Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Colleen DeBaise. She is known as the is a contributing editor at Inc. and author of Start a Successful Business. An entrepreneur herself, she is the founder of the Hampton Bee and podcast host of The Story Exchange. For more info: www.colleendebaise.com.
SmallBizLady: IS THERE A DEFINITIVE “SECRET” TO SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURSHIP? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT AND THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET?
Colleen DeBaise: Yes.
- There’s usually an “a-ha” moment that motivates a person to action and get his/her product or services in front of other people.
- There’s “leap(s) of faith”, to commit to the idea. In fact, you can test out ideas in a relatively low-risk way.
- After that “a-ha” moment, and you’ve taken that “leap of faith” — it’s a lot of hard work, plain and simple.
It takes a lot of work, plus a lot of time, energy and patience, to turn an idea into a business. In terms of entrepreneurial mindset, most entrepreneurs are “glass half-full” types.
SmallBizLady: CAN YOU SHARE PRACTICAL TIPS TO HELP ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS COME UP W/ BRILLIANT BIZ IDEA THAT’S VIABLE & WILL MAKE MONEY?
Colleen DeBaise: Fixate on solving a personal “pain point” or frustration that you have. There’s a couple reasons for that. One, if it’s a problem for you, it’s probably a problem for other people (they’re called your customers). Second, if your idea will make your life better, you’ll be far more motivated to commit the time, money and energy that starting a business will require. Beyond that, there’s some other obvious ways to start a business.
For instance, you can look at the expertise you bring to the table. For instance, if you’re a pastry chef at a restaurant, you might consider starting a bakery. You could also look at emerging trends or gaps in the marketplace.
SmallBizLady: FEARAND FAILURE HOLDS SO MANY PEOPLE FROM PURSUING THEIR STARTUP DREAM. HOW CAN FAILING AT STARTING A BUSINESS BE A GOOD THING?
Colleen DeBaise: there’s a great line that Steve Blank, a startup guru, told me…what do you call someone who has failed in Silicon Valley? The answer, of course, is “experienced.” Richard Branson, one of the most admired entrepreneurs, has failed over and over again. These days, failure isn’t as expensive as it used to be. Often when you fail, you now know what doesn’t work, and you’re better armed to create something that does.
SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO TEST WHETHER AN INNOVATIVE BUSINESS CONCEPT WILL ACTUALLY WORK?
Colleen DeBaise: The women who founded Rent the Runway tested their example by buying dresses at Bloomingdale’s, and then going to Harvard with a trunk full of dresses and letting women try on and rent them.
Then they tried this concept again, renting the dresses, but not letting the women try them on. For the third trial, they said here’s a PDF, call us if you want to rent the dress. Each time they got closer and closer to their concept — an Internet dress-rental site — to prove that it could work.
SmallBizLady: DOES IT STILL PAY TO INVEST TIME AND EFFORT WRITING A TRADITIONAL BUSINESS PLAN? WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF THE LEAN STARTUP METHOD?
Colleen DeBaise: We land somewhere in the middle on this…we find many entrepreneurs start out with a simple idea, testing it, tweaking it, maybe pivoting as customer’s demand that. And, eventually write a traditional biz as the company takes shape or the need arises — that need is usually financing.
SmallBizLady: SINCE BANK LOANS ARE TOUGH TO SECURE, WHAT ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF STARTUP CAPITAL SHOULD ENTREPRENEURS EXPLORE?
Colleen DeBaise: A great number of small business do not succeed — that’s generally because they are undercapitalized. Something to keep in mind is that most entrepreneurs underestimate how much it will take to get started while overestimating how much (and how quickly) revenue will come in.
Rule of thumb: Double, triple, quadruple how much you’ll need. Bank loans are impossible if you’re a startup. You’ll need to tap your own savings or friends and family. Crowdfunding is a good alternative source one might argue that it’s as much a marketing tool as it is a financial tool.
SmallBizLady: THERE’S NOTHING MORE ESSENTIAL TO LAUNCHING PRODUCTS AND SERVICES THAN GETTING THE WORD OUT TO CUSTOMERS. WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND?
Colleen DeBaise: A7 I strongly recommend old-school because time and time again
A7a – entrepreneurs will tell me they grew their business word-of-mouth.
A7b That’s something that will never change. In terms of online techniques,
A7c if your customer is online – and chances are, they – then you need to be, too.
SmallBizLady: DOES EVERY NEW BUSINESS NEED A FACEBOOK PAGE AND AN INSTAGRAM PRESENCE AND A TWITTER FOLLOWING AND A YOUTUBE CHANNEL?
Colleen DeBaise: Fortunately, no.
While you do need to be using social media, it’s best to focus (at least initially) on the social network that makes the most sense for your business. If you’re very visual, try Instagram or Pinterest. Twitter is effective if your trying to foster a community of followers and build your authority online by sharing content.
SmallBizLady: WOULD YOU SHARE A FEW TIPS OR TECHNIQUES TO HELP NEW COMPANY-BUILDERS UNDERSTAND AND CONNECT WITH THEIR CORE CUSTOMERS?
Colleen DeBaise: Stand in your customer’s shoes — look around and see all the choices they have – understand why they’re choosing you. Staple yourself to your customer’s order, meaning put yourself through the customer experience (some hospitals ask interns to experience the check-in process as a fake patient). Host events for your customers. Stay up on industry trends. Have a core group of advisors who can give your fresh perspectives.
SmallBizLady: BEING AN EXCEPTIONAL LEADER VITAL TO AN ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS. HOW CAN A FLEDGLING ENTREPRENEUR BECOME A BETTER LEADER?
Colleen DeBaise: When you’ve got employees, customers, suppliers, partners depending on you, you need to be a leader. And, leadership is a learned skill. You can always get better at communication, decision-making, emotional intelligence.
Take a class, read a book, talk to a consultant, ask an advisor for help, attend a business conference.
SmallBizLady: STARTING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS IS PACKED WITH NSPIRATIONAL STARTUP STORIES. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE?
Colleen DeBaise: I’m inspired by entrepreneurs who challenge the status quo, because when you do that, there’s opportunity. Warby Parker is a favorite. All of us consumers assumed that you had to pay a small fortune for eyeglasses. Warby said — no, actually you don’t. There are just large players controlling the market, setting artificially high prices. We’re going to disrupt the market and give consumers affordable eyeglasses.
SmallBizLady: WHY SHOULD EVERY NEW BUSINESS LEADER PREPARE TO GO GLOBAL? WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO KEEPING A STARTUP THRIVING AND GROWING?
Colleen DeBaise: Going global should be a goal because world domination is for everyone (kidding). The planet is growing smaller, especially since we’re more connected by technology than ever before, and we’re all competing for the same customers.
Selling existing products to entirely new customers in global markets can be a way to add a new revenue stream. It’s not for everyone – the more homework you do, the lower the risk. A minimum starting point (for many companies) is to have someone familiar with the language and culture, who can advise and give feedback.
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