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37 Posts authored by: Touchpoint

QAArchipley_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

After Colin Archipley’s second tour of duty as a sergeant in Iraq, the former Marine and his wife, Karen, sold their home in Southern California and moved to a small farm in the hills near Escondido, outside San Diego. Colin found peace tending to their newly acquired avocado trees, and the thought of an eventual 9-to-5 job no longer appealed to him. Together, the couple started growing in-demand organic vegetables and herbs and harvesting those avocados. But after a few sky-high bills, Colin seized on a more sustainable path: hydroponic greenhouses that use very little water and grow abundant crops. 

 

The success of their venture, Archi’s Acres, and the happiness Colin found with it, quickly became a magnet for other military veterans. It also gave rise to the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program, their entrepreneurial incubator that aims to help get transitioning servicemen and women ready to find jobs, launch their own businesses, or start their own farming operations. The program has had hundreds of graduates since its 2007 launch and has earned support from Whole Foods, Boeing, and even first lady Michelle Obama.

 

To mark Veterans Day, business writer Erin McDermott recently spoke with Colin and Karen Archipley about their unlikely path to entrepreneurship, the call of duty to help fellow service members, and the opportunities they’re seeing in their niche market.

 

EM: Did either of you have any farming background before you moved to your farm?

KA: No, but we had entrepreneurial experience. Colin was a squad leader in the Marine Corps, so it felt natural for him to move to agriculture and then teaching. I was a serial entrepreneur. When we bought our farm in 2005, Colin had left for Iraq the month before. We had our first water bill, which was a big issue. Colin started researching hydroponics and when he came home in April 2006, we built our first greenhouse, which was 30 feet by 60 feet. And during the building of that greenhouse and implementing the hydroponic growing organically, we started to have a lot of people wanting to know how we were doing it. We had never grown anything that wasn’t organic.

 

That October, we had Colin’s coming home party. There was a lot of pressure on him to reenlist, which was not ok with me. But I had to realize that the Marine Corps was just as much his family as I was. That was the moment that we created the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program. We wanted to show other people how we were doing it—so that they could start their own operations. We had our first veteran on the farm in July 2007.

 

QAArchipley_PQ.jpgEM: You’ve attracted some big sponsors—Whole Foods, John Deere, Boeing’s Employees Community Fund. How did you do that?

KA: I do the marketing. As we get this program out there, people ask how they can help. And for us, it’s really about making sure that when the student graduates, they have employment and when they’re starting their business they have expertise. Our relationship begins on the day that student graduates. The Employee Community Fund has given scholarships for people to come through at a time when tuition assistance for our active-duty military is so difficult. So many have been amazing—Toro, the Semper Fi Fund, and the Veterans Valor Fund, and [veterans advocacy and assistance group] Disabled American Veterans—to help people come through the program so they can help start their businesses.

 

CA: For a company like Boeing and their Employee Community Fund, it’s an easy fit for them to support veterans’ issues—they’re in the defense industry. For a company like Whole Foods, it’s a little more of a difficult fit. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t want to help veterans. I think what our program did was give these folks a good way to support veterans, but it was something within their space, something they could understand.

 

EM: There’s something so compelling in your idea that speaks to America right now. The issue of veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder is routinely in the news. Colin, in an interview in 2010, you said the isolation and hard, physical labor of the farm work was therapeutic when you returned from Iraq.

CA: It’s claimed that PTSD is a byproduct of war—in some cases it is, but in many cases it’s a byproduct of what you do with the veterans after the war. We haven’t been very good about that. We have to do it with out-of-the-box thinking. Not every rifleman is going to want to be in a security company or work for the State Department. They want to have other opportunities and this is just one of those. I think that with agriculture, there’s a food movement in the U.S. right now, so this is the right timing for that. But also, the agriculture industry has been very strong over the last several years. Agriculture commodity prices have never been as high and the demand on agricultural commodities from America has never been as high either. So it’s kind of a tipping point for the food community and obviously with the need for reintegrating the war veterans, I think it tells a compelling story. But it’s this time in history.

 

EM: How are your alumni doing?

KA: They are doing amazing. We’ve had about 65 new farms pop up across the U.S. We have more and more people coming through the program who already had land and didn’t know what to do with it. We have people that have created products such as DANG!! Hot Sauce, Kaught Up Ketchup, and Fermented Harvest. In our course, it goes from seeds to market, and they build a business plan, which goes from concept to presentation. And the day they graduate, that’s when the real work begins.

