Entrepreneurs offer tips for business startups

Be prepared to do some bootstrapping, which in the startup world typically means providing your own money. When you have employees, get them engaged in the business. And try not to become a bank for customers who have more resources than you do.

That's the core of advice for startups from three successful entrepreneurs who were among those responding to an email I sent asking business owners for their thoughts on a variety of subjects.

Starting up was one of the subjects.

The three whose comments follow are Tom Walter, chief culture officer at Tasty Catering, Elk Grove Village; Kathy Miller, president, Total Event Resources, Schaumburg; and Bob Podgorski, principal, RPP Enterprises, Hoffman Estates.

One way or another, each pointed to regulation, taxes, funding and staffing as issues startups must manage.

Starting up “is not easy,” Miller, an event planner, responded in her email, “but nothing good is.” However, a lack of people resources often makes startup life harder.

“There are many opportunities (to grow)” Miller wrote, “but the small business owner doesn't have the manpower to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Manpower nearly always is an issue. Walter, nationally known for his approach to participatory management, suggests a blend of culture, people and marketing.

“Employee engagement is the leading indicator of a company's health; finances are the lagging indicator,” Walter responded.

“The best way to build a sustainable, successful organization is through employee engagement.”

One of “many steps” Walter suggests is to “Have decision-makers at all levels, so that opportunities are easily transformed into revenue.”

Revenue also is an issue, especially when governments need funding.

Podgorski, a career guidance specialist, noted “The unsure regulatory and legislated impositions impacting business and markets.” Walter wrote about “Government regulation and taxation pressures that limit sales and (the) resulting profitability.”

Although Miller covered similar ground, her message centered on “Large corporations that expect small companies to provide longer billing cycles — billion dollar companies expecting million dollar companies to fund their cash flow.”

Miller's concern is echoed by many small business owners, especially those just starting out. In spite of the standard 30-day clause on invoices, many companies, often larger ones with the clout to pay when they want, stretch payments to 60 and 90 days.

“Corporations (must understand) that we are not their bank,” she wrote. “We are entrepreneurs who can save them money in other ways.”

That's one reason Podgorski emailed that startups will “need to bootstrap in the early years, make more of less, grow (through) will, brains and muscle.” Bootstrapping may not be what most new entrepreneurs envision, but creating a product, or service, takes time and money.

Finding customers rarely happens quickly; selling them takes even more time.

Startups, Podgorski said, “should know they will need to be highly customer centric.” In other words, no one is going to come because you've built a mousetrap; you have to find customers with mice.

• © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at

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