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A Serial Entrepreneur Becomes A Millionaire From An Accidental Startup

Monis Rahman, serial entrepreneur, accidentally launched Rozee.pk when he needed to find more programmers for his startup.

Getting A Mentor

I had a strategy session with a business start-up owner a few months ago. She was six months into her start-up and needed some ideas during her development stage.

Simple Steps To Creating Your First Website

When you make that decision to start a business, you immediately become a multi-tasking maniac. Let's face it, you will have a lot of work on your hands.

Why 'Core Competency' Is Important To A Startup

Well, I like the answer that Norm Brodsky gives in his book, The Knack: "It was the one thing we had that our competitors couldn't offer, and by the time they caught up, we had a foothold in the market and were known for providing that service."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Find a "knack" for business and be "real"

by Cheryl Isaac

What may differentiate you as a start-up could be a certain "je ne sais quoi" that draws people to you and your product or service. Or at least you can hope that it does not do the opposite. Some call it being "real." Others call it the "knack."

Kaira Sturvidant Rouda believes that being "real" means "your values and your personality are in sync with your business operations and its people...you surround yourself with people who think and act like you...inside and outside of the workplace."

Norm Brodsky thinks that there is "knack"that "allows certain people to accomplish things that no one else would think they were capable of doing."

Reading is the norm for me, since I believe that true education lies in different experiences and perspectives, and that education is not synonymous with classroom academia. I keep myself updated and informed on everything in my industry and I also track the leaders of my industry and their successes and failures. I peruse business books, non-fiction, blogs, newsletters, ezines, articles, newspapers, magazines, informational websites, business television and news, reality shows, business forums, politics, etc.

So I mentioned Norm Brodsky and Kaira Rouda because of their books: The Knack: How Street Entrepreneurs Learn to handle whatever comes up and Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs.

If you are a female entrepreneur, Real You Incorporated is a must-read. The book is an innovative mixture of real-world advice and actual testimonials from women entrepreneurs who have made it. What I especially liked was the fascinating incorporation of femininity (from the polka dot page designs to the "girl talk") with a business education that mirrors most business books. The excerpts that took me through the author's experiences and the recommended reading from business owners was also a plus for me.

Most importantly, the book takes the reader through steps that every woman business owner either struggles with or experiences: 1) Believing in herself enough to start, 2) Finding her passion, 3) uncovering her brand 4) and then bringing the brand and passion together, 5) creating a unique work environment, 6) realizing that her personal brand is her business brand, 7) learning how to do what hasn't been done before, 8) and using creativity to stay afloat of it all. A female entrepreneur in the first couple of years in business would definitely appreciate this book.

The Knack is a must-read for anyone starting a business. To me, it is the first book I've run across (and I read a lot of books) written for small business, yet solely addresses the most important step for a small business: the start-up step. I don't watch much of Dr. Phil, but I would call these authors the Dr. Phils of start-ups. They address every important step of the start-up process from: business plans and cash flow, finding money (angel investors, venture capitalists, banks) to what type of business to avoid and how to buy or not buy a business, how to get a profitable business, how to treat employees, how to value the competition, how to find the customers for your business, etc. They tell you that although business essentials and education matter, an entrepreneur must also have a certain "knack" in order to succeed.

What was truly amazing about this book is that the author managed to incorporate business 101 and other essentials and still keep the book conversational. All the chapters included real world experiences from the authors and their customers. The letters from entrepreneurs, found in most chapters, was also a plus for me. A start-up or aspiring entrepreneur would definitely find this book very helpful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Remember the reason your Start-up exists

A few years ago, Royal Dutch Shell did a study on business longevity. They wanted to find out why some companies last for decades when their main business had been changed or yanked from them. One of the things they learned was that those businesses that continued successfully, had clearly defined mission, vision and principles.

I was at Starbucks Friday morning getting a latte (I indulge in this sheer bliss about once or twice a week when I can afford a little extra) and the Starbucks representative and I chatted for a few minutes as he prepared my coffee. With, almost every Starbucks store I enter (with the exception of a few in crowded malls, airports or department stores) I can expect a warm hello or some "smalltalk" about the weather, shoes, coffee, etc.