 

CA: It’s about job placement, too. A guy can go out and start managing farms, such as our farm and plant manager Matt Hively, or like Justin Grimes, who’s actually starting his own farm now after completing an internship with us. He’s now managing a farm and converted it to hydroponic. The cool thing about these guys going out on their own is not only do they have a strong entrepreneurial base as leaders, they become job creators, which is big for today’s economy.

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifEM: There’s a high unemployment rate among veterans. What should business owners know about working with or managing people who are just a few months or years out of the field of battle?

CA: I think the PTSD situation has stereotyped an entire generation of veterans, and it’s not the case that everyone suffers from PTSD. It is the case that you’re more than likely going to hire someone that’s extremely trainable, that’s going to be showing up on time, who knows how to be professional, who knows how to operate under tight deadlines, and tough conditions. And it’s probably somebody who’s a very good leader that can help take your company to its next stage of growth.

 

KA: When you have someone who’s just come back from being at war, it’s giving him or her opportunities to shine and to thrive that matters. Don’t give them the smallest job—give them a challenge. You’re going to need who they really are. When they’re out of that uniform, you don’t see all of their accomplishments. But if you give them the opportunity to take on a larger task, then you get to see them open up and shine and it’s good for all of us.

PopUpStores_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

While pop-up stores—businesses that set up or occupy a retail space from a few days to a few months—exist only temporarily, the trend may be here to stay. A 2011 report from Specialty Retail Report showed that this segment of the market grew by over 14 percent in just six months. It's not surprising, given the allure of short-term leases and the variety of retail settings. Although the start-up costs can be high in some cases—which is why big businesses have taken the lead in this tactic—many small business owners might finally find the return on investment is worth the expense.

 

Operate professionally

Pop-up stores can be set up to test new products, sell off excess inventory, ignite a quick spike in sales, and spread awareness of a small business. A pop-up store may be short-term, but the regular protocols of business still apply.

 

"Temporary doesn't mean unprofessional. Temporary doesn't mean bootstrapping. You really have to put the effort in to make sure the consumer experience is what they are expecting," says Christina Norsig, CEO of PopUpInsider, the first online national marketplace for temporary spaces, and author of Pop-Up Retail.

 

Before founding PopUpInsider in 2009, Norsig opened eight of her own pop-up stores in New York City, the largest one in a storefront across the street from Macy's that was formerly a Payless shoe store. The experience allowed her to see which items were popular, work out a pricing structure, and even figure out the most productive hours of operation. "When I had the store across from Macy's, [peak traffic] was early in the morning to late in the afternoon," Norsig says. "But for my store in Soho, there was no need to show up before twelve because no one was there."

 

Some customers may take longer to feel comfortable in or trusting of a temporary pop-up store. Having a well-trained sales team who can communicate your business's message and build excitement for your products can bridge the gap.

 

Inevitably, even well-planned stores will encounter unexpected problems. For example, landlords will often give priority attention to businesses with long-term leases. In Norsig's store on 34th Street, she didn't anticipate the heavy volume of product she needed and struggled to get containers in. "I was sharing the dock time with stores that were there all year round, so they got priority on the loading dock," she says.

 

Norsig often finds that some small businesses don't even have a defined business plan yet before they ask her to look for space. Rather than inundate landlords with requests for available listings, Norsig questions the small business owner to make sure their idea is complete. "That's not to say that you have to have a warehouse stocked with merchandise," Norsig says, "but you have to be ready to pull the trigger and open up a store and be ready to go."

 

PopUpStores_PQ.jpgPersonalize the experience

Pop-up stores offer small businesses great flexibility in setting up a space quickly, whether it's a kiosk, mobile store, store within a store, or its own free-standing retail space. Whatever space you use, experts say focusing on the customer experience is key.

 

"If you can go out and demonstrate to the customer how they can use the product, how it will benefit them in their life, and how they will be impacted from their purchase, that is how these pop-ups can be very successful," says Jennifer Davis, director of client services for Medallion Retail, a New York-based agency that specializes in retail marketing.

