Ask any longtime business owner the secret to success, and he or she probably will tell you it’s dedication.
John Pinnington took that to heart.
He invested all of his money in the business he created in 2010, AA Printing Service. There was nothing left in the budget for his house. The power was shut off. So was the hot water.
That didn’t bother Pinnington.
He walked around his home in the dark for a week. He washed himself with a 5-gallon bottle of water in his backyard. The day his business opened, he bought a shirt at Ross and put a jacket over it so no one would notice it was unironed.
Today, it’s obvious Pinnington’s gamble has paid off. AA Printing Service’s average revenue is $50,000 a month. Business has been so good, Pinnington is considering opening a second location.
“I was driven,” Pinnington said. “I was hungry. I’m single, and I didn’t have anyone to worry about. I decided to invest everything in my business, then worry about my house.”
Pinnington had been itching to start a business for some time. He worked as a bodyguard in Los Angeles and at the Playboy Mansion, but that life grew tiresome. After relocating to Las Vegas in 2001, he scoured trade shows and conventions for business ideas.
He frequently ran out of business cards, which inspired him to start a same-day printing service. That way, he reasoned, he’d never have to worry about having business cards handy.
Pinnington’s strategy was extreme, but business owners around the valley agree that owning a business takes guts. It also takes hard work and a plan. Here, local entrepreneurs offer their advice and tips for success.
Have a business plan.
A detailed business plan can help entrepreneurs avoid getting overwhelmed and allow them to evaluate whether their business is succeeding.
“You can get carried away working and lose yourself in your job; then you don’t know where you are at,” Pinnington said. “Have a checklist of what you want to do per day, per week, per month and per year.”
Do your homework.
Study the potential location of your business and learn as much as possible about nearby competition. Will your business be able to compete?
When James York, president and CEO of Valley Bank of Nevada, decided to open a second branch about 10 years ago, he focused on the competition in Henderson. The city already was home to several banks.
“My initial thought was, ‘Is there even room in the market?’” York said.
Ultimately, York decided Valley View had a good chance for success. He opened his branch in the middle of a cluster of other banks.
“(We) were an alternative,” York said. “Just like restaurants, (all the banks) are all kind of together to give options.”
Study the industry you’re entering.
Natalie Buckel already was familiar with the franchise industry when she opened a Smokes Poutineri in downtown Las Vegas. Buckel and her husband had owned several Jimmy John’s restaurants in Henderson.
Still, Buckel knew it was wise to learn as much as possible about the popular Canadian eatery before opening her restaurant’s doors.
“When you are part of a franchise, you are the business owners, but you’re in a whole different marriage,” Buckel said.
She called and visited the company’s headquarters to get a feel for the business and meet the people in charge. Getting to know franchisors was important, Buckel said, because she and her husband were in constant contact with them.
Before Buckel agreed to do business with Smokes Poutineri, she made sure to ask the hard questions: What are your worst-performing stores? How many stores have closed and why? What is your growth strategy? Do you have lawsuits pending, and if so, what do they entail?
“I asked them these questions face to face because then they can’t craft an answer,” Buckel said.
Market, market, market.
Social media can be a vital tool to get your business’s name out to the public, but you are the best representative of your business, so put yourself out there.
In the nine years Paula Jackson has headed the Large Vision Business Network Mixer, she has seen many businesses fail because their owners underestimated the effects of marketing.
“Marketing is a key factor,” Jackson said. “Without that, you don’t have foot traffic. And without that, you don’t have a business.”
While the Internet is extremely helpful to attract attention, nothing is more powerful than meeting people in person, Jackson said. Putting a face to your product will help potential consumers remember your business.
Familiarize yourself with every facet of your business, and pay attention to the needs of your customers and employees.
When it comes to making a business successful, the single most important step is simply to show up, said Baden, the State Farm agent.
“I know that sounds oversimplified, but just be here,” Baden said. “Answer the calls and questions that customers and people have.”
