Boo Zamek was a mother of two young children when she started a business from her home two years ago publishing a community e-newsletter. She wanted the same things many of us want when we turn to self-employment — prosperity and a work life that is truly one's own. What she got was all of that and a few bags under her eyes that she calls her badge of honor.
Entrepreneurship — starting a business from your kitchen table and growing it into a money-making machine — has always looked glamorous. But as Zamek pointed out to an audience of wanna-be entrepreneurs last month, "It is so much harder than working for someone else. You make major sacrifices."
As moderator of a discussion on home-based businesses and entrepreneurship at the Miami Herald Small Business Forum on Feb. 25, I prodded Zamek, founder of Just Ask Boo, to share the highs and lows of being a business owner and super mom. I asked Bill Hansen, a more experienced entrepreneur with 30 years under his belt, to give us a look at what sacrifices he has made and which ones were worth it. I also implored Rafael Cruz, regional director with the Small Business Development Center, and Marta Sastre, regional sales coordinator for Aflac, to share their insights as advisers to small businesses and startups.
One of the biggest misnomers, the panelists revealed, is the belief that by owning your own business you can have a 9-to-5 day: go to the gym or have lunch with your child every day and shut down in time for dinner. It's just not realistic, Zamek said.
Starting a business means you need to be extremely focused in order to have some work-life balance. You also need to know when to hire and when to delegate.
Down markets create many opportunities
There is opportunity in small business. With startups reaching a four-year high, Cruz is convinced that the potential is huge: "Businesses born in a tough environment become stronger by necessity." However, being strong requires planning. Regardless of what stage your business is in, you must plan for the future — and keep planning — to avoid the land mines of entrepreneurship. "Business planning is not something you finish," Cruz said. "It is a way of thinking, a process."
Right now, business planning means seizing the opportunities this down market creates. For Hansen, owner of Bill Hansen Catering of Miami, one of those opportunities has been the chance to hire great people at a lower cost.
For those just starting out, hiring even one person can be tricky but often necessary for work-life balance. Start by knowing your strengths and bringing in help in the areas where you are weak, the experts say. Business owners tend to want to hire people like themselves or give their out-of-work cousin Vinnie a job. Don't do it, warned Cruz.
"You need to bring someone who can add to the business and help it grow. You don't want to be surrounded by people like you, but rather by people who are different from you."
Handing over reins when it makes sense
Another difficult area for business owners to navigate is when and how to give up some control. Once you hire staffers, use them and teach them how to take on tasks, Sastre said. She considers it crucial to work-life balance and business growth. "Your most valuable thing in business is your time. Most owners know how to do it and want to do it all. You need to delegate or you won't be able to grow because you cannot be in three or four places at the same time."
Hansen knows this from personal experience: "For my first 20 years, I did everything myself. I answered the telephone. I loaded the truck. I did it all. Then I reached a point in my mid-50s when I realized that I wasn't going to do it all anymore. I began to surround myself with people who did various jobs much better than I did."
Hiring is not the only option to bringing aboard additional expertise. Zamek said she built an advisory board for her business and stocked it with people in the community who know about publishing, networking and public relations. She uses them selectively to avoid requiring too much of their time. "If they feel you have good, solid questions and a good biz idea, they are going to want to help you."
Many have discovered that building a business requires sticking closely to your vision if you want to keep your family life.
"Don't drown in a sea of opportunity," Zamek said. "People tell me, 'You should do this or that.' I keep it in a folder, and maybe someday I will. But if you try to do too many things, you're not focusing. You have to keep your eye on the ball, or it's just not going to work."