Adam & Matthew Toren are brothers, serial entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, award winning authors of Kidpreneurs and co-founded YoungEntrepreneur.com. The Toren brothers are authors of Small Business BIG Vision – Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right.
1. A focus of your new book is “vision.” Why is vision so important to entrepreneurs?
For entrepreneurs, vision is what solidifies their resolve when things get tough, and it’s what clarifies exactly why they want to be in business in the first place. No one would argue with the fact that, as a business owner, challenges are bound to come up. Some are small, others are more significant. Without a strong, clear vision of what you want for your company, you’re more likely to be thrown off track by challenges (especially the big ones), and you’re more likely to give up altogether. Having a big vision is about knowing what you want, and knowing that you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
2. What past experience has led you to be able to write a book on entrepreneurship?
My brother, (Adam/Matthew), and I have been entrepreneurs since we were seven and eight years old. From our first venture, selling these little airplane gliders at a local festival, we moved on to importing electronics and selling them at school. By the time we were in high school, we were very popular, because everyone knew we were the guys to go to, to get a great stereo for your car or a cool boom box.
Since that time, we’ve never not been involved in an entrepreneurial venture. We’ve owned everything from a pool hall to a magazine publishing company and from a print shop to successful web sites. We’ve also partnered with a number of up-and-coming entrepreneurs on their ventures and coached a wide range of business owners on starting and running a successful business. Throughout the years, we have learned through hands-on experience what works and what doesn’t work, and we love nothing more than sharing that knowledge with established business owners and would-be entrepreneurs alike.
3. You are an advocate of what you call the “one-page business plan.” Does this really work?
We’ve used this method for enough businesses to confidently say, “Yes, it does.” There is a myth in the entrepreneurial world that before you do anything toward starting a business, you need to create a business plan. It wouldn’t be a myth, except that the plan that people are usually referring to is of little value to a majority of new businesses. It’s big and formal, and it isn’t meant for the people involved in the business as much as those outside the business, like banks and investors.
A one-page business plan is meant to be a working document that guides an entrepreneur through every stage of business. It is actually used, not stuck on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere. It covers everything necessary to move a business at any stage forward, and creating it isn’t so overwhelming that you’ll put off starting your business to avoid it!
4. One chapter of Small Business, BIG Vision focuses on the pros and cons of hiring employees and the alternatives that are available. Tell us about your philosophy on this topic.
In a nutshell, our philosophy is that for most businesses, it’s best to hold off on hiring employees for as long as possible. There are some businesses that have to have employees. In the book, we use the example of a restaurant. If you open a restaurant, you’re going to need wait staff, a dish washer, and a cook at a minimum. But the vast majority of new businesses can get by without hiring employees for a long time, and for many, employees are never necessary.
There are some advantages to employees, but we feel that the extra expense and difficulty of hiring and managing a workforce outweighs the plus side for most businesses. One of the biggest mistakes a business can make is bringing on employees too soon. The expense and effort is significant, and if you’re not fully prepared to handle it, you’ll struggle for a long time. On the other hand, using outsourced workers, like virtual assistants and other independent contractors, allows a business owner to use time leverage (the primary advantage of employees), without the long-term commitment of employing a staff. So that’s the route we recommend for most business owners.
5. You and your brother, (Adam/Matthew), have been entrepreneurs your whole lives. How did you get started?
Our grandfather, Joe, was instrumental in getting us interested in business ownership. When we were in elementary school, he set us up selling these little glider airplanes called Dipper Dos at a local folk festival. We learned how to really wow the crowd with the tricks we could make the planes do, and we sold out quickly. It was a great feeling for a couple of 7 and 8 year old kids, and from there we were hooked.
We were very fortunate to have the full support of our grandfather and our mother throughout our early ventures. They never told us we should just get jobs or pressured us to avoid the risks of entrepreneurship. They encouraged us to work hard and always do the right thing, and they always let us know they were behind us 100%. Having that kind of support ourselves is a major reason why we wrote the book Kidpreneurs. We want everyone to have the opportunity we had to succeed in whatever business they choose to start.
