I'm Burning Out at a Big Company: Could the Entrepreneur's Life Be for Me?
It's no refuge from stress, and it takes more than just a good idea
Q: I have been working for Oracle for seven years. I now have three children, and I can't manage this very exciting, but crazy, life anymore. I am thinking about starting my own business, building Internet sites for companies. Do you have any information or advice for me?
--E.P., Houston, TX
A: You should know up front that starting a small business is probably more stressful, more labor intensive, and definitely more financially precarious than working for a corporation -- even one that has tight deadlines and demands long hours. To become an entrepreneur, you need to learn the field you want to specialize in and how to run a successful business.
Writing a business plan, securing capital, managing cash flow, doing strategic marketing, and surviving until you can become profitable are just some of the time-intensive challenges that small-business owners must surmount in their first few years at the helm. Our advice: Read up on entrepreneurship, make contacts with other small-business owners, and realistically evaluate whether you have the money, time, and energy to launch a business at this point in your life.
Then, assuming you want to take on the burdens of being an entrepreneur, take a good look at your field. Developing Web sites for companies is a popular new business idea. But before you get into it, you ought to identify a particular niche and target customer. Do some research into what companies want from the Internet and compare that with what you will offer. For example, there are plenty of small companies that simply want to establish a first-time Internet presence with one- to four-page Web sites. You could build such sites with a scanner and a $150 Web-site development program, such as Microsoft's FrontPage 98.
If that's a niche you were thinking of serving, don't expect much. You could probably earn around $80 an hour for this level of service, says Jim Kelton, a computer expert in Irvine, Calif. The difficulty is in attracting clients: Kelton says that you'll be competing with college students -- most of whom will work for less than you can.
If you can take the business up a notch -- offering not only basic Web-site design but also Internet marketing, strategic alliances, and search engine registration -- you may be able to charge more and bring greater value to your clients, Kelton says. Going to an even higher level, if you have the ability to do database development, you could target companies that want E-commerce on their sites.
Raymond Pirouz, a Web designer and author of Click Here: Web Communication Design (New Writers Press), recommends that you identify your strengths and team up with other people who can complement your skills. "A firm really needs a business person, someone who brings in clients and deals with their needs, a designer who specializes in putting together the copy and graphics, and a programmer who can make the site interactive," Pirouz says.
For more information, contact the Internet Professionals Assn., a two-year-old nonprofit organization that has 28 chapters meeting monthly and several dozen more currently forming. Chairman Mitch Ahern says that you can find links to local chapters, programs, benefits, and information about becoming a member at www.association.org.
Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.