 

Every type of business is suitable for a pop-up store, according to Davis. For small start-ups that don't have any retail experience, a pop-up can give them the chance to try something new in the marketplace efficiently. Pop-ups can sometimes break the patterns of customers who never stray far from their usual shopping neighborhoods if the incentive is there. "You need to give them a reason to come to your shop," Davis says. "You need to personalize the experience for them. That's really what retail is about these days." For example, the type of fixtures and store signage in a pop-up will contribute to the overall customer experience.

 

Small business owners also need to figure out what they can afford to pay. While rents vary because of neighborhood and length of lease, Davis explains that the flexibility of pop-ups can fit almost any budget. "You could do something as simple as taking your product and setting it up at a park or a playground or something much more mobile," she says. "Or you can have four walls within a space. Regardless of your budget, there is a way to get your brand and your product to the consumer in really unexpected, unconventional ways. It allows the customer to have a sense of discovery and make a connection."

 

An integrated strategy

In addition to the growth of pop-up stores themselves, companies that specialize in finding space seem to be on the rise, too. Case in point: Republic Spaces, a New York-based agency that launched in early 2013. While they concentrate primarily on finding space in the metro New York City area, they have plans to expand their coverage to include Los Angeles next, then major European cities.

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifFor many businesses with a wholly online presence, having a pop-up store has become part of their overall strategy. "For the brand to get to the next stage, they need to be offline in certain respects," says Republic Spaces' founder, Angela Wang. "Designers offline get to connect with new customers, test different markets, and create a tactile experience that's a lot more engaging for everyone."

 

Obviously, the location of a pop-up is critical, but small businesses also need to market their new location ahead of time to build awareness. Wang agrees with Norsig and Davis that pop-ups that give customers a good in-store experience can propel sales.

 

While Republic Spaces is still a relatively new company, they seem to have discovered at least one truth about pop-up stores. "A lot of brands are formed pretty fast online these days," Wang says, "but to be successful, you need a very integrated offline/online experience."

InnerSanctum_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

On paper, having a home-based office might seem ideal. After all, what could be better than working from the comfort of your house? Or having the flexibility to set your own schedule while steering clear of office politics?  There’s also the bonus advantage of not commuting and incurring additional expenses.

 

But these pleasant circumstances won’t be conducive to fostering an oasis of calm if your personal phone is ringing nonstop and your kids are interrupting you every minute. How then can you take a situation that could be ideal for a small business owner who’s also a working parent or a caregiver to an ailing relative and turn it into a thriving home office environment free from domestic distractions?


Find an area in your home and dedicate it to work

This could be any room in your home. If you live with your family, make sure they all know that area is off-limits during your work hours. Use and treat it as your sanctum from which you are running your business. Make it as comfortable as you can. If this means decorating it with posters and plants that will help you focus on your tasks at hand, so be it.

 

Jennifer Martin, owner of the San Francisco-based Zest Business Consulting, a one-person shop that helps small business owners grow their operations, adheres strongly to this best practice.

 

“If you hate your desk, the
lighting, or the way your file cabinet always seems to stick out when you try
opening it, you won't feel like your work space is very helpful for you—if
not consciously—then on a sub-conscious level,” says Martin who launched her home-based business last March, feeling it would afford her the professional challenges and latitude that her previous jobs lacked. “Do yourself a really big
favor and create an environment that supports your success rather than
drains your attention away from getting things done.”

 

And, if you have a TV in your home office, try not to turn it on or have it on in the background when you’re working. Or limit your TV-watching to when you’re taking a short break.

 

Establish boundaries

Don’t make your office room a free-for-all during work hours. If you have to put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door in order to drive home the point to family members that you need to work in peace to be productive, then do so. Treat your business with the same gravity of purpose and single-minded attention as you would in a brick and mortar location.

 

Phillip Christenson, co- owner of Phillip James Consulting, a Plymouth, Minnesota-based financial planning and investment management company, agrees. Three months ago, he and his business partner moved to a retail location after running their business at their respective home offices for two-and-a-half years. “Make sure to let your family members know that the home office space is only for work,” he advises. “Add a lockable door handle if you need to. You don't want your kids deleting precious company files while trying to ‘play’ on your computer. Try explaining that to a client.”

 

InnerSanctum_PQ.jpgSet a strict work schedule—and stick to it.

