Tim Allen

Tim Allen is a freelance writer with experience in the small business, finance, and legal fields. Examples of his work both longform and short can be found on financing sites like Credibly, Yellowstone Capital, RabidOfficeMonkey, and AllTopStartups.

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Questions To Ask Before Starting A Business

Or Why I Didn't Open My Restaurant

Tim Allen

October 18, 2016

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Starting your own business, as you’ve heard from a million other people, is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Nothing like becoming your own boss and striking out for the American Dream™, right?

Or at least that’s what they tell me. Me, I come from a long family of people with greatideasfor businesses that never quite work out, and I’m on that list myself. A while back I went vegetarian, and after learning how occasionally difficult it could be to find restaurants that can cater to my dietary needs, I briefly considered opening my own!

“Briefly”, of course, being the amount of time it took me to figure out maybe it wasn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon. But along the way I learned some valuable lessons about what to do when planning a new business and the sort of questions you should ask, and I’d like to take the time to share them all with you here! Who knows, maybe it’ll help you figure a few things out before you give up on your ideas like I did!

What kind of business do I want to open? Every small business should open because you’re meeting a need of some kind. Maybe there’s a growing area of business that isn’t being served in your area, like web design. Maybe you want to open a specialty retail store to meet your interests and serve a specific niche fanbase. Or maybe, like me, you just want somewhere you can get a tempeh burger and hummus without having to drive an hour away. There’s plenty of ways to figure this out (Entrepreneur has some pretty great articles), but whatever you do, make sure you really settle on what you want your business to be and what it’s doing early on - switching gears later on could cause a much bigger problem.

How long will it take, and do I have the time? Unless you’re the kind of full-time entrepreneur that only exists in movies, you’re going to need a lot of time to devote to figuring out the nuts and bolts of your business. You’ll need to find a location, you’ll need to plan inventory, if you’re like me you’re going to have to sit down and figure out a menu...and all of this is going to be a pretty big time investment, especially if you already have a job. The Balance advises that it will “always take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think it will” and gives a warning of anywhere between 2-3 months just to find a location, and that’s before thehard stuff begins.

Where am I going to open it?I don’t mean specifically even finding the right office, storefront, or location - even if that is terribly important - but I mean where, geographically, you think your business can thrive.

Let me give you a personal example. Back in my example of attempting to open a vegetarian restaurant, I was having a real hard time figuring out where I even wanted to open it. At the time I was living in a small suburb right outside of Detroit, which posed some issues. Property in Detroit wasn’t too expensive and there was a decent-sized vegetarian/vegan market out there, but that means I would have had some stiff competition from some pretty well-established restaurants out that way. If I’d opened it a little closer to where I was living, I’d have been able to corner the vegetarian market but my town wasn’texactlya hotbed for alternative diets. I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: try to figure out what your audience will be and how to most easily serve their needs without running into a lot of competition or similar businesses.

How much will it cost, and how am I going to pay for it?This is always a fun one. Plenty of places exist to get startup loans for small businesses like the SBA, private lenders, banks, and so on. Don’t worry too much about this before you complete these other steps, as your estimated cost is going to change a million times before you get to the point where you actually need to come up with the money.

In fact, now would be a good time to figure out how much you’ll need.Try to do as much research as possible - talk to other businesses in the area to find out about property rates and taxes, look into supplies and inventory, and try to see if anyone has discussed how much it cost them to open a similar business online. Places like the Small Business Administration and Credibly have guides on how to figure out how much it might cost to open your own business and what kind of profits you can expect...but it’s important to remember that these are all estimates, and it isn’t good to get all your eggs in one basket. (Or vegan egg substitute, as the case may be.)

When can I get started?Finally, you need to ask yourself what has to happen to make the transition from whatever you do now to your new business. For me, this was one of the biggest sticking points. I’m one of those Millenials without a lot of savings or assets, and considering my restaurant would have likely taken up all of my waking hours, I would have had to work up enough savings from my current job to get by before my restaurant became my source of income...which could have taken a while. If your new business won’t demand your full attention or require you to quit your day job, all the better, but these are things you’ll have to plan for before striking out on your own.

I know it’s a long list and most of these sound like a huge PITA, and I know I didn’t actually ever wind up opening a business, but there’s an old Buddhist saying that roughly goes “if you want to know the road ahead, ask someone coming back”. And heck, maybe if you try all these steps, you’ll be more successful than I was!


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