So I decided to visit Starbucks' mission. And there in clear italics it said, "When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers— even if just for a few moments. Sure, it starts with the promise of a perfectly made beverage, but our work goes far beyond that. It’s really about human connection." Enough said--as a customer, I can definitely say that their mission is being reinforced through their employees who almost always, give some sort of interaction.

In their research, Royal Dutch also found that companies with successful tenure had "being" goals instead of "doing" goals. They focused on interaction and not on providing one specific product or service.

Courtyard Marriott is one of my favorite resting places for business travel and a great example of a company with "doing" goals. I use them as an example when helping my clients establish mission statements. Their mission is: "To provide economy and quality minded travelers with a premiere, moderate priced lodging facility which is consistently perceived as clean, comfortable, well-maintained and attractive, staffed by friendly, attentive and efficient people." They carry out their mission extremely well because I almost always find their rooms clean, nice looking, with a friendly guest receptionist. I use them because I don't have to take a deep breath before entering my room because I know what to expect.

Implementing mission statements and revisiting them on a regular basis is an essential task for start-up businesses. Last week, I needed to remind myself of the key reason I started my business and so I took a look at my self-crafted mission statement as displayed on my brochures, "To ensure that aspiring entrepreneurs can start their business on a level playing field and still be able to afford the services necessary to do so." Of course I can restructure this statement to be more powerful, or maybe display it more. However, it stands to explain the real reason Isaac Business Services exists and why my business is modeled the way it is. Service and affordability are key components of my core values.

Here is what I believe. I believe that if every aspiring entrepreneur thinks about offering a benefit to society that is in the form of a service or product business, then everything else will fall into place. We must first concentrate on alleviating the "pain" of a community and then transform that solution into business models. The money, success and fame will most likely come after--but should not be the first focus. Then, we must revisit our mission every now and then to focus ourselves and to ensure that we have successful implementation.

What do you think?

Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of IBS-Isaac Business Services: a start-up business company.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trends in Entrepreneurship

So you want to who's starting businesses and what factors aid them? According to research done by the Arthur Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College through the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor,
  • 70.4% of African Americans, 72.6% of Mexican Americans, and 57.1% of Korean Americans started their businesses in 2006-2007 after being rejected for jobs due to ethnicity.
  • In developing countries (i.e. Latin America and the Philippines) small businesses are started by nearly everyone, while developing European countries have a lower rate of businesses started
  • Entrepreneurship rates for males in America is still 50% higher than females
As far as 2008 goes, a researcher from the center, Elaine Allen, states that they have not seen any huge rises in entrepreneurship, but no big declines either in the new trends. I can say personally that the inquiries from aspiring entrepreneurs that I have received as of November have risen since October. I'm still signing clients and still having appointments. I'm glad to see that others share my view that now is the time for economic empowerment via business ownership. I have not stopped marketing initiatives or growth planning and I don't plan on it; unless my balance sheet dictates otherwise.
As a start-up business consultant, I have observed that most people who decide to finally take the plunge to start businesses have a pressing need or urgency. In other words, something or someone have helped enable their desire. They may have recently been fired, downsized, had a baby, retired, sensed some distress at work, gotten divorced, rejected by the boss, etc. There is usually some life event that propels them forward.
Then there's the group of young entrepreneurs (YEs) I have as clients (by the way 80% of my clients are YEs). And what is interesting is that out of the 80%, only 20% will have experienced the situations I explained above. Usually, young entrepreneurs just have a dream and they want to explore the possibilities. They know they really don't have much to lose and they would rather start building their dreams sooner than later. They only have two major questions: 1)How can I make this happen and 2) How can I get people to take me seriously? And as a YE myself, I can relate.
Since I strongly believe that young entrepreneurship is the next new wave and that government initiatives will soon be re-directed to concentrate on this new generation of Web 2.0 & 3.0 entrepreneurs, I have started making some new additions to my business model to reflect my theory. I will keep you posted about them in 2009.
For now, I will end with this question, what are you waiting for to start your dream? What is your setback?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

When does Networking become a headache?

by Cheryl Isaac

Business owners sometimes work too hard to incorporate business and fun. We often get tied down working alone and wearing so many hats that since our life really is tied into our businesses, we strive to mix some form of social activity in.