It can be tempting to slack off and get sidetracked by personal matters when you’re in the comfort of your home. But the inherent problem with doing so is that it can set a precedent for a habit difficult to break in the long run. Plus, if your family sees that you’re not taking your work-from-home routine seriously, then why should they?

 

Sticking to a routine has been an effective best practice for Dan Cumberland while running a home-based business with his wife. As co-owner of the three-year-old Sparkfly Photography, a lifestyle and wedding photography business in Seattle, Cumberland has made adhering to a schedule both a key underpinning of his business and a great safeguard against external intrusions. 

 

“Having a routine helps you stay focused,” notes Cumberland. “Only schedule non-work or non-essential meetings before work, over lunch, or after work.  If you don't create a schedule and routine for yourself it can be easy to get distracted and be unfocused.”

 

To illustrate his point, Cumberland, who adds that he and his wife run a home-based business because “it makes the most sense for us financially,” offers this anecdote:

 

“I had a friend call me the other day to ask if I could play a round of golf with him,” recounts Cumberland “He had a spot in a tournament because his partner had to drop out. The problem was that it was a Monday afternoon! I could choose to take the afternoon off and go play because I work for home and don't have a timecard to keep me accountable. But I chose to pass it up because it didn't fit my routine and schedule. I know that one afternoon off and a free round of golf wouldn't hurt in the long run, but the small decisions and distractions add up. My routine puts guard rails around my time and work while keeping my business and income moving forward.”

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifKnow when it’s time to shut down for the day

Establishing a set routine and making sure that others respect it is critical to creating a home office free of extraneous interruptions. At the same time, it’s also important that you know when you should finish up for the day. If launching a home-based business was to improve your work-life balance, then this is a great way to honor that commitment.

 

Martin, the small business consultant, concurs. “When you are done for the day, be done for the day,” she stresses. “If your office is in
the same room that also doubles for your bedroom, living room, etc., turn
off your work for the day by placing a table cloth or blanket over your
work station so that it doesn't draw your attention. Not doing so will make it
easier to just check your e-mail one more time.”

 

To anyone who’s a working parent, a caregiver, or simply tired of spending too many hours and too much money on the road commuting, having a home-based office can be an ideal situation. But if you want to prevent yourself from being distracted by family or personal matters, it’s imperative to set guidelines that separate your personal and professional roles.

OnTheSide_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

When you’re doing what you love, the day doesn’t end at five o’clock.

 

For many following their entrepreneurial passions, eight hours at the office is followed by the next shift: at their side business. The motivations are varied. Some folks dream of self-employment, while others want a hobby that provides a lucrative outlet, or maybe a backup plan for an uncertain economy. The American economy is full of success stories that began in a lamp-lit garage or on a basement desktop computer late at night.

 

But until you can make the leap to go solo, there’s a rocky road to navigate. On the one hand there are the demands of a bill-paying career and a relationship or family responsibilities. On the other is the pull of that side business that taps into your true passion. How do you keep these worlds from colliding in disaster? Here’s a look at people who are making these epic multitasks work, and the lessons they learned along the way.

 

Keep your schedule consistent

Jason Swett says he struggled in his initial attempts to juggle a software engineering career while launching Snip Salon Software, an appointment-management suite he built in his off hours for the hair-stylist market. While each of those endeavors was formidable, he says he didn’t see the effect these commitments had on something more important: his relationship with his wife.


To better manage his hours, Swett decided to work freelance while pouring the majority of his efforts into getting Snip off the ground. Looking back, he says he failed to grasp how unpredictable those outside assignments would be, and the difficultly of scheduling work hours around the unknown. “The idea sounded great on paper but didn't work out well in reality,” he says. “It can be a boom-or-bust situation, and no one was happy.”

What did work: Swett says he now gets up at 6 a.m. to put in a few hours work on Snip, before his family wakes up and he heads off to his full-time job. He’s able to put in two hours a day and stays in email contact with clients, who know his schedule and are on board. And even at his regular place of work, his supervisors and colleagues know about his unrelated side business, where his experience has sometimes given him a leg up. “It cross-pollinates at times,” Swett says, adding that Internet service vendor sidelines aren’t all that uncommon in the IT world. “When we’re facing a problem, I’ve said ‘I’ve faced this decision before at Snip, and this is how I handled it….’ I was in a position to give some unique advice and I think they appreciated that.”

