I recently spoke to a group of enterprising women from across the country about their entrepreneurial journey and asked each to share the most important piece of advice she would offer to someone thinking about starting a business. While their motivations, business models and industries were quite different, some common themes emerged from these conversations, which I distilled into the following seven lessons:
Do it for the right reason.
Says Adrienne Cornelsen, President & CEO of Dallas-based InSite Interactive: "Don't start a business for money. Money may come, but only after a long hard road of very little of it. If you are focused on the money, you will be frustrated and disappointed. Don't do it for power, either. You will often feel powerless. Be real with yourself about WHY you want to start a business and make sure your expectations are aligned with the reality of what will come."
Mavens & Moguls founder & CEO Paige Arnof-Fenn adds, "It is a lot easier to collect a paycheck, so you better be genuinely passionate about what you are doing – almost fanatical about it – because if you aren't as the Founder/CEO why will anyone else be?"
Understand the level of commitment required.
"Building a business requires a seven-day a week commitment, constant care and attention," said Sandy Sabean, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Womenkind, a marketing communications agency based in New York City. Adds Evolved People Media CEO Nicki Gilmour: "It will become your life, so only do it if you are prepared to work 24/7."
Examine your "fit."
Do a personal deep dive to examine what has made you successful in your current field and whether those traits are aligned with those shared by successful entrepreneurs.
Before taking the leap in launching w2wlink.com, Lisbeth McNabb interviewed a number of entrepreneurs to hear about their journey as a business owner. She says, "I figured that these interviews would either inspire me to go forward with launching my own business or clarify that entrepreneurship wasn't for me. Not only was I inspired but walked away with great insights that helped me refine my plan and set expectations." Urban Interns' Cari Sommer adds, "Understand your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with people who compliment your skill set."
Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
"The joy and challenge of being an entrepreneur is the daily, independent journey into uncharted territory," notes Kristi Faulkner, co-founder and President of Womenkind. She adds, "There are no laurels to rest on. An entrepreneur's life is a string of new demands. In your corporate life, you may have never negotiated a lease or a client contract, or selected a defined benefits plan, or prepared a business tax return, or took out the garbage or made the coffee. As an entrepreneur, you will likely do all this and more. It's rarely comfortable. Be okay with that."
Form an advisory board.
Several of the women I spoke with are strong believers in setting up an advisory board before you ever print your first business card. Says employee performance advisor Lori Dernavich, "Their feedback will validate your plans and/or provide you with new insight. Further, you walk away with a core group of people who truly know your business. It's like having your very own sales team." Laura Probst adds, "When selecting your group of advisors, be sure to draw upon people from different disciplines and life experiences."
Have a strong, compelling value proposition.
"A solid business plan is fundamental to success," according to Nicki Gilmour of Evolved People Media adds, Womenkind's Kristi Faulkner echoes this, "You must have a clear picture of what it is you want to bring to the market, what problem you will solve for your client or customer. And, it's critical to know how your concept is different, better, and unique. Once you have the vision, lock it in your mind's eye."
Prepare yourself financially.
Karla Brom, a self-employed international banking and finance expert, says, "I knew that I had the personal wherewithal to make the change from working for a large company to working for myself, but was concerned about my financial health. After taking a hard look at my finances, I decided that I would make the transition only after I had built up a cushion that would allow me to manage the lean months as I was getting started. Even today, I continue to keep a 'healthy' reserve to manage through periods of uncertain cash flow.
Everyone has a different idea of how much is enough – what's important is that you think about what that means to you and save it in advance." Julie Brosterman, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Women & Wine, agrees, "Be prepared to finance your entire operation for the first 12-18 months." Amy Dorn Kopelan, CEO of Bedlam Entertainment, adds, "You need to know when and how to borrow money – and put your money to work wisely, on things that add value. If you're uncomfortable asking for money, get over it now or you won't survive."
To help you navigate the world of entrepreneurship or to grow your small business, it's important to do your research. For helpful insights and resources check out the Citibank Small Business Guide Series.
This article was written and contributed by Linda Descano, CFA® - President and Chief Executive Officer