Gathering Your Thoughts and Resources

Last month’s column asked questions to help get you started in the process of defining the why and what of your business idea…  The groundwork for starting the business is laid by determining
–    what you want
–    what the business will “be”
–    what talents, skills, and experiences you are bringing to the business
–    what resources you will need, and
–    why you want to launch a business.

Having a clear identity for yourself and your business is critical to your success.

How clearly you can define your business – what problem or issue your business solves for your customer – the easier it is to begin marketing and developing the company to deliver on the “promise” of the business.  Clarity of vision enables you to focus in on the specific customers you want to market and sell to.  Furthermore, it enables you to identify and quantify the resources you need to generate the “product” (this includes services), deliver it, and seek out customers.

Understanding the “how” of what your business needs to do puts you on the path DOING all the required business activities.  The tools to be in business differ from the tools to do business. Think of it this way, the tools to do business are the skills, abilities, and expertise needed to create the “product” the customer is buying.  The business tools are functional roles and activities that support the operational aspects of the business – accounting, human resources, purchasing, legal, etc.

While many businesses start with only one person – solo entrepreneurs – they certainly won’t be (or shouldn’t be) solo operations.  Very few people are equipped to handle all of the transactional aspects of business, for example legal and tax aspects of business are areas that can be quite complex and create lots of issues for a business if not done properly.  So having resources available to advise, consult, or perform these tasks is important to every business.

Finding the “right” resources can be tough.  Often the case is that you can identify lots of lawyers, accountants, “consultants”, and “coaches”.  Finding resources isn’t difficult.  Finding the right mix of expertise and experience for your needs can be.  For instance, do you need different attorneys general business/corporate, intellectual property (copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc.), employment law or tax?

The selection of any advisor depends, in part, upon the type of business.  A technology corporate attorney would not be the logical choice for a not-for-profit services company.  The attorney is certainly able to do some aspects of the work but may not be familiar with particular idiosyncrasies of not-for-profit issues and regulations. It may take more time (and money) for that attorney to represent you.

As you identify advisors, you learn there are differences in service providers and product vendors that extend beyond credentials.  One difference is whether or not they can identify and answer questions that will be of special concern to you.  An added challenge is if you don’t know how to screen vendors – how to ask the exact question you want or need answered – then the “learning” process can be expensive – either in dollars spent on the wrong resource or in missed opportunities and consequences of unsound decisions that impact the customer.

Before scheduling an appointment with prospective service providers or vendors, develop a list of standard questions that you will ask every vendor, such as references, experience with similar companies, prices, as well as questions which relate only to the specific company or person to whom you are talking.  You will want concrete answers, not just personal biases to questions such as these: – what is the difference between an LLC and an S corporation? – which accounting software package would you recommend and why?

One of my clients put it this way – mathematics is about numbers and accounting uses numbers – they aren’t the same.  Understand that when you talk to area experts, the response will depend upon their experience and viewpoint.  A generalist and a specialist will answer the same question differently; and a business expert will provide a business point-of-view.

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