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You can count me as one of those experts who paints a fairly rosy picture of entrepreneurship. I do so because I truly believe entrepreneurship can be a fulfilling, happy and lucrative endeavor.


But, as is the case with any positive enterprise, there are also pieces of the puzzle that one doesn’t often see. Here are my top five things that you need to know, but may not be told, before starting your own business.

1. You will need more money than you think: One of the main issues entrepreneurs face when starting a new business is that it does indeed take money to make money. And the first question, of course, is where does that money come from? The usual suspects are yourself (savings, cashing out), friends and family, credit cards, SBA loans or a loan from your bank. The good news is that banks want to lend— it is their business, after all. It’s therefore your job to make your venture as solid as possible.


But another issue that often crops up for the new entrepreneur, as far as financing goes, is figuring out the amount of money that will actually be needed to launch the venture. This amount will likely be more than you suspect. You will need enough to open the doors, buy product, get inventory, market the business and pay yourself for at least 6 months, which is the minimum amount of time it takes to start, get the word out, get business and start the money cycle.

And as is the case with anything that requires a worthwhile investment— things will go wrong, mistakes will be made, unforeseen problems will arise. That is why you need to be prepared financially.

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

2. Make sure your e-presence is robust from the start: You must have a good website and a strong social media presence when you launch your business— this is not something that can wait for later, nor can it be done poorly. Nab the Twitter and Facebook domain names for your business as soon as you know what that name is. Get a good-looking website up and running before you have your grand opening party. You may even want to have some videos to post on the site and an e-newsletter ready to go for day one.

These days, your customers will find your company online as much as they will offline, maybe more so, so your online offering has to be top-notch.

3. You’ll need to use all your skills: Whatever your specialty at work is and whatever skills you’ve learned along the way, you’ll need to use those in yoapril 23 pullquote.pngur business right from the very beginning. When you start, your resources and help will be limited, and you’ll wear a lot of hats. Whether you’ve always been good at accounting or have a knack for marketing, don’t discount your tried and true abilities even while you learn new ones.


4. You will need to get customers, pronto: Before you launch, no one knows about your new business, and you don’t have a built-in base of customers. You need to let everyone know that you exist. One way to start is by contacting everyone you know. Online platforms such as your website, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can help spread the word as well. Marketing and PR are another way, as is Pay-Per-Click. I suggest you come up with a multi-pronged approach to bring in customers before you launch.

5. Don’t forget to be patient: As you can see, it takes time, faith and perseverance— you must keep at it every day and stay true to your plan. It almost always pays off, especially if you were ready right from the start. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your new business won’t be either.

What tips did you use to jumpstart your business? Share them with the community below.


About Steve Strauss


Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

QAmattlevine_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


His lounges and restaurants have been featured everywhere, from InStyle to W Magazine to People. His branding know-how was named “Best Display of Marketing Genius” by The Village Voice. Matt Levine is one of those guys—cool, hip, and seemingly born with a gift for creating and launching the next big thing. Currently, Levine is a partner for indieFORK, an operations and hospitality holding company, and Brandsway Creative, a branding, marketing, PR, and special events company, as well as the restaurant Sons of Essex, the bar and restaurant Cocktail Bodega, and the lounge and nightclub The Rowhouse Inn. He recently spoke with business writer Heather Chaet about what it takes to build a brand, hiring the right employees, and creating the kind of buzz that can take a small business to the next level.


HC: You’ve started and now run a number of businesses. Were you always interested in running your own company? What was your first entrepreneurial venture?

ML: I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, always been focused on accomplishing goals, the joy of creating, and the satisfaction of team building, while putting a unique product or service out there. I know it's pretty cliché, but you only live once, so there's no reason you shouldn't be able to accomplish any idea or create any business. I guess you can say [my first entrepreneurial venture] was as a little kid in The Five Towns [a group of villages on Long Island, New York] shoveling sidewalks after snowstorms and selling watered-down lemonade on the street corner in the summertime. Throughout middle school and high school, I was also organizing and throwing parties and special events in the city. 

