What is it people most want to know about small business? This is a question I deal with a lot—every day, actually—since I started writing a Q&A small business column for USA TODAY twenty years ago. Called “Ask an Expert,” my column responds to the most common—and the most uncommon—questions that people have about small business. The interesting thing, however, is that while the questions have largely stayed the same over the years, the answers have changed a lot.
What I mean is that people generally want to know the same things about business today as they did when I began writing my column. The difference today, however, is in the execution. Let’s look at some of the most common questions people have.
Should I Start My Own Business?
This is probably the most common question people have about small business, and it’s not hard to understand why. Folks love the idea of doing something they are passionate about and being their own boss. Being an entrepreneur is certainly an exciting, interesting way to make a living and an impact on the world.
That being said, it’s also exhausting and not at all easy. That nice, regular paycheck isn’t so regular when you start your own business. Additionally, starting your own business is a risk. You may succeed, but you may not. Being an entrepreneur means that you will be taking financial and emotional risks on an as-yet unproven idea.
My rule of thumb is this: If the idea of chucking it all and starting your own thing excites you more than it terrifies you, you are an entrepreneur. But if it scares you more, and that’s okay if it does, then think twice.
And these days, I would add one more thing: You can’t be a technophobe if you want to start your own business. Indeed, the opposite is true. You need to be able to let your inner tech geek out if you are going to succeed.
To learn more about the steps involved in starting a business, click here.
How Do I Fund My Business?
Back when I started writing my column, there were really only a few ways to get a business funded:
- One’s own capital and resources
- Bank loans
- The “friends and family” plan
- Outside investors
Fast forward to today, and there are a few good things that can be said about what I call the “Not-So-Great Recession.” But one good thing about it is that it forced entrepreneurs to be a lot more creative when seeking funding. As a result, we can add to the list above:
- Crowdfunding: Sites like Kickstarter and others have changed the game
- Microfinance: Organizations like the Small Business Administration, ACCION and Kiva.org now offer micro loans to small businesses
- Business Plan Competitions: Many communities now offer money and in-kind help to businesses with great plans. A Google search will likely uncover some in your area
Click here for a guide on the 12 ways to fund your business.
How Do I Grow My Business?
Here, again, the question remains the same, but the answers are different—and better than they used to be. The way you grow your business is the same today as it’s always been: You need to let people know your business is out there, and you do that through marketing and advertising.
Once upon a time, that was an expensive and uncertain undertaking. Options consisted of things like newspaper ads, radio and TV, magazines and other pricey media options. Things are so much easier and better now.
Take social media, for example. Social media is a boon to small business for all sorts of reasons, but a substantial one is that it allows entrepreneurs to directly interact with new and old customers alike in an informal, friendly way. Additionally, it takes time, yes, but doesn’t really take a lot of money. And you can use it to build your brand, meet potential new customers, schmooze current customers, etc.
In fact, digital media has changed the marketing game completely. Your website is the best “brochure” your business can have. Or what about pay-per-click? Instead of putting an expensive ad in a newspaper and hoping people see it and call, today you can create a tiny Google, Bing or Facebook ad, and you don’t pay for that ad until someone see it, likes it, clicks on it and goes to your site as a qualified lead. How cool is that?
So yes, while the small business song remains the same, the lyrics are much better today.