Our First-Time Visitors

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."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Plan for Changes to your Start-up

by Cheryl Isaac

It's a beautiful morning in Fort Myers, Florida and I am sitting on my hotel balcony, peacefully having a mental flashback of 2008 as it slowly draws to an end. I have taken a look at my business plan and revised some implementations that did not work, and strengthened some that worked in a different way than expected. I have revisited my sales forecasts versus actual numbers, I have reviewed the different "buckets" of services that my company offers to see which one produces high results, I have perused my financials, and my core values. In the next few days, I will also look at my policies and procedures manual and my employee handbook to ensure that implementation is focused.

If you are a start-up business, here are some 2008-end-of-year checklist reminders:
  • Compare your actual numbers and volumes with that of your projected expectations. What has changed and what expectations may not seem realistic now? Did you overestimate or underestimate? You may want to tweak your unit volume expectation or service volume/value expectation.
  • Take a realistic evaluation of your objectives, mission, and value statements. Have you lived up to your core values? Would you say the environment in which you operate business is one of which your customers are proud? Make sure that your business and your values are aligned properly.
  • Take an intense look at your net profits and gross margins. While looking at sales numbers is good, looking at your margins is even better. Would you rather make $200k and spend $150k for a $50k profit, or would you rather make $90k and spend $20k for a $70K profit? Your margins are your total sales minus your total cost of goods/services divided by sales. Also, the higher your gross margin expressed as a percentage, the more you have available to spend for operating expenses. There are also certain percentages cut-offs valued for certain industries (knowing about this saves you a lot of time and worry). Become familiarized with your financials.
  • Compare what you spend in salary versus what each employee contributes to your bottom line (bucket). Then figure out how to change or enhance job duties to add more value to your company.
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, here are some "go-for-it-2009" to-dos that can help get your "wheels turning":
  • Check your local yellow pages directory (both online and by book) for local businesses in your proposed industry. Visit their websites. This way you can learn a little more about how business owners in your industry operate in the real world.
  • Get a notebook, journal or scrapbook. Start jotting down notes and thoughts on how your ideal business would operate.
  • Go to www.register.com or www.godaddy.com and see if the domain name for your business exists. If it does, buy it and hold it! (that is if you are serious about planning a business in 2009).
  • If you are starting a website business, figure out if you would do a "drop-ship" site and if so, start researching wholesalers online (then jot these names and their specific requirements in your notebook).
  • Look for three business seminars/workshops in your area that can give you some vital information. Then register for them and don't be cheap, pay the money to educate yourself!
  • Go to Barnes and Nobles or www.amazon.com and search for books in your proposed industry. Then buy one or two (you can get some great deals on amazon).
  • Join a start-up business forum/social network. You can network with other entrepreneurs and get expert advice. You can also conduct an initial survey for your business this way.
  • Start to narrow your business focus and thoughts. Do a personal checklist of what you hate and what you like doing. Check what you hate about your job and what you like about it. List your main reasons for wanting to start your business. List what you think could be your setbacks. All of these minor things (believe it or not) could help you narrow a business concept and help you figure out who would spend money on your service/product.
I wish you all a prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Believe in your Start-up

by Cheryl Isaac

Upon scrolling to the bottom of this page, you will come across a video from MSNBC's Your Business that captures infamous Magic Johnson's path from well-known athlete to well-known entrepreneur. In this special, Johnson highlights his belief, that "if you don't dream it, you can't become it..." He discusses his love for business at an early age (16 years old) and how he was introduced to business through an office cleaning job. Magic stated that he would sometimes sit in that office and dream of becoming a CEO, and that some days he would daydream about actually owning the office space.

"You need to speak in present terms. You need to say, I am the leading salesperson in my multi-level marketing group. I am the best real estate salesperson in the world. I am the most successful fishing guide in Bozeman, Montana. I am this city's most skillful personal shopper. I am my own welding company." These are the words of millionaire entrepreneur Martin Grunder, from his book, The 9 Super Simple Steps to Entrepreneurial Success.

