation, how territory is determined, and the earnings claim.

Step 4:  Stay Off the Island of Me:  Too many entrepreneurs isolate themselves during this process.  They believe they need to have the exact answer before reaching out to get help.  Remember, above all else you do not need to do this alone.  There are strong organizations all around you to assist.  If you need support with thinking through these exercises, determining if small business is right for you and what direction(s) you might choose, please do not hesitate to reach out.  Organizations like those who create this periodical and the Veterans Business Resource Center, are truly here to assist. We stand ready to assist.

If you do not want to do any of these things then my suggestion is “No really! Tape cassette recorders, retro is in.

Darcella K. Craven, Executive Director

 Darcella has over 20 years of experience in corporate, government, non profit and military organizations. She is currently the Executive Director of the Veterans Business Resource Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting Honorably Discharged Veterans, National Guard and Reservist and Active Duty personnel and their families with transitioning back into civilian life with starting and expanding businesses.

Darcella has worked with several non-profit organizations specializing in program implementation, change management and creating group training programs.  Her career has taken her to several corporations and positions including corporate communications and project management.   She is a requested speaker on business development, life management, human capital and nonprofit management. She is a past board member for Grace Hill Settlement House and is involved in many civic organizations.  She is a 2011 graduate of the Nonprofit Services Academy of Women Executive Directors Leadership.

An Army Veteran, she holds a Masters of Arts in Management from Webster University and is currently pursuing her Doctors of Management focusing on impact of military experience on small business decision making.  Darcella has been featured in numerous articles for her transition from the military and the welfare system to an accomplished business woman and is actively involved in many civic organizations.   She recently received recognition as 2013 Top 25 Most Influential Business Women, 2012 Top 100 St. Louisans You Should Know, inaugural inductee into the 2011 Young Leader Award from the St. Louis American Foundations, a 2011 Top Ladies of Distinction Unsung Heroine recipient and was named a 2009 YWCA Leader of Distinction in Nonprofits.  Additionally in 2009 she was Small Business Administration Veterans Business Champion for Eastern Missouri and Region 7 (MO, IA, NE, KS).

She is the very proud mother of two daughters in college now and looks forward to them being off of her payroll soon.

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