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Business is easier to dream than start

It's something a lot of people dream about.

Here's how the fantasy starts:

First, you tell the boss exactly what you think of him/her.

Next, you open up that little (restaurant/consulting firm/day care center. You fill in the blank.) business.

Then, you live happily ever after, working a job you like, maybe in your own home, with no boss and flexible hours.

That's the dream. In reality, most small businesses fail.

But if the crowds that came to Pasco's Business Development Week are any indication, the dream is very much alive. The week of seminars and speeches was designed to help educate small business owners and potential small business owners so they will be more successful.

Roughly 140 people came to the first seminar Tuesday, titled "Starting a Small Business _ the Necessary Steps." Other seminars also were well attended.

"We are breaking all (attendance) records for the state in terms of attendance," said Dewey Mitchell, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which helped sponsor the four-day event.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, which also sponsored the event, told organizers to expect fewer than 20 people in each seminar. Most of last week's seminars attracted at least three times that.

"Everything has been a great success," Mitchell said.

Here are a few tips from the seminars I attended.

While a lot of people think they want to start a small business, everybody is not cut out for it. Irene J. Hurst, management consultant for the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida, said there are as many cons as pros in going into business for yourself.

"Do something you really, really like because you're going to be doing a lot of it," Hurst advised.

Many people who start small businesses often work 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week and take no vacation for a few years, she said.

"Are you able to not have eight hours sleep a night?" she asked.

While small business owners control their own fate, they have little job security and the stress level is higher than in other careers, Hurst said.

And you might want to think twice about starting your own business, if you don't like selling things because, "It doesn't matter what business you start, you are going to be a sales person," she said.

She also talked about the importance of providing a product or service that is in demand, not just needed. She suggested looking at the competition before leaping into a business.

"Is the market big enough to support the ones who are already in business, plus you?" she said.

Making sure that your new business has enough money is extremely important. Undercapitalization is a common reason for small business failure.

And it will probably take more money than you think. You need to have enough to survive without any customers for a while. And, when you project your sales figures, divide your estimate by two, she advised.

At another seminar, financial experts had equally somber news.

"In a lot of cases, banks won't deal with start-ups at all," unless the SBA guarantees the loans, said the SBA's Lynn Williams.

But SBA has some requirements of its own, including requiring that the borrower put up about one-third of the start-up costs.

Still, with the SBA's backing, banks are willing to lend money to businesses, said Bob Upton of Barnett Bank of Pasco County.

In fact, there's so much competition among lenders now, a small business might be able to negotiate for the best deal.

"I think it's very important to shop around," Upton said.

Michelle Delorme of Presidential Finance talked about a short-term loan that is available to help businesses with cash flow problems.

For instance, a business gets a large order that will bring in a big profit. The trouble is the business doesn't have enough money to buy the materials to fill the order.

In cases like that, some lenders such as Presidential Finance may loan the business owner enough money to buy the raw materials using the purchase order as collateral for the loan, Delorme said.

Businesses also can arrange ahead of time to set up lines of credit that they can draw on for large orders. Sometimes business owners might not have to borrow money if they can talk their suppliers into waiting for payment, Upton said.

Charlie Amaral, training manager for McDonald's in Tampa Bay, talked on the importance of customer satisfaction to business.

If McDonald's satisfied 99.9 percent of its customers, "We would still have turned off 18,000 customers a day," Amaral said.

He stressed that business owners need to find out what they are doing right and what they could improve by polling customers and non-customers. It's not good enough to wait for them to complain, he said.

"Ninety-four percent of people who complain will never tell you," he said. "Most people will just not use you again."

Even scarier, those unhappy people will tell "20 to 40 people _ friends, relatives, people they don't even know (that they are unhappy), because we are negative by nature," Amaral said.

If you can get them to complain, you might be able to make them happy, he said. If you can satisfy complainers, you may get half of them to come back again. If you not only mollify them but give them more than they expected to get out of the complaint, then 90 percent will come back, he said.

"If somebody's missing his french fries, he would have to have 12 more positive experiences before he will trust you again," Amaral said.

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