Utah County has a well-deserved reputation for the incubation of small businesses.
Despite tax rates that are marginally higher than most states west of the Mississippi, Utah — and especially Utah County — enjoys a very high level of education, a healthy lifestyle and a heritage of resourcefulness and independence, all things that make fertile ground for growing a small business.
Starting a small business can be a rewarding experience, as long as you keep some simple rules in mind.
Here are four things to do when beginning a business, told by some of Utah County’s small businessmen themselves. They won’t guarantee success, but they’ll make it significantly more likely.
1. Do what you love.
This is the cardinal rule. Never start a business that you can’t stand, because you’re going to spend every waking moment at it for the foreseeable future, if you want to be successful. But a business you love can blur the line between work and play and make it easier to convey a sense of excitement to your customers.
Case in point: Twerf’s Digital Media. Started by Ben Seager, a precocious kid with an addiction to electronics, Twerf’s supplies some of the most exotic equipment to some of the most discriminating households at incredible prices.
“I cut lawns, laid cable, dug ditches, anything people would pay me for,” Seager says. “But I always wanted to be working with computers and sound systems. That was the stuff that turned me on. I was doing it for free in my spare time when one of my suppliers told me I ought to get paid for it. I said, ‘People would PAY me for this?’ It’s been more fun than I imagined.”
2. Strike while the iron is hot.
Look at the market. What are your neighbors doing? What’s the scuttlebutt around the watercooler or on the softball diamond? Drive around your neighborhood on Saturday morning and see what people are out doing. It can lead to some interesting ideas.
Case in point: Patchmasters Drywall Service in Provo, owned by Curtis Welch. “I spent so many Saturdays helping my neighbors replace walls and remodel that I started to wonder if people were doing it during the week, too. Turns out they were,” Welch explains.
3. Expand slowly.
The most common problem for small business is undercapitalization. The second biggest is having eyes bigger than their stomachs. Many small businesses, just over the startup hump and starting to make some money, grow too fast and blow themselves to pieces. Stay small, get strong, and move cautiously until you’re sure you’re ready to take on more business than you can personally handle.
Case in point: American Promotions, a six-man operation based in Provo that provides things like T-shirts, pens, bells, whistles, and mugs branded with your company’s logo.
Theron Harmon, CEO: “We started when I was in college, out of my apartment. We’ve had to move twice when the boxes of stuff to deliver exceeded our available floor space.”
Harmon says he started small, worked hard to get a small clientele of regular customers, then one day almost got run over by the Mack Truck of success.
“We hit a major client,” Harmon says. “Overnight we went from a one-man band to a full orchestra.”
4. Stay focused.
One of the miracles of the free-market system is the incredible opportunity to change from one business to another almost overnight. The real miracle is that some people are able to resist doing that, even when seemingly free money is on the table. Staying focused may be hard, but a reputation for matchless quality is hard to come by any other way. And it’s that reputation that wins business.
Case in point: Selnate International, an English school for foreign-language speakers. Selnate itself is a Japanese company, but the Provo operation is run by local boy Tracy Rogers as a separate venture. His operation caters to a diversity of nationalities but has a laser focus on one thing: English. Selnate has resisted the urge to teach other languages.
Small business is the lifeblood of the valley — over 60 percent of Utah County works in businesses of 20 people or fewer. It’s an incredible experience. Keep these four things in mind if you decide to join us.
Christopher Jones is a small business consultant in Utah Valley and was recently hired as the CEO of the New Minutemen Project, his fourth small business in seven years.