"Sometimes you just have to jump. I call it a leap of faith. You don't get to know. You've studied as much as you can, you've talked to your customers, and you just jump off."
Those were the words of my seatmate yesterday on a small plane from Oregon to California. He was sharing the story of how his business, Imagine Graphics of Eugene, Ore., has rebuilt itself in recent years with a big new building, a new name, and a lot of new business. He and his wife own it. Business doubled in 2007 and did double-digit growth last year, and he's holding that growth rate this year.
But not by chance. The growth is a result of a major effort: buying and completely remodeling a building, changing business focus and even the business name, and taking on new debt.
So as he told the story, Chris Meeker, the seatmate in question, talked about that moment when they sort of closed their eyes and jumped.
I think he makes a very good point. We don't get to know the future. It's foolish not to study the market and talk to the customers and generate as much supporting information as you possibly can. But it's also true that you can become bogged down in study and research, yearning for an answer, and end up just stalled.
I see that a lot. People seem to act as if every market question, every forecast, has some kind of objective answer that will make the decision for them if they can only find it. Often they think that some other expert—more qualified, more experienced, or more educated—would be able to find the answers that they can't find. And I don't think that's true that often.
If you're going to work in small business, you're going to do a lot of guessing. Educate those guesses. Research the market, study as much as you can, ponder if you insist, and then jump. Or don't jump.
Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, and a cof ounder of Borland International. He teaches about starting a business at the University of Oregon. He is author of books and software that include Business Plan Pro, published by Palo Alto Software, and The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. He has a Stanford M.B.A. degree and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. He blogs at Planning Startup Stories and Up and Running.