Adapted from the upcoming book THE WALL STREET JOURNAL COMPLETE SMALL BUSINESS GUIDEBOOK (Three Rivers Press, Dec. 29, 2009).
Starting a business is a lot like becoming a parent. Not only do you have to prepare for your start-up emotionally and financially, but you have to be committed to its constant needs until it's mature enough to hum along on its own. And even then (much like a child) it will always need you in some capacity, no matter how old it gets.
Here are five questions to ask before you start your own business:
1. Am I passionate about my product or service? 我对自己的产品或者服务充满热情吗?
Let's face it: the start-up phase is stressful. You will find yourself questioning whether you've made the right decision, especially when the hours are long and the initial profits (if any) are lean. As the business owner, you're also chief salesperson for your company. Your enthusiasm for your product or service— whether it's hand-knit sweaters or top-notch tax preparation— is often the difference that hooks customers, lands deals and attracts investors. It's unwise to start down the path of entrepreneurship unless you've got a zeal that will get you through rough patches and keep you interested long after the initial enthusiasm has faded.
2. What is my tolerance for risk? 我容忍风险的程度如何?
Whether it's quitting your day job or signing a lease on a new space, nothing about starting a business is for the faint of heart. Just ask Ina Garten, who bought a specialty-foods store called The Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton, New York, in 1978 and has since branched out into cookbooks, television and a line of products. Garten tells aspiring entrepreneurs that you have to 'be willing to jump off the cliff and figure out how to fly on the way down.' Even with enough passion to launch a thousand ventures, you could find any number of circumstances hastening your failure: a location that turns out to be less than ideal, a problem with city or state zoning boards or a kink in the supply chain that can't easily be ironed out. There's no guarantee of success, or even a steady paycheck. If you're risk-averse, entrepreneurship probably isn't the right path for you.
无论是辞掉平日的工作，还是签署新的租约，创业的方方面面都不是为意志薄弱的人准备的。问问艾娜 加滕(Ina Garten)就好了。她在1978年买下了纽约州东汉普敦的一家特色食品商店The Barefoot Contessa，从此一发不可收拾，扩展至烹饪书籍、电视等领域，并推出了一系列产品。加滕告诉那些满怀抱负的企业家，你必须“愿意跳下悬崖，搞清楚在下降的过程中如何飞行。”即便你有足够的热情推出一千家企业，你还是可能会发现加速失败的各种情形：不太理想的地点，与城市或者州分区有关的麻烦，无法轻易摆脱的供应链问题等等。没有成功的保证，甚至是稳定的薪水。如果你不愿冒险，创业恐怕不是适合你走的路。
3. Am I good at making decisions? 我善于做出决策吗?
No one else is going to make them for you when you own your own business. Consider how you might handle these early decisions: Do I work from home or do I lease office space? Do I hire employees? Do I pursue high-end clients or sell to the masses? Do I incorporate? Do I advertise? Do I borrow money from friends or family? Do I use my entire savings? Keep in mind that the decision-making process only gets more complicated as time goes on, once you have employees or clients depending on you. The choices you make can lead to success or downfall, so you must feel confident in your ability to make the right call.
4. Am I willing to take on numerous responsibilities? 我愿意承担多方面的责任吗?
While a corporate employee focuses on a special skill or role within the larger corporation, a business owner must contribute everything to the business. Solo entrepreneurs in particular must be versatile and play a number of roles, from chief salesperson and bookkeeper to head marketer and bill collector. If juggling many roles doesn't suit you, entrepreneurship probably won't, either. The recent economic downturn has made it more important than ever for business owners to have a good working knowledge of their companies' finances. While you will undoubtedly learn much on this topic from getting your hands dirty, the more knowledge you have in advance, the better prepared you'll be.
5. Will I be able to avoid burnout? 我能够避免身心透支吗?
Working seven days a week, losing touch with friends, abandoning old hobbies and interests and not making time for loved ones can quickly lead to burnout in the midst of starting up— and ultimately to business failure. That's what happened to James Zimbardi, an entrepreneur in Orlando, Florida, who says he didn't know any better when he started his first company in 1997 and worked as hard as possible, for as long as possible, until his creativity, enthusiasm and energy were sapped. By 2002, he was a broken man— the business took a downturn, and so did his personal life. Now Zimbardi is at work on his second company, Allgen Financial Services, and sticking to better habits to maintain work/life balance, such as not working on Sundays, making time for hobbies such as sailing and salsa dancing, and building close ties with other business owners through a faith-based support network.
一周七天整日忙于工作，与朋友失去联系，放弃原来的爱好和兴趣，无法为自己所爱的人抽出时间，这些都可能会很快导致创业过程中的身心透支──并且最终导致企业破产。这正是佛罗里达州奥兰多的创业者詹姆斯 辛巴迪(James Zimbardi)的经历。辛巴迪说，他在1997年成立自己第一家公司的时候懵懵懂懂，只会拼命努力工作，废寝忘食，直到他的创造力、热情和精力消失殆尽。到2002年的时候，他已经是一个散了架的人──企业陷入了低迷期，而他的个人生活也遭遇了挫折。如今，辛巴迪正在组建他的第二家公司Allgen Financial Services，这次他坚持保持良好的习惯维持工作、生活平衡，比如说周日不工作，为帆船和风情拉丁舞等爱好留出时间，通过一个宗教信仰支持网络与其他企业主建立密切的关系等等。
Take some time to mull over these questions, do some soul-searching, and then if you think you have what it takes, go for it.