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The Business Failed, But Did You?

Q: After years of dreaming about starting my own business, I finally took the plunge a little over a year ago. To say the least, my dream quickly became a nightmare. The business didn’t do nearly as well as I had hoped. I ran out of money within six months and had to take out a second mortgage on my house just to keep things going. I have now closed the business and am left with a pile of bills that will probably put me in personal bankruptcy. I don’t mean to take it out on you, but instead of telling people how great having your own business is all the time you should also warn them that starting a business is not easy and can be devastating when things go wrong.
– Gene K.

A: Gene, I hope that I have never given anyone the impression that having your own business is a walk in the park. To the contrary, I’m like the proverbial Chicken Little when it comes to warning readers of the obstacles and pitfalls that await those considering the entrepreneurial plunge.

To quote myself from a column I wrote earlier this year, “If it was easy, my friend, everybody would do it.”

Just to make sure we’re in agreement, let me reiterate the standard warnings once again. Starting a business is incredibly hard work. It takes long hours and deep pockets. It demands unbridled passion and unquestioned commitment. It requires that you give of yourself until you often feel there is nothing left to give. And sometimes, even after you’ve done all that you can do and given all that you can give, the business fails.

Period.

Blood, sweat, and tears can only carry you so far in the business world. Good intentions and grand ideas won’t pay the office rent. You can not make payroll with Monopoly money.

I certainly don’t mean to make light of your situation. In fact, I know exactly how you feel. I failed so miserably my first time in business that I swore I would never think about working for myself again. All I wanted to do was to find a nice, secure 9-to-5 job that provided me with a nice steady paycheck. I yearned for the opportunity to grow fat and happy on someone else’s payroll for a change.

I never again wanted to have to think about customers or employees or withholding taxes or accounts receivable or anything else even remotely associated with being in business.

I just wanted to crawl in a hole and die because my business had failed, and in my All-American, macho male, “you are what you do” brain that meant that I was a failure, too.

Getting over the failure of a business can be extremely difficult, especially if you are one of those entrepreneurs (like I was) who wrongly relates the success or failure of a business to the success or failure of you as a person.

The best way that I know of to get over the failure of a business (and the deep feelings of personal failure that go along with it) is to do an autopsy of the business to help find out exactly what went wrong. Only by discovering our weakness can we build on our strengths (Yogi Berra eat your heart out).

It took a long time and an enormous amount of reflection to realize that the business had failed for many reasons, not simply because I was a miserable excuse for an entrepreneur. I wasn’t looking to shuck the blame so much as simply trying to understand what really went wrong. A few years later when I mustered the courage to take the plunge again, I did so with the knowledge gained from my first failed business. I knew what I had done wrong and I knew what I’d done right. Lessons learned, put to good use. Knock wood, this time so far, so good.

Performing an autopsy on a failed business is a simple process, but one that can reveal a wealth of information that you can use should you ever decide to step out onto the business high wire again.

To do your business autopsy find a quiet place where you can sit and reflect on the life of your business. With pen and paper in hand (or laptop on lap) write down everything that you can think of that went right with the business and alternatively, everything that went wrong. Your goal is to create a “Success” versus “Failure” spreadsheet that will help you better understand exactly why the business went south.

For the autopsy to be effective, it is imperative that you are completely honest with yourself. Shove your ego in a drawer and be completely realistic or the autopsy will just become an exercise in futility. You will end up looking for scapegoats instead of reasons.

If your lack of experience was a contributing factor to the failure of the business, write it down. If your brilliant negotiating skills allowed you to close a big deal and beat out a competitor, write it down. If you were undercapitalized or incorrectly estimated your share of the market, write it down. If you had a partner who didn’t pull his weight or a product that didn’t sell as well as you thought it would or your building was flattened by an earthquake, write it down. Write it all down.

Once you have all the facts in front of you, it’s easy to see why the business really failed. You might be surprised to find out that the failure of the business wasn’t completely your fault, after all.

Then again, you might discover that the business failure was your fault. If that turns out to be the case, don’t beat yourself up for long. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur and that’s OK.

The world would be a miserable place if everyone sat around whining about their lack of customers or complaining about their employees.

Next time we’ll take a look at the primary reasons businesses fail and discuss how you might avoid them.

Here’s to your success.

What’s in a Name? When it Comes to Your Business, Plenty!

Q: How important is the name of a business? Should the name of a business reflect what the business does or is it better to come up with something catchy and easy to remember?
– Randy P.

A: What’s in a name? When it comes to your business, Randy, a lot more than you might think. In fact, deciding on a business name is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. The right business name can help you rise above the crowd while the wrong business name can leave you trampled in the rush.

With the economy in a slump and competition on the rise, now more than ever it is important that you put considerable thought into coming up with the perfect name for your business.

