How to Succeed in Life and in Business

melinda-closeupheadshotMelinda Emerson, Twitter’s @SmallBizLady offers business advice and encouragement to more than three million entrepreneurs every week online. Forbes magazine named her the top woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She’s a successful businesswoman, a social media expert, a best-selling author and journalist, and a dynamic and stimulating speaker.

We decided to turn the tables on her and put her in the interview chair for a change. Her new book Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, 2nd Edition is being released January 2, 2015.  She’s really excited about her updated book, which includes new information of crowdfunding, content strategy and social media marketing.

Barbara Pender: You’re an amazing role model for all entrepreneurs, but especially women entrepreneurs. Can you tell us your story?

Melinda Emerson: I was 26 when I started my company Quintessence Group. I knew I didn’t know much about running a small business, but I did know I could never have another job. I am journalist, so I enjoy reading and doing research. I approached starting a business like a research project. I was in a male-dominated field, but I did well. After about 7 years in business, I was doing very well. I had numerous professional accolades and awards, and I had the largest female-owned production company in my city. Then my former husband and I got pregnant, and I was immediately put on bed rest. I went from being the worst workaholic in the world, to not being about to leave my home. My business really suffered. In fact, I almost went out of business at that time. Unfortunately, I built a business that couldn’t run without me.

However, when I had six months to sit and think, I realized all the expensive mistakes I had made in business. I also realized that I did not have good advice starting out. It occurred to me that other people would experience the same thing unless I started educating people about the right way to start and run a business. The first thing I did after my son was born and I adjusted to new motherhood, was start working on my bestselling book Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. It was completed in 2008, but when the global recession hit, my publisher postponed the release of the book until 2010. This was heartbreaking to me, as I was using the book to reinvent myself as a national small business expert.

A good friend suggested that I hire a publicist to help me start promoting the book even though it wasn’t coming out for 18 months. I hired a woman who specialized in book launches, but she knew social media. She suggested that I build my brand on the social media platform Twitter, which was really new at the time. When I first went to Twitter to sign up for an account, my name was taken. After I got over the initial shock, my publicist suggested that I come up with a nickname that would tell people who I am and what I am about. We came up with SmallBizLady, which was the best branding move I could have made. I have used that brand to build a social media machine to help small business owners, and now I reach 3 million small business owners a week online and write a regular column in the New York Times. After I survived the huge bump in the road in my business, I figured out that the most valuable thing in my business was what I learned from running it, and I decided that I would make my focus to help other entrepreneurs. I made it my mission to end small business failure.

Being my own boss is the ultimate form of freedom. I wake up each day without an alarm clock; I have a purpose clock. My mission is the focus of every speech I give, every video I create and every blog post I write on my blog Most people have great business ideas; they just don’t know how to run a business. I try to stand in the gap for those people and give helpful business advice before they realize they even need it.

Barbara Pender: What personal qualities do you have that you think have made you a successful entrepreneur?

Melinda Emerson: I am a successful entrepreneur because I believe that being nice is my secret weapon. I am constantly reading and learning to be a better leader. I don’t take a no from anyone who can’t say yes. I have never believed I couldn’t be successful. I leverage technology to be more effective in my business. I am relentlessly consistent in my business habits. I do not believe in daily to-do lists. I check my bank accounts daily and pay vendors quickly. I delegate things I don’t do well or enjoy, and I have a team of mentors who I call for advice regularly. I also pray over my business.

Barbara Pender: Why did you write Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months?

Melinda Emerson: There are five main things that small business owners struggle with: how to get new customers, how to manage their brand online (i.e. website and social media), how to keep customers, how to find and manage employees, and cash-flow. The nature of business has changed altogether since 2008 when I first wrote this book. Small business owners have less time to hit it big with their niche target customer now, and they have global competition, mobile web marketing, and the online marketplace to deal with. It’s a lot to deal with; there is a slim margin for error. I thought the best way to help entrepreneurs would be to provide a step-by-step proven method to start a successful small business.  This book is based on all the expensive lessons I have learned in business.

Barbara Pender: What is the book about?

Melinda Emerson: Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months provides a realistic, month-by-month planning guide to start a sustainable and profitable small business. If you’re planning to start a business soon, the key to being successful is not only to create a sound business concept, but also taking the time to figure out the business of running a business. This book will point out the important and necessary steps to take – so you will have the right foundation. Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months is everything you need to run your successful small business.  I discuss my Emerson planning system, crowdfunding, building your website, leveraging social media, hiring your team, opening for business, and the things you should be measuring in your small business.

Barbara Pender: Why does it take 12 Months to start a business?

Melinda Emerson: 12 Months is an ideal time frame to start a business, but it’s not meant to be restrictive.  I have been an entrepreneur for more than 11 years.  Based on my experience, I believe the longer you plan, the more research you will do, and the more money you save, the more likely you are to succeed in business.

Barbara Pender: What if you don’t have 12 months to plan?

