The Unlikely Path to Business Ownership

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Unlike many business owners, I did not start my business after working for a large company. I was a middle school social studies teacher. Near the end of my teaching career, I was conducting technology-based classroom instruction, leading a large-scale behavior change project with 8th graders, moderating focus groups, and was doing a lot of adult/continuing education instruction. My partner, Dr. Peg Anthony recognized that my teaching experience, combined with background in the Marine Corps, gave me the tools, skills, and talent to become the President of A-G.

As a new business, we knew we would run into several obstacles along the way. Namely, we knew we would have limited resources, but we had a quality set of services that we offered, a strong pool of consultants for bench strength, and contacts that could serve as potential customers. We quickly began forming relationships with partner organizations and marketing our services and soon found success with a company who hired us to assist with implementing a business development strategy and processes within the organization. Engulfed in our work, we found difficulty with making the time to market our services to other potential clients. We were also keeping our own accounting records and solved all IT issues via Google. We quickly realized that we needed help.

In 2013, A-G won its first prime contract which grew the company from three to seven employees. While this may not seem like a substantial transition, the new staff was located in Manassas, VA – almost two hours from A-G’s offices in Annapolis, MD. The distance presented issues in several areas, communication, information technology, and human resources to name a few. In working through these hurdles, we quickly realized there are three key elements in business.  We refer to them as the 3 Pillars of Business and without addressing each of the 3, the business would not survive. These include:

  1. Service Delivery – This piece describes the ability to provide a client(s) quality products or services. Usually this is done well on a small-scale but gets more complicated as the work and company expand.
  2. Marketing/ Business Development – This piece describes the ability to sell your services to those willing to buy it. While this doesn’t sound complicated, it is often easier said than done.
  3. Business Infrastructure – This piece is usually the hardest part of running a business. Building and sustaining the business infrastructure isn’t difficult with 1-2 people. However, as the company expands, managing the growing business administrative needs becomes tricky and with legal implications if done incorrectly.

Once the gaps were identified, we formed partnerships with small businesses that aided the growth of our capacity and provided additional stability for our employees. We formalized relationships with an IT managed services provider who served in a CIO function. They developed our file sharing capabilities and, provided help desk functions, and advised us in purchasing the necessary hardware and software to be innovative and successful in our work.

We also asked our accounting firm to serve in the CFO role providing further in-depth financial analysis on our projects and guidance for making wise financial investments. This included purchasing software packages for accounts payable, timekeeping, and payroll functions.

Throughout the process of developing and refining our business strategy, we asked ourselves many important questions whose answers brought clarity to the direction we sought. In the chart below, these questions are categorized in sequential order to the three pillars of business.

The 3 Pillars of Business Ownership

1. Service Delivery 2. Marketing/ Business Development 3. Business Infrastructure
How will you staff projects?

· 1099 vs. W-2 employees?

· How will you recruit/ retain quality employees?

· How will you have the right mix of senior (expensive) versus junior staff?

How do you position your expertise?

· How will you leverage your past experience?

· Which areas will you specialize in?

· How will you position your expertise versus your competitors?

C Level expertise- Who will serve in your key roles?

· Chief Financial Officer?

· Chief Information Officer?

· Accountant?

· Human Resources?

· Advisory Board?

How will you leverage partnerships?

· What partners will provide services that enhance yours?

· What partners provide similar services if you need bench strength?

Which professional organizations will you be part of?

· Which certifications are the most beneficial?

· Which organizations will give you the best exposure?

How will you calculate and manage the rates that you bill to clients?

· Administrative costs

· Overhead costs?

· Remain competitive with others?

How will you manage time versus relationships?   How will you make time to provide services and develop new business? How will you make time to provide services and still manage the business?

This article is intended to help others who wish to start their own businesses think through these same questions and develop a plan that ensures a smooth(er) beginning to entrepreneurship. I hope that you find value in this article and please visit www.a-gassociates.com for more information on A-G.

—Chris Gonzalez, PMP