RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The decision to quit a job and start one's own business is a big one, and around 800,000 Americans do that every year. NPR's John Ydstie continues our Money and Life coverage with advice from some people who've tried.
JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Dave Selden's business grew out of a passion he has for beer - glass after glass of beer. That became obvious when I ran across this video on his website.
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DAVE SELDEN: I was trying to drink a different beer every single day for 999 days I made it to - I don't know - 600-and-some-odd beers - so 660-some on consecutive days, which is crazy actually now that I say that out loud.
YDSTIE: Back in 2009, Selden who lives in Portland, Ore., had a public relations job. But he was writing a beer blog on the side, and he told me he started getting invited to lots of beer festivals.
SELDEN: And I needed a way to kind of keep track of all the beers that I was trying at the time. And alcohol being what it is, sometimes my memory the next day wasn't great.
YDSTIE: So Selden developed a pocket-sized paper notebook with a flavor wheel and other graphic aids to help him take good notes. He wanted it to look good, so he called a professional printer who told him he couldn't just print a few copies. So Selden decided to print a thousand and see if he could sell some. They sold out in two weeks, but Selden was still cautious.
SELDEN: I would have thought the idea of this pocket notebook for beer tasting becoming a business was preposterous if you'd told me that at the time.
YDSTIE: But he got a lot of encouragement. Friends said, why don't you make a tasting notebook for wine or coffee? He did. And now he's making about a dozen versions, including for cheese, hot sauce and cigars. Last year, the sales for Selden's company called 33 Books totaled around $300,000. Not bad for a one-man operation. And he's gone global.
SELDEN: It's sold in stores all around the world. Yesterday I sent a bunch of books over to Germany and Switzerland, and I have some stuff going out to Taiwan today.
YDSTIE: Selden has been growing his business for about seven years but only quit his day job three years ago. And he advises aspiring entrepreneurs to take it slowly. That's not necessarily the best advice for everyone.
Maggie and Brian Harlow jumped in with both feet when they started a Signarama franchise in Louisville, Ky., 13 years ago. They provide businesses with everything from refrigerator magnets to storefront signs crafted in their own workshop.
MAGGIE HARLOW: We decided, well, in order to be successful - was give it everything we got - commit fully to it.
BRIAN HARLOW: If we kept depending on a secondary income from somewhere else, we would never push hard enough on this.
M. HARLOW: And we had to sort of live on beans and rice for little while and work really long hours.
YDSTIE: And it worked for them. Last year, their firm of 19 employees generated revenues close to $2 million. Both Maggie and Brian caught the entrepreneurial bug from their parents. They are partners in this business, and evidence suggests that having a partner increase the odds of success. But Maggie says if your partner is your spouse, it can raise the stakes.
M. HARLOW: Whatever interpersonal issues you have at home, they will be magnified at work.
YDSTIE: In fact, soon after they were open, their sales were sparking higher, and they were moving to a new location and taking on more expense. It required a flood of quick decisions, and Maggie and Brian were overwhelmed
M. HARLOW: We couldn't agree on the strategy. You know, do you hire this kind of person? Do we need to buy more equipment? There were so many decisions to be made.
YDSTIE: So they found a business coach and met with her for several months to craft a plan. But Brian, who's a doer, got tired of the meetings.
M. HARLOW: And he said, you know, I really am not enjoying this. I don't enjoy sitting and talking about this stuff. Why don't you go to the meetings, and then you guys decide what's going to happen or what is the best decision. I'll support it, and I'll get behind it. We'll make it happen. And I thought, well, that's awesome.
YDSTIE: So Maggie took on the strategizing, which she loved, and Brian took charge of the implementing. Patricia Greene, a professor at Babson College which focuses on training entrepreneurs, says getting advice from someone like a business coach or advisory council is crucial. But, she says, the fundamental ingredient for a successful small business is a passion for what you do.
PATRICIA GREENE: 'Cause anything that has to do with starting and growing a business, it's really hard work. And it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort. Therefore, you better care about what you're doing.
YDSTIE: There's lots more about starting a new business on the NPR website. So check it out. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.
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