Unfortunately, this is a task that is easier said than done. It seems like all the good business names are either married or… no wait, that’s a different subject, but the analogy holds true.

We live in an age when a business called “The Body Shop” might repair wrecked cars or sell skintight jeans to teenagers, so before you send your letterhead to the printer, consider the following points to help you select the business name that’s right for you.

The first thing you should do is conduct a little research to determine if the name is already in use by someone else. You would be surprised at how many entrepreneurs forget to research this point and open a business with a name that is already in use. Check with the county clerk and the secretary of state to make sure the name isn’t already licensed for use or incorporated with the state. Also check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to see if the name is already trademarked, i.e., owned, by someone else. Using another company’s trademarked name exposes you to legal action by the trademark owner. Even if your name is just similar to the trademarked name, you may find yourself in court defending your right to use the name. And odds are it’s a battle you will lose.

If the name you choose is not in use, you should immediately reserve the name with the secretary of state (if you plan on incorporating) and apply for a trademark to ensure your legal ownership. If you do not trademark the name someone can come along later and attempt to steal the name out from under you. Imagine spending years building up your business only to have some upstart trademark the name and engage you in a legal battle over rightful ownership. This is one fight you don’t need, especially when the hassle could have been easily avoided with a few bucks and a few forms.

Another important thing to consider is the domain name for your business. The domain name is the website address a customer will use to find you on the Web. Is the domain name for your business name available? If not, is there a domain similar to the business name you’re considering?

You will undoubtedly discover that securing a suitable domain name is actually harder than choosing a business name. Most logical domain names are already reserved, but you might get lucky. Keep in mind that domain names should be short and descriptive, and preferably have the .com or .net extension. You can use other extensions (I’ve even used the “.to” extension on occasion) if necessary, just keep in mind that you will need to put forth a little extra marketing effort to promote the website address as people typically assume a .com extension as the norm. Whatever you do, don’t use a domain name that is a confusing amalgam of letters and numbers that is hard to remember and even harder for your customer to type in.

One good way to approach the task of naming a business is to do so from your customer’s point of view. Your business name should clearly define your offering and communicate your message to customers. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes for a moment. If you were looking for a business that provides your product or service, what would you expect that business to be called? If you were in the market for computer parts, for example, wouldn’t you look for a business that has “computer parts” reflected in the business name? Jim’s Computer Parts may not sound as snazzy as Jim’s Electronics Emporium, but snazzy doesn’t pay the bills. Happy customers who quickly identify you as the source of their purchase do.

The name of your business can also spark subconscious reactions in a customer that may drive them to you or drive them away. Words like quality, complete, executive, best, low-cost, and on time often spark positive reactions in the mind of the consumer. Words like cheap, discount, and used tend to create negative emotions. You’ll notice that no one claims to sell used cars anymore, but the dealer lots are loaded with vehicles that are “previously owned.”

Finally, let’s talk about things to avoid. Experts agree that you should avoid using generic terms like enterprise, corporation, partners, and unlimited as part of your everyday business name. These terms are fine for the legal business entity name, but are often too unclear for everyday use. Can you tell me what any of these companies do: ABC Corporation, Big Dog Enterprises, M&B Partners, and Discounts Unlimited sell? I didn’t think so.

Also avoid abstract names like Yahoo!, Google, Monster and Flip Dog (I am not going to list the names of the numerous local high tech firms that have bucked this rule :o ). Abstract names will require a subtitle to explain what the business does or an expensive marketing campaign that brands the name into the minds of consumers. Unless you have deep pockets, I suggest you go with a name that describes your business at first glance and leave abstraction to the likes of Cher.

Finally, you should avoid hokey names, unless of course, you are starting a hokey business. Crazy Dave’s Stereo Shop is a great name if the business is really run by Crazy Dave and his personality is exploited in the marketing of the business.

However, if you want to be taken serious, then give your business a serious name.

Would you go to Crazy Dave’s House of Dentistry?

Neither would I.

Here’s to your success.

Where Can People Find Information About Starting A Business?

Approximately 200,000 new businesses are started each year. More people are expected to start a business for themselves this year than ever before. With economic fluctuations rippling through the business world, more and more people are getting laid off every day.

People often need help finding the information they need to become a successful business owner; especially first time business owners.

The following 10 points of information further explain the kinds of detailed, practical business information that are available:

1. Business Startups

There is tons of information on how to start a business, but almost nothing on starting a SPECIFIC KIND of business. We have scoured the Internet for just this kind of information and brought it all together in one, convenient, easy to use location.

2. Home-based Business

According to the latest census information (2002), the number of businesses with one or more owners but no paid employees grew nationwide from 17.0 million to more than 17.6 million.