HC: Can you share a little about Brandsway Creative?

ML: Brandsway Creative is a branding, marketing, and public relations firm that I started in 2010 with my business partner, Kelly Brady. We represent people and places, from Victoria’s Secret model Jessica Hart to Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes, and produce special events across the country, including events at The Grammys, Sundance Film Festival, and Paris Fashion Week. While The Eldridge [Levine’s former nightclub] was operating, many different brands, companies and establishments came to me to help market, publicize and produce events for them. At the time, Kelly was vice president of Lizzie Grubman PR, with an expertise in public relations, which complimented my passion for creative branding and special events production. That led us to partner up and form Brandsway Creative.

HC: Did anything surprise you as you were preparing to open your restaurant, Sons of Essex, or surprises you now in the day-to-day operations?

ML: You can never let your guard down in the hospitality business. The quality of product and services needs to be on point 24/7. It's always someone’s first experience, someone's first mushroom truffle pizza, someone's first apple crumb pork chop. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, from the host smiling to the server's greeting.


QAmattlevine_PQ.jpgHC: You’ve hired quite a few employees—from managers to wait staff to bartenders. Can you offer some advice on what you look for when hiring that you’ve learned over the years?

ML: When it comes to hiring, I use resumes as an outline for the interview process, but don't live by them. The glorified pieces of paper are just that—a piece of paper. I like to hire ambition and creative enthusiasm. It's not what you've accomplished yesterday, it's what you want to accomplish tomorrow. [I find out] what [a person’s] ultimate goals are, and how we, as a company, can help achieve and implement them within our company culture.


Don't hire to fill job descriptions and voids, hire added value. If you come across someone that brings something unique to your business, that can help build your brand, create a job title for him/her. It's important in any business for employees to wear many hats, and, as an entrepreneur and leader, you can mold that employee and build off of their strengths. 


HC: With so many details to juggle, how do you manage it all? Any hints on how to keep focused and organized so things don’t fall through the cracks?


ML: It's the attention to details that separates one operation from another. When building a brand and a business, it's important to create the company culture and brand identity in the beginning stages. Once the foundation is built (and strong), management can deliver a shared vision, making sure the team is focused and organized and delivering [that vision]. Delegation of roles and responsibilities is very important to keeping things focused and organized. By not micro-managing but rather by sharing your concept and vision, [you] let your management [hone] their own management style and personality.


HC: You’ve captured that elusive buzz over and over again, garnered a great amount of press and cultivated a celebrity following for each of your ventures. What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs, even those outside of the restaurant business, to build buzz and brand awareness?


ML: It's important for your brand to tell a story and portray a lifestyle. It's important not to force-feed information, but build brand awareness organically. Customers, whether in the public eye or not, want to discover the brand and/or service on their own.


We've managed to use social media, to help get our message out organically, especially with YouTube. [Before opening,] we introduced Sons of Essex with "Lower East Side is..." videos that features cameos from actors and artists, such as Padma Lakshmi, Jeremy Piven, We The Kings, and Jessica White, along with local Lower East Side DJs, graffiti artists, and shopkeepers. [We did not] focus on Sons of Essex, but focused on the identity of the neighborhood. 


I am no expert on social media or viral videos, but content is king. Help—don't sell. Every business has a message to convey and a story to tell, [so] painting the picture through video for your consumers in a creative manner can be an important marketing tool.  We give the consumer an inside look, such as our "How to Make a..." series and "A Day In the Life" of some of our loyal customers. We keep it as real as possible -- our staff (bartenders and servers) is featured in the videos, and we use the platform to show our business offerings, not aggressively push sales.


