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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."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So what if they don't believe in you? Keep Your Momentum and they will

Even Real Estate Mogul, Donald Trump, says this about momentum, "...First you go and beat your head against a wall looking for deals...with no luck. You keep on doing it and at the same time you go out and line up a team of professionals to call on once you get the job...At first nobody knows you. They do not believe you because you have never done anything before. They can't tell if you are the real deal or just another fly-by-night operation that will fold up and move on when things get too tough. At first, nothing is happening. With each passing day and each contact you make, you are silently building momentum. You are showing people that you are not going away and still nothing happens. So you keep that up. Then one day, something breaks for you; you land an account or sign a deal...all of a sudden your credibility rises..they start to believe you...after a while you have so much momentum...two or three clients come your way all at once...you tell everybody about this, and your value goes up tremendously...everybody sees that you have momentum and they want to be a part."

When you're starting your dream, it will never be an easy road. Keep up the momentum and watch what happens for your startup business!

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Startup Business Consultant & Owner of Isaac Business Services; an agency that offers startup concierge & business planning services for small businesses.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Get $ for your Start-up; Think Outside-the-Box

Whether you have a for profit or non-profit business in its initial stages, one thing is certain: you need some money. With our current economy and tightened lending criterias, it is time that every startup business owner thought outside-of-the-box.

I ran across a few companies that could help in your
"outside-the-box" fundraising strategic quest and thought I'd share them with you:

Virgin Money. (http://www.virginmoneyus.com/) Founded by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records, Virgin money is a social lending online company that focuses on helping family members and friends lend to entrepreneurs. Ever had the feeling that your friend or family member may want to lend you some money but he/she is hesistant due to the possibility of ruining the relationship? Well Virgin Money helps take away the pressure by adding a third-party.

With their packages that range in price from $199.00+, they create a formalized loan structure that takes place as if there was a bank involved. For example, if your aunt wanted to lend you $10,000, she would sign up with Virgin Money, they would create a:
  1. Promissory note
  2. Payment Structure
  3. Year-End reports
  4. Online access
  5. Collateral Agreement (if necessary)
Better yet, you and your aunt could decide the interest rate and payment start date (even if it was not due for a few months to give you the chance to build some revenue!) Plus, Virgin reports your payment information to the Credit Bureaus to allow you to build some credit.My favorite part of the whole process is that you have flexibility. Unlike a bank, were you to have any financial troubles, you could contact your lender/aunt and ask for a grace period and this period is determined only by the both of you.

Acumen Fund. (http://www.acumenfund.org/) Starting a business to help poor people but unsure how to get funding? Acumen is a non-profit organization that "raises charitable funds to invest equity and debt in enterprises serving low-income people". So if you're starting a business that would help combat global poverty in one of these four areas, you could research Acumen to see whether your company would be a good fit to get funding:
  • Water. Your company would have to be involved in making safe water accessible to low-income people around the world.
  • Health. If you provide or plan to provide lowered health costs and easy accessibility to low-income people you may be eligible to be a recipient of Acumen Funds.
  • Energy. Your company would have to provide energy and energy renewal services
  • Housing. Your company would have to provide housing and financing innovation for the poor.

You may also want to check Acumen's websites for the businesses and countries they assist.

Red Swan. (http://www.redswan.com/) Red Swan offers women a "fun, easy and profitable way to convert their unwanted jewelry into currency for meaningful change, whether in their own lives or for charitable causes". If you're starting a non-profit business or charity, this is a great way to raise some money for your organization.

Here's how Red Swan works, you request a kit >place your old jewelry in the kit with paid-for postage > receive a check from Red Swan. If you own a non-profit, you can have your friends or guests donate an item and Register your Organization so that their payment gets directed to your 501 (c) (3) organization. Or, you can become a Group Lead and host regular Red Swan events at your place, have women come over and donate jewelry, and get paid a commission from Red Swan to help fund your business.

In the next few weeks, I will update you on similar funding sources for your business. In the meantime, if you know of any worthwhile similar companies, please feel free to share here.