OnTheSide_PQ.jpgManage your time wisely

Behold the power of the smartphone. Answer emails on break, return calls from a client on a coffee run, or set up meet-and-greets over lunch hours. Leave clerical and administrative tasks to the weekends, if possible. And use calendars everywhere, on the smartphone, on email, on the wall, and on your desk.

 

Be clear about why you’re doing it

It never hurts to have a Plan B these days. Mark Mason was long fascinated by Internet marketing. So, he started educating himself on the specifics after work from his job at a Dallas-area Fortune 500 company in the early 2000s. When rounds of downsizing hit, his position survived. But, shaken by the experience, he started to look more seriously at his “cash-flow positive hobby.”

“It was something that could be a business and something I looked forward to doing every day,” Mason explains. These days, he’s focusing more on helping other side-jobbers get their start in the business, providing the help he never found during his early days, largely through his podcast, Late Night Internet Marketing. His main message on how to manage the balance: Know why you have the side job, know why you have the regular job, and know how much you value your personal life—and be present for all three. His “why” for his sideline: “I’m passionate about helping people and I get these emails from people about how I’ve helped them change their lives,” he says. “That’s why I’m doing it. That’s what helps me focus.”

SBC newsletter logo.gifDon’t get overwhelmed

Katie Niemeyer’s a runner. But when she run in the Texas heat, sweat would trickle down her forehead and sting her eyes, which are still sensitive from a severe adverse reaction she had to a medication as a teenager. That’s how she found her niche. Instead of using a bandana wrapped around her hand or the ’80s-style terry-cloth headbands she saw online, late last year she came up with an idea about how to keep the sweat beads at bay. She created the Handana wrap, a modified wristband that athletes can wear on their hands to wipe away accumulating moisture. Within six months she had orders from (OK?)  stores all over North America and offered the wraps to runners at the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida.

What worked for Niemeyer: Don’t aim to rush from A to Z; start by focusing on A to B. When she wasn’t at her job as a certified registered nurse anesthetist or spending time with her kids, she took her Handana work one step at a time, finding her Dallas-area manufacturer through a hospital colleague with her own line of medical scrubs. “I guess it was good that I was naive enough to just go step by step,” she says. “If someone said I had to be on a talk show with these in six months or selling in Europe, I wouldn’t have gone for that. It’s just a steady pace, week by week of what the next step is. But if doors keep opening, I’m going through them."

homeoffice_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

At first glance, the thought of having your own office at home to run your small business can sound exciting. You'll have the freedom to set it up exactly the way you want, without having to conform to the restrictions of a corporate environment. For some business owners, that feeling of euphoria is short-lived when they realize that they don't have the expertise to design a workspace for maximum efficiency.

 

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in October 2012, an estimated 13.4 million people—or about 9.5 percent of the American workforce—worked at home at least one day per week in 2010. Even people who are typically well organized can easily find themselves overwhelmed by the endless tasks of managing paper flow, storing records, stockpiling equipment, and battling the clutter that mysteriously appears. Before the tower of reports and client files at the edge of your desk comes crashing down, here's some practical advice from three design and organization experts.

 

Be imaginative

Finding an adequate amount of space seems to top the list of priorities when planning a home office. Even when you think you've allotted a sufficient amount, it's not uncommon to outgrow it quicker than expected—a problem that can afflict professional designers, too.

 

"We actually have an office in our home that is the whole basement level, and we're always looking for more space," says John Loecke, partner in Madcap Cottage, a New York-based design firm. "If you have a really tiny home or studio apartment, maybe you're better off getting a space outside the home because you're always going to find you never have enough space."

 

For small business owners who want to stay put, however, Loecke suggests finding a space away from high traffic areas. Instead of using standard issue industrial office furniture, a vintage table or desk can transform a dull workspace into something unique. Loecke prefers natural light, as well as paint colors and decorations that reflect your personality.

 

Using your imagination can extend to other necessary but unattractive items, too. "Filing cabinets can be hidden inside of something or they can be skirted and hidden under a table top that's used for something else," Loecke says.

 

For example, Loecke faced a dual space and storage problem when he designed a home office for a mortgage broker who lived and worked in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. "We did a wall of built-in cabinets that not only hid the desk which folded out, but also hid all of the cabinets," Loecke explains. "The desk chair got put away when everything was folded up. It didn't look or feel like an office, except when she needed it to function that way."