Build your brand from within. If you are opening up a restaurant, rather than press and media tastings, do neighborhood tastings first. Your neighbors are your core base customers—they will walk down the block to fill your seats during non-peak hours and nights. And outside of the restaurant world, when building a brand, identify your key consumer, and introduce the product to them first. To create true brand awareness, understand that what you sell or provide is not as important as what you can do for your consumer and customer. [Ask yourself:] What problem are you solving? What need can you meet? How are you improving their life?


HC: What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

ML: I think it's important to stay true to your mission statement. Don't be motivated by cents and dollars—be motivated by staying true to the brand you set to create. That will eventually lead to reward, both financially and in meaning. I always say,  “Don't read the book, write your own book.” You'll never be a true leader and innovator in your field by following the scripts written by others. 

AprilFooling_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Inspiration can come from anywhere, even the most unexpected places and people. One idea may pop into your brain when you see a cloud that looks like a kangaroo or overhear two ladies chat on the bus about the dearth of good dog brushes. Some of us ponder the thought for a moment, maybe as little more than a joke, and then move on, but others turn it into a new product or business. We gathered 10 tales of successful entrepreneurs and their unconventional inspirations.


Inspiration #1: The cat

Eight years ago, Rebecca Rescate, President and Founder of CitiKitty Inc., moved to a small New York City apartment with her husband and her cat. As she squeezed everything into the tiny abode, Rescate realized she had no place to put her cat’s litter box—so she decided to toilet train her cat. “I read countless toilet training success stories, mostly using
 homemade devices, but could not find an easy-to-use cost-effective toilet training kit. I knew the process could be simplified,” says Rescate. To save other cat owners time, she developed CitiKitty, the first complete cat toilet training kit. Available in more than 1,000 stores, her business has reached over $1 million in annual sales.


Inspiration #2: Your college study break hangout

Lee Zalben, Founder and President of Peanut Butter & Co., came up with the idea for his business in college…but not sitting in any classroom. As Lee and his friends studied for finals, they developed a fun competition to hold during those much-needed study breaks: who could create the “craziest but best-tasting peanut butter sandwich.” Fast-forward to post-graduation when Lee saw an empty storefront in the Greenwich Village area of New York City and thought it would be an ideal locale for a peanut butter sandwich shop. In 1998, The Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich shop opened. Offering gourmet peanut butter sandwiches as well as desserts, milkshakes, and smoothies, the company has grown quickly, selling its varieties of all-natural peanut butter in more than 15,000 supermarkets and specialty food stores.


Inspiration #3: Slippery seating

A nurse for 35 years, Barb Przybylowicz, President of SafetyBunns LLC, saw first-hand how some patients, especially those she worked with in independent and assisted-living homes, often need a more secure way of sitting in chairs. “The day came when a resident kept ‘slip-sliding’ from her chair,” says Przybylowicz. That is when she came up with her idea: pants designed with a non-slip area on the buttocks to keep people safe from slipping or sliding regardless of where they sit. No longer in the nursing field, Przybylowicz continues to help others with her invention.


Inspiration #4: Sloppy kids

“My kids are slobs and when they come home, they throw their backpacks against the foyer wall, kick off their shoes into my white moldings, and generally destroy the place,” says Debbie Wiener of Slobproof! PaintPen. “My oldest son Sam came home from college for Thanksgiving and saw me on my hands and knees, filling in the dings and dents on my baseboard molding with crusty cans of white paint. Without moving an inch from the TV, he asked, ‘Hey Mom, isn't there a better way for you to do that?’” From that one statement, Wiener developed the Slobproof! PaintPen, a vacuum-sealed paint pen that can be filled with any color paint for touch-ups.