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Startup Business Consultant & Owner of Isaac Business Services; an agency that offers startup concierge & business planning services for small businesses.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Economic Downturn got you down? Reinvent a business idea

Every week I meet with clients who express fear and disdain for our current economic situation. Then I also meet the clients who come in anxious and excited to finally be able to capitalize on the economic downturn and start niche businesses with clever systems in place to compete with big corporations. We then do some mind mapping of their business idea; develop a business idea that stands out from its competitors and start out testing the feasibility of their ideas.

So when people ask me whether business is slow; I simply tell them, "this is the best season I've had." And it's true.

If the economy has you fearful of starting your dream, here's my suggestion to you: Think Again! Now is the time to start. The best businesses have been started during a recession. Although a recession is a negative time for everyone, it also brings with it some benefits for small business. Since as business owners we must concentrate on the positive aspects, here are some startup business recession tips:

Start an online business or incorporate a virtual aspect to your business. I've been working on incorporating a virtual aspect to my business and it's set to launch this summer. Starting or taking your business online allows you to acquire customers from different states at a lower overhead. It also allows you flexibility with time; and as we know, time is a HUGE factor in a business owner's success. This way, a stay-at-home mom gets some time at home with her kids, a full-time worker can test the water, and a business owner can get more clients with little additional effort.

Structure your business to take advantage of SOME recession funding. I'll give you an example: I had a client working on a business in demolition. As you know, this is a tough business to start because construction work has dwindled increasingly. However, we were able to develop his idea to concentrate more on highway work demolition. Well, our current administration has dedicated some funds towards improving infrastructure and the states will have their allotted budgets. By concentrating on highway work, my client will be able to create five new jobs! There are also allocations towards green businesses and businesses that aid veterans. I'm not promoting business creation that is based solely on government funding; rather I'm saying build your passion and make sure you can capitalize on SOME funding to help you through your initial stages.

Obtain certifications. State entities have tightened on their budgets but they too still need to carry on day-to-day business activities. Companies also need to satisfy diversity requirements. So a startup business wanting to capitalize on these efforts needs to be properly certified. Available are the Women Business Enterprise Certifications (WBE), Minority Business Enterprise Certification (MBE) and 8(a) Certifications. Research how your business may fit into these buckets, what you would need to get started, and get your necessary certifications.

Consider Obtaining Start-up Funding through your state's Community Development Corporations. Although banks have tightened on their standards, these corporations are still lending. They are mostly non-profit or state-funded entities and they have money for small businesses that they must dispose of. So seek them out and schedule appointments to go through their process.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Client Appreciation Event

I hosted a private event for my clients and a select few prospective clients this week. The venue--a brand new business and tea bar called SimpliciTea (I've raved about them in a previous blogpost). The result of the event was AMAZING! Although it was a simple, intimate, laid back, down-to-earth event, for my clients it meant the world. They felt as though I was serious about small business, cared deeply about their success, and most importantly they were inspired by comradery.

I had a couple of my clients talk about their business, where they were in the process of business and they also offered up testimonials. This made other startups or business owners know that they were not alone in the process; while also giving the outside world a small glimpse of what my company accomplishes for startup entrepreneurs.

I had bankers and funders present and they shared the current state of business lending, the current state of business SBA lending and the current state of non-profit grant funding.

I blogged about a conference earlier this year where I learned to "take an interest in others and they will take an interest in me." Not only did I sign two new clients from this event, I also gained more trust, respect and admiration from my current clients.

I plan on having more events in honor of my clients and I suggest you do the same.

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Startup Business Consultant & Owner of Isaac Business Services; an agency that offers startup concierge & business planning services for small businesses.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Blue Sweater: Your Sweater, My Sweater

Can you imagine a world where financially challenged aspiring entrepreneurs are not lectured about what they need to do to start a business but instead are given the tools needed to be successful? Well, this is the journey that the author of, The Blue Sweater; Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World takes.

Everyone talks about the gap between the rich and poor. Not too often do people address the one vital tool that could get people to economic independence--business ownership. And when they do address it, they give advice and educational tools that do not measure success or create accountability.

