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SMALL BUSINESS STRATEGIES

How Do You Stack Up?

Take the quiz above to help you take stock of your own small-business attitudes and aptitudes. The results may give you a rough measure of your success as an entrepreneur.

October 14, 1998

The most important aspect of any business idea is . . . you.

Even if you have expertise, financing and a patent on an original idea, your business can still fail if you lack entrepreneurial aptitude.

This quiz outlines 10 essential traits of successful entrepreneurs.

"Some folks say if you have these aptitudes," Esparza said, "all the other things will fall into place quickly."

* Ability to handle uncertainty. Small-business owners must be able to keep their bearings in uncertain circumstances. There are no steps to guaranteed success, nor are there guaranteed sales, contracts or paychecks.

After years of working staff jobs in public relations and journalism, Sydney Weisman and her husband, David Hamlin, started their own business, Weisman Hamlin Public Relations in Los Angeles.

"There's no knowing from day to day what your cash flow is going to be, and you have to be able to live with that," Weisman said. "It's one of the hardest aspects of starting your own business, especially if you come out of the corporate culture."

* Confidence. Entrepreneurs need a solid ego and must believe not only in themselves but also in their business idea. But they must keep that ego in check. Overconfidence can mean losing sight of your market.

* Discipline. Can you rise at 4:30 a.m. to get yourself to your business, or can you stay up until 2 a.m. working? When the fun is over--signing new accounting clients or greeting restaurant patrons--can you stomach poring over the books or washing dishes?

Mary Schnack, a home-based publicist in Sedona, Ariz., starts at 5:30 a.m. at the computer, breaks for exercise at noon, then knuckles down for an afternoon of more work.

"The afternoons are hard to stay focused and keep working, so I'll start with a list when I come back after lunch," Schnack said. "If I don't do [the tasks listed] and cross them off, I know it will affect my sleep."

* Drive/Ambition. Entrepreneurs enjoy owning a business, making decisions, finding ways to expand and paying to have their business name on the neighborhood softball team jerseys. Employees, by contrast, enjoy corporate status, team projects, letting someone else worry about growth and persuading the company to pay for the softball team's jerseys. Which are you?

* Energy. You may need to work long hours. The average small-business owner puts in a 60-hour workweek, according to a survey of National Federation of Independent Business members.

Stephane Strouk, owner of Lulu Panini, French Crepe Co. and Mr. Marcel Cheese Shop at Farmer's Market in Los Angeles, works a 70-hour, seven-day week.

"You get used to it, and you learn to manage your schedule," Strouk said.

* Flexibility. Small-business owners need to be able to change course with the circumstances.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed Marcelo's Foods, a Pacoima wholesale beef and poultry business, owners Armita and Marcelo Martinez hooked up an electric line to their six undamaged refrigerated trucks, using them for temporary storage.

"If you suffer a catastrophe, you have to scale down the business and your personal life to the bare minimum," Armita Martinez said. "You have to do other things--like my husband, the president and CEO, had to jump in the truck and do pickups."

* Independence. Being a self-starter is crucial to running a small business. If you need validation from others before you begin a task, or if you need others to give you the go-ahead, then running your own business may seem lonely to you.

* Persistence. Get used to hearing the word "no." "No" from the very beginning when your friends doubt your business dream. "No" from potential customers who can't see how your product or service is different. "No" from suppliers who won't extend credit but expect cash payments upfront. "No" from banks who won't give you a start-up loan. "No" from employees who won't work Sundays. "No" from your family members who won't accept work as an excuse for missing the family's Fourth of July picnic.

* Problem-solving ability. Entrepreneurs thrive on the thrill of a difficulty surmounted and their victory outweighs any stressful moments. Employees without entrepreneurial instincts may panic in a crisis, hate the stress and wait for the boss to make a decision.

When UPS drivers struck, Tom Bright, a former AT&T executive who runs West Covina Mail Boxes Etc., quickly switched to the U.S. Postal Service, freight-trucking companies and other delivery firms. He even made deliveries himself to get his customers their packages.

"With AT&T, problem-solving was somewhat limited," Bright said. "You had guidelines. But there aren't as many guidelines when you're doing things for yourself."

* Ability to recognize opportunity. Entrepreneurs recognize opportunity or create it themselves. It helps that they know the value of money--how to invest it, how to make purchases with it and how to put a value on their labor and that of their employees.

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