I can attest to that--I'm a networking and social addict. I love bringing people together (in person and online) and I love building on the business relationships that I have. I'm usually the proactive one in developing relationships and I have found out the hard way how this can prove to be detrimental sometimes. Especially when the other person is only interested in knowing what you know and using it to further their advancements. So, I have made a vow to myself this month that I would stop the useless meetings, coffee and lunches and focus on more meaningful networking.

Networking, although great for business owners, had me sidetracked in most cases. For instance, during the mid-year, I attended countless networking meetings, lunches, after-hour events, etc. This proved fruitful because I built some solid relationships and hosted a successful event. However, in the fall I continued to network in ways that did not positively affect my business. Let me give you an example of one of my typical days:

  • 7:00-9:00-Blogging, forum networking, article commenting, facebooking, linking in, and more online social activities to promote my business and get website traffic
  • 9:00-9:30- Getting ready to leave the house
  • 9:45-10:00-Leaving home to meet a business colleague, acquaintance for coffee
  • 10:00-10:45- Chatting with this acquaintance, talking about my business a little, learning about their business, exchanging cards, and leaving with the familiar words exchanged, If I see someone who could use your help I will let you know...blah blah (which for the most part never happens because the know you-like you-trust-you feeling has probably not been developed).
  • 11:00- Back at the office and have a bunch of voice mails to check and return, bunch of e-mails to check and return (I get about 20 e-mails a day), plus my assistant is probably running in the office to say someone called or needed something
  • 1:00-2:00-Lunch with another business acquaintance. This time they proceed to tell me just how advantageous working together would be. They then explain what their business is about but it is in such obscure terms that now even I am confused about what they do. We part ways with the same familiar exchange I mentioned earlier.
  • 2:30-3:00- Quick run to buy office printer supplies, (ink runs out faster than you can imagine) paper, business plan materials, legal exhibits tabs for my husband's firm, etc.
  • 3:15-Back at the office, making a quick call to payroll before 4:00 to make sure employees get paid
  • 3:30-5:00 Working on client research, finishing or starting to write business plans, getting materials from clients, making follow-up calls, cold-calling (can you imagine all this being done within this time frame?)
  • 5:30-The client appointment roll normally starts (as clients are getting off work)
  • 7:30-I'm leaving the office and headed home
This is not even the most typical day. Usually I'm also being a paralegal and perusing business clients' documents and placing them in order before they hit our legal affiliate's desk. Or, I would have to stop by a late networking mixer (this is why I normally plan to make evening networking events and it never happens).
So, what's my point with all this? Well since this day represented the normal couple of days out the week for me, the time I used to drive and meet someone, I could have stayed at home and checked voice mails and e-mails. The hour I used to meet for lunch, I could have met with a potential client. I backed up my day and left some vital things undone when I chose to meet with people who probably had no interest in my business. More than likely, they wanted to meet my client base (of whom I'm very protective). Instead, what I should have done was pick times that worked for me and I should have met with worthwhile acquaintances.
These are a couple of tips I have found helpful in easing me out of my networking predicament:
  • Set aside specific dates that you preserve for social networking and don't stray from these dates; except for close friendships (i.e. Fridays are my meet-and-greet days)
  • Set aside a day and/or time for certain activities that are crucial to your business and remain firm (i.e. for me, Monday are administrative days and I plan no appointments on these days--even my assistants know that now. This day is preserved for my clients and the work I have to do for them, plus paperwork that is vital to the upkeep of my business)
  • Observe the time of day when you are the most alive and use it to your business advantage (for me, this is late night--I brainstorm for myself and my clients, write, read and promote my business online during these hours. I also work on business plans and agreements).
  • Make time for business acquaintances who want to see you succeed and want to build a mutual relationship and filter out the rest (I've now started to refuse to sit down with people who are only interested in selling to my clients, or only want to know who I know--I can usually gage this after one conversation).
  • Always find some time for the friends who want to see you succeed and who realize that your life now includes your business life. And you show the same interest for them. (I meet with friends for lunch, dinner, sushi, after-hour entertainment, tea, etc).
Questions? Comments? Post here...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Start-up Business and the Niche Factor

by Cheryl Isaac

Every business expert or business book lists one of the key components to start-up success: finding a niche. Usually, this involves emphasizing your advantage and how your customer benefits from working with you. It is your specialization.