The book The Blue Sweater, written by international banker-turned-philanthropic venture capitalist Jacqueline Novogratz, is a non-fiction page turner that talks about the author's exciting and adventurous business journey in some parts of Africa.

The name "blue sweater" stems from the story of a sweater given to the author by her uncle. A few years later after having donated the sweater, she comes across a little boy in Africa with the exact sweater she donated to an organization in America. Hence, the story of the interconnectedness of our worlds unwinds.

The book unveils the life and career experiences of Jacqueline Novogratz and her journey to help ease global poverty. As a young banker and novice careerist, Jacqueline had been assigned to a group of international bankers whose responsibilities were to review the bank loans of troubled economies and in doing so, they were to travel to 40 countries in 3 years. After three years of working for the bank, Novogratz knew that she wanted to "change the world" and take her "newly learned skills and use them to help people" who did not have great opportunities.

So when the chance came to work for a nonprofit women's microfinance organization as an ambassador, she jumped at the chance. Her first assignment--Africa. Along with this assignment came challenges and rewards. After working as an American business ambassador in countries like the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, Novogratz began to realize some inadequacies in the mico-lending industry.

Novogratz realized that nonprofit organizations lacked accountability and that donors did not have to be subjected to only a "few good stories." She noticed that agencies had to understand how some African countries, their economy, culture and their governments worked if they wanted to be successful in their lending efforts.

Throughout the book, the author's experiences helps her realize some crucial keys to successes when dealing with the poor. Her journey to determine whether a credit system for women in Africa was feasible, led her to acknowledge that less fortunate women needed a credit system for two reasons: "...they didn't have collateral and they had extremely low income levels..." Novagratz also sought to understand "...what it would take to build a business that actually created jobs for poor people."

A smooth narrative of her travels, adventures, dealings with African business women, and traumatic experiences, this book is a simple cry to the business world to to help micropreneurs and struggling entrepreneurs. It is an educational tool to aid microfinance organizations and a call for "more fortunate" entrepreneurs to help "less fortunate" startup entrepreneurs.

One of the highlights of the book comes from Novogratz's Kenyan companion, Mary Koinange when she calls for agencies to "...start by looking at how smart people already are instead of giving them things that will make them fail."

This is exactly what Ms. Novogratz ends up doing with her nonprofit venture capitalist firm for the poor--Acumen Fund. Acumen focuses on alleviating global poverty through entrepreneurial assistance. She knew from the start that she would invest in "entrepreneurs who have vision and the ability to solve local problems with market-driven ideas and approaches." Instead of concentrating on return on investment (ROI) her company was founded to invest in social entrepreneurs who were unafraid to work in markets with low-income individuals. The book outlines her startup venture and experience.

An excellent narrative and auto-biography that details one woman's journey to make a difference, The Blue Sweater is a must-read admonition for readers to step outside-the-box and help promote economic independence through business.

For me, this book answered some burning questions I had about my business' path and inspired me to take some chances to help others succeed. As a native of Liberia, West Africa, I have seen up close the resilience and strength of the poor and the positive influence that international assistance can have in transferring this mental strength to business ownership.

I too, have had to overcome serious challenges to achieve business ownership and this book has taught me that there are people out there who care "just because." I have no doubt that you will find this book to be an inspiration just as I did. Do you care? If so, buy the book. Visit http://www.thebluesweater.com/

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Event Planning Industry

I help a variety of startups by doing their business planning legwork; this way, they get to focus on their craft. So in order to keep updated and educate myself about different industries, I attend seminars, summits and conferences hosted by different industry heads. Sometimes while I'm there, I also conduct surveys for startups.

Today I attended an Event Planning Summit at The Conference Center at Northpointe on 23North in Columbus (http://www.thecenteratnorthpointe.com/). This place is the campus dormitory of events and meetings. They concentrate on your event, their hotels exist solely for events, and they know what they're doing. When you drive in you have directors, when you walk through the doors there are directors, and the food is EXCELLENT! Upon being there for fifteen minutes, It certainly becomes obvious -this place was created solely for one purpose-to plan and orchestrate events.

