"Boss, I have to leave the office,"
"Because the office is on fire!"
This was the conversation I had with my assistant one unforgettable morning less than 30 days after I made the big decision to take my home-based business out of my house and into commercial office space. While we did recover from the fire, this was not the only challenge we'd face in our 12 years of operation -- nor would this be the first time that I'd ask myself, "Why did I decide to start a business?"
Currently, there is an unprecedented opportunity for working and unemployed professionals to start their own business. Both the private and public sector have rallied behind entrepreneurship, dubbing small business the new "engine of job creation." I first began my business in 2001 not because of a deep-seated dream to become an entrepreneur, but because I had recently lost my job in a spectacular dot.com explosion. Similar to the economic free fall many American workers find themselves in today, I had to re-invent myself quickly with minimal start-up capital and even less business "know-how." Those early days were tough: How will I locate new clients? How will I make enough money to pay my bills? What will people think if I cannot make this work? These fears were echoed by close friends and even family who often looked strained whenever I spoke of my entrepreneurial plans.
Despite these responses and my own anxiety, I continued on. It was hard work, long hours, and there were many times when I wanted to give up and just go get a job. But with persistence, I eventually built a client base and hired my first employee.
Twelve years later, Exalt Resources LLC is a thriving HR outsourcing firm that helps clients who seek to reduce their risk and lower their overhead with a simple and affordable HR management solution. Our organization is making a positive impact by helping our clients operate in a compliant and responsible fashion.
If I had to do it all over again would I? You bet. The rewards of business ownership far outweigh the hard times. For instance, it has allowed me to consistently work a flexible schedule and take my child to and from school for most of his academic life -- a precious commodity that I don't take for granted that many working moms covet.
More important, small business ownership has uniquely positioned me to not only give back to the community in which we operate, but to make a substantial contribution to economic development (and recovery) by creating employment opportunities for others. Accurate and deliberate business management is essential because the results have the ability to impact not only the business owner but also the staff (and their families) who count on their paycheck. Despite this enormous responsibility, the feeling of giving back and making one small impact on the economic sustainability of our country (and yes, it's that significant), is a humbling honor.
What advice would I give to someone who desires to start a new enterprise?
Learn the basics of business management - No matter how much experience you've accumulated working for others, owning your own business is a totally different animal. Look for opportunities that will increase your success and expand your knowledge such as the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Initiative. Since graduating the program, we've doubled our staff and revenue. We contribute this growth to the concepts, strategies, and relationships we gained in the program. Programs like this make it possible for business owners to access a first-class business education, without the cost and time commitment found in a traditional academic setting.
Provide exceptional customer service - This one doesn't cost a penny and most of your competitors ignore the beauty of this simple but powerful practice. Our business development is primarily driven by referrals. Those referrals continue to manifest because of our unwavering commitment to provide exceptional customer service. Period.
Go for the long shots - I'm a contest junkie and firmly believe that the unlikely opportunities are the ones most people won't even attempt. This one single practice has triggered my biggest business victories and has helped me to meet phenomenal individuals who have become trusted mentors whom I might not normally have access to.
Don't grow your business in isolation - I learned this early on from one of my incredible mentors. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely road unless you take deliberate steps to network with other business owners. Accountability is absolutely essential to your success. In addition, having a good mentor will provide you with the coaching you need to progressively grow your business. Remember, even the most gifted athletes and artists have coaches, you are no different.
Fear of failure (or of success) can be a dream killer. Moving out of one's comfort zone and into uncharted waters can create both excitement and great anxiety. It's ok to be fearful, just learn to operate in spite of. And remember, some of life's sweetest successes come on the heels of hard work and perseverance.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.