It used to be that getting a real job—working for someone else and collecting a paycheck every two weeks—was the easy and safe route. But with 26 million Americans out of work or underemployed, it’s pretty obvious that’s no longer the case.
Starting a business, which has always been perceived as incredibly risky, now looks more doable and desirable than ever before. And my 2011 mission is to help other women launch and grow their entrepreneurial dreams through my new Spark & Hustle program. Let’s get going.
Ordinary is just fine, so don’t reinvent the wheel. The best ideas are often the tried and true ones that are already successful now. People love cupcakes, so why invent a new dessert type? We all get our haircut, so why not open a small salon? Everyone wears some form of jewelry, so why not start designing? You don’t have to think of the next Google or Zipcar; it’s okay to do your version of what’s already being done. When I started Women For Hire 11 years ago, career fairs were (and still are) a dime a dozen. I put my spin on it (women-only) and I created a multimillion-dollar business. Revolutionary? No. Successful? Hugely.
Stop writing a business plan and just do a one sheet. Instead of guessing what your revenue will be over the next five years, be clear on what has to happen during the first few months to generate immediate revenue. Focus on what’s real right now, not what’s hypothetical way down the road.
Narrow your niche. Who exactly is your customer? Instead of saying your product or service is ideal for “all women” or “all children,” pinpoint exactly who you’re really targeting. Identify demographics (age, gender, geography) and psychographics (personality, values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles, preferences). When you know precisely who you must reach with your message, it’ll be easier to execute targeted marketing and sales.
Pursue clients, not capital. Accept that nobody’s coming with a big blank check to invest in your idea, and your rent’s still due on the first of the month. Getting clients or customers, not capital, is the most realistic way to fund your growth. This means your ability to sell is essential, even though it’s the element of business that women like least. Since you’ll be the chief salesperson of your new venture, develop a style and strategy that works best for you.
Think creatively and conservatively. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Sure, you’d love your own commercial kitchen to whip up your cookies, but the cost of signing a long-term lease is prohibitive at your stage. Instead, contacting a church to use its space during off-hours will have to do. Find smart solutions to getting what you need with little to no cash. Forget hiring; use interns and tap a network of advisors in person and online. Barter on essentials wherever possible. Use social media to build a following instead of expensive advertising.
Price for profit. Your pricing shouldn’t just cover your costs; it must also generate a profit for your business. Don’t undervalue your time and talent, which is a classic mistake for women. Work the numbers from the top down: What are you looking to make annually? How does that break down monthly and weekly? How many products must you sell or how many clients will you need to meet those numbers? What are all of the costs associated with delivering that product or service?
Dreaming is good, doing is great. Stop stalling and start doing right now. Success is not determined by where (or if) you went to school. It’s not determined by the specifics skills and experience you have. It’s not determined by how much (or how little) money you have in the bank. Your success will be determined by the decisions you make and the specific actions you take every day. It boils down to hustle. When you start hustling, you’ll see great results.