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Casco Bay Law is a law firm in Portland, Maine, focused on wills and trusts, probate, business law, and real estate.

Five Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business

People sometimes ask me how I decided to follow my passion and start a law practice. Often, it seems what they really are wondering is whether they, too, should take the plunge and strike out on their own.

There are as many kinds of business as there are flavors of ice cream. There are just as many reasons for wanting to be a business owner. Unfortunately, in the cold reality of capitalism, simply following one’s bliss does not guarantee success.

Whether to “go for it” is a question every would-be entrepreneur must answer for him or herself. However, below are five fundamental questions to help start your analysis:

  1. Do you have a product, skill, or service for which others are willing to pay?

    You might love what you do, but why should customers beat a path to your door? Some businesses, such as photography or web design, require exceptional talent or skills. Others, such as retail, need a strong location and inventory to hit the ground running. You need to know exactly what it will take to get paying customers through the door, and you need to be capable and ready to “bring it.”
  2. Do you have access to enough start-up capital?

    You don’t need ties to a venture capital firm to start your business. In fact, you’re almost certainly better off starting on a shoestring. But it will take something. Whether it’s $1,000, $10,000, or $50,000, you need to know your startup costs, have access to that money, and be comfortable with the very real possibility of losing it.
  3. Do you know how long you’ll need to survive with no income, and are you ready and willing to do so?

    It might be six months; it might be a year or more. It depends upon the industry, and it depends upon you. Regardless, there will be a period of time before you can pay yourself. You need to have an idea, upfront, of how long that will be; you need a plan for how you will support yourself and your family; and you need to be comfortable with that reality.
  4. Is your spouse or significant other absolutely, completely, without reservations, 100 percent on board?

    Starting your business will be exciting, frightening, emotionally draining (and rewarding), financially risky, and life changing. If you have a partner, you will need his or her support at the end of a lot of hard days. If your partner is not, hands down, your biggest champion on Day One, that is a major red flag. If they are totally behind you, that’s terrific. When you succeed, it will be their success, too. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
  5. Do you have a passion for the product or service you plan to provide?

    Passion alone won’t make your business successful, but it sure does help. You will pour countless hours and boundless energy into starting your business. It’s a whole lot easier to do that, day in and day out, when you absolutely love whatever it is that you do.

There are certainly other questions you can, and should, ask before “taking the plunge” and starting your business. However, if you can’t honestly and emphatically answer “yes” to each of these five, you should be thinking twice. If you can, on the other hand, then perhaps you just might be on to something great.