Questions ‘wannabe-entrepreneurs’ are burning to ask

At UP ISSISERDEF start-your-own business and other entrepreneurship training programs and forums, there are two questions most often asked. While they happen to be the questions most difficult to answer, they are at the same time the ones that are most critical to business planning and success. Thus we always answer carefully, thoughtfully — knowing our response could nurture or nip budding business ambitions.

How do I get ideas for a profitable business?

Briefly, the answer to this, no matter how disappointing to the proponents, is always: “It depends.”

‘On what?’ they are quick to follow up.

‘Mostly on you,’ we say.

Give yourself a good look in the mirror, we urge them. Better still, look within. What is already in you that will orient you towards a business? Think experience, training, hobbies, interests.
Many ideas for thriving small businesses were the direct result of experience in a previous job. Teachers start tutorial services or even schools; seamstresses go into garments and soft toys; carpenters into sash making or contract work in construction; accountants into auditing services. Writers go into freelance writing, editing, publishing – whether in print or online; artists are commissioned to do portraits, landscapes and still-lifes, or run art galleries. Don’t look too far away – think of comfort zones so you feel “at home” while doing business.

A hobby can also become the basis for a full-time successful enterprise. Do you have one that you can expand into a going concern?

Hobbyists who are able to parlay something that used to give them sheer pleasure into something that also generates income and provides jobs for others must be among the happiest and most fulfilled in business circles.

Myrna Frago of San Pablo City turned her plant collection into a thriving commercial garden which later on began to offer landscaping services. She also expanded into selling garden accents, century art, including antique furniture, and wood craft. Nenita Balino of Davao City cooked experimentally in her kitchen as a break from nursing her baby when she found herself grounded at home for months, and earned raves from friends for her puto-kutsinta of various flavors. Now, she sells kakanin-to-go and instant kakanin mixes in supermarkets all over Davao under the brand name Kaneigi.

Technical training and work experience are also closely linked with entrepreneurship. You will do well to begin a business based on the vocational or trade skills you studied for or developed at work, such as auto repair, computer technology, carpentry, and drafting and designing,

Technical training-based entrepreneurship is exemplified by Miguelito Diestro of Los Banos, Laguna who worked first as a machine operator, then as a mechanical design draftsman in private engineering companies, and finally, after he picked up a mechanical engineering degree, as a design engineer at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). While employed, he set up a sole proprietorship, MG Metalcraft, which pioneered in the manufacture of automotive mufflers and exhaust pipes in Los Banos. The small company has since grown into SANRAM Agricultural and Farm Machinery, which manufactures and installs land-preparation equipment (such as hydro-tillers and hand tractors with trailers) and post-harvest machines. IRRI, which he left after 18 years, has commissioned him to be one of its cooperating manufacturers.

After appraising yourself, you may now look around you.

A factor to consider is import substitution. Ask yourself: What stuff do we import that we can produce locally? It is expensive to import goods and tedious to follow up on papers, not to mention a lot of other red tape. This gives the local supplier an inherent advantage over importers.

Remember how we used to import all our canned corned beef from the United States? Think Hereford, Libby’s, Hormel, and Ligo. In the 1980s, local food companies thought they could challenge the dominance of these imported brands in the market. And they have – with great success. Purefoods and Argentina corned beef have claimed a good part of the market pie, eventually outpacing the old American brands. Other local products we can find in the supermarket shelves include CDO and Young’s Town corned beef.

Other possibilities for business novices: (1) subcontracting, a promising way by which small firms can start fabricating and supplying parts for larger companies; (2) public sector purchasing, which small businesses can explore because government offices are still required by law to purchase supplies from local producers; and (3) franchising, also known as the business with the least risk of failure, being based on proven products and services, brands, and good will.

From so many business ideas, how do I select the best one?

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Photo: “No biggie… Just cooking a burger with Fire! Like men” by Slava, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved