Pat Grant, 30, and Kathy Broglio, 23, thought they could save money by hiring a friend to do the accounting when they opened a hair salon in a northwest 14th Street neighborhood.
The two needed to keep costs low and were relieved when the accountant friend told them he would charge only about $200 to set up the salon books.
"When he brought us the bill, Kathy's face turned blue, then red," Grant said. "This was the first week after we opened and we didn't have any money." s
The accountant had charged them $714.
Mary Sillers, 22, had money problems too and didn't realize that she could have hired an accountant when she started her art services business five years ago. She remembered having to call her creditors every month to explain why they weren't getting paid.
"We went hand to mouth" for about a year and a half, "and we'd have to get deposits up front," Sillers said.
She even borrowed $100 one month from her father to pay the phone bill. "C & P has no heart," Sillers laughed. They go straight for the telephone line."
Broglio, Grant and Sillers are just three of the area's dozens of young entrepreneurs, able to fulfill dreams of working for themselves because they're innovative, usually have little to lose and sometimes can get help from their parents.
While money is often a major problem, so is experience. The young entrepreneurs often learn one mistake at a time.
"I did it all bass ackwards," said Sillers, the owner of a Dupont Circle art framing shop. "It all worked out. I'm not sure how I did it, but I did it."
"Normally the younger person has the drive and the energy and hasn't had the chance to find out what's involved in risk-taking," said William Jameson, president of the Greater Washington Business Center. "And they're usually willing to take that risk."
Most business upstarts are between the ages of 26 and 55, Jameson said. "One kid came in here at age 23 with $10,000 and said he wanted to start a restaurant," recalled Jameson, who suggested to the budding entrepreneur that he hang around a restaurant to see what the business is like. After doing so, the young man changed his mind, jameson said.
Even with a recession on, Jameson said he is constantly being contacted by young people interested in starting their own businesses. However, financing is hard to obtain at the moment and he frequently suggests acquisitions or expansions as alternatives.
In spite of that, "you hear more stories about people going into business with no money," Jameson said. And sometimes things work out.
Broglio and Grant are an example. They had worked together in several hair salons and became friends. The two had thought off and on for several years about opening their own shop, but had done nothing about it.
"We'd gotten very comfortable with the chrome, the museum pieces," of the glamorous shops they had worked in around Washington, Grant said.
A beauty supplier told them last fall of a vacant store on 14th Street that had been renovated and was available. They hesitated since neither of them had saved any money, but dove right in.
"If we had really thought about how much money was involved, we would have gotten scared," Broglio said. "We didn't have time to get nervous."
Apart from a $5,000 personal loan one of them obtained, the shop was set up piece by piece with the money the two earned styling hair in a downtown Washington salon.
"We'd work a day and pay for something, work another day and pay for something," Grant said.
In this fashion, they managed to obtain permits, hire an architect, electricians and plumbers, and buy shampoo bowls, styling chairs, hair dryers and other accessories. They saved by doing all the painting and wallpapering themselves.
In six weeks of preparation for opening, they said they spent $14,000.
Most of their customers are professional men and women, including some local radio and television personalities who remained loyal customers, they said.
When the two began the La Jeunesse salon last fall, they only employed themselves and a shampooist. Since then one full-time and one part-time receptionist, another shampooist and another stylist have been added -- which brought Broglio and Grant to another problem many young entrepreneurs have to face: how to be a boss.
"It was very hard to be a boss and get on somebody's case," said Hawkeye Art Service's Sillers. "I didn't want to be an ogre."
As many young business owners learn, friends don't always make the best employes. "It's better to hire strangers" Sillers said.
"You have to keep up the standards for employes," Sillers continued."Like, I used to come in late every morning, but my employes started picking that up and coming in at 10:30," a half hour after the shop is scheduled to open. So Sillers started coming in on time and others began to follow her example.
It took Hawkeye almost three years to be profitable, Sillers said, mainly because of one problem: "I didn't know about pricing. We were trying to figure out why I wasn't making money."
Sillers said initially she also bought too much inventory: "That was money I needed that was sitting there . . . I went too big."
"I called up the government a lot," Sillers explained. "I'd say, 'I'm opening a business and I don't know how to do it. Send me all the forms you have.'
After four years in business, Sillers now plans to move soon to a location near Gallery Place downtown and expand into selling posters and art magazines to counter possible reductions in business caused by the recession.
Mark Bielski, 26, started his business somewhat differently: He had a little help from his parents.
Not quite two years ago, Bielski and his childhood friend James Lomax, 26, started the Atlantic Media advertising agency in Lomax's Rockville home.
The agency has since produced television commercials for major organizations such as the National Football League and P.J. Nee Furniture Co.
Bielski and a group of friends originally invested $10,000 in the firm.
"We didn't draw any salaries at first," Bielski said. "When you first start out, you don't have any credit so you have to pay your bills up front."
The company revolved around Bielski's educational and work background in communications and Lomax's in film. Recognizing their youth and inexperience, Bielski chose the name Atlantic Media because "we just wanted a name to sound like people have heard of it before."
"If you can last five years, success is a possibility," Jameson of the Greater Washington Business Center said. "Eighty percent of business start-ups fail within the first three years.
"We're still seeing a lot of people who want to go into business," Jameson continued.