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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."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Business Plan Tips from the CoFounder of Hotmail

The story of hotmail: The idea for hotmail actually came about when Sabeer Bhathia and Jack Smith were working on their first startup idea; while holding down full-time jobs. During the process, they had become frustrated because their employer installed new firewall protection that prevented them from accessing their personal emails. They then realized that there were only two places they could access these emails: at home and at work. So they figured that if this was a problem for them, it most likely was a problem for others. They ditched their first idea and instead, went with an idea to create email accounts that could be assessed through a web browser. And the story of the famous Hotmail began to unfold.

Jessica Livingston, author of Founders at Work, interviewed Sabeer Bathia regarding his startup story. While reading the story, my jaw drops open because Bathia is asked to give advice to "anyone starting a startup" and he chooses to mention the B word: Business Plan.

Here is a shorter version of how the interview went:

Jessica Livingston: Is there any advice you would give to someone thinking of starting a startup?

Bathia: Get a business plan...a business plan will crystallize your thoughts to communicate your ideas with somebody else. Make sure that...you have somebody read and critique it and ask you questions. It doesn't have to be a cookie-cutter business plan with glossy pages and lots of information. Essentially it's a plan that says what the company is going to do, what problem it will solve, how big the market it, sources of revenue, exit strategy for your investors, what amount of money is required, how you are going to market it, what kind of people you need, what the technology risks are, marketing risks, execution risks...many people have it in their heads but don't write it down.

Sabeer Bathia, you could have chosen any advice to give to startups. Yet you chose the old cliche, so-called "boring" advice that is too seldom heard, often forgotten and yet so true! And you break it down in a such a meaningful and relatable way. Way to go man!

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.  

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Your Startup is Just as Good!

I attended an eWomenNetwork event panel discussion last week. During this discussion, Sally Hughes, president and CEO of Caster Connection, Inc., an industrial products distributor, recounted a moment during her startup life that I would like to share with you.

Sally recalled what her mentor and friend had told her upon first starting her business. She had been given an opportunity to talk to an industry leader on the phone. When she finally got on the phone, she couldn't find her "voice" and commenced to shaking, and stuttering on the phone. After the call, her mentor came back to the room and asked her, "exactly WHO do you think you were talking to?" And then in words not exactly these she said, "remember that this man puts on his pants the SAME way you do."

Sally Hughes advice to the group was to continuously remind yourself, "I'm as good as everybody else out there!"

I could relate to her as she told this story. I've been there, done that. I already have a small soft voice, but it somehow manages to get smaller, more kiddish when I'm talking to an experienced entrepreneur that I admire. And you know what comes across? This unsure, insecure, person. Everything I'm not. However, the person in front of me can easily miss that because of my "misplaced awe."

I've told myself this over and over, and I've started to live it, so I'll tell you the same. Get over it! Get over yourself! Your startup is more than you, it's not ONLY about you, so act like it!

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and a Startup Business Planner & Owner of Isaac Business Services, The Business Startup Company. Her company also offers "At-your-own-pace" business plan writing services for new businesses via: The12MonthBizPlan.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Take your Startup from Point B to C with 5 Tips

Today was my business planning meeting days with my startup clients. As I discussed with a client the importance of implementing steps for business image now so that the road is paved for later, I thought of a few startup tips to share.

You can go from point B to Point C once you learn these five tips:

Plan to succeed. This is a Catch 22 for some people. New entrepreneurs are often coached to spend less, test things out, wait and see if things are viable....So most people forget the big picture. Keeping costs low doesn't mean positioning yourself as an auctioneer. My advice: plan your business as if you are planning to stay around. When you test out the waters and don't invest in yourself or your business, it is clear to others. And who wants to support someone who doesn't support himself? Approach your new idea like it's a six-figure paying job; stay focused and dedicated.

Go Cheap but don't Cheapen. With all the tools out there, you can get an affordable website or blog for a good price. Don't try to be a designer if you don't know the first thing about designing websites. Get a nicely designed, yet affordable website, great business cards, decent presentational materials. Like Seth Godin states in his book The Bootstrapper's Bible, "spend more than you need to when it comes to making an impression.

Presentation Matters. Guy Kawasaki, in The Art of Starting, says to "shoot for doing things at least ten times better than the status quo. " When you're starting a business, getting new clients is your chief focus. So why lessen the experience? Improve your sales presentation and confidence. If I'm meeting with a professional jeweler who gives me a nicely designed catalog of options, why should you the startup be any different? If another business owner spells out their terms and conditions, there's no reason why you should approach me seeming unprepared and unsure. When I first started my business, presentation is what won me clients. I would meet at Starbucks with decent materials to show, a process to spell out, and agreements to sign. People are visual by nature and they feel better with something that spells out your business in their hands.