Like Magic Johnson, Marty discusses the reality of entrepreneurship in his book; that if you don't believe in yourself and your vision for your business, no one else will. Entrepreneurship is partly about convincing others that both you and your business are legitimate. From this, stems the reality that you must be convinced that you are providing a needed service, albeit small in the beginning, that will transform into your vision.

When I think about my business, the question never is, "will it succeed?" Instead, it always is, "how will it be successful?" I think for an entrepreneur "ifs" or "will"are never crucial talking points; rather, it is the "whens" and "hows" that are vital discussion points. Your first year particularly, is the primary "how" year: How do you get your target audience to want your product/service? How do you transform this product/service to fit the buying patterns of your audience? How do you tell people about what you do/sell? How do you get your targeted sales volume? It's NEVER about: Will they buy? or Will I reach my sales? (granted of course that you have done the necessary research up to this point).

The 9 Super Simple Steps to Entrepreneurial Success is a book I would recommend to any start-up or aspiring entrepreneur. The book is a detailed, yet simple and down-to-earth narration of proven steps essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur:
  1. Picking a passion
  2. Setting a goal
  3. Getting paid to learn
  4. Surrounding yourself with winners
  5. Believing in yourself
  6. Getting rich by picking a niche
  7. Asking questions
  8. Performing in a way that's contrary to the norm
  9. Working harder to get luckier
What is really interesting about this book is the "tell it as it is factor" from a successful entrepreneur who started like most of us have: with little money, little industry knowledge, and industry giants to compete with. One of my favorite excerpts is when Mr. Grunder cautions to "put all your eggs in one basket;" contrary to what some would say when they tell you, "don't put all your eggs in one basket." I thought back when someone (a business expert) had (in a passing conversation) advised me to cater to businesses and come up with service offerings that some established businesses could use. Otherwise, he said, "you could starve." The thought was tempting, but I thought about the real reason my business exists. Then I thought about my expertise and limitations. Then I evaluated the time factor, costs, expenses. Then I remembered what service offerings I want my company to be remembered for and I thought to myself, "naw, why make life complicated?"
Marty further advises in his book to, "think of ways you can be different." As 2009 approaches, I have been constantly jotting down notes, brainstorming, talking to friends, family and potential clients and revisiting my business plan to ensure that I can embrace my vision, stand out from my saturated industry, create an environment for my clients that focuses on service, and extend knowledge of my business within my community to embrace new clients. I am an innovator at heart and this is one aspect of entrepreneurship that is truly exciting to me. I have a notebook I take everywhere with me and I usually advise my clients to do the same (upon meeting with a client I usually request journal notes, notebook scribbles, etc because I believe your true vision is revealed when you write what you think or feel; not what everyone else expects). I even bought a pocket briefcase (as suggested in Grunder's book) to continue my thought process (www.levenger.com).

Now that the year is coming to an end, where do you plan on taking your start-up? How do you plan on making your entrepreneurial dream a reality?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Starting your Business on a Budget?

by Cheryl Isaac

If you are starting a business and discouraged because of limited finances, look on the bright side. Although most successful companies have started with investments surpassing one million dollars, there are also some successful companies started on a "bootstrapper's budget."

Take HemCon Medical Technologies, Inc (http://www.hemcon.com/) for example; they started with $8400 in personal funds in 2001 and by 2003, their sales were around $300,000. To date, they have over 30 million dollars in sales. Then there's Laurand Associates (http://www.laurand.net/) ; an aluminum products distributor. They started in 2000 with 1 employee and a $50,000 loan from a bank. They made their first million in 2003 (three years into the business). And just in case you think your service business is out of the running, consider CIO Partners,(http://www.ciopartners.com/). Started in 2001 with 1 employee and a mere $2000 from savings, they turned their first million in 2003.