Stephanie Chandler, in her book The Business Start-up Checklist and Planning Guide, (a great book and resource by the way) states that "it's okay if you have weaknesses, as long as you can find a way to emphasize your advantages."

As a start-up business, your niche = your competitive advantage. It is your strengths capitalized and your weaknesses minimized. Once you can develop and tweak your niche to ensure that it is clearly what your market needs and what they would pay for, you then create something that is disadvantageous to your competitors.

Nina McLemore of Nina McLemore Inc, (www.ninamclemore.com) started her million-dollar business by noticing that there was a "hole in the apparel industry." At the time she started, she saw that there were women in the baby boomer era who wanted to look "sleek and sharp" and that they had a choice of either high-end expensive designer clothes that did not have business women in mind or low-end department store clothes with no quality. So she decided to fill in the gap with her company, Nina McLemore, Inc and she built her niche: "A line of clothing designed by a woman with fashion and business expertise, for smart, confident women on the go."

So how do you create your niche? Do a market analysis to see what the barriers to entry for your concept may be and just how saturated your market is. Survey potential clients to see if there is a need. Determine whether you have some knowledge of your proposed niche area and how this could affect your business. And then use your guts and business instincts to propel you forward. And keep in mind that for a start-up business, more than likely, your niche will be tweaked within your first year but don't let that discourage you.

Questions? Comments? Post here...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who are you and how do you do business?

I was on a flight from Boston to Columbus on Monday when a gentleman asked his acquaintance who he had voted for. His friend replied, "I voted for change." The gentleman who asked the question then said "yup me too" and then proceeded to talking about the new President-elect Barack Obama.I couldn't help but think, wow! Barack Obama had worked so hard on building his niche that all someone had to say was change and everyone knew who they were referring to.

When the Obama campaign first started, I would always watch and take notes as I observed their business methods. The campaign was run akin to a business. They entered the campaign industry when no one thought they were ready; but like a business would, they did careful research and survey. Obama made the comment that he decided to enter the race because of the "fierce urgency of now." When they entered, no one thought that he could win or that he was ready. Like most business owners fear, skepticism played a major role. People were unsure of Obama and his "lack of experience" was the top reason listed on the naysayers list. Like most new businesses, he was going against industry giants; in this case the Clintons. His inexperience was mostly due to his age and his length of time in Washington as compared to his opponents' and had nothing to do with his intelligence, intellect or education.

So, like a business owner, he tried to get people to buy what he was selling. He kept pushing confidently to make them believe in him (although his campaign aides note his hesitancy). Every single step was strategically made. He leveraged young people, older people, multicultural people and Republicans in a way that no one had; in order to enforce his brand of change. Change was not just a word to this campaign, it stood for a new way of doing things in presidential campaigns. The internet was leveraged and a grassroots campaign was built.

Obama emphasized change when his opponents stressed his "inexperience."And there was not one time, that the campaign forgot the message of change to concentrate on another message. Like a business should, they always advanced their message. Obama also used his weakness as assets; just like a business owner would. He was called "too young" and so he gained the sympathy and encouragement from a young generation. The campaign also kept the motivational slogan of "Yes we can!" And this is how he ended the campaign, with those very words.

Like a business owner, Barack Obama had others try to steal or dampen his niche. Hilary Clinton tried the "yes we will" (when she tried to insinuate that will is a much stronger word than can) method to no avail. John McCain tried to position himself as the candidate of change and it never worked because Barack Obama had executed it better. And when times were shaky, the Obama campaign had to tweak their niche from "Change We Need" to "Change we Can Believe in" while still keeping the word change.

Most importantly, one of the things I learned from Barack Obama is that he realized that his competitive advantage was himself! He talked about his unique American history and what made him decide to run for president. And although his opponents tried to copy all his tactics, that was one thing that they could not steal from him. They could not be him or have his history, the same history that propelled his unique advantage!

