Tightrope: How your start-up can make it in a crowded field

Dear Gladys, I am a regular reader and I get a lot of inspiration from you. However, inspiration doesn't last long when I start to think about really getting started in a business. I want to open a hair salon and day spa. But I'm afraid that it will not do well because of the number of businesses that are already offering the same services. My friends say that the struggle to maintain the company will be tough. I'm fearful that they might be right? What do you think? — D. Carter

Sometimes the thing that we fear is warranted. But generally the fear that we imagine in our day-to-day existence is seldom realized.

Invest your time and energy in developing your own business and stop wasting energy by being afraid or concerned with how many other companies are in the business that you want to start.

I doubt if Dave Thomas of Wendy's, for example, had second thoughts about opening his fast-food chain just because other like companies existed.

I can remember my grandmother's advice when I would compare myself to others. She said, "No two snowflakes are the same, each is unique unto itself."

And it's true: This snowflake principle applies to humans as well. And for each thing we encounter, we place our own brand of uniqueness on that situation. With that in mind, there is no way that owners of other hair salons and day spas can be compared to you and yours.

Many would-be entrepreneurs stop before getting started because it occurs to them that their idea is not original or that someone else has started the same type of business that they're thinking of. This notion makes little sense. Have you noticed how many places you can go to get a manicure? And have you bothered to notice how close they are to each other?

Visit a mall, and you will find dozens of stores offering the same things, and they appear to be doing quite well. The other day I counted 11 shoe stores in a mall.

No matter how many like stores exist, each one is different in its own right.

Debbi Fields, for another example, was fully aware that the chocolate cookie had already been invented. And she knew as well that they come in a variety of forms, from frozen to box mix to microwave-ready. None of this information stopped her from putting her own spin on the cookie business with her now-nationwide Mrs. Fields stores.

You must figure out how to put your own spin on your company, too. Perhaps it's worth your time to study some of these successful folks like Debbi Fields and Dave Thomas.

Having a number of the same types of businesses is healthy for the buying public because it gives us choices. It's healthy for the entrepreneur because it keeps you on your toes searching for ways to make a better service or product for the buyer.

There are many ways that you can create your own special brand, so don't get caught up in worrying about how many businesses beat you to the marketplace. Keep the snowflake principle in mind.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at gladys@gladysedmunds.com.