As 2011 rings in, perhaps you're thinking that now is the time to take that leap-of-faith and start your own business. We asked some veteran female entrepreneurs to tell us the most important thing that they wish they had known before they jumped into the world of self-employment, and here are their answers. Take their advice and perhaps you'll be one of our success stories of the new year.
A Room (Office) of Your Own
While there are scads of rewards to working as a Realtor and owning my own real-estate brokerage, there are also a few things I would have done differently had I known better, such as:
- Working from your home rarely works; take the plunge and buy or lease an office space.
- It's easy to overextend early on, thinking you'll be able to pay later. Stay within your planned budget.
- Take it a day at a time – too often small-business owners become overwhelmed by the big picture and quit before recognizing a profit.
- Never stop believing in yourself or your dream!
– Kris Pratt
Create a Business Plan
Two years ago, after graduating from college and right in the wake of the recession, I decided to start a small public-relations firm. In graduate school I majored in communications and earned a master's degree.
My rationale for starting my company was that if I could not find a job I might as well create one for myself.
I got advice from a local, non-profit business consulting agency, on how to go about how to get things rolling -- and with $2,000, I was able to incorporate.
Morinaeha Communications Group was open for business!
I built a website and started working from home, diligently trying to drum up commercial business. Additionally, I attended small-business workshops on lead generation and attracting new business.
However, as the months went on with only a few clients on the books, my money started to dwindle. Without a growing clientele to fuel my business, I decided to close shop, and work as an independent contractor instead. Currently, I work in the information technology division of a government firm while I pursue my project-management certification.
Experiencing months of unemployment after closing my company changed my views on business and credit. In no way do I consider the experience a loss, since with the knowledge I gained as an entrepreneur I am better able to understand the business needs and functions of any corporation.
What I wish I had known before I started my business was the importance and need for a well-thought-out business plan. Networking and pooling small-business resources just wasn't enough to get the clients I needed in order to sustain my business.
While I learned valuable lessons on leadership and being an entrepreneur, had I started with a realistic business plan, I feel confident that I could have acquired the additional capital needed to sustain my business.
– Hannah Molette
Study, Study, Study
Ever since I can remember, I've had the entrepreneurial spirit. I was hosting yard sales when I was barely 6; by 15 I was selling my old goods on eBay, and by 16 I started my own company renting out lawn signs (which I designed and created) for baby announcements. I always knew I wanted to own and operate my own business and I was determined to make something mine.
By the time I was 25, I was planning my wedding and realized that all the "little things" I needed for the big day were hard to find in one store. It took hours-upon-hours to find all the accessories I needed. So, in 2003, my own business called Little Things Favors, was born. I began selling wedding favors and accessories on eBay, as it was one of the only Internet platforms I was familiar with at the time. During the course of the next three years, I learned the ins-and-outs of the wedding industry by attending trade shows and networking with vendors.
In 2006, I had learned some basic programming and HTML and used the knowledge to design my first e-commerce site, called Two Hearts Favors. When I first started Two Hearts Favors, I built it on a basic "boxed" e-commerce platform, but I quickly learned that the features I needed to grow and expand were not offered in that turn-key platform.
After investigating my major Web competitors to see what platforms they were using, I decided upon a new e-commerce solution, one which I was confident would help my company to grow. I knew that I couldn't program the online store with my basic HTML knowledge so I decided to reinvest all of my company's profits into hiring a web-design company that would build and revamp my e-commerce storefront. The result was LittleThingsFavors.com. The new site was officially launched in August 2007, and I that's when I ceased my eBay and Two Hearts Favors operations.
Meanwhile, during 2006 and 2007, I read, learned and studied all of the large SEO (search engine optimization) books and and information from top marketing gurus I could get my hands on. I learned tips and techniques on how to properly optimize a website to make my site rank well organically in the search engines.
Exactly three months after we initially launched Little Things Favors, we were ranking on the first page of Google (in the sixth position for our main keyword). Now, three years later, we currently fluctuate between the 2nd and 4th positions on Google, and are also on the front page on Bing and Yahoo for the same term. We also rank exceptionally well for our secondary keywords.
In 2008 I leased my first showroom in New Jersey, and from that point on we have rapidly expanded. I now own a secondary site, LittleThingsBaby.com, and we are planning on launching a third e-commerce site within the next year. I employ three full-time staff members, two part-time assistants and I also work with an independent SEM (search engine marketing) contractor, whom I found by networking on Twitter. Now, at age 33, I own and operate a successful small business.
The single best piece of advice I can give to any woman entrepreneur is this: Study every aspect of your business and be prepared to put in many hours of work. Investigate all of the possible solutions and study the competitors in your market in order to gauge how well your endeavor might perform, get ideas as to what you can do better, and to get an idea of different situations that might pop-up before they arise.
When you first start up your business, you'll need to wear many hats -- sales, customer service, design, marketing, human resources, accounting, computers, negotiating skills, copy-writing, editing and many more! Without a staff, you will need to know your business from the inside out, and you'll need to be prepared to handle any situation. Read and research as much as you can before jumping into your chosen business head first. And know that you can't do everything by yourself, sometimes you'll need to hire an expert to point you in the right direction.
– Erica Tevis
Just Do It!
In February 2007, I walked away from yet another dead-end job to begin my cleaning services company. I had never been self-employed before but felt as if I had nothing to lose. If my company didn't take off, I could always find another dead-end job, right?
So I made colorful fliers and hit the streets hard with fliers and business cards in hand. I had no professional cleaning experience, but after raising five children (two sets of twins, plus one more), I knew I was excellent at one thing: cleaning!
Did I know anything about running a business? No, but I knew that if I wanted to be successful, I had to give it my all!
Cleaning is not a glamorous job -- it can be downright filthy -- but I took pride in working for myself and doing a great job for my clients.
What I would share with other women looking to start their own business is simply this: Just go for it! You will never know what you can do if you don't try.
Three years later, I have some solid cleaning contracts (10 strong), dependable employees, and my cleaning service has allowed me to go to school in order to pursue my other passion, courtroom reporting. Now that I know I can run my own business, one day I plan to start a second business and have my own reporting agency covering courtroom news.
My confidence now is great, and it's all due to the fact that I just tried and did it!
– Patrice Lee