Small Business Ideas and Success, Needs a Big Business Mind

small business ideas, success, and mentorshipby Business Consultant, Karen Terry

As a self-employed consultant and software instructor for the past several years, I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked “What do you do on the days that you aren’t teaching a class?” For some reason, people have the perception that when I am not teaching, I sit by the pool and drink margaritas all day. Believe me, as nice as that sounds, I could not have built up my business to the steady client base that I have today if I had done that!

Self-discipline For Small Business Ideas Coupled With Success

Self-discipline is a key trait that self-employed people share. People who are self-employed are not “on-the-clock” in the sense that they are punching a time clock as they go to work each day. However, you must maintain regular office hours if you want to be taken seriously. Once you begin working for different clients, getting their work done on time should be your highest priority. Another part of being self-disciplined is being aware of how and where you spend your own time and realizing that nobody is paying you for certain activities.

Two years ago I sold a car. The young woman who bought it was just starting college, and her mom accompanied her to look at the car and help her with the buying process (I would want to do the same for my own daughter). The mother asked me if I would mind submitting the car for a “used car inspection;” meaning would I take it down to the local shop to have it inspected by a mechanic?

I did indeed take the car to a shop to have it inspected. As I expected, there was nothing wrong with my car, and I ended up selling it to the young woman. However, looking back on the situation, I might have handled it differently.

How so? Well, first off, nobody paid me for the time it took to take my car and have it inspected. The mother paid for the inspection, but I am talking about my own time. As a self-employed person, I did not have an hour or two of vacation time that I could mark down on my time sheet so that I could go and take care of that little chore. Although it was an inconvenience for me, ultimately I did it because as a mother, I would want my daughter to have the same reassurance when the day comes that she buys her first used car.

My father has had his own engineering firm since 1973. Growing up, we belonged to a church, and all of the other kid’s fathers would get up early on Saturday morning and mow the church’s yard, and trim the bushes, etc., among other chores. I always wondered why my Dad was not interested in helping out, so one day I asked him. He explained to me that he worked on Saturday mornings, and that he made more money by working in his business, and that he would rather hire an able-bodied teenage kid to mow the yard in his place.

Small Business Ideas and Time Use

My Dad’s answer was my first understanding that there is a “highest and best use” of a person’s time, depending on their skill level. In other words, my Dad had a choice between earning a high wage doing engineering work (which not many people can perform) for one of his clients, or working for free mowing the church’s yard.

As another example, let’s look at the same thing when you are cleaning your house. What is the highest and best use of your time? Cleaning the house, or writing an article that nobody else can write (or working on a client project, or doing some marketing work for your business, etc.)?  You may want to consider hiring someone to do your house cleaning for you.

When you are self-employed, you need to consider carefully any request that takes time away from your business – whether it be volunteer work for a charity or a non-profit organization, sitting on a church committee or city board, or organizing a community event or fundraiser, babysitting for a fellow mom, whatever!

Sometimes women are just too nice, and it is difficult to learn how to say no to various requests. In this column, I discuss becoming “business-minded,” which is a different mindset from a typical career employee who works for someone else.

In particular, if you have worked for a large company for a long period of time, you may have a rough transition as you go from working for someone else to working for yourself. It is a deliberate shift in your modus operandi, and I am not just referring to the social isolation that comes from working for yourself.

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Below are a few examples:

When I was just starting out, I put together a class for the City that consisted of students from all different departments. The City provided the classroom, and I provided the software. I went up to the classroom the day before the class to install the software. I came prepared by bringing copies of the software on CDs, but also
on diskettes (yes, floppy diskettes, which tells you how long ago it was) as a backup.

For some reason, the CD didn’t work. The City employee who was with me, said “Oh, I guess you’ll just have to wait for FedEx to deliver another CD before you can do the installation.” I was appalled. That “manana” attitude (do it tomorrow or wait until later) doesn’t cut it when you are self-employed. However, instead of showing how I really felt to the client, I simply said “No, I have the software on these diskettes, and I will take care of it now.” Even though it took a little longer, I completed the installation right then and there, because I didn’t have another time to come back and do it.

My Father’s Daughter – His Daughter’s Small Business Ideas Mentor

I learn a lot from my father. He has had his own engineering business since 1973. Over the years, he has hired (and fired!) several employees. He told me about one engineer he hired who used to work for a big consulting firm. After he came to work for my Dad (a much smaller company), they were driving to a job site, and they guy spent 20 minutes trying to figure out a detour in order to avoid paying $1 toll. When you’re self-employed, your time is valuable (the subject of my last column), and it is definitely worth $1 over an extra 30 minutes out of the way, especially if it makes you late to your appointment!

Another man he hired could also not make the transition to a small business mindset. Before the computer age, my Dad was working on a project and commented that he needed a form in order to document a process. The employee immediately called up some office supply company in another state and placed an order for a large amount of forms. My Dad took out a clipboard and proceeded to draw the form on paper. Much less expensive that way, plus you don’t have a lot of extras leftover that you don’t need.

Today you can design forms quickly and easily using computer software. The point is, is that it is a different mindset. When you are a small business, you must think like one. Another difference is that when you work for a large corporation, you typically spend a lot of time in meetings. When you are self-employed, you spend a lot of time working, because you are the primary consultant for hire.

In short, having your own business requires a “get it done” attitude. You must have the ability to come up with a creative workaround if something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to the first time around. You certainly don’t want to trouble your client or have to come back to repeat the job. When you are self-employed, you must be prepared for all contingencies, have a backup plan, and pitch in and get the job done, no matter what it takes to do that.

Being Self-Employed With Your Own Small Business Ideas Means Guarding Your Time

small business ideas, success, and mentorship

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by Karen Terry
author of, Full Time Woman, Part Time Career


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