 

homeoffice_PQ.jpgFind your own system

Managing paper flow and being able to retrieve documents efficiently is an ongoing dilemma for many small business owners. As with designing an office that reflects your personality, establishing a filing system should match your individual way of thinking, too.

 

"Some people think linear from A-to-Z, others by categories, still others by merchants," says Kim Oser, a Certified Professional Organizer and owner of Need Another You, a Maryland-based service. "There's no one cookie cutter system for everybody."

 

Oser herself uses a monthly system created by FreedomFiler. Everything that is not a permanent or tax-related document goes into a monthly folder and gets deleted every two years.

 

"I set up two sets of monthly tabs: January through December odd year and January through December even year," Oser explains. "For example, this year we're in July, odd year. So when I got to July 1st, I had stuff in there from July 2011. I could take that whole stack and stick it in the shredder. So now I had an empty clean folder for anything that came in for July of this year. It self-recycles."

 

Storing old and current items can be perplexing, but Oser suggests using an A-B-C-D method to streamline the task. An "A" location is for items that are easily within reach when you're sitting at your desk. A "B" location is for items where you would have to swivel in your chair or reach down to pull out a file drawer. Items in a "C" location would require you to get up from your chair and walk across the room. And a "D" location is for items in a distant location, such as a basement.

 

Have a concrete plan

Thinking vertically—such as using tall bookshelves as opposed to short ones—is a particularly efficient use of space, especially in apartments or cramped spaces. Keeping your space free of senseless distractions is another.

 

"Be mindful of what I call beautiful clutter," says Angela Kantarellis, founder and owner of New York-based AKorganizing. "It's an item that has something in it, such as a container, that you don't use. You want to reduce, reuse, and recycle clutter."

 

For example, Kantarellis was doing some decluttering of her own when she came upon a binder and a beautiful leather notebook for business cards that she never used. She took the business cards out of the binder, so she could reuse the little plastic sheets for something else, and gave everything else to her sister.

 

One of Kantarellis's pet peeves is what she calls the Someday/Somehow Syndrome: setting a worthwhile goal that never seems to get done because there is no concrete plan. To counteract that, she suggests setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound, or what goal-setting experts call SMART for short. For example, saying that you will organize your files by a particular date, instead of getting around to it someday.

 

Spending time at the end of every day—15 to 30 minutes—to organize your desk and writing down your plans for the next day can be a huge boost to productivity. "Keep your files rotating, so you only have active files on your desk," Kantarellis says. "Do a seasonal review—say, every quarter—in addition to the daily decluttering. Keep the files that are no longer important or active in your archives in a different place."

 

Small business owners can find an assortment of filing systems today. For a client who hated traditional filing systems, Kantarellis found a multi-drawer storage cabinet, manufactured by Bisley, and also available at The Container Store. "He was able to stack things in piles based on projects," Kantarellis says, which eliminated the stress and clutter in his office.

 

Taken as a fun challenge, organizing your home office may actually be good for your bottom line and your disposition.

FindingAPartner_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

Finding the right partner for your startup is not a task that should be looked upon lightly. Shawn Hermanson, co-owner of The Buzz Revolution, a small entertainment PR and marketing firm in Denver, knows this all too well. A serial entrepreneur, Hermanson once teamed up with a close friend to start a golf tournament hosting company. The outcome was a disaster.

 

“Things were going great,” he recalls. “[My partner] helped with the planning and got sponsors. However, the day of the tournament, he thought we were done working. So he decided to do what he did every time he played golf, which was have some drinks. He left me in charge of everything. He didn't want the business to interfere with his fun day of playing golf. I was livid.”

 

Following an angry confrontation, Hermanson fired his new partner. Sadly, the experience had negative repercussions on the friendship. “We haven’t talked in five years,” he admits.

 

As this example indicates, sometimes a close friend is not an ideal partner for a startup. Frequently, the relationship can become strained or ruined completely as a result of the business upstaging the friendship. For Hermanson, it proved to be a key lesson learned. What are some other tips—and caveats—to keep in mind when looking for an effective partner?

 

Look for someone with different skills

As Hermanson found out the hard way, teaming up with a pal on an early-stage company can lead to failure. He is now more strategic when it comes to selecting partners and cites his current partnership at The Buzz Revolution as a successful fusion of skills. While his strengths are anchored in client relations, he says, his partner excels in public relations and marketing. The synergy has reaped handsome dividends for the business.