Now if you've been keeping up, you know that the hotel and travel industry has suffered since the recession. This industry is still struggling. Just recently, I did some recession research for clients and the news was a little gloomy. However, we identified some "keys to success" to keep above water. This is what any business owner must practice.

The event planning industry is certification and contract driven. There are some key things to learn in order to protect your business and to grow a loyal client base. If you are considering getting into the industry, you must join certain associations, work hard to gain at least three years of experience in your business and then prepare to sit for the Certified Meeting Planner test (CMP), and you must also build a relationship with an attorney who will ensure that each business contract protects your business. There are also some limitations and setbacks that you will want to identify.

I may be blogging about this a little later. However, if you would like more information, you can contact me via my business website listed below.

Cheryl Isaac is a business start-up strategist to service businesses going online. She contributes to Forbes here and blogs about Making Business Personal here.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New Regulatory Process for Ohio Startups?

Ohio startup businesses, there's finally some hope! If you've ever tried to get a permit or adhere to some state regulation for your business, you will have figured out by now that Ohio's regulations can sometimes be costly and time consuming. While states like Alabama and Dakota have 30-45 day permitting process, Ohio's regulatory process sometimes lags.

However, the state is now trying to be competitive in its regulatory process, which will aid startups. In February, Senate Bill 3-The Small Business Empowerment Act, was introduced at the Statehouse. The idea came from small business owners who were asked what the issues were when it came to starting a business in Ohio. According to the Daily Reporter, farmers, steel workers, manufacturers, etc think that Ohio's regulations "sometimes are unnecessary and result in costly consequences."

I personally can understand the regulatory headaches; especially after assisting demolition contracting clients. Startup business owners are drenched with the business planning and craft-building aspects of their business. And when they're finally ready to get started, they have no choice but to wait for their permits to get processed.

If passed, this bill would create a rule-making agency for small businesses and also establish a regulatory review board that would allow small businesses to air grievances. The objective? To create a one-stop-shop for regulatory issues.

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Startup Business Consultant & Owner of Isaac Business Services; an agency that offers startup concierge & business planning services for small businesses.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Audaciousness + Confidence = Your Startup + Persistence

Today I met one of the smartest human beings I've ever come across. He had a startup idea that is pure genius, and a brilliant, innovative mindset. He knew where his flaws lied, he knew precisely in what areas he would need assistance from me, he had completed some strategic research analysis of his industry, and he knew his competitive advantage and his SWOT (strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats). He clearly understood his business and industry.

He seemed shy, reserved and very methodological in his explanation of his projected business model and reasons for starting.

Then he made a series of comments I always hear, "who would want to listen to me anyway? Why would they go with me? How can I approach someone and get them to listen to me without patronizing me? This may not work, maybe I need to wait a little longer."

As I sat and explained that these are the very questions we would work on getting answered as we plan his business, I thought back to a book I read.

In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi wrote; "mustering the audacity to talk to people who don't know me often comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment against the fear of failure and its repercussions."

Audacious is defined in the dictionary as,

"unrestrained by convention or propriety," "disposed to
venture or take risks," "invulnerable to fear or intimidation."

As I listened to this gentleman, I thought of the two things that are most important to any startup--the very two things that propelled me forward in business--audaciousness and persistence. Without these two friends, a startup business owner risks sinking quickly.

However, you cannot be audacious without being confident. Not cocky or arrogant, but confident. Confident in your abilities, confident that your business provides a much-needed service. Confident that you can win over customers if you can only get them to take the first step. Most importantly, you must be confident that your business is worthy of being heard.

How do you do this? You must first have self-confidence (not sure if that can be taught to anyone-this comes from knowing you can get the job done, educating yourself regularly, and knowing that you are just as smart, if not smarter than the next person). Then, you must be able to draw from the passion that made you start in the first place-- That "Ah-Ha" moment for you. Then you must be able to relay this to someone.