Approximately 600,000 new businesses started in the United States. This represents a growth rate of 3.9 percent, an increase from 2.7 percent over the previous year. These are small businesses which make up more than 70 percent of all businesses.

They may be run by one or more individuals, can range from home-based businesses to corner stores or construction contractors and often are part-time ventures with owners operating more than one business at a time.

Are you one of these people? Are you thinking about joining the ranks of the self-employed? We have all the information you need right at your fingertips.

3. Money & Finance

Income, revenues, cash flow, P&L, balance sheets… If these terms are foreign to you, we have just what you need – the best information on money and finance for small business, step-by-step instructions that will lead you to the pathways of financial success.

The tools that help you build your business bigger profits in a shorter amount of time.

4. Taxes & Accounting

Are your receipts scattered around in several piles? Do you have them all saved in an old show box? We can provide you with information that can show you how to organize your financial records and take (some of) the pain away from tax time.

You’ll find accounting methodologies and techniques for getting the biggest slice of the pie and paying no more than your fair share of taxes.

5. Internet Marketing & Sales

Marketing & Sales is the lifeblood of any small business. We carry products that can help you market and sell your product or service like a seasoned professional.

There are books on Internet marketing strategies that can literally produce thousands of sales per week. Plus we have resources that can show you how you can sell and market anything online.

Don’t know much about sales? We can help! We offer information on learning sales techniques that you can use in any business. Practical core selling skills that can be used anywhere.

6. Website Design

The core to any Internet business is the website. We have an abundance of resources that can show you the proper strategies to use when creating a website, how to go about actually coding in the website, graphics, audio, video, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, and much, much more.

We can show you how to take the mystery out of creating a website and turn you into a webmaster. It really isn’t very difficult at all. And the more you know, the more you can do.

Learn how to create effective ad banners, use forms to collect customer email addresses, run user polls, use RSS news feeds, and hundreds of other great, profit enhancing techniques.

7. eBook Self-Publishing

The absolute best way to extend your knowledge, share important information on tightly focused subjects, expand your grasp of leading-edge concepts, and become fully aware of the surrounding vast universe of information that is the Internet, is through the eBook.

Our extensive library of ebooks cover a wide range of subject matter all geared toward the new, or soon-to-be-new, business owner. Learn how to create a hot-selling eBook in 7-days or less. Discover the secrets to ebook publishing success. Find out how you can make online profits in as little as 30 days; it’s all right here.
8. Motivation & Inspiration

Fire, energy, and passion – these are the things that drive an entrepreneur forward. When the rest of the world says you can’t and you believe in your heart that you can the drive to succeed is like a fire in your soul.

But, we are all only human, subject to disappointments, setbacks, and failures. When your have run out of steam and have stalled along the road to success, nothing goes farther than a little bit of motivation and inspiration.

Find the right message to rekindle your entrepreneurial fires, become inspired to move forward and carry on. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and take those next few steps toward success. Re-ignite the passion that got you started, live each day for what you were meant to do, find the energy to push yourself to the peak and say “I have done it.”

We have just the right motivational and inspirational products that can help you pull yourself up out of the blues and keep you moving on the path of enlightenment.

9. Newsletter

The newsletter is one of the most widely used forms of business communication in use today. They are typically jam-packed full of useful business articles, how-to guides, business news, guest columns, and thought provoking editorials.

Newsletters come in weekly, monthly and sometimes quarterly flavors. These publications cover a wide variety of subject matter from what’s going on in Washington, SBA happenings, and the latest business rules and regulations to obtaining grant money to start a business, tax laws, and how we can better our lives through helping others, plus many, many more topics.

The e-InfoCenter Newsletter is a feature-packed value, and if you subscribe right now, you can get a 1-year subscription absolutely FREE.

Forget about keeping up with the Jones’, try keeping up with the business world instead!

10. Business Startup Guide Kits

We carry complete business startup packages that can guide you throughout the processes it takes to structure, establish, and create a living, breathing honest-to-goodness business.

Learn how to start almost ANY kind of business, such as:

~ A Daycare Business

~ A Catering Business

~ A Cleaning Business

~ A Web Design Business

~ A Graphic Design Business

~ How to Become a Real Estate Agent

~ Becoming an Event Planner

~ Starting a Bed And Breakfast

~ Becoming a Professional Organizer

And there are many, many more. These Startup Guide Kits will show you everything you need to know all in one handy package.

With economic instability constantly rupturing the business environment, people find themselves out of work or forced into an early retirement. And with Social Security’s uncertain future, what is a person supposed to do?

Starting and running your own successful business is probably the best answer. And where can you find the best information about starting a business in high-quality products, at an excellent value, with unparalleled customer service?

Just where can people find information about starting a business?

One of the best places is right on the Internet, at e-infocenter.com.