I knew that creating a startup would be risky. Experts say only 30 percent of small businesses are still going after 10 years. We’ve been around since 1998, so I guess we won the small-business lottery. If you’re already a lottery winner, you can skip this post. If you’d like to know how we won, read on.
First and most important, my wife Gen supported my idea. That’s been crucial to All Net’s success. Second, I honestly assessed my skills. Gen and I had a little experience managing apartments together. I also had 30 years of technical and management experience at the Homestake Mining Company. I had no formal education in business or network administration, but I did have a plan. Here are steps I found useful:
- Have a money plan. Quitting your job? Experts say you should have enough cash to support yourself for six to 18 months with no income. Plus you’ll need cash to invest in the business itself. I bent that rule, slightly, but I had the resources to get a crucial license and certification and to stay afloat during the early lean months.
- Ask friends and family. I talked with people I trust—both in my field and in other businesses. My brother Dick, for example, was an experienced network administrator. Invaluable. Brother Bill connected me with people who were running successful small businesses in the Black Hills. (I also learned from others’ mistakes, like one local computer company that installed pirated software on clients’ machines. Don’t do that.)
- Explore small-business resources. The Small Business Administration in Rapid City, S.D., connected me with The SCORE program, which connected me to a retired businessman and a retired banker. The State of South Dakota helped me register my business and set up sales and excise tax accounts. Also, check with the state for permits and licenses. (South Dakota is business friendly. Check out South Dakota Business Help.).
- Get educated and certified. You don’t need a PhD or a giant student loan. Look online. You’ll find free or affordable courses you can complete in hours, days or months—depending on what you need. For example, I lacked training in network administration, so I studied hard for a year, in a formal course, and I got certified. It paid off.
- Keep asking, is this expense necessary? This question comes from advice I gave to my son, who was away at school. I wrote, “Is this a NEED, or a WANT?” His friends got a good laugh, but I asked myself the same question when I considered opening a store stocked with computers. I discovered that what I really wanted to do was help businesses with computer networks. So I skipped the store and passed the savings along to our clients.
- Pay attention to money and regulations. I did my own books for the first few years to learn from the ground up where the money comes from and where it goes. I also spent lots of time researching standard practices in my field. If you need professional help, get it. The best time to find an accountant or a lawyer is before you desperately need one.
- Expect challenges. Starting a business requires leaps of faith and persistence. The All Net Connect story is not all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it’s sweat and tears. Be ready to turn bad news into opportunities.
That’s part of how All Net won the startup lottery—except for the most important step. Work with great people. I’ve been lucky enough to find fantastic partners and colleagues. They inspire me and teach me and keep me focused on our mission: helping businesses cope with changing technology. That’s my definition of success. (I wouldn’t mind winning the real lottery either.)