A ringing telephone can be music to an entrepreneur’s ears. Hopefully, it means potential customers have heard about your services and are eager to learn more. Even better, the caller may have an assignment for you, the beginning of what may well turn into a long, profitable relationship with a new client.

For many small businesses, especially those just starting out, there’s always a strong temptation to say “yes” to anything. After all, new projects aid your cash flow, and create opportunities for more work by providing solid experience to offer other customers.  And in uncertain economic times, even longtime small business owners may feel reluctant to let an opportunity pass them by.

That’s why it’s important for every small business to lay down some business “ground rules” for accepting new projects. Saying “yes” may seem like a no-brainer when business is slow, but doing so could just as easily spin your venture into a different and less desirable direction. Before you agree to something, consider these points:

Can I do this job? New businesses may be tempted to take on projects that are outside their primary scope of services. You should never agree to do a project unless you are absolutely certain you have the time, expertise, and resources to do a satisfactory job. Also, make sure you want to continue doing this type of work in the future; you may begin receiving calls for similar assignments, instead of the type of work you intended to do.


Santa Barbara SCORE meets every Wednesday, from 8:30-11:30 a.m., at 402 E. Gutierrez St., Santa Barbara. No appointment is necessary. For more information, call 805.563.0084, visit www.santabarbarascore.org or register for counseling online at www.edmisscore.org/0166.

In addition, the Santa Barbara SCORE Chapter publishes a great tool for aspiring entrepreneurs, How to Start a Business in Santa Barbara County.

Scheduling. Consider whether this project interferes with other current assignments, or those you expect to be working on in the coming months.  The project may also necessitate additional help or resources. If so, be sure you have a ready source of qualified assistance, equipment and supplies.

Terms. You and the customer should agree on a price before you begin work. This includes hourly rates, retainers, expenses and payment schedules. While it may be tempting to compromise your fee schedule for the sake of getting work, you should avoid underselling your services for the sake of having something to do. Otherwise, you penalize your business and yourself. What’s more, your customers may expect to pay the same amount for future projects, and resist any price increases.

Other projects. One new project may signal an avalanche of other work. While the prospect may seem exciting, remember that you are committed to doing this job, even if something more interesting or lucrative comes along.

By making these rules ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make informed decisions. And as your business grows, these considerations will also prevent you from becoming overextended.

You can plug into a wealth of business know-how by contacting your Santa Barbara chapter of SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE counselors offer free, confidential advice about every aspect of starting, running and growing a successful business, even mentoring.