Baden makes it a point to respond to every call and email he receives. It makes both customers and employees feel valued.
Listen to other perspectives.
Some of the most successful business owners have made it because they remained level-headed, said Aviva Gordon of Gordon Law.
“Don’t surround yourself with yes-men,” Gordon said.
Having a team that agrees with you constantly will only blind you to improvements that have to be made, Gordon said. Constructive criticism and suggestions can go a long way in contributing to the longevity of a business.
Have reasonable expectations.
Don’t expect to make a profit within the first year. Starting a business typically costs more money and time than anticipated.
Gino Ferraro, who owns Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, said he’s learned the value of being patient during his three decades in the restaurant industry.
“Don’t expect to see results right way,” Ferraro said. “You have to be patient.”
As for financing, Baden said that when he started Valley View, he made sure to invest more into the business than his calculations suggested would be needed.
Don’t be afraid to make staffing changes.
Shortly after starting his insurance agency, State Farm agent Chris Baden realized one of his employees was not a good fit. He tried to resolve issues with the person, but it didn’t work.
“It’s important to surround yourself with solid, competent people,” Baden said. “The employee wasn’t a good fit. I had to let that employee go the first month.”
Keeping someone who can’t perform or doesn’t mesh with the team could lead to a toxic environment. Letting the employee go avoided future potential problems, Baden said.
Expand your network.
Join chambers of commerce and network constantly.
Gordon knew the importance of getting to know as many people as possible for the success of her law firm. So she made a conscious decision not only to join legal organizations but other types of organizations as well, to have a good mix of professionals in her network.
“Go in with a plan,” Gordon said. “Maybe meet two new people and follow up with them. Don’t expect to meet 100 people.”
Equally important, Gordon said, is to take networking seriously.
“You will receive what you put in,” she said. “If you stay in a room for an hour and don’t follow up, then your networking won’t work.”
Hire a bookkeeper, business consultant and lawyer.
Buckel said she has heard plenty of horror stories from friends who opened businesses only for them to close. On top of dealing with the disappointment, she said, some of her friends have had to figure out the legal process of filing bankruptcy or ending a business partnership.
An exceptional lawyer can save you from trouble if business turns south. Business experts also can help you at the front end, signing leases and working out terms of agreements.
“Don’t cheap out on these things,” Buckel said.
Maintain your life.
Baden dedicates most of his day to his agency, but he is well aware he has other priorities too. Not maintaining your personal life will negatively affect your work life, he said.
“Work won’t be around all my life,” Baden said. “But I want my marriage to be a part of my whole life. Be healthy mentally and emotionally. Once you compromise those things, you’re a time bomb.”
Baden said he becomes more exhausted if he focuses too much on work. If he invests in his personal life as well, he is much more productive.
Choose business partners carefully.
If you plan to have a business partner, be sure you complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Gordon said having a business partner is very similar to being married. Trust and support are key.
“Go into a business with someone who can look over your shoulder and you look over their shoulder,” Gordon said. “You have to be comfortable.”
Documenting who is responsible for each task can help avoid problems. If things go sour, documentation can show who may be to blame.
York recommended partnership agreements, similar to prenuptial agreements, to outline each investor’s share, what would determine the end of the partnership and how the business partnership would be dissolved.
“All partnerships will end eventually,” he said. “I see too many businesses that don’t have a partnership agreement.”
If your business fails and you can afford it, don’t hesitate to try again. You likely will improve with experience.
Most important, know you are not the only one who has experienced the stress of owning a business.
“People call it failing, but I don’t,” Pinnington said. “You win some, you lose some. It’s not failing. You just get better.”
When Pinnington was planning AA Same-Day Printing, he spent plenty of nights lying awake. He took a big risk investing everything into the business and knew it could backfire.
“We all have the sleepless nights,” Pinnington said. “We all go through it. You’re not alone.”