Fun, focus needed to own business Most important trait is to know thyself, experts say.

April 08, 1992|By Guy Boulton | Guy Boulton,Knight-Ridder News Service

It's 3 p.m., and you're having a bad day. You find yourself daydreaming, once again, about owning your own business.

Being your own boss. Setting your own hours. Punching your own time clock.

Do you have what it takes to own a business? Could you make the jump from being on payroll to making payroll?

"There are a 101 reasons not to be in business for yourself -- and if you talk to anyone in business for themselves, I'm sure they can add one or two," says Terri Quinton, president and co-owner of Q2 Communications.

Just what does it take to work for yourself?

You need to have a foundation. You need to have fun, focus and fortitude. And you need flexibility, fiscal responsibility and faith.

Business veterans -- people who have struck out on their own -- agree that one of the most important traits is to know thyself.

"I think everybody is capable of owning their own business," Ms. Quinton says. "But it's not right for everybody's temperament."

Ms. Quinton, a Topeka, Kan., native living in Dallas, struck out on her own after working 13 years for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. She is co-owner of a company that publishes monthly newsletters for apartments in more than nine cities throughout the country.

Owning your own business takes courage. And most business owners encounter things that scare them.

"I don't think that there is anything wrong with admitting that you are afraid at certain points along the way," said Jeanne Andra, owner of Andra Design Associates, a planning and design firm in Wichita, Kan.

Ms. Andra, who started the firm in 1980, said you must understand the risks that go with being a business owner. "That's a key issue in terms of being prepared," she said.

"You have to have a certain level of fearlessness," said Lynn Hinkle, owner of Hinkle Agency, an advertising agency in Topeka.

A weekly paycheck, after all, does have its advantages.

"When you are the boss, and there's not enough money in the bank account, you are the first one to miss a paycheck," Ms. Hinkle said.

The first years are the hardest. Little money comes through the door initially. You may go six months or longer before turning a profit.

"If you make money your first year, you've done a heck of a job," said Peggy Johnson, who owns a liquor store and a doughnut shop in Lawrence.

Still interested in owning your own business? Then take heart. The plunge may not be as steep as you think.

But forget about working fewer hours and having more flexibility. And, for that matter, forget about making more money.

"A business is pretty much like a child," said Kay Welch, owner of Go-Fer Tow Service in Kansas City. "It's not something you can walk into and walk out of."

There's overhead, such as rent, long-distance telephone calls and postage. There's medical insurance. And there's the lag time -- often the agonizing lag time -- between billing a customer and being paid by a customer.

If this isn't discouragement enough, remember that most small businesses fail within the first five years.

But, that said, more people become rich by starting their own businesses than by working for someone else.

Ms. Quinton isn't making more money than when she worked for Southwestern Bell. But she plans to someday. She plans to retire earlier. And she's having more fun.

That's important.

We all know we should enjoy our jobs. But small business owners are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, despite the headaches. If they weren't having fun, they'd probably be working for someone else.

The key is finding out what you do well.

Ms. Quinton has an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master's degree in finance and marketing. Yet writing is her real love.

She was a lousy computer programmer, she says, while working for Southwestern Bell. But she was promoted because of her skill at writing business letters and putting ideas down on paper.

At Q2 Communications, Ms. Quinton is not only using her writing skills but also doing what she most enjoys.

Successful business owners stress the importance of planning. And Ms. Quinton is a believer in business plans -- writing down your goals. "It's just a form of visualizing what you want to do," she said.

But she added, "Sometimes, all the planning in the world doesn't account for what really happens."

That is why traits such as faith, flexibility and fortitude are important. "You can plan and plan and plan things," she said. "But sometimes you just have to have faith."

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