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Preparing to Launch

Some people start businesses because they believe they have an amazing product that will make the world a better place, and in the meantime, it make them millions of dollars. But what happens if you can't come up with a brilliant idea like the Snuggie, or the Slanket, or my own, Nobel-Prize-worthy concept, Uncle Bob's Spray Lasagna? Are you doomed to spend your life working in a nowhere job for a nebbish boss?

Probably, but don't let it get you down. There are many businesses you can own and run — run into the ground, that is, if you don't follow the advice of Andrew Oman, founder of the Olive Tree Network. Mr. Oman and his flacks have sent me a breathless e-communication entitled, "Six Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask Before Starting A New Business." Their idea is that our jobless recovery could spark folks like thee and me to give up our hopeless job searches to start a hopeless business venture of our own.

This is where Oman comes in. His Olive Tree Network is "an organization devoted to helping entrepreneurs evaluate their risks, find funding and get started in business." I definitely know I don't want my business ideas to be evaluated. I know I'm a genius, and my slogan for spray lasagna —"100 percent convenient, 25 percent delicious" — is a sure winner. Still, the "finding funding" part does appeal. I certainly don't want to spend my few remaining shekels on my lamebrain ideas, but if I could find someone who would finance me, I'm all for it. It's not so unlikely. If the world's major banks spent billions on bad bonds backed by bad mortgages, they should be able to find a few million for Uncle Bob.

According to Oman, "one of the greatest concerns that most entrepreneurs face is whether their business will be sufficiently lucrative to replace the income that they are giving up by taking themselves off the job market." One can only imagine the sense of sadness that would overcome the American business community if you took yourself off the job market and put yourself on the couch. However, if you're insistent on starting to think about starting your own business, here are the questions to ask:

1. What is your product or service, and how is it different than your competition?

In other words, have you built the better mousetrap? If not, may I suggest you devote your efforts to building a better mouse. With today's advances in genetic engineering, it should be easy for you to create a mouse brain that talks, walks and holds endless meetings. Oh wait — someone's already done that. We've just described your boss.

2. What is your management background and expertise that allows you to provide your product or service?

Well, you're really good at daydreaming, and you have enormous expertise in napping while sitting up at your desk. I've got it! You should open up a mattress store.

3. Who will be your customers?

How about the people who are customers at your current job? If they'll buy the junk that your company turns out, they'll buy anything.

4. How will you market to your customers?

Begging? Pleading? Infomercials at 2 in the morning on the Spice Network?

5. Who are your major competitors?

Is it possible that any major company would come up with a product or service as hopelessly ridiculous as yours? Very possibly. But you can always sue your competitor, and if you are a sufficient nuisance, which you certainly are, you could end up with a tasty settlement. Now that's a good business to launch — the business of suing everyone in sight.

6. What are your start-up expenses?

Yours should be modest. You'll need a wide-screen HDTV to watch the soaps. You'll need an espresso maker, an electric mixer for margaritas, and maybe one of those massaging foot baths to relieve the stress of being your own boss. If these essential business items bust your budget, cut out the non-essentials, such as a telephone, a computer or a front door.

"Choose a venture that makes you jump out of bed in the morning" are Oman's final words on the subject, and I agree totally. It won't be easy, but you can do it. There's even an idea here for that perfect business — with all the new entrepreneurs needing to jump out of bed, you could make a fortune with a bedbug farm.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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