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Dr. Stephen Harper on Starting a New Business
Stephen Harper, Ph.D., is the Progress Energy/Betty Cameron Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He joined the school’s faculty in 1976 and has written numerous books on management and entrepreneurship, including Extraordinary Entrepreneurship: The Professional’s Guide to Starting an Exceptional Enterprise and The McGraw-Hill Guide to Starting Your Own Business: A Step-by-Step Blueprint for the First-Time Entrepreneur. Harper has received various teaching awards and has served on the boards of directors for a number of corporations and non-profit organizations. Here he shares his secrets for the first 30 days of starting a new business.
What makes the first 30 days of starting a new business such a challenging time?
The first day you decide to open a new business, you become the chief executive. You are excited about your decision and enthusiastic about what lies before you. Tempered with the excitement also comes a sense of responsibility. When you commit to starting a new business, you are responsible for all aspects of its operations. As a business owner, you are both at the top and the bottom of the organizational chart.
What do you think comes as the biggest surprise during the first 30 days of starting a new business?
Many people have a perception of what it means to own a business—a perception that is very different from the reality of what new business owners face as they gear up to commence operations. At first, many people tend to focus on the glamorous aspects of business ownership without thinking about all of the work that goes into planning and getting ready to open a business. New business owners find themselves wondering: “Where’s the coolness? Where’s the glamour? I’m overwhelmed by everything I have to do!”
What emotions do you observe in people during the first 30 days of starting their new businesses?
Excitement and fear are the most common emotions during the first 30 days. When people decide to go into business, they tend to be very excited and enthusiastic about their decisions. However, as things proceed and the business starts to come to fruition, they start to become fearful. They’re sometimes surprised by the amount of time, cash, skill, etc., that are needed to get a business up and running, and are fearful that they won’t be able to handle everything.
What do you see as a key to dealing with the overwhelming task of starting a new business?
New business owners need to recognize that they may not be able to do everything that needs to get done by themselves. They need to understand that they’re going to have to delegate during the process of getting the new business up and running. Unfortunately, delegation is a real challenge for many new business owners. Most people delegate out of necessity rather than by choice. It’s very important for business owners to recognize when they need to bring people on. As a new business owner, you have to be realistic about what you can do yourself. Don’t just hire anyone, either. It’s actually a great idea to hire people who are smarter than you—especially in the areas that are important where you do not have the skills and experience.
What pitfalls should new business owners avoid?
Don’t become blinded by your own success. Many small business owners who experience initial success might succumb to the paradox of success: Early success creates arrogance and leads some small business owners to take on more than they are able to deal with during the early days of business ownership.
What recommendations do you have for new business owners to increase their likelihood of success?
It’s critical to have a veteran entrepreneur as a mentor. As soon as you decide to open your own business, you need to seek out a mentor. A real mentor is not someone who always pats you on the back. Get someone you respect and who always raises probing questions. Look for advice and take advice, but remember that it’s still your business. Put together a support system for yourself and seek out other entrepreneurs.
How can new business owners make it through the first 30 days?
Remember that part of success is being cool under fire. Entrepreneurs live in a world of spinning plates; in today’s world, these plates are spinning faster and faster. Recognize that there are no timeouts or commercial breaks when you own your own business. Getting through the first 30 days requires flexibility, finesse, resourcefulness and tenacity. Skills and resiliency also are critical. Remember that you can’t change the world. Your business has to change to be in sync with the world.
What should new business owners expect as they come out of the first 30 days?
As the first 30 days comes to an end, your focus will change. At this point, you can change your focus from getting your business ready to start to modify your business strategy and operations with what you’ve learned. As your new business gets closer to commencing operations, you’ll continue to deal with spinning plates. Once you’ve taken care of all the initial planning and start-up, you’ll continue to experience problems of progress, such as dealing with new customers and being responsive to their needs. When running a business, you’re never aiming at a stationary target. Remember that preparing for tomorrow today is a key to success.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
The belief that gets me through change is that I’m the master of my own destiny and I can make it happen.
The best thing about change is..
…it represents opportunity.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Having the guts to do something—anything—that I’ve never done before, whether it’s writing a book or taking on a speaking engagement. Having the courage to do things I have not done before represents all that is positive about change to me.
For more information on Dr. Stephen Harper, visit csbapp.csb.uncw.edu.