Answer 8 key questions to assess whether you are ready to be your own boss.
Many trainers dream of starting their own business but fail to truly soul-search their values, vision and mission before the business plan is written. While being your own boss and reaping the rewards of operating a successful endeavor are exciting possibilities, there are a number of realistic questions to ask yourself—and answer honestly—before committing your time and dollars.
Many people tend to glamorize the adventure without considering the less savory parts of day-to-day operations. Owning and operating a business has its advantages, but in order to realize them, you must recognize the never-ending challenges and meet them head on.
The following 8 questions can help you develop a strategic plan and vision for your business. They also may be the reality check you need to realize that, while it’s a nice dream, being an entrepreneur may not be the best path for you at this time in your career.
One of the factors most often underestimated in the business plan is time. Between developing a plan, seeking out a location, designing the studio, getting equipment, setting up systems, devising marketing and public relations plans and coping with day-to-day operations, you could be investing hundreds or thousands of hours.
Of course, once your business starts showing a profit, you can hire staff and delegate some of your responsibilities. However, acknowledge the fact that when things go wrong or you lose a staff member, you are the only one who can remedy the situation. As the owner, you are responsible for everything. As much as we love the idea of entrepreneurial freedom, with it comes entrepreneurial commitment, which can mean that you literally work around the clock.
It’s challenging to make business decisions that may not always be popular or positively affect staff. When making such decisions, base them on what is best for the business and what will keep it strong. You may have to let a trainer go or promote one employee over another who felt more qualified. Facing the fallout can be difficult, but knowing you made the decisions with your vision and mission statements in mind can lighten your burden. When these challenges arise, examine whether the decision falls within the values and mission that you have set for yourself, your staff and your business. Solid business decisions are made when you’ve got a tight plan to follow, because it takes the guesswork out of the decision-making process.
A great idea doesn’t always translate into a great business. This is where your business plan comes into play. Once you start putting numbers to your idea, you will begin to see what’s needed to pull everything together financially. Ultimately, you want to know that you’re actually going to make money. If you don’t know how you’re going to finance your business, you may find yourself out of business and in debt in very short order. (For a detailed look at writing a business plan, see “Blueprint of a Startup,” June 2003 IDEA Personal Trainer, p. 15.)
One of the upsides to having a supervisor is the accountability factor. Employees tend to stay on task because they understand there are ramifications for not doing so. But when you have only yourself to answer to, it is easy to get off track and work “in” the business instead of working “on” it. As an owner, it is imperative that you discipline yourself to spend time on the areas that will be key to the growth of your company.
Many owners tend to spend too much time training or tucked in the back office working “in” the business when they should be putting energy into other vital growth areas such as community involvement, networking and the development of profit centers. If you have the support, delegate day-to-day tasks to staff members.
Another tough-to-swallow reality of business ownership is having to be a jack-of-all-trades. When I first opened my doors, I was the janitorial staff, the interior design staff and the accountant. I completed these jobs myself as part and parcel of everyday operations. Whether it’s scrubbing bathrooms or wiping down equipment, when you first open your doors—and until it makes sense financially to hire someone (you’ll know from your business plan)—these tasks will be yours to handle.
It’s crucial that you not only develop a plan for your business but also prepare a plan for your personal life and “down” time. It goes without saying that the first year or so of being in business for yourself, you will work overtime pretty consistently. Try to balance that by blending in some downtime to manage the stress. My rule of thumb is to take 1 hour to do something fun or non-business-related for every 10 hours I put into my business. This strategy has proved invaluable! Be careful not to get sucked into the “all work and no play” syndrome.
You are a role model not only to your clients but also to your staff. If they see you burning the candle at both ends and not balancing your lifestyle, it doesn’t speak well of your management abilities.
The answer to this question has to be a resounding “Yes!” Creating a business from nothing is a risk. Getting a loan, hiring staff and purchasing equipment, fixtures, etc., are all risks. Most entrepreneurs don’t think about the “what if?”; they focus on “what’s next?” Taking risks is ongoing throughout the life of a business. Every time you expand, add a new program or bring on a new employee you are taking a risk. But if you believe in what you are doing and have a sound business plan, the potential for success far outweighs any risks you may face.
You’re in the people industry, so a solid yes to this question is a step in the right direction. Being a good manager, boss and business owner requires excellent people skills. Some folks come by these naturally, and others may need to read books or attend seminars on people skills and interpersonal skills. Once a year I hand out a questionnaire and ask my staff to critique my managing style. My openness to their suggestions and advice helps us all work together more fluidly. With strong people skills you can build a strong team that is willing to stick with you through thick and thin!
Owning and operating a business is a double-edged sword. The benefits outweigh the challenges more often than not, but when you’re having a particularly challenging month or something unforeseen hits the economy and affects your business, you may begin to second-guess yourself. A true entrepreneur figures out how to roll with the punches and rise to any occasion. After 20-plus years in this industry, owning a business still poses unforeseen challenges for me. No matter what problems are placed before me, there are always new and exciting opportunities to explore.
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1. State Your Values
This statement forms the basis of how you want to run your business. Be very clear about what your values are and how you will incorporate them into your business. Your values will affect every facet of operations, from staff to clients. Creating a business that reflects who you are will give you fulfillment in your work and increase the likelihood of your success. For example, it may be important to you that your club welcomes people of all sizes and shapes, turning no one away. Or perhaps convenience for your clients is very important to you, so the idea of mobile or in-home training intrigues you.
Your value system is the foundation of your strategic planning process and must be congruent with your organizational goals. Creating your vision by defining your value system will allow your organization to run more efficiently, productively and consistently. List and share with staff your core values so employees have a handle on how you run your business. Some will buy into your values while others may not. Those who do not will move on, and you’ll be left with a staff that abides by and respects your business philosophy.
2. Formulate Your Vision
Once you are clear on your values and how they’ll play into your business’s formation, it’s time to figure out what your vision—the future of your business—looks like. Do you foresee three facilities with a staff of more than 50 offering the latest and most advanced exercise classes and equipment, or would you rather have a small, very personal studio that specializes in niche populations? Perhaps the idea of phone coaching is appealing. Whatever your desire, what do you see 3 and 5 years from now? Your vision will assist your planning process because you will “see” where you want to go.
3. Articulate Your Mission
Your mission statement defines you and your company. Your entire staff should know and understand it. Your organization’s mission statement must portray your business as it will be. The statement should focus on a common purpose and be specific to your organization. Be brief with your mission; generally limit it to one or two sentences. A helpful rule of thumb is that the statement should be written so that a 12-year-old can easily understand it.
4. Understand Your Objectives
Like so many entrepreneurial optimists, I believed that within a year of opening my training business I’d be a millionaire. I thought, “If I train all of my own clients, I can double the money I have been making.” Right? Wrong! My objective initially was to double my income, but I learned all too soon that succeeding in business was much more complex than that. While the potential exists for you to become financially successful, if your objective is solely to make big money, then you may be disappointed in the beginning when you are introduced to the harsh business reality called overhead. Employees rarely have a grasp of what the actual costs are to run a business. They see the money coming, in but they don’t see it going out for expenses such as phones, business cards, uniforms, advertising and equipment, to name just a few overhead costs.
Maybe it’s your objective to own and operate a facility that offers unique services or provides training for a certain demographic segment that sets you apart. If you value prestige, certainly the idea of owning your own business may fulfill this. Maybe you want to own a business because you like the idea of having the freedom to make your own rules. Maybe being in charge of a business fills a need for control, which may be an important issue for you.
Whatever your objectives are, ensure that your business plan will help you achieve them.
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