By Nilooka Dissanayake, ACMA, MBA (Strathclyde)
I meet many people who are dreaming of their own business. A surprisingly large number of them are well employed.
Some of them are successful executives in mid career. Then, there are working women who have taken time off to raise a family and women who got married very young. The kids have grown up and suddenly they find themselves left with a lot of extra time on their hands. Then there are those who have worked abroad and returned with some savings. Rather than go back into the corporate sector they dream of starting their own business. There are also the early retirees.
For many of them, starting a business is an attractive option. Often they have personal savings and are comfortably placed. They do not need to start a business. But they want to. They have not yet started thinking in terms of profits. If at all they compare cash flows, they are comparing the potential fruits of entrepreneurship with their salaries or with what they can get as opposed to investing their money in some form of financial instrument or in a savings account.
To them, any business will not do. They are not simply after money. Self satisfaction (or self actualization as motivational theorists call it) is important to them. They need to choose as their business something they can engage in while satisfying their ‘not-so-well-articulated’ needs. I say this because if you really question them deeply, you find that many cannot justify this wanting to start their own business. They just know they do. And in many, it is a strong feeling.
It would be nice if there was a test we could take, like a scan or screening, which could then tell you if you are suited for business; whether you have the entrepreneurial bug in you. But, such a test is yet to be discovered.
If you happen to belong to this vast category of people who think they want to go into business, my advice is to think again.
Look before you leap is sound advice. But, look where? Look at what? Are they telling you to look at what you are leaping into? This is the more obvious meaning. So, then, you would, wondering what business you should go into. Am I right?
No, I have not been reading your mind. I have simply been talking to so many like you. I have also spoken to many bank managers who often get asked this question. And of course, they do not give you a satisfactory answer. They ask you a question in return: What do you want to do? You cannot really blame them. They are not there to identify projects for you. Their job is to evaluate your project and finance it.
What then should you do? My advice is to take a good look at yourself. You must ‘measure your feet before you buy shoes,’ as an African saying recommends. Take stock of what you are made of before you jump in, to ensure whether you can swim.
Let us not argue whether entrepreneurs are born or made. Let us leave that to the academics. Instead, let us ask what we need to be successful entrepreneurs. In my opinion, all that you need can be expressed in three words: Attitudes, knowledge and skills.
To develop the right attitude, you do not need anybody’s help. You can do it all by yourself. If you feel you need support, read a book or magazine article on positive thinking and self-development; or go for a seminar or workshop. The rest is up to you.
The knowledge that you need, you will have to obtain. From where? From all over the place. No one place will have what you need. So, if you are really serious, your persistence in getting at the knowledge will help you succeed. Of course, instead of being so mysterious, I can tell you where you can this knowledge quite easily, and off shelf too. But, I know my editor will object.
A skill is something you can learn. If you have a reasonable enough mind (I give you the benefit of the doubt), any skill that you wish to develop should be within your reach. We are not thinking of painting to compete with Leonardo De Vinci here. We are talking common, basic business and trade skills. If you subscribe to my theory, all you got to do is to say, “Yes, I can!”
Of course, you need to combine all this with a good business idea. That only you can do. There are no ready made ideas and you are unique. To succeed, your business must fit you, and perfectly. No one else will know what suits you better than you. But, we can help you and guide you along the way. I wish you good luck in your search.
Originally published in the Sunday Times Business@Home column