Structure your Startup. Everyone struggles with this. For a while, I was struggling with various structures until I forced myself to evaluate what worked and what didn't. Now everyone that comes to see me (for business planning) go through the same process. Don't meet with someone without some clear meaning of what the person needs and how you can help them. And if you end up meeting with someone at the spur of the moment, schedule a second conversation. Don't leave it up to the person, you must ask the right questions. You want to avoid giving someone the feeling that your meeting was time wasted. If you've ever had or do get the opportunity to talk business with millionaire entrepreneurs, observe their strategy: you sit and small talk about family and life while drinks arrive, then more small talk over lunch; this time it goes a little into business life, then after lunch over coffee comes their proposition or if you're proposing, their WIIFM (What's in it for me) talk. It doesn't stop there, they follow up after or expect you to. What if every startup entrepreneur used this strategy and treated every prospect this way? Imagine the business you could have.

Think different. Audi's owner August Horsch, made his cars different by adding an eight cylinder inline engine when it was unheard of. Dave Thomas decided to start a fast-food restaurant that made fresh burgers as they were ordered. Back then, everything was frozen and heated up for customers. With Wendy's you order a burger with no onions, they don't go in and take off the onions from another burger, they make it for you as you order it. These companies were once startups too and they thought different. What can you do to stand out in someone's mind. How can stop being a part of the status quo?

I'll leave you with a quote from John C. Maxwell's book, Thinking for a Change; "If you desire to climb up out of the pile, to rise beyond your circumstances, to move up to another level...then you need to ...become the best thinker you can be. It can revolutionize your life. "

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.  

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Convenience; Make It "Easy" for your Customers

Usually when I buy a product or service, it's because the seller has made the process easy. Simple. Non-complicated. For me, when I make a choice to buy, price matters but convenience is higher on the list for me.

Think about it, when you're in a hurry you'll most likely stop at your favorite fast food restaurant. To avoid lines, you may even stop at your local bank's drive-thru window to make a quick deposit. You might also continue to get your favorite magazine if it came with subscription options. Your internet may have once seemed pricey to you, but the fact that your cable and phone are both tied into this amazing internet package, the deal seems too convenient to pass up. You probably considered getting a Mac PC at one point in time, but when they started carrying laptops...well that sealed the purchase for you.

Startup Journal thought: You are in the first year two years of business and trying to build your client list. How can you make the process simple and headache-free for your prospective customers so that they decide to choose you?

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog, Owner of Isaac Business Services; The Business Startup Company and Founder of the virtual business planning online startup: The 12MonthBizPlan.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

6 Reasons why Web & Graphic Designers Need a Business Plan

Are you a web or graphic designer? Most likely you consider yourself an artist. A creative being. Sometimes you probably have to stop yourself from thinking only of the technical aspect to business.

For most, this includes: going in to work or the home office, completing a project, getting paid. It may become a cycle of how to find a client, then how many clients to acquire, then how to translate the clients to dollars. And the winning high: how many projects you can say you have completed.

The creative mind subconsciously thinks of the art. The end project. The business mind thinks of the business, the direction it is meant to take and how to stay on the right path to reach the right goal.

You need to find a way to incorporate both mindsets. Here are some reasons a web designer, developer, and/or graphic designer will need a business plan:

To estimate upfront costs. What I've found is that when starting the planning process, web designers usually underestimate development and project costs. Outsourcing costs is another thing not being properly estimated. As a result, the bottom line seems thinner. A great business plan will spell out costs and assist a design firm in establishing the right price points.

To have a start-up timeline. How much in cash can sustain you while you build a client base? Oftentimes, designers start out working in freelance mode. Their objective usually is to have a few prospects-turned-clients, then experiment to see who their ideal client may end up being. A business planning method will help you determine how much cash you need, and when you might be in danger of running out of money. It will help you create an exit plan from your full-time job.

To operate as a design firm and not only a designer. Too many web designers lack a business and sales structure. A good business planning process could help you answer these questions: What is your process: will you have your customers sign contracts? Establish timelines? Outline project objectives? Your payment methods? Your business vision and how each customer can help you get there? Which projects to take and which to turn down? What partnerships to form?

To know how your customers pay. This seems common but I've found that the business planning process reveals that many web designers are unsure of this topic. What is the psychographic of your target client? You brainstorm the answer during proper business planning. Some customers are in the habit of paying upfront, monthly, in set payment structures, via alternative payment plans, etc. Plan to establish how you will outline your payment structure.

Keys to Success. IBIS World, a leading industry market research platform, lists one key to success for this industry: "The ability to clearly specify requirements to suppliers/contractors to ensure correct work is carried out and costly mistakes are avoided". When you complete a business plan, you're forced to conduct market research. Research helps you uncover successful tactics and implement them. This key to success can be achieved by planning for it, and then establishing the proper systems to "make it easy" for the customer. Most design firms miss this very crucial step.

Value proposition. What makes your web design solutions better? Entrepreneurs in this field really need to plan to establish their value proposition; especially since there is so much competition in this industry. Other than the fact that you are "just good at what you do" your business planning process will help you define a niche area and present it to your clients.

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.  

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