My exciting news, though, is that I have been nominated for the Small Business Association's Small Business Person of the Year Award. I am so excited! Of course, these things are never just handed out without some work on the nominee's part. I spent a good portion of last weekend, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday getting a packet of information together. It had to be at the Seattle SBA office by Friday, December 10th. Evidently, 35 people statewide have been nominated. I was told that I will find out if I've won in early March 2011. If I win for Washington State, I will be invited to the SBA national celebration in Washington, DC in May. Just being nominated is a huge honor!
Building Bridge Builders, Ltd. into a viable business has been the hardest job I have ever had and it has been worth every minute. The services that we provide are so needed and there will be an increasing demand as the baby boomers age. It is a challenging business, though, and it takes a special person with a passion not only to serve our unique clientele but also to have the stamina to hang tough as this type of business is difficult to grow. While there are huge emotional payoffs when successfully helping clients to have an improved quality of life, the down side is that there are those who try to discredit this type of business. A business owner needs the fortitude to withstand those attacks, even though they might be infrequent. If you are considering starting a similar business, here are some suggestions:
- Consult a business advisor - The SBA offers assistance for free. The advisor can assist you with the details of the business end because you could have the best idea in the world but if you don't pay attention to the business end of things, you will fail.
- Don't believe people who say that all you need to do is hang out a shingle and you'll be swamped with work. This business needs time to establish credibility just like any other business. Bridge Builders, Ltd. is a great idea but we can have quite a challenge convincing prospective clients.
- Realize that you need to develop yourself as an expert in the field and this takes time. I am at the end of eight years and only this year have I been receiving comments that indicate that my staff and I are considered experts. Eight years may seem like a long time if you're just starting but, believe me, the years fly by.
- Watch your cash flow like a hawk. I only started tracking our cash flow on a weekly basis about two years ago. I wish I had started this at the beginning! I can now look back a couple of years to see if the cash flow is typical, better or worse. Also, if the cash flow is less than my target amount for the month, I tell my staff that they need to focus on tasks that generate billable time and/or it an employee would like to work a little less, now is the time. This can really made a difference at the end of the month.
- Be careful with credit. Early on I was seduced by easy credit. When you start a business it seems like everyone wants to give you credit. While most businesses require having a certain amount of debt because cash flow isn't consistent, use credit cautiously and wisely. My brother is growing a business without debt, which is great and I am very proud of him, but it really slows down the growth doing it that way.
- Charge what you are worth. That is a very difficult thing to do, especially in a business that provides services to people. But if you don't value your time, your client's or prospective clients won't either. Over the years, we periodically got calls from prospective clients who wanted something for nothing. After spending copious hours over the years trying to convince these people that we are worth what we charge, I just don't bother wasting my time anymore. If someone calls and, after discussing services and rates, says we're to expensive, I'm happy to give them some numbers where they might be able to piece the services together themselves. Sometimes these clients resurface later and sometimes they don't. I don't worry about it anymore.
- Hire qualified staff. My business advisor told me once that the staff of an entrepreneurial business need to be pseudo-entrepreneurs. These are people with the experience you need who are willing to work for peanuts because they believe in what you are doing. It will take longer finding these people but it is well worth the wait. My bookkeeper, who has been with me from almost the first, was looking for a part-time job with some challenge that would be flexible and fun. She hasn't been disappointed and I have been the blessed with her knowledge over the years. All of my staff worked uncomplaining for years without raises because there was no money for raises. How did I find these people? Sometimes by networking and sometimes they would hear about my business and come to me. I've learned to be choosy, though. It pays off in the long run.
You need to realize that this is a business that you will be in for the long run. I've had people call me saying that they wanted to start this type of business, run it for ten years and then sell it at a profit. They think that the need is so great that they will be swamped with work out of the starting gate. When I explain that it isn't so easy and why, I don't hear from them again. You need to understand that this business is about serving people. People are not a commodity to be sold at whim. If you are named as Power of Attorney for clients, it is expensive for the clients to change this. Guardianships need to go through expensive court hearings. Your client depend on your to be there for them. That's a heavy responsibility for some people. I find it to be an honor.