I'M THINKING of taking the plunge and finally starting my own personal training business early next year. It's been a long time coming, and most of the time I am sure I can make a good go of it. However, occasionally I get worried that I am throwing away a perfectly good career to follow a dream. Would you have any tips to minimise the risk of failure?

THIS is probably one of the most common questions I get from people who are passionate about starting their own business, especially right now in a tough economic climate. Starting a new business is always risky, especially in a highly competitive environment such as personal fitness. But there are ways to mitigate the risk of failure and they involve planning and research. It may sound simple but it's the most foolproof way to get your business off the ground.

Start by making sure you understand the market you're planning to enter by identifying your competitors. In your industry there are a lot of people like you who go it alone, so be sure to research your competitors and understand who they are, what they provide and how they go to market. Talk to potential customers to help you understand your key competitors' strengths and weaknesses so you can then properly assess the opportunities and the threats that are out there.

You don't have to cast a huge net, but you should do a comprehensive analysis of what's in the area. From there you can start to define your point of difference, which can be anything from a different style of workout to a cool location or classes during off-peak hours. As a new entrant it's a good idea to have something unique to offer.

Once you have a good idea of the market and you have identified your point of difference, you can start writing your business plan. There is plenty of free information on the web to provide guidance for preparing a proper business plan, which should include clearly defined strategies, goals and execution plans. It's not just the numbers; it is also the assumptions that are critical. That is where the research comes in to justify your assumptions and will ultimately help you achieve the financial goals that you establish.

Finally, review your business plan with people who can provide different perspectives. Friends and family members can be great sounding boards, but also talk to independent parties such as accountants and lawyers.

The best business plan is one that's been vetted by both professionals and people who know you personally. Constructive criticism is the key to getting it right, so listen to what people have to say and adapt your approach accordingly. Good luck.

WITH interest rates falling, does it make more sense to pay off my mortgage more quickly or to use the spare money to help grow my landscaping business? We've been going for two years, so we're not turning a huge profit just yet after the costs of buying vehicles and other tools.

THIS depends on how much debt you're holding and how much revenue you're bringing in. Assuming you're tracking well, I'd probably tell you to put your extra money into growing the business so long as the demand is there.

I'm glad to hear that you're thinking logically about your situation. Many people aren't proactive - when they hear that their lender has lowered rates, they often reduce payments accordingly and use the extra money for discretionary spending.

But keeping your repayments at the same level as before the cut can knock a big chunk from your loan and it's a smart strategy for the future. With rates as low as they are now, debt is cheaper than it's been since the GFC, so using the money to reinvest in your business is a good tactic. I hope it pays off for you.

Mark Bouris is executive chairman of wealth management company Yellow Brick Road. His advice here is intended as guidance only.

Email questions for Mark Bouris to Larissa Ham at lham@fairfaxmedia.com.au