Melinda Emerson: 12 months to plan your business is what I suggest based on research and experience. Have people done it in a shorter amount of time?  Sure.  Sometimes people are forced to start sooner.  This is triggered by layoffs, getting fired, buyouts or retirement packages. I only planned for three months with my first business, but the challenge with that approach is you learn plenty of costly lessons the hard way.  If you live by a budget, have your debt under control, and have a significant amount of savings, you will be able to start your business much sooner.   Depending on your individual situation, it may take more than a year to get your money straight. That is critical because the money to start your business is in your right or left pocket.

Barbara Pender: What are the 7 Essential Principles of Small Business Success?

Melinda Emerson: I have interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and after listening to what they said about running their businesses and observing how they did business, I realized that there were 7 things they all had in common. These include having an entrepreneurial mindset, utilizing strict fiscal discipline, and having a kitchen cabinet of advisors. They make use of a well-defined brand identity; have a niche market customer, excellent customer service, and a firm understanding every day of their cash position by carefully managing their banking relationship. Using these principles can help any business run at its best.  It’s the gold standard all businesses need to strive for from the very beginning.

Barbara Pender: How do you balance work and home life?

Melinda Emerson: I try to be present wherever I am. I do not overwhelm myself. I am a morning person. I focus on completing five key tasks a day before 11 am every day, anything after that is a bonus. I’m not at the ball field on my cellphone. I do not sleep with my cellphone at my bedside. I’m a divorced, single mom of a 9-year-old son. It is tough to manage my hectic business travel schedule and my role as a mom. I have a babysitter who helps me. My ex-husband helps too. I also have family members who step in to help. But, my son understands what I do for a living, and he and I always say, “Mommy works hard so we can play hard.” When my son is with me, I also try not to take phone calls. I do not work or do social media on the weekends when I have my son. I have boundaries that I just do not cross. Once upon a time, I was a really bad workaholic, and I do not want to go back to that life.

Barbara Pender: Do you think women approach the challenges of entrepreneurship differently from men?

Melinda Emerson: Yes, we are women and we think about things differently. We are better at listening, asking for help and building and managing relationships with employees and customers. But we are also more risk-averse – we don’t take out business loans, we don’t hire people fast enough because we believe we can do it all by ourselves, and we struggle with confidence issues, which men do not.

Barbara Pender: What are the biggest lessons you have learned in business?

Melinda Emerson: You must have a niche target market. If everyone can use your product or service, no one will. You must hire people who are trustworthy and polite. You can teach someone how to do anything, but you can’t teach him or her to be nice. You also cannot teach them to have integrity. Your employees must have these traits coming in the door.

Barbara Pender: What are you most proud of?

Melinda Emerson: I am most proud of the fact that I have survived over 15 years in business, and that I have had the opportunity to update my book Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, 2nd Edition. The nature of business has changed quite a bit since I first wrote the book in 2007, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to update every chapter and add several new ones to discuss all the new stuff going on in business. I share tips on crowdfunding, developing a great website, content strategy, and of course there is a new chapter on how to become a social media ninja. It really is a step-by-step guide to a business that works. I have been fortunate enough to accomplish nearly all of my professional business goals. I am currently developing a new professional bucket list for myself.

Barbara Pender: What advice would you give someone else starting a business from scratch?

Melinda Emerson: It’s hard to give just one piece of advice, so I will give you my top things I try to tell people. You never lose in business, either you win or you learn. A good idea is still a good idea three weeks from now – take the time to slow down, do your research and get a plan together. Your business can only grow as far as your hand can reach, which means you need help. Document your processes and systems so that you can let go knowing your processes will become routine. Don’t just completely turn over the keys to staff, do spot checks on things periodically to make sure your quality is not suffering in any way. This will help you focus on what you do best, which should be cultivating prospects and keeping clients.

Barbara Pender: How do you define success?

Melinda Emerson: Success is just success, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot. When I was younger in business it was all about revenues, but that is not a good measure of success. There are plenty of wealthy people who are miserable. A better question is how do I define happiness? I define happiness as having complete control over my time and having the resources to invest in the things and people I care about.  I cherish my son and family and my deepest friendships. I also believe ultimate happiness is having someone in your life to build with and share your life.

To celebrate the launch of my new book, I’m running a promotion where you can grab some awesome free extras when you purchase the book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, 2nd Edition.  The offer expires on January 10, 2015, so click here to order now.


Become Your Own Boss Now!

Order SmallBizLady's new book Become Your Own Boss, 2nd edition! It includes everything you need to launch a small business and new chapters on crowdfunding, build a great website, content strategy, and leveraging social media.


  1. Morris Anderson says

    Loved the article! It does a great job of humanizing the entrepreneurship process, showing how success is a zig-zag process. Your insights clearly became polished from lesson-to-lesson, allowing you make the midcourse corrections needed to put you on the track for success.

    I think the new book, like the 1st edition, will give the reader a true short-cut to some real business wisdom.

    Thank you for sharing and much continued success!

  2. Carriece Jefferson says

    What a great article. A great wealth of information and lots of honest and helpful advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. I too have been in a male dominated field for over ten years and I have seen where women are scared to ask to the simplest of things whereas men are confident even if they don’t meet certain qualifications.

    Best of blessings to you in the future!

  3. says

    Great body of work you are producing and very sage advice from new and mature businesses alike. You’ve made me a fan.

    Best Regards,

    Safeguarding Your Business Podcast

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