Small Business

An Out-to-Lunch Ambition


By Karen E. Klein Q: I am a commercial pilot and on the road about half of the time. I would like to open my own business and want something that I don't need to be at all the time. Can you suggest any possibilities that would fit my needs? -- J.G.D., Boston.

A: Rather than start by looking at specific business opportunities, examine your motivation and personality first. Why do you want to open a business? Is it primarily for additional income? If so, you're opting for such an extremely risky and time-consuming way of earning money that putting your energies and acumen into making some shrewd investments would probably be more productive. Is it because you are getting bored with flying and want to set up an alternative that will allow you, sooner or later, to switch careers? Are you interested in buying a franchise? Do you want to build something from scratch?

TESTING PROCEDURES . I'd encourage you to get a behavioral assessment done to see how well-suited you are -- or aren't -- to be an entrepreneur. Just having the money you will need for a startup doesn't mean you'll enjoy owning a business or that your talents will match its needs, no matter how appealing the idea of being your own boss may seem right this minute. A good discussion of personality types, as well as the pros and cons of small-business ownership, can be found at the Small Business Administration Web site.

Use the results of the behavioral assessment to guide your search for a business opportunity, suggests John Delmatoff, of Path Finder Coaching. Delmatoff recommends asking yourself these questions : Would you do best in a field that demands lots of contact with others, or would you prefer to keep interaction to a minimum? Can you accept strict compliance with an established operating model, or would you prefer to write your own operating manual? Do you thrive in environments requiring rapid-fire decisions, or do you prefer a more relaxed pace? What about the challenge of facing unknowns every day, vs. a regimented career that is far more predictable?

"Once you get a feel for what you're best behaviorally suited for, then I'd start looking at opportunities that leverage any skill sets you already have," Delmatoff says. "Would you want to look at something aviation-oriented or is that out of the question?" Another idea is to ask your fellow pilots what they do to supplement their income or build retirement accounts, and take you cue from them.

Finding a business that you can pursue part-time is going to be tricky. There are endeavors that don't require onsite, full-time management, such as a coin-operated car wash or laundromat, or an Internet-based selling operation that could be managed from a laptop computer just about anywhere in the world. But most small businesses take up far more than 40 hours a week of their owners' time, especially when they are just getting started. "Someone needs to mind the store," warns Gene Pepper, of Alliance Business Consultants in Glendale, Calif. "If you have family that will work with you, then maybe you could build something. There are absentee owners who do well, but they have staff who run their businesses. Maybe you could buy an existing business that will permit absentee ownership."

GONE FISHING. You might look for a business partner willing to handle daily operations while you are on the road, or you could acquire an outfit that is large enough to support a trustworthy, full-time manager. "It's very difficult to buy a business where the owner wants to stay on to run it for someone else," says John Bates, of Spectrum Corporate Resources. "Usually, owners are selling because they want to retire, or want to do something different. Some will agree to stay through a management-transition period, which is the best a buyer can hope for -- and usually best for the business and the employees."

Bates suggests that you discuss your options with Boston-area business brokers. "Since there is no such thing as a 'multiple listing service' for businesses, a prospective buyer needs to seek out several brokers. A good resource is the International Business Brokers Assn., which offers a directory of members on its Web site," he says. You might also want to do some research on sites that list businesses for sale, including mergernetwork.com and www.bizbuysell.com. If you'd like to work with a business coach to get a feel for your suitability for business ownership and help in selecting one, you will find referrals in your area at coachfederation.org. Good luck.

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th 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. Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in covering covered entrepreneurship and small-business issues.


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