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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

9.2.99  
Starting a Business Is No Cure for Burnout
The stress will only get more intense. Here's how decide whether entrepreneurship is for you

Q: I am burned out in Corporate America and have always wanted to be an entrepreneur but never could find the right idea. How can I figure out what possible businesses would suit me? I am hard-working, outgoing, detail-oriented and free-spirited. --C.J.G., Dallas

A: Ask yourself honestly why you feel burned out: Are long hours and stress the cause? Perhaps you need a long vacation. You may be ripe for a change of job or career. That doesn't necessarily mean going out on your own. Self-employment isn't a cure for burnout, especially if you go into a field where you lack experience or a driving passion to succeed. You'll likely invest long hours in your new business and scrape by financially. The first few years can be monumentally stressful. You don't want to go from corporate burn-out to personal business failure.

Before you start looking for a business, determine whether you have the temperament and the values to be an entrepreneur. There are many books on the topic of entrepreneurial mindset -- or you could have a psychologist or career counselor do an objective assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and personal preferences to help determine how suited you are to being your own boss. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Web site (www.sba.gov) has a list of questions to ask yourself about your readiness to be an entrepreneur in its section on starting a business. Another good resource: The Entre World Website at www.entreworld.org.

While there is no single entrepreneurial temperament, experts say you will be most successful in your own business if you are pleasantly aggressive, enjoy sales, and are at least somewhat comfortable crunching numbers. To give your business a fighting chance, you'll need some cash in reserve, ideally a year's salary. "You don't want your survival to be dependent on the business during the first year," says John Delmatoff, a business coach and owner of Pathfinder Coaching in Diamond Bar, Calif. "It's almost impossible for a new business to get started, thrive, and support you all during that first year."

If you determine you have what it takes to forge ahead, look at your options. What fascinates you? What would you enjoy doing for the next 5 to 10 years? When you've got a possibility, learn all you can about that business and try to get a job in that field for the short term.

You may find that the reality isn't what you expected at all. "I had a client who was sure she wanted to own a travel agency because she loved to travel," say Leslie Godwin, a career and life-transition coach based in Calabasas, Calif. "She got a job in a travel agency, and in a very short time she found that she wouldn't be traveling much -- she'd be spending lots of time sitting at a computer. Plus, she found out that there were a lot of problems in the industry and decided it wasn't for her."

If you can't come up with a sufficiently compelling idea, there's always the chance that you could find someone else with a great idea whose strengths complement your own, says Tom Geniesse, president and co-founder of University Access, a company providing corporate business education over the Internet at www.universityaccess.com. "If you're a good implementer, you could hitch your wagon up to a partnership," Geniesse says.

One last piece of advice: Don't go into business for yourself with the expectation you'll strike it rich. Few entrepreneurs do. Most people run their own businesses because they are passionate about them and because they like being their own boss.


Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an E-mail at editors@businessweekmail.com, 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.

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