Starting a business
Sallie Williard feels like she’s arrived. Sort of.
Williard, owner of A Country Garden, a flower shop in Dillon, opened her doors in 2001. Her business, which depends on “destination” wedding parties ” people from out of town coming to Summit County to get married ” has ridden out the hard times.
“I stretched myself pretty thin,” Williard said. “I did a lot myself.”
As the travel business bounced back the recession of 2001 and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 of that year, Williard’s business bounced back, too. Better yet, she’s just been recognized by a national wedding-planning magazine. She’s glad now she decided to stick things out for “one more year” in 2002.
But Williard still feels a bit like she’s just started. She’s always in business for “one more year,” she said.
“You have to stay diligent,” she said. “It’s really a year-by-year process.”
David Dempsey started that year-by-year process this year. Striking out on his own about a year ago, he incorporated his new company, Managed Data, on Jan. 1 of this year.
Dempsey, Managed Data’s creator and sole employee, provides off-site data backup to local companies and can also handle computer upgrades and management.
Dempsey struck out on his own last year when it became obvious things weren’t working out with his previous job.
After several months of taking on independent consulting and repair work, as well as spending some time as a raft guide, the idea for Managed Data came to him, and he started laying the groundwork for that.
So far, Dempsey is making it work, mostly on effort and pluck. And, he said, he has no regrets.
“Last year I made less money than I ever had,” Dempsey said. “But somehow I managed to make it all work. It’s so different. You’re always at work, but in another way, your time is always your own.”
A lot of entrepreneurs strike out on their own with an idea and not much more. Those who have plans, though, are likely to get farther at the bank.
Scott Proper is a vice president at the Edwards branch of Millennium Bank. He said the more he sees on paper, the better risk a potential borrower is.
“In general people who walk in here are pretty sophisticated,” Proper said. “They’ve done their research, and come in with projections, strategies, and a statement of what they’ll do to generate revenue.”
Some of Proper’s best clients come in with paperwork that highlights their skills and specialties. Others can answer tough questions ” such as what expenses they expect ” that a non-expert can’t answer.
That’s part of what Proper called an owner’s contribution to a new business, the things that can’t be unloaded on moving day. Still, some ventures work, and other’s don’t.
“You never know,” Proper said. “YouTube went from two guys in a garage to selling for $1.4 billion in a matter of months. On the other side, the guy who invented the best horse carriage in the world in 1910 didn’t make it.”
Kevin Allen had worked in the computer business for more than a decade. He landed in the Vail Valley as the information technology manager for the Ritz-Carlton hotel at Beaver Creek. It wasn’t until he moved to Colorado that he found a way to start his own business.
“I’d been thinking about it for several years,” Allen said. “But when I was in Silicon Valley, that wasn’t the time or place to open a computer repair shop. I got out here and I found more than a niche.”
The people in the computer repair business in the Vail Valley are beyond busy, Allen said.
“The demand was much higher than they could meet,” he said.
Allen saw his chance, and opened his own shop Jan. 1. Business has been good, if up and down, Allen said. One of the problems, he said, is exposure.
“Look at a place like Market Computers in Vail,” Allen said. “They’re right in City Market. People aren’t constantly reminded I’m here.”
For now, Allen continues to work out of the basement of his home near Eagle. But he’s looking for a way to get out the word he’s open.
That’s where business consultant Nancy Robbins comes in.
Robbins, owner of Headwards Business Services in Edwards, has been helping entrepreneurs since 1993. In that time, her own business has evolved, too, from a home office to a larger rented office with employees. These days, she’s back in her home office, mainly in order to spend more time with her growing kids.
Headwards has a mix of new and steady clients, who rely on Robbins for a mixture of accounting and advice.
Every business is different, of course, but Robbins believes there are some constants.
“Keep things simple,” she said. “You need a good team, a banker, an attorney, they should be someone you trust.”
Budding business owners also need to take a long look into themselves, Robbins said.
“You need to look at your strengths, at what you’re willing to do,” she said.
So where might an entrepreneur find an opportunity? Robbins believes there’s a growing need for personal services.
“People are busier than ever these days,” she said. “There’s a need for help for them.”
Those types of businesses, if they succeed, will provide what Wiliard believes every small business needs to provide.
“I’ve always tried very, very hard to give people the best product at the best price and the best service I possibly can,” Williard said. “If you deliver that, you’ll be all right.”
Robbins had another piece of what seems like obvious advice.
“I always encourage people to be sure that whatever they do, they enjoy it, and not just start a business for the sake of starting a business,” she said.
These tips for fledgling business owners come from nolo.com, a do-it-yourself legal Web site:
– Show yourself the money. Do the financial plan ” how will money come into your business every month, and what will it really cost to operate? Do this on paper, not in your head.
– If it’s a hobby, it’s hobby, and that’s OK. If you don’t expect to make a profit, however, you generally cannot deduct the expenses, at least not for long (The IRS will figure this out, too.)
– Use independent contractors when you can. When you hire employees, it is a whole different ball game in terms of responsibilities.
– Business is business and friends are friends. Never do business with friends. If you ignore that, don’t ignore this: Never do business with friends without writing down your deal. That goes for family too.
– Learn from others’ mistakes. If you can, first work (or volunteer) for someone else in the business. Join a trade association. Take someone in the biz to lunch.
Everybody remembers their mistakes, and who can resist giving advice?
– Use free help. America’s business is business, reflected in the myriad of free business resources. Local small business development centers and sba.gov will get you started. For in-person consultations with actual retired businesspeople, go to SCORE (score.org). They’ve seen it all.
– Pay attention to your gut (unless you already know you’re paranoid). If the deal doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
– There are bullies in business, just like in high school. Never let yourself be rushed into a decision.
– Be a cheapskate. Keep your business in your home until your mate wants to leave you. Hold off on hiring an employee until your children threaten to turn you in for violating child labor laws. We exaggerate, but you get the idea.
– Give yourself a back door. Commitment and a belief in your business are essential to business success. However, you’ll alleviate a lot of anxiety (and get more sleep) if you develop an exit strategy. Cautious optimism is key.
Some start-ups that really, really worked out well:
– William Hewlett and David Packard started Hewlett-Packard in a garage in Alto Alto, California.
– Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started Apple Computer in the Jobs’ family garage.
– Gary Clif, founder of the Clif Bar, was living in a garage with his dog when genius struck.
– Gary Fisher, a founder of the sport of mountain biking and owner of Gary Fisher Bikes, began by building bikes in a rented garage in Marin County, California.
– Jake Warner, founder of Nolo, wanted to start his business in the garage, but he didn’t have one because he was too broke to afford a car. He used his attic instead.
– Small businesses (those with 500 or fewer employees) employ half of all private sector workers in the United States.
– Small business accounts for 45 percent of this country’s private sector payroll.
– Small business generates between 60 and 80 percent of all new jobs.
– Home based businesses make up 53 percent of all businesses in the U.S.
– Of the 25.8 million U.S. businesses, 18.6 are sole-proprietor operations.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.