by Ardis Bazyn, IVIE President and owner of Bazyn Communications
When I lost my sight at 20, I had to decide on a new career choice. Entrepreneurship was one option. I learned about the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the career opportunities offered through that program. I got my Food Service Training Certificate and was able to manage my first business. After more than 20 years in the Randolph-Sheppard program, I decided to start another business. I had been speaking and training others to overcome challenges and improve their lives and businesses. Hence, my current business, Bazyn Communications, where I offer business coaching, motivational speaking, writing services, and business consulting to individuals, small businesses, and organizations.
I learned from my own experience and working with others that the first step in choosing entrepreneurship is deciding whether entrepreneurship is really right for you. Do you have the motivation to focus on setting up a business, marketing a business, and making priorities as necessary to keep it moving forward? As a business owner, you will not have a supervisor watching over you to make sure tasks are accomplished in a timely manner or give you jobs to do. You also will not have a steady income immediately. If you have lots of energy, like meeting new people all the time, and feel your personal life can be flexible, entrepreneurship may be a good choice.
The second step is to choose the right type of business to start. Do you have skills that could be marketed as a business? For example, if you have the skills to fix or program computers, you might be able to sell these services to others. Do you currently work for another company doing a particular service such as styling hair, giving massages, giving nail or facial treatments, taking photos, making videos, or selling products and services? If so, you might feel like starting your own business offering these same services to your own customers.
Another viable option is to sell products and services for a large networking products company. There are numerous options: Avon, Mary Kay, Arbonne, Party Lite, health and vitamin products. Each one has its own levels of earnings, most based on the amount of sales you make. Some require you to have inventory on hand and others do not. Check out several before deciding on the best one for you. Each charges you some up-front fees, but the amount varies widely. Most have training sessions to get you started. They also may want you to sign up other sales representatives under you.
Another type of business is selling products or services for disability and accessibility-related companies. Most of these use contractors — you get paid for the amount of work you do but you primarily set your own schedule. You likely will have training and possibly some leads for getting sales.
The next step is to consider family support and your education. Having your own business takes more than just having a skill. You might be great at that skill, but can you network with a variety of people, manage accounts, keep a schedule, and have a plan for how bookkeeping and financial records will be handled? Do you have the education necessary to accomplish these tasks yourself? Do you have a family member (spouse) who can assist you in the business? Classes for those with vision loss are available online, and a good business coach can assist you in finding out what is necessary.
Some accessible online classes are available at the Carroll Center in MA and some correspondence courses are given by the Hadley School for the Blind. SBA.gov also has many resources available. Both the Independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs (www.ivie-acb.org) and Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America (www.randolph-sheppard.org) have websites with lots of information.
The next step is to consider your financial resources and calculate the upfront cost of starting a business. All businesses take time to develop and become large enough to support you and your family. You will need some funding to assist you with living costs until you earn enough to pay your ongoing expenses. You may need to rent an office unless you are planning to have a home-based business. Even then, you will need enough room for inventory, computers, marketing materials, and other equipment. You may need to purchase some equipment, such as a new computer. Some funding is available through the Small Business Administration and local small business community development centers with low or no-cost training from retired business counselors/representatives (SCORE). Some statewide organizations may have funding for people with disabilities and may have employment-related grants and loans.
You will need to research valuable online resources. You can do a search for other types of businesses, possible loans or grants, and other information relating to the industry you want to pursue. You may want to consult with someone else currently in that particular business —you can find others by searching for them on the Internet. The IVIE website has business related links and a list of members who own their own business. The CareerConnect site under APH also offers mentors.
You can explore grants and/or low-interest loans online as well. Some funding is available for starting a new business, particularly if you are a veteran. Funds for minority-based businesses are also available. You can contact veteran organizations and minority organizations for assistance in this area.
If you have a disability, you can get facts from vocational rehabilitation services in your state about how they can assist you in starting a business. The Randolph-Sheppard Program gives training in food service management to visually impaired individuals and assists them in applying for open positions for entrepreneurs. They also can assist you with some technology needs, particularly during your education. The Social Security Administration can give you information on incentives available for business owners and assistance for living costs and health care until you earn enough to support yourself.
Another step in the process is checking state and local laws for starting a business. Depending on the type of business, there are licenses required. All states require you to have a sales tax license unless you sell products of an already established businesses. Other licenses may be required in the city and county in which you live. Local laws are different from city to city. Food services need health licenses to operate. Other retail establishments may need other licenses to sell liquor, over the counter drugs, and other items. Some counties require you to get a DBA-Doing Business As license, and you will have to make sure another business isn't already using the business name you’ve chosen. It is important to know all requirements before you begin a business
The most important step in starting a business is writing a business plan. It forces you to think about the elements of a business such as your mission or vision, your products and services, and how you are unique from others. You will have to define how you will market your business and set goals to build your business. Finally, you will need to write a budget and plan how you will get the sales you need to pay the expenses. Consulting with people familiar with marketing will be beneficial in this process.