New Castle News

January 6, 2014

Mitch Olszak: More than good intentions needed to start a business

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — “If you build it, he will come.”

That’s a famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams.”

For those who haven’t seen the film, a disembodied voice whispers these words to the main character, played by Kevin Costner.

He then proceeds to build a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield. Soon after, long-dead baseball players come out of the corn and begin to play ball — including the father of Costner’s character.

It’s all very heartwarming and sentimental. It’s also a complete fantasy.

The idea of simply building something and expecting people to flock to it, however, has taken on a life of its own — at least with some people. You get the sense that they believe all you need is something new and it will be a hit.

But anyone paying attention knows that’s not the case. If you want to start a successful business, you had better be prepared to work at it. Getting a small business off the ground and making it grow requires sacrifices in time, money and effort. It’s not something you can dabble in.

Want proof? Look at the small businesses that come and go. Often, they make barely a ripple before they sink under the surface.

Businesses face a variety of challenges when it comes to success. It’s insufficient to offer something the public wants; you must make sure the public is aware of your existence.

Relying on word of mouth just won’t cut it. Chances are, whatever you’re providing is available elsewhere. Enticing customers requires a real promotional effort on the part of new businesses.

And that’s just the start. A good business person needs to know how to manage inventory, deal with customers, supervise any employees and adjust to the unexpected.

In short, simply having a hopeful outlook isn’t enough. You can build it, and they still won’t come.

I don’t say this to discourage anyone from starting a business. But I happen to think it’s better to deal with a challenge with your eyes wide open, instead of being blinded by unrealistic optimism.

I also say it in the hopes that government officials, who are sometimes called upon to provide funding or other support to prospective new businesses, develop a fuller appreciation for the process.

Unfortunately, I sometimes get the sense that government funds are seen as play money. If they aid a business that goes under, at least the effort was made.

It shouldn’t be that way. Businesses looking for a handout from government ought to be willing to provide a solid plan and demonstrate a commitment to deal with the inevitable adversity of a startup. Government should look at these requests with a measure of skepticism, and not turn to Kevin Costner for fiscal guidance.