At some point, you’ve probably thought about starting your own company. Maybe you want to get rich and famous from it, but most likely you just want to have fun, learn a lot, and try something new. The trick is getting the guts to do it.
Whatever you want to gain from starting a business, there’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. It’s easier than ever to get things going quickly and inexpensively. And today’s opportunities for entrepreneurship allow you to maintain a sense of stability in your personal life while trying out some of your business ideas.

Here are five ideas to give you the courage to get started now.

1. Don’t wait to start until you’re sure you’ll succeed.
Assured success never happens. For instance, Guy Kawasaki, who was known for evangelizing the Apple brand before starting his own firm, Garage Technology Ventures, launched his own startup, Truemors, this month. It’s a site that allows people to post rumors they’ve heard and then let others vote on the rumors for popularity ranking.

When asked how he knew Truemors would work, Kawasaki said that he didn’t. “You don’t get over the idea that it might be a flop. Every startup faces these feelings. It’s not like the founders started Google and people said, ‘Oh, that’s a slam dunk.’ In fact, when people do say it’s a slam dunk, you can be sure it’ll tank.”

2. You don’t have to dive in head-first.
It used to be that if you wanted to start a business you’d have to move your family into the apartment above your general store. Luckily, you no longer have to overhaul your whole life in order to take the leap into business ownership. In fact, you can take small steps to test the waters before leaving your corporate job.

For example, take a freelance gig, then try consulting, and then launch a full-blown business. That way, you’ll have a client base built up before you give up your steady paycheck.

You can also launch a quickie web-based business that you build on nights and weekends, and see who shows up and who talks about it. If it’s a flop, you can just keep working your day job until you come up with a new idea. The quick response of an Internet audience means that it takes months, not years, to figure out if you have a viable business.

3. You don’t need to spend a lot of money.

Starting an Internet company isn’t nearly as expensive as it once was. You used to need up to $5 million in funding from a venture capital firm in order to cover software development and marketing.

Today, the software behind many Internet companies is very cheap, if not free, and marketing consists of sending an email announcement about the company to 50 friends. So the money you need to think about is in the thousands, not the millions.

Think of making your company virtual, with no specific location. This means there are few overhead costs — no rent, no phone line, and no furniture. So the risk of failure doesn’t include risking your ability to pay your mortgage, which is often the case with a failed business stuck in a lease.

4. Rethink success and failure — they’re not black-and-white conditions.

Starting a company doesn’t have to mean you’re building the next Microsoft. It simply gives you an opportunity to learn and grow, and offers you the chance to work with your friends and create the lifestyle you want.

This means that starting a business is a lot less risky than it seems. Conversely, sticking with a corporate job — with no assurance that you’ll stay or, that if you do, you’ll learn anything — is the more risky choice.

The diverse goals of today’s entrepreneurs mean that most companies are a success in some way. If nothing else, it’s difficult to start a company and not learn a lot given the amount of time and effort you put in. Even if the endeavor is as small as a blog-based business, as Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution points out, you learn a lot faster by starting side projects than waiting for your boss to teach you something.

5. Take action.

Ben Casnocha founded Comcate when he was 14, and it’s still running strong five years later. His book, “My Start-Up Life,” describes what it takes to get a company up and running.

Ben’s big message is to take action: “In the early days of any new business, it’s easier to plan than to act. It’s easier to strategize than actually do stuff. I tried to keep action the centerpiece of my strategy.”

Starting a business is taking a risk on your own idea, but it’s a very small one compared to leading a life with no risks. It’s much more interesting to see how your idea plays out — even if it doesn’t work at all — than to never try doing something on your own.

So take one small action today. Starting a business isn’t the huge, sweeping act it once was. It’s simply taking many smaller actions that add up to some of the biggest, best experiences of your life.

8 replies
  1. Pamela
    Pamela says:

    I agree with the 1st. If we wait for the exact time to succeed, it will only be a waste of time. As long as there is a chance, we must take it. Otherwise, we might miss the chance to success.

  2. gl hoffman
    gl hoffman says:

    Hi Penelope…
    I read your advice column on Yahoo. I am sorry so many people choose to trash your advice. I have now started three companies, two went from my garage to IPO, and this one is well on its way….So I am no neophyte to the rigors of start up life. Certainly, there are ‘other’ things that could have made your list…but all in all, a great column. Keep it up. You are inspiring to others!!

    GL HOFFMAN, Jobdig, Minneapolis

  3. Jason Alba
    Jason Alba says:

    I have a friend that wrote an e-mail to me saying he wished he had the guts to do what I’m doing (starting my own business – well, it’s been a year since I started). I replied on HOW to do it… it was all about guts. But how do you get the guts?

    Perhaps this tongue-in-cheek list of how I had the guts will give you (Penelope’s readers) the encouragement you need :)

    http://jasonalba.com/2007/04/02/having-the-guts/

    Jason Alba
    CEO – JibberJobber.com
    Career Management – Empowering the Professional

  4. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    When we start a business, it’s our common goal that it must be executed perfectly to avoid failure. We always wait for the right time to do it, but there could be a better outcome if we choose to start right away.

  5. Mark
    Mark says:

    Item 2 can’t be underestimated.

    As long as you don’t have a job that severely limits outside employment and your water testing doesn’t breach ethical duties its a great way to get going.

    I was dabbling in a side business as a hobby didn’t care about making money just didn’t want to suck the family finances dry. Started doing my taxes one year and realized that almost 40% of my income was from my “hobby”. Quickly started diverting a big portion of what I was making to pay off debt so I could live on less, but never really needed to. I threw as much as I could possibly budget into my work’s deferred compensation plan and saved up all my vacation days. Between the payment for unused vacation days and my income deferrals I had a four month zero income cushion (closer to six months because of saved money to make debt payments). As soon as I walked away I picked up enough extra business that I never really struggled of course I had to actually wait a few months to buy the fun stuff in life.

    I can’t stress enough to my kids and anyone else who will listen that if you are willing to “suffer” for a year or two you can pay off everything you owe except your mortgage and maybe your car payments and save enough to have several car payments and mortgage payments in the bank.

  6. Kevin Hudoba
    Kevin Hudoba says:

    I think there is 2 very essential things when you are considering an entrepreneurial endeavor. You should have a MENTOR that has already been successful in what you are aspiring to achieve, and you should find a COMMUNITY of like-minded people.

    Remember, your NETWORK=NET WORTH

    If you want to be a real estate investor, hang out with other SUCCESSFUL real estate investors. If you want to own your own business, network with other SUCCESSFUL business owners.

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