Finally, you must also carry with you the real reason for your startup's existence. What injustice or disadvantage propelled you forward? What pain made you want to find a solution? What critical moment in your life made you realize your true purpose?

Take this "real reason" with you because this is what will keep you going despite the odd or glazed looks you get from skeptics. And this will keep you going despite hearing a few "NOs."

There are three scary thoughts that hinder most aspiring entrepreneurs from starting their dream business:

The thought of having to represent an unknown product or service. This is scary but so what? Everything starts from somewhere. The worst case scenario is you hear "No way!" with no feedback. Best thing that would happen is if you hear three "No way!" with three similarly patterned critiques. Just remember, you have to represent yourself, so you might as well get going!
The thought of having to sell a product or service that is untested in the marketplace. This is a more serious reason for hesitation in my opinion. Still, it is not a reason for no action. You want to ensure that you are doing something right and that your clients are protected. This is why you do test-runs, and have sale prices, and analyze your clients, and repeatedly ask for random feedback. Every startup idea was once untested. So what? Don't sit on your idea waiting for someone to rescue you-just go!
The thought of having to "toot your own horn." Now I must admit this was a hard one for me also. I talked to a prospective client once and he also admitted that after having been a top salesperson for a large company, he was finding it hard to fathom selling for himself. This was also my story. After making millions for the banking industry, I was finally out on my own. Always having been a modest person, I've always found it hard to "toot my own horn." Guess what? I've learned that if I truly believe that my method and model is the best route to getting the job done, why hesitate to say it out loud? So don't let this thought hinder you!
Keep this quote from Keith Ferrazzi in mind, and remember that when you're starting a business "...the choice isn't between success and failure; it's between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Business Plan Projections

Today I got asked this question again for the umpteenth time, "How do they (bankers, funders) expect me to assume numbers in a business plan when I haven't even started yet?" Usually I hear, "what is the deal with this projection thing?" So I decided to blog about it a little today.

Simply put, projected numbers are derived from you and HOW MUCH your business aims to sell MINUS the expenses you will incur from selling it with CONSIDERATION for the pricing offered and quantity sold by your current market FACTORING in what you've investing in your company (i.e. cash, credit line, 401K).

Your calculation may start like this:

I will sell 3 sweaters a week ($15.00 each), 2 pairs of sneakers
($40.00/pair) and 10 t-shirts ($5.00 each) for a total of $175.00 a

Since I am a middleman, I usually purchase my items directly from different
wholesalers, and they charge me $5.00 per sweater, $20.00 per sneaker, and
$2.00 per t-shirt. So my costs per week will be $75.00.

So then, you may start thinking hmmm, I have a $100.00 profit per week right? Wrong!

Other expenses. You will also need to include your startup expenses (what you will need before you can open your doors). This can be in the form of an office, warehouse, storage unit, utilities, legal or permit fees, insurance, equipment, etc. If you anticipate needing help from employees or contractors, you will need to include their monthly payouts. Sales tax and employee tax will need to be included as well.

Loan Payments. After you have projected how much you anticipate getting in loans, you will also have to project your monthly loan payments into your plan. Why? A good lender wants to know how your cash flow looks after he lends you some money also. You can get a projected loan payment based on dollar amount + anticipated rate (which you can obtain easily by calling your bank) and length of loan term by using your Microsoft Excel tools.

Break-Even Analysis. This number will show you how much revenue you need to have in order to cover costs. How much units you need to sell every month or clients you need to sign. This number you want to watch weekly or monthly.

Tip: You want a high gross margin, the higher your margins, the better money you have in your pocket. Plain and simple. So, don't concentrate on sales dollars, concentrate on underlying costs and expenses versus sales. The sample client scenario above for example, should encourage a business owner to aim for more sales by coming up with different strategies OR choose to work from home, with no help and no extra costs.

And don't forget, your projections will have to be as realistic as possible. You can't just throw numbers together. You have to do some research and talk to some people.

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Startup Business Consultant & Owner of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that offers startup concierge & business planning services for small businesses.

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