 

“Before I teamed up with Katie Hinkle, I was taking care of all of the PR and marketing stuff and doing okay but once I teamed up with her, the business exploded,” he says. “Together, our skill sets complement each other marvelously. It's a great combination.”

 

Find someone you can communicate with

In the same way that communication is essential for a successful relationship, it is for a business partnership. Make sure whomever you pair up with has the same goals and expectations about the business as you do. And always make decisions together instead of in a vacuum. Transparency is critical and could be a make-or-break proposition for companies just starting out.

 

FindingAPartner_PQ.jpgPhil Masiello, who’s had several partnerships during his three-decade entrepreneurial career and is currently the president and co-founder of 800razors.com, an e-commerce platform, agrees. “The partners should discuss all relevant issues,” he says. “It is very important to set aside a prescheduled time each day to discuss the business. What partners should not do is break off into silos and make all their decisions related to their expertise while the other partner makes decisions based upon their expertise. This will lead to long-term resentment.”

 

Steer clear of alpha personalities

This doesn’t mean that you should choose a meek, passive person who you can easily dominate. However, if you want to pre-empt the possibility of a power struggle, then it might be wiser to team up with someone whose ego won’t clash with your own. Find someone who knows how to compromise. You’re building a business and trying to move it to the next level, not engaging in battle.

 

Drawing upon experience, Masiello echoes the sentiment. “Most of the unsuccessful partnerships I’ve had had to do with the fight for control,” he says. “If the other party’s sole focus is control over the business decision-making and operations, then you chose the wrong partner.”

 

https://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/servlet/JiveServlet/downloadImage/4542/Image-CTA-v2.1.gifChoose someone who is positive and successful

Launching a startup is filled with challenges. One day can be promising while another can be a study in Murphy’s Law. With so much at stake, why risk your burgeoning venture by teaming up with a person with a negative outlook—or worse, with no record of success?  Don’t stack the odds against yourself.

 

Trevion Blanding, COO and partner of Small Business Owners of America, which helps entrepreneurs start companies and obtain loans, concurs.  “Knowing your partner’s background and track record is extremely important because it will let you know if this person has been successful in past ventures or unsuccessful,” he says. “When starting a company, you want to surround yourself with winners. The old adage  ‘If you are the smartest person in your group you need a new group,’ is true. Make sure you do your research on all potential partners.”

 

Have a shared passion

Although this should be obvious from the start, it bears repeating. Because startups are high-risk enterprises, it’s imperative that you team up with someone who has a passion for your business or sector. This is important particularly when times get tough.

 

Says Blanding, whose firm also helps business owners find the right partner: “You never want to get into a situation where the partner gets bored and decides to leave the business a year later because they lost enthusiasm for the venture. When hard times and difficult challenges come, you want someone who will stay the course and not give into the pressure of being an entrepreneur.”

 

In business as in life, it’s essential to find a partner whose skill set and demeanor balance your own. To do otherwise creates the kind of disharmony and conflict that will surely put your new business at risk.

QAeustacegreaves_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Eustace Greaves Jr. learned to go it alone for his Brooklyn small business, as sole proprietor of Greaves Financial Services, a planning service, insurance agency, and tax-preparation business. But in late 2002, his life changed dramatically, when his partner of 26 years, Debbie, died unexpectedly, from a pulmonary embolism. A shattered Greaves and their 8-year-old daughter, Ashley, were suddenly on their own and he quickly faced two great challenges at once: single parenting and running his own business. Business writer Erin McDermott talked with Greaves recently about how he learned to manage his time, get his daughter’s acceptance to their new life, and what other business owners should be thinking about just in case.

 

EM: Let’s talk about before and after. How did you get started?

EG: In January 2000, I took over an office that ran a defensive driving program and got licensed to run classes. I was up and running. At that point, my daughter was used to coming to the office now and then with her mom—when I was there too much—and sitting there until the message got through to me that it was time to go home. Or go to the park or Coney Island on a weekend.

