One Startup Idea at a Time

A would-be entrepreneur is considering launching two different businesses simultaneously. Bad strategy, says our expert

By Karen E. Klein

Q: My partner and I want to start a tax-preparation enterprise that also handles bookkepping and payroll preparation. We also would like to start a separate entity that rehabs inner-city properties. Should we undertake both at the same time, as the payroll/accounting business could serve as the back office for the rehab enterprise? If not, how should we time the two startups?--C.S., Philadelphia

A: Most entrepreneurs are great "idea" people. Where others see only a problem, they can dream up a dozen ways to solve it -- and make a buck on the side. You may be this kind of person, and if you are, that's fine: It shows you have the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that's right for business.

However, you'll always be faced with many business opportunities and you need to weigh their pros and cons and home in on one choice. "The reality is that successful entrepreneurs choose one idea. Those who can't decide and do more, or do them all, more often than not lead to business failure," says Paul R. Ratoff, a small-business consultant with Strategy Development Group (


  It takes a lot of hard work, not to mention gusto, guts, and determination, to start a new business. "You should decide which business to start first and work solely on that one until it's off the ground, profitable, and doesn't need your attention on a day-to-day basis," Ratoff says.

He continues: "Even though your rehab business might involve some payroll issues and accounting support, the two business are very different, have very little to do with each other, and provide little benefit to each other. Choose the one that excites you the most and provides the most opportunity for success -- and forget the other, for the time being."

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Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues

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