Preparing to start your own business

Career Corner

In my years of speaking with clients about their careers, I’ve often encountered people with entrepreneurial spirit but a real fear of starting their own business.

It is intimidating. Where to start? There’s an ever-increasing amount of information and advice and a decreasing amount of time to sift through it all. I’ve talked with Andrea Hughes of Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and Michelle Somes-Booher of the UW–Madison Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to round up a few simple yet vital tips to consider if you find yourself eager to start a business.

Assess yourself. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. That’s okay and important to know. Are you risk-averse? Do you have passion, motivation, and optimism? Does creativity run in your veins? Be honest with yourself and think about these and other personality traits that lend themselves to entrepreneurism. Check out an informal readiness quiz at entrepreneur.com.

Research and learn. There’s an endless supply of information these days. Luckily, you can narrow it down by starting locally. Take the free, online course called First Steps to Starting a Business through the SBDC. Attend a free Thinking of Starting a Business class through WWBIC. Take advantage of other great resources from these organizations on their websites. For a more involved bootcamp, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation offers UpStart, a free program for minority and women entrepreneurs.

Build your network. Even though owning your own business can seem like a solo venture, don’t go it alone. The Madison area has become an entrepreneurial hub, so there’s a wide array of human resources. Get mentoring services from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), Capital Entrepreneurs, the Doyenne Group, or Merlin Mentors. Join a local coworking space. Attend a local startup fair or free weekly entrepreneur gathering hosted by 1 Million Cups Madison. Connecting with others will boost your chances of success.

Get finances in order. Undercapitalization is a common pitfall in starting your own business. You don’t have to be rich, but you should have a financial plan and reach out for other funding sources as needed. From the start, separate your home and business accounting and finances. You can start by registering an LLC with the State of Wisconsin. Also, note that you should have six months of living expenses saved before starting a business.

Take a first step. Once you’ve done your homework, push the launch button. Your business doesn’t have to take off like a rocket, but it won’t start itself. Push past the fear and be confident that you’ve prepared as much as possible. Even small steps—testing products with family or launching your website—will give you momentum. Your foundation of support and resources will help guide you.

One entrepreneur I spoke with added some of the most sound—and often overlooked—advice: Don’t ignore your health and your family at the expense of starting your business. Keep a holistic perspective and enjoy the journey.

Career corner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. April McHugh, career and educational counselor, can be reached at april.mchugh@wisc.edu. This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.