I'm reading "The Real You" by Kaira Rouda where she talks about us learning how to use our competitive advantage--ourselves! So when I get calls that someone I know is trying to copy my methods, or that a competitor is trying to beat my proposal, I think like Barack Obama and remember that I am my competitive advantage. I then remember that certain people will do business with me because of who I am and how they can relate to me. My personality and history, coupled with my unique business model, will continue to be my unique advantage!

Questions? Comments? Post here...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Business news and what to get out of it

by Cheryl Isaac

As I sat to read my newspapers this morning over a cup of coffee, I noticed a heading in Business First Newspaper that read: "Small-biz contracting effort no longer credible." As I read further, the article mentioned the government's failure to help small businesses in 2007. According to the Small Business Administration's (SBA) report, looks like the government did not give 23 percent of federal contracting to businesses as promised. Instead, contracting went to big corporations. Not surprising there.

Also, earlier this year, government representatives for women-owned businesses have also complained about the unfair allocation of procurement dollars for women. Six US senators, including Senator John Kerry who heads the committee on entrepreneurship, voiced their disapproval of the SBA's new proposal. This new rule would determine that woman-owned businesses are underrepresented in national security, engraving and kitchen cabinet manufacturing and motor vehicle dealers. Thus, it would limit procurement efforts for women in other industries.

So what's the big deal with contracting efforts? Well, for a lot of small businesses, competing with big businesses is a HUGE challenge. As a small business owner, you are considered a nobody when paired up with a well known giant. So efforts taken by the government to help create a level playing field is important to the growth of small businesses.

I picked up another newspaper and read about every woman's favorite store, Tiffany & Co. They are expanding to the Easton area in Columbus and working on their opening. When asked by the Daily Reporter whether the economy scared them, they answered, "we've been through a lot of history...and we expect to be here for a long time."

So although Tiffany & Co. is a giant of their industry, I thought that I would take one thing from their article. Optimism. What about you?

Questions? Comments? Post here...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Trying to Finance Your Start-up?

by Cheryl Isaac

Finding money to support unique ideas has always been a struggle for start-up businesses. If you are a business owner , you may have considered the two options you have in locating funding for your business venture: debt or equity financing.

Debt financing is money you borrow for your business that you have to someday pay back. Debt financing is usually structured to offer different options in the form of: length of time for payment, structure (loan v. line of credit) and financier (could be a bank, lender, family or friend). With debt financing, your ability to advance your funding levels and amounts is based on trust; if you can pay your loan back on time and when promised, you can build a trusting relationship with your bank or family member who may more than likely finance future deals for you.

Equity financing is when you finance your business by giving up ownership of your company. You may give up shares of the company, in other words, sell a percentage of your company in exchange for money to help finance your start-up.

There are four forms and stages of equity financing:

  1. Seed equity financing: This is the first stage--when someone has a great idea but no means to finance this idea. The funding could come from a venture capitalist or a person.
  2. Venture Capitalism: This is usually after you have had some sort of seed financing, you can produce some kind of track record and you have strong management.
  3. Bridge Stage: This is when you have demonstrated some type of advantage in the market, but you are looking to expand.
  4. Exit strategy: This is when you hear about Initial Public Offerings (IPO)--when a company offers itself for sale to the public. This is when the average person can buy shares of stock from this company. The original founders and investors may exchange ownership at this point.
If you are seeking investors, here are some points you may want to consider:
  • Investors may want a summary memo before even viewing your business plan
  • You will definitely need a business plan
  • Most investors will require a powerpoint presentation in addition to your plan
  • You will need to have practiced and rehearsed your elevator pitch
  • Consider putting your plan on a website that is secure only for investor view
  • Target your investors carefully because if you don't, more than likely it will be a waste of your time and theirs since they may not be interested
  • Show them what percentage of their money they will get back (this is called ROI) and how quickly they can recoup this investment
  • Show them how your numbers make good business sense
  • Have an exit strategy included
Most of all, get ready to lose some control and ownership if you choose to seek equity financing. Research carefully and get an attorney involved who is well versed in this area of law.
To view my article on www.WomenEntrepreneur.com click here: http://www.womenentrepreneur.com/article/3850.html

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