Successful entrepreneur shares start-up advice

Tom Walter opened his first business, a hot dog emporium named Tasty Pup, 41 years ago in Niles. He since has started-up 28 other businesses and acquired three more. Most have been in food service; all but two have been successful.

Now CEO of Tasty Catering Inc. in Elk Grove Village, and still active in six other businesses — four of which are spinoffs that have allowed Tasty Catering employees to stretch their own entrepreneurial wings — Walter is a nationally respected entrepreneur willing to share his thoughts on starting-up today.

“It’s absolutely a great time to start a business,” Walter says. “The economy is rebounding. There’s a lot of money available in the SBA.

“What’s difficult is having the courage to start.”

A bullet point summary of Walter’s start up advice, emailed to me as background for our interview, follows. I’m skipping that conversation, however. If you’re serious about starting up, read Walter’s bullet points. They’ll make you think.

Ÿ To start, you must have a market and a product.

Ÿ Can you make quick decisions?

Ÿ Is there a clearly defined exit strategy in case of problems, opportunity to sell or death?

Ÿ You should have six months operating reserves on hand. Are you willing to take great financial risk? Are you willing to sacrifice your current lifestyle?

Ÿ Is your significant other on board?

Ÿ Can you sell? Are you deeply passionate about your product? Do you understand the concept of helping someone make a purchasing decision instead of just “selling”?

Ÿ Are you fluent in all areas of marketing? Do you realize its importance?

Ÿ What is your marketplace differentiator? It cannot be price, or you will commoditize your product.

Ÿ If you have a business partner, are you in agreement with values and operating methodology? Do you have a buy/sell agreement and an exit strategy?

Ÿ Determine the values you hold dear, publish those values and hire staff based on the values. Screen employees for skill, but hire for attitude.

Ÿ Are you willing to be transparent, to share risk and rewards with staff?

Ÿ Academia teaches MVV: Mission, Vision, Values. The proper order should be Values, Vision and Mission.

Ÿ Do you understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a motivational theory) and how it applies to the workplace?

Ÿ Great leaders and successful entrepreneurs possess a high level of psychological capital: Hope, efficacy, psychological resiliency and optimism. Study the work of Fred Luthans, a management professor in organizational behavior. At least read his entry in Wikipedia.

Ÿ Do you understand that leadership is important and management detested?

Ÿ The following is necessary for an entrepreneurial business to be successful: Leadership. Culture. Human Capital. System and Processes. Recognition and Reward. Together they equal organizational success.

Ÿ Jim Kendall welcomes comments at

© 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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