By Nilooka Dissanayake
“A jaded topic” says my Editor, who I can imagine at this moment wielding his mighty pen over this paragraph.
But to those hundreds of people who call, email and drop in at my office at the Athwela Business Journal it is an unsettled business.
Why is it so difficult for someone to select a business idea? It is somehow a tricky process and most people who start out with the dream of their own business give up eventually and settle for something else. This, I consider to be a great pity.
Statistics reveal that less than ten percent of start-ups survive beyond their fifth year. For us to have a hundred start-ups, how many dreamers will we need to encourage? Thousands, I would think. To encourage 20,000 new businesses as the Government is planning to do, we will need to encourage millions.
The more dreamers we support, the better it is for Sri Lanka. Small businesses drive economies. They drive the US and EU economies, without doubt and they are capable of driving ours, with some sympathy and understanding.
Theory says real entrepreneurs do not give up easily
Having to go from pillar to post to find support did not put out the entrepreneurial sparks in Henry Fords and Thomas Alva Edisons of this world. There are many local success stories that we can add to this list. None of them received support, funding or encouragement from others to make their dream businesses come true. Still, they succeeded.
But are we all like that?
How many people walk in everyday to meet their bank managers saying “I want to start a business”? How many of those are turned away because they had not prepared well beforehand and had not picked up a feasible business idea? Often, they walk out feeling negative and with waning enthusiasm. In almost all instances, the bank manager may feel it is not his duty to hold your hand through the process of choosing a business idea that is suited to you. And I agree, but, I also sympathise.
Most people who call me or visit me want to go into business. And of them 99% do not know what they want to do. Even if I advise them for hours and hours, their problem will not be solved. Finding a business idea is your job. If you cannot be bothered to do your own thinking, research, looking for ideas and developing them, how do you intend to do business?
As Gamini Senanayake of Industrial Services Bureau who comes in contact with hundreds of similar cases says: “The idea has to be owned by the entrepreneur. True, that we can suggest, but it has to belong to that person.”
The idea has to be owned by the entrepreneur.
As we all agree, counseling helps, but it will often come to you at a cost. Your bank manager often will not have time and a consultant will charge you for their time. At this point in your thinking process, you, the would-be entrepreneur, do not often feel you wish to make that investment.
What then do you do?
This is a real, day to day challenge for me as it must be to most business development service providers and the banking community. And we need to find a solution. A cost-effective and reasonable solution is what we should all wish for.
I propose a Business Start-Up manual. It should first ask whether you should go into business at all. It should help you figure out if business is the right thing for you.
If yes, it should then guide your thinking process and help you crystallize one solid business idea. What is suited to your liking and skill base, circumstances, your purse, your mother in law and even your fastidious and difficult-to-please teenager? You need to consider all this before your small dream business will be a reality.
A Startup Manual would help
Then, the Start-up manual should guide you on how you can tell a good idea from a not so good one. It should give examples of how successful business people picked up business ideas.
Recently someone told me that evaluating a business idea is the job for the financing organisation, not the entrepreneur. Yes, if you are keen to make a fool of yourself in the eyes of your bank manager. If not, do your homework beforehand and know what you are talking about. Consider the feasibility of the idea (or preferably a few) before making the final choice. What may look lovely in your dreams may look lackluster when written in black and white.
What about opportunities that bankers are keen to finance? What about loan schemes and facilities available to start-ups? What about providers of services and technology for startups? Yes, all this too need to be in a Business Start-Up manual. And it should not be too expensive.
Right now, I am compiling such a manual. If you have any more ideas, please get in touch with me early because it will be out soon.
First published in Sunday Times FT Business@Home column in October 2003.