By Karen E. Klein Q: I have been an engineer for a number of years, but it has always been my dream to have my own inn or motel. I'm ready to start pursuing that dream, but need some help figuring out how I should go about it. Can I get a loan to get started? What do you recommend? -- A.T., Lexington, Ky.
A: You are to be applauded for having the ambition, energy, and vision to chase your dream when you have already settled into another profession. Those qualities can serve you well as an entrepreneur. However, the very drive that pushes entrepreneurs to move forward can also inspire a tendency to jump the gun. All too often, that impatience foils business success.
Before you even think about funding, loans, properties, or any of those fundamental decisions, you should familiarize yourself with how the hospitality industry operates -- and you should do so from the inside, experts say.
Join the trade groups for the industry to which you aspire, read their publications, and go to their trade shows and professional conventions. All those essential steps are easy ways to build your knowledge base. Then, take your ramping-up process a step further by finding an inn or motel that comes close to the kind of establishment you want. Next, approach the management and go to work for them.
TOTAL IMMERSION. Once you find a job at a successful inn or B&B, study everything. "I would want to pay attention to the things that they don't teach you in school -- the soft skills and techniques that really account for a major part of an organization's success," says John Delmatoff, a small-business coach with PathFinder Coaching in Diamond Bar, Calif. "Give it at least a year, and think about observing things as though you were going to write a book about this company's success. It needs to be that thorough."
Along with familiarizing yourself with such things as the financial realities and business structures of motel operation, try to determine what your employers are doing that makes their operation a success, Delmatoff recommends. Who are they hiring, for example, and how do they go about the process? What's the key to their employee training program? How do they deliver superior customer service? Find out exactly what makes their business tick -- and stay in the job as long as it takes to thoroughly answer that question.
When you're able to specify the precise reasons why one inn succeeds while others fail, you will be much better prepared to own your own business. "The idea here is to avoid reinventing the wheel," Delmatoff says. "Chances are, someone else has already done much of the thinking in this situation. All you have to do is figure out how to leverage all the thinking and creativity that's already been achieved for your own means." Good luck. 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.