So what is a "bootstrappable business"? Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of the Start; The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, says that a bootstrappable business model may include these characteristics:
  • Low up-front capital requirements
  • Short (under a month) sales cycles
  • Short( under a month) payment terms
  • Recurring revenue
  • Word-of-mouth advertising
  • Young, raw, talent
  • Will ship products or sell services and then test it (instead of the other way around)
Then again, you may be a young entrepreneur feeling sorry for yourself because you have no money management experience. Meet Sumi Krishnan, young entrepreneur and owner of K4 Solutions. A twenty-something-entrepreneur, her company is a federal contractor specializing in IT work. She landed her first government contract (with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) when she was a senior at Virginia Tech! She worked part-time and pursued her business, and then quit to pursue it full-time. Now she has 80 employees!
There are 7 business industries to study because they have been recommended as 7-figure-revenue-potential by Entrepreneur Magazine:
  1. Wine
  2. College Planning
  3. Staffing
  4. Senior Care
  5. Children's Services
  6. Pets
  7. The "Green" Industry
If you prefer the franchise route, there are also about 85 franchises with start-up costs less than $25,000. Included in this list are franchises like: Coffee News (coffeenewsusa.com), Jani-King (janiking.com), College Assistance Plus, (http://www.collegeassistanceplus.com/), Candy Bouquet (http://www.candybouquet.com/) and CompuChild (http://www.compuchild.com/).
The take home lesson here is that you can start small and still think big. My motto for my company is, "inspiring you to think big, partnering with you to become big." I think that thinking big allows you to structure your small business like a big company, and make decisions with your business' future at the forefront of your mind; and this is what I relay to my clients. A small income and company does not necessitate a small mindset. Every decision I make for my company is a reflection of my vision for it in the future.
What is your vision for your start-up?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Degree or Business Know-How?

by Cheryl Isaac

Are we earning degrees for a specific reason or simply because of the degree-recognition? For anyone starting a business, you may have to make wise decisions as to why and how you want your education. While certain degrees may be necessary for corporate America, entrepreneurship on the other hand, is a totally different ball game. I ran across this question-and-answer from Entrepreneur.com Expert Section, and thought I'd share it on my blog. I loved Tim Berry's answer to this question!

Question: What is the best area of study for entrepreneurs?I recently completed an undergraduate degree in finance and am looking to further my education. While I know an MBA is commonly the next step, I can't help but feel a JD might be more useful in starting a business. Is the JD route unheard of?

Answer by Tim Berry: You're probably going to dislike me for this answer, but I really believe that after having completed a degree in finance you should hold off before deciding between JD or MBA or anything else. There isn't a right or wrong or better or worse path through education for entrepreneurs. There's what you want and why. Usually what interests you and what you want to learn about is the best thing for you to study, rather than choosing what the best thing is to study and learning to tolerate it. And in any case, if you're talking about business and entrepreneurs, the best thing is to put a spell of working world in between your last studies and your future studies.
(Tim Berry is the president of Palo Alto Software Inc., which produces the industry's leading business planning software, Business Plan Pro, as well as other popular planning applications for businesses).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Internet Lunch Seminar

I hosted a Power Lunch Seminar today that focused on using the Internet as a medium to grow a business. Since I deal mostly with start-up entrepreneurs working full-time jobs, I have decided to start hosting lunch breaks at my office and give like-minded people the opportunity to discuss business. So over lunch, my participants and I discussed the importance of the Internet and Web 2.0 practices. I then delved into the basics of starting a starter website on a tight budget, and handed out information on basic strategies to draw visitors to a website.

One such website service company that allows you to build a simple, yet graphic and alluring website is http://www.sitecube.com/. For a 10-day-trial-period, you gain all access to their graphic design services. Regular prices begin at $10.00/per month and with SiteCube's website builder, you have the ability to build a 10-page website, add a video, add a shopping cart, add Mp3s, add a live spokesperson, add pictures, music, choose from about 9000 designs, add Search Engine Optimization, and much more. The usability issues though with their photos uploading process, and the limited imagery choices are the only negatives.

If you are a start-up business owner with limited cash and resources, you may want to visit this website and build the Internet medium to your business on a shoestring budget. Another option is www.google.com/webmaster/-- for a FREE website.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Entrepreneurship is all about "Guts" and "Instincts"

Before starting Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, Founder, reviewed the top 20 mail order businesses to see which ones could be handled more efficiently over the Internet. He found that books were the commodity for which no mail order catalogue existed, because the catalogue would be too big to mail. He thought that this would be perfect for the Internet, since it would share a worldwide database with a limitless number of people. So he started a business plan for the idea.