AprilFooling_PQ.jpgInspiration #5: An annoyed father at a family BBQ

Big Hot Dog was the brainstorm of Dan Abbate, “da Boss” of Big Hot Dog, during a family BBQ. His dad, Denny, got annoyed when “regular” hot dogs would roll onto the ground – which gave Dan the idea to create a hot dog that wouldn’t roll. Square hot dogs were too costly to manufacture, so the idea of a huge hot dog that could be sliced into patties was born. Not only do they not roll, the slices from a Big Hot Dog fit perfectly on hamburger buns. Abbate’s Big Hot Dog was featured on The History Channel’s “Modern Marvels:
 Supersized Foods” and was recently named by 2013 Guinness World Records as 
the “largest commercially available hot dog.”


Inspiration #6: A broken foot

“My product line resulted from me jumping off a boat on the dock, landing on a metal cleat and breaking a bone in my foot,” reveals Christina Daves, Founder of CastMedic Designs. “The doctor walked in with the ugly big, black walking medical boot and told me I had to wear it for the next eight weeks. I was going to New York City, Fashion Capital of the World, the next day,” says Daves. She scoured the Internet for something to make that boot fashionable and couldn’t find anything. “With nothing on the market and my research showing a market of close to four-million people wearing these boots annually, I designed and manufactured MediFashions,” says Daves. Winning awards and competitions, her boot socks and wraps have been donned by celebrities including Diana Ross and Olympic Gold Medalist Jordyn Wieber.


Inspiration #7: A date at Yankee Stadium

“The home stretch food carrier was inspired by a trip to Yankee Stadium on a date,” says Bill Weber, inventor of The Home Stretch, a portable, reusable food carrier. “It was really frustrating to carry two gigantic sodas and a couple of hot dogs back to the bleachers, having to 
bob and weave through the crowds in the food court. The only alternative 
food carriers were small cardboard boxes (which are tricky to balance and
 can't handle giant drinks) or paper bags (dangerous when wet).” Weber met with a buddy who was a package engineer. “We sketched out a comfortable, strong, easy-to-carry reusable plastic "basket" that cradled drinks of any size and had plenty of room for plates
of food and bags of french fries,” says Weber. Now, with the patent pending, the product is about to be licensed.


Inspiration #8: Watching a friend pick up a girl

Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO of Cheek'd, the reverse-engineered dating site, had her zany inspiration while watching her dinner companion pick up a girl. “A few years ago, I was out to dinner with a friend, and I had excused myself from the table. When I returned, my handsome dinner date had scribbled on the back of his business card, ‘Want to have dinner?’ As we were leaving the restaurant, he slid that card to an attractive woman at a nearby table,” recalls Cheek. This gesture made her realize how many folks want to connect with someone they see in real life, but don’t necessarily want to hand over a business card—with so much personal information—to a stranger. In May 2010, she launched, combining the use of real cards and the technology to safely connect with each other online. “Cheek’d bridges the gap between online dating and real-world romance by providing members with physical cards that they can use to entice people from the real world to flirt with them in the virtual world,” says Cheek. 


Inspiration #9: Need for a Father’s Day gift

“On Father's Day, I always give my husband homemade gifts: the kids' feet imprinted on a t-shirt, a matching game using their photos, ceramic pieces with my kids' artwork, a laminated keepsake box with their photos on it,” says Tina Nelson, CEO of 
Professional Games, Inc. “When my children were two, four and five years old, I thought [a great Father’s Day gift] would be a game to teach them what Dad did after he left for work each day. He's a lawyer, and I found no game fitting that description.” So, she created her own game—Lawsuit!—and it has won “Game of the Year” by Creative Child magazine five years in a row.


Inspiration #10: The love of very specific slice of brownie

“One day I was eating a corner brownie, and realized that I loved the corner the best...but never really talked about it. Then I realized that was probably true for lots of people,” says Matthew Griffin, President and CEO of Baker's Edge. Griffin decided to invent a pan that only made edge pieces, resulting in the Edge Brownie Pan, which won the Grand Champion prize for the Visa/MSN “Ideas Happen” contest. Along with their other products, the Edge Brownie Pan is sold online at their web site and, as well as retailers like Sur La Table and Solutions.

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