Assignment: Interview a local small business owner. Write
up your interview, and include your assessment of the business.
than talking to an owner of one. This assignment is designed to
force you out of the classroom and into the trenches for
information. I want you to gain an understanding of why people
start businesses, the opportunities and challenges, and how it is
different than working for someone else.
you get a better idea of what small business is like
1. Identify a business to study.
Look around you: Do you have a friend or family member who
runs a small business? Where do you shop? What type of
business would you like to own someday? Having some
connection in this way will help make the initial contact. You might contact a local association of business owners
(Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.) and see if one of their
members would be willing to speak with you. Most business
owners enjoy telling their story.
2. Contact the business, explain your project, and see if the
owner will spend an hour or so with you talking about the
Don’t be afraid to cold call. They want to help
students with a class project. Be polite and respectful of the
Almost everyone is willing to help
Most small business owners are extremely busy–
you will need to meet at the owner’s convenience.
3. Prepare for the interview.
Do as much homework as you can BEFORE the interview. Consider
How the local/regional economy that would affect this
business, the industry, etc. Have any articles been written
about this company? Check the local papers
online archives. Besides the Times, try the Puget
Sound Business Journal. Trade journals can provide
information on the industry in general.
Write up a list of questions you want to ask. Always gather more than you think you will need during the interview.— (e.g., if you’re
talking to a machine shop that has Boeing as a client,
Boeing’s fortunes affect this business).
And talk intelligently with the owner.
C. Some suggested questions:
When did you start your business and why?
Did you have any experience in the field?
How has the business changed since you started it?
What have been your biggest challenges?
How do changes in the economy (e.g., recession, )
What do you enjoy most about your business?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?
4. Have the interview with the owner.
Again, most owners are very busy—be punctual and respectful .
Know that you are a representative of this school and are
You may find it useful to tape the interview—with the owner’s permission
AVOID QUESTIONS ABOUT FINANCE. Don’t ask the owner what
sales are, what their personal income from the business is, or
how they obtained their original financing to start the business.
These may seem academic to you, but this information is very
personal to an owner and is usually held in strict confidence.
Nothing will offend the owner (or anyone!) faster than prying
into the finances of the business. If the information is