6. Given today’s economic climate, is this really a good time to start a business?
That’s a great question. Entrepreneurship comes with a certain amount of risk anyway, so isn’t it crazy to go into business with the added risk of facing uncertain economic times? We don’t think it’s crazy at all. In fact, we truly believe it’s the smartest move anyone can make. Read or watch any news about the economy, and you’ll eventually come across a story about the massive layoffs of the past few years and the fact that many people are taking a year or more to find work. And when they finally do land a job, many are settling for a position and pay far below that of the one they left.
Now, that’s risk. If my only option was to get a job, and I had no income during my search, life would be stressful and scary. No fun at all. On the other hand, with the time most people take to find a job, and the savings they use up in that time, I can think of 10 businesses I could start right now, and I guarantee I’d end up in a better position financially and mentally at the end of that timeframe. An economic climate like we’re in now is the perfect time to start a business.
7. From all of your experience, what are the most important entrepreneurial lessons that you can share with our readers?
Two things: 1.) Follow your passion, and 2.) never give up. In addition to our own experience, my brother and I have interviewed successful business owners from all over the world for our websites, and for Small Business, BIG Vision; and passion and perseverance are the two factors that stand out most clearly in the most successful entrepreneurs we’ve met.
If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, no obstacle is too big, and you never feel like you’re working. You’ll happily put in all the hours and effort that’s necessary to see your business thrive. Passion is the fuel that ignites your vision. And if you have #1, passion, #2 is easy – you’re much less likely to throw in the towel when challenges come up. We’ve never talked to a single successful entrepreneur who built his or her business without significant challenges, and having the perseverance to keep pushing toward their entrepreneurial vision is what made the greatest difference for them.
8. What advice do you have for someone thinking about starting their first business?
Well, our book is of course packed full of advice that we think every entrepreneur should know. To simplify though, there are three things I would say to anyone about to start their first business:
1. Don’t go it alone. Get advice and guidance from those who have gone before you. Whether it’s through books, blogs, or mentors, soak up all the information you can about your industry, your target market, and business in general. Even the most successful entrepreneurs hire coaches, because they realize there’s always room for improvement and learning more.
2. Ready, fire, aim. So many people have amazing ideas that they never put into action. In a lot of these cases, the problem comes from their belief that everything has to be perfect before they launch. What every entrepreneur who starts a business eventually learns is that nothing is going to go exactly as you planned anyway. So just get started, and adjust along the way. Not many people are going to know about your company at first anyway, so you might as well work the bugs out on the fly.
3. Plan. This might sound contradictory to the last point, but it’s not if you do it right. What we call “planning paralysis” is a disease that can afflict any entrepreneur. It happens when you find yourself spending more time planning your business than building it. But decisive, concise planning is a great idea. Make a one-page business plan, as we outline in the book, and use it to take action toward your Big Vision!
9. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a business owner, and what did you learn?
When we first started YoungEntrepreneur.com, we hired a web design firm to design the site, they asked for a large portion of the cost upfront. At the time, we thought that was reasonable. This was twelve years ago, so industry best practices were still up in the air to a large extent. The problem was that we didn’t have a contract detailing exactly what they were going to do for us, the deadlines to get it done, and a service level agreement to protect us if they flaked out. Unfortunately, they did indeed flake out a large extent, and we hadn’t taken the steps necessary to have any legal protection and get our money back.
Now, although we’re not distrusting of people we deal with, we take precautions to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. Anyone who starts and runs a business is bound to make mistakes, no matter how many times you’ve done it or what kind of experience you have. It just comes with the territory. The key is to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them.
10. What can readers expect to take away from Small Business, BIG Vision?
When we set out to write the book, it was important to us to provide entrepreneurial readers with the information they need most. We looked at the most common questions we hear from entrepreneurs – whether they’re just starting out or have been in business for a long time – and we provided answers in the book that are designed to really give the reader the advice and guidance they’re looking for. Small Business, BIG Vision answers questions like, “Do I need a business plan?” “Do I need outside financing, and how do I find it?” and “How do I know if it’s the right time to hire employees?” We also covered how to use social media to market your business, how to become a recognized expert in your field, and how to turn around a struggling business.
The book provides practical, useful advice on these topics and more, and then it backs up the advice with profiles of some of the most successful entrepreneurs out there. Each chapter has advice and lessons from self-made entrepreneurs who have been wherever the reader is now. It’s very relatable and timely.
Check out their website, it’s well worth it: http://smallbusinessbigvision.com (no affiliate link)