The value added column in the Washington Post brings us the small business success story of Steve Fleishman, founder and president of Bethesda Bagel. He built the business from scratch to a franchise and manufacturing enterprise that delivers 15,000 bagels daily to 200 wholesale clients, that enables him and his partners to draw six figure salaries today. Clearly he has achieved success and is well on his way to financial freedom. What I found particularly insightful about the article were the key traits and characteristics that made Steve successful in his business venture. Whether, you are a business owner, thinking of starting one or just interested in stories of entrepreneurship these are great habits to keep in mind:
Ambition and Drive: By this own admission Steve Fleishman is driven and ambitious – “I grew up hungry,” – and this enables him to work hard and be passionate about this business over many years. I believe this is vital for any business, job or venture. If you do not have some level of passion or belief then your chances of success are that much lower.
Varying Paths: Like most people, you will probably do many different things before you find something you are good at, and from which you can make a decent living. In fact you will most likely do a number of jobs “just to pay the bills”, before you fund the one career or business that you are passionate about. Steve, studied electrical engineering and liberal arts, then became a roving property manager for a family venture before realizing that this was not what he wanted in life. There is no single and defined path for being successful in life, and you must seek out or take opportunities wherever they may arise.
Contacts, Networks and Family: These are important in all aspects of life and even more so when starting a new venture. Steve started his business in Washington DC and got the idea for it through his wife’s contact who lived there. He also leaned on this family to get initial financing for his business, a very useful source with most banks unwilling to lend to new business owners (particularly in today’s economy). It seems that Steve’s success was driven in large part by the support and advice of friends and family. A trend that is evident in most small businesses.
Find a niche and replicate a successful business or idea: Many people are reluctant to start a business or pursue an idea in a small or new market because they cannot see the profit potential. However it is precisely in these types of markets that existing successful ideas or products can be replicated succesfully. Steve, replicated the bagel business in New York to a relatively under served(large) market in Washington DC. By providing a better product and leveraging his learning’s from an established market, he came to dominate the local market which had little or no competition. It is much easier (and profitable) to legally replicate a proven product or service, than to try and invent one from scratch.
Become an expert and know the details: To succeed in a job or business you need to know all aspects of the business. Right from how the product is made or service delivered, to the accounting and capital aspects of running the enterprise. Just because you may be highly educated and/or experienced, does not mean you don’t have to roll your sleeves up and get into the details. Steve, an electrical engineer by training, went back to learn the bagel business from scratch, while still keeping his day job – “He got a job making handmade bagels at Boulevard Bagels in Queens, where he reported every morning before his real estate job and then came back at night. “I apprenticed,” said Fleishman. “I learned how to make a good bagel, nothing else.”
Research : Before jumping into any venture, do you homework first. This is particularly important if you have an existing job. Obviously this means working before/after work and on the weekends. But doing the right research, talking to people you trust, can make the difference between success and failure. Over 75% of small business’ fold in their first 3 years – which is probably due in large part to poor preparation and not knowing the market.
Cash is King : Whether it is your own home or a business, we all know the value of cash and credit. Bills need to be paid and new things need to bought, for which you need funding. If you don’t have the money you have to borrow, on which the cost (interest) could be very high. Steve said that the hardest part was of starting out was coming up with enough money to grow the business because they were undercapitalized. This is a common problem that most business owners face and the sooner you learn to manage your cash flow the more stable your business will be. A good rule of thumb I have read is that when you are planning your business, double your estimates of the cash flow you think you will need.
For more great information on starting a small business I recommend these two inexpensive books, which provide a ton of useful information on the small business process: The Big Book of Small Business and How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life.
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