Of course, no one believed in the idea and he could not raise money from his employers or investors. Naysayers thought that Barnes and Nobles and other big industry names would dominate the market and the "little guy"(Jeff), would not succeed. He was lucky enough to have friends and family to invest. Jeff had 300 friends help him launch a beta site and within 2 months, he was processing sales of $20,000 a week!

Later when he tried to turn Amazon into a "buy anything site" people were skeptical. They said the idea would never work. In fact even today, branding experts think that it is a bad idea to "expand your brand. " Which in most instances, is probably true. However, he followed his business instincts and expanded, while really emphasizing his core values. Today, Amazon transforms the way we read and buy books and other items.

Business books, business experts, and business advisors all want to help entrepreneurs take the right path to success. What is really important, however, is having the right "business instincts" and "guts" to proceed forward with an idea that just feels right. Business instinct is a mixture of background research, product or service itch, confidence, and downright stubbornness. Business guts is being able to conquer the fear that stems from the uncertainty of your idea and the pessimism of everyone around you.

Jeff Bezos is a prime example of how entrepreneurs are special people with stubborn mentalities that although dangerous, sometimes works for the best. Before I meet with a client, I usually have them take a personal assessment. With this, I try to take a tour of their personality. I want to gage whether they have a true entrepreneurial mentality because I'd rather work with someone who possesses some characteristics of an entrepreneur.

One of my favorite quotes now is by Hunt Green (venture capitalist), "everything is always impossible before it works. That is what entrepreneurs are all about--doing what people told them is impossible." When I started my business, I was given a few reasons why it would not work. Two main reasons were because I am a younger entrepreneur, with a competitive industry and industry giants (both profit and non-profit) whom I would have to follow. My instincts and passion for my business idea propelled me forward. I knew that I did not want to start a business to tell people how to run a business or to inform them that I had ten plus years of experience. Instead, I was simply going to show them how their industry leaders found success and help them model those successful practices. Then, instead of advising them and leaving them alone to face it all (like most in my industry do) my company would actually implement the process for them during the first year of their start-up (this way they could slowly transition from their full-time jobs).

I found a simple process geared towards people who value simplicity (and I gathered this information from working around start-ups at a previous employer). Then, I found the guts to move forward; despite the fact that my husband had also started his business the previous year. Now, because of my niche and the target audience I serve, I can say that I have some great customers whose businesses are my business. I will keep you posted with new plans for 2009.

As the end of the year grows closer, where is your business instinct taking you? And will you have the guts to move forward?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What is your Plan?

by Cheryl Isaac

As I took a quick glance at the news today, I could not help but feel proud of the service my business offers. By now, you should be aware of the recent happenings with the companies referred to as the "Big 3": GM, Ford and Chrysler. They have made a second trip back to Congress to petition for capital (I believe GM is requesting a 9-billion-dollar line of credit). Since being rebuked from their last trip (when they arrived on the scene in private jets), this time they rode in style more common to Americans: classic American cars.

On MSNBC this morning, senators were asked about their assessment of the matter. One senator in particular, said that the last time, the business plans for the "Big 3" were not up to par; they hope that this time it will be. They were hoping to see plans for more fuel-efficient cars, and personnel plans that established protection for employees. The senators now hope to see revised business plans that address short-term goals to make a comeback, and long-term goals to ensure that this fiasco does not repeat itself.

I thought, Wow! There is no question that our capitalist society runs on business planning! In order to get someone to show an interest in your business, you must have an established plan. What's even more interesting, is that this plan must sometimes be revised to fit the reader. No business is too big or too small to plan for business. Although some businesses start small, or as Guy Kawasaki refers to it, "bootstrapping," everyone needs established goals. So why then, do some entrepreneurs limit themselves?

Tip for you reading: If you have not established your business plan on paper, try jotting some short and long term goals into a journal or notebook and see what a difference this will make. Then consider, what if these notes were in a presentational format and shown to the next person you run across? You will have then introduced your business to one new person.

Questions? Comment? Post here...

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