 

It was Veterans’ Day 2002. Debbie was supposed to have bought a new shower curtain because we’d just had the bathroom repaired. We were all laughing and she said we ought to buy a house. I looked at her—we’re not buying a house, we’re not married and, knowing the financial horror stories from my job, I said I thought that would be a problem. So she said maybe we ought to get married then. My daughter and I looked at her, and then each other and she said “Daddy, I think two Greaves are going to be three.” That was at 6:30 at night, and four hours later, she was dead from a blood clot in her lung. I’m an old Boy Scout. I couldn’t understand why the CPR I was doing wasn’t working and why she wasn’t breathing. After the autopsy, the medical examiner told me, “Listen, even if I was standing next to you, she’d still be dead.” It was just one of those things.

 

EM: When you went back to work, was it difficult to get your daughter to understand the situation?

EG: It was a bit of a learning curve for her and for me. As I often tell my daughter, never marry a man who hasn’t lived on his own for two years. I knew what it meant to mop a floor, and do laundry, and all of that. Debbie and I had shared all of those duties and now I was picking them all up. The floor doesn’t get mopped as much now.

 

I think one of the worst things a sole proprietor—or any parent—can do is to not make their children aware of basic financial responsibility, how money is earned, and what goes into earning money. My daughter had been used to going shopping with her mom and my sister on Saturdays. They’d buy the little plastic junk that you’d wind up throwing away three years later. After her mother died, there was no shopping for a while.

 

But eventually she asked to go shopping on a weekend. And I sat her down and showed her my commission sheets for my insurance agency. I said, “Let me show you how I earn money. For every dollar I bring in, I earn 15 cents. However, out of that 15 cents, I have to pay federal, state, and local taxes. I have to pay rent.” I showed her how her mom took care of the car and groceries and their shopping excursions. When she realized what I had to go through, it was suddenly tough to buy a newspaper in front of this child. [laughs] She’d say: “Daddy, do you really want to spend that money?” I’d try to take her clothes shopping for school, but she’d say what she had was enough. It made her extremely responsible, an extremely fiscally responsible child.   

 

And thankfully I was a sole proprietor. It gave me the flexibility to be there, to drop her off at school and get to every meeting. I could close the office for the rest of the day if I picked her up at school and saw that she was tired or not feeling well.

 

QAeustacegreaves_PQ.jpgEM: Were there things you wish you knew beforehand, from a business owner’s standpoint?

EG: If you have employees, make sure you have good employees—people you can trust to run the business in your absence. At that time, I didn’t have employees, so there were just days when the business was closed. But if you do, make sure you treat them well, because you never know when you’ll be the one that has to be gone for a week with an emergency. When I have had employees and one had a child sick at home, they stayed home until they were well. If a babysitter didn’t show, their child came to the office and we had toys and paper and crayons if they had to be here for the day. With a small business, it’s more like a family. Yes, it’s a business and I may ask you to complete tasks, but at the end of the day you’re a parent, your employee is still a parent, your employee is a son or daughter who might have an elderly parent who needs to spend a few days in the hospital. Be flexible.

 

From a personal point of view, bring the kids in to the office and give them tasks. Make them a part of the business. Even if it’s putting labels on postcards—have them do it and then walk them to the post office and tell them: “This is why we’re sending out postcards: Because out of so many postcards, we expect so many responses, so many clients, and to generate so much income.” Children are very good at understanding process. And they love to be part of the action and part of the team. And the greatest team they can be on is the family—and the family business team.

 

At first Ashley pushed against doing it, coming everywhere with me; on the other hand, she was glad she still had me. By the time she was 9, she was doing data entry for me. I showed her how to read a homeowners’ policy—here’s the name, here’s the policy number, here’s the company name—just put in the information for me, OK? She started out typing with two fingers. Then all of a sudden it went to four. And then it was keyboarding—which was great because by the time she got to middle school, she was turning in typed reports. The skills you need to run a small business are things kids pick up quickly, and I think it’s a great incubator for children because they discover things about themselves and things you aren’t going to learn about in other places. Everything that’s happened, in a way, has empowered her with the knowledge that, hey, life is real.

 

EM: Business-wise, how did it affect you?

EG: One of the upsides was that I was “the local insurance guy.” I didn’t have to travel beyond sometimes heading into Manhattan or the Bronx for a client. But up until Debbie died, I had been teaching at Hofstra University in their continuing education program for insurance and investment licensing. I’d leave the office at 3:30pm once or twice a week, but then not get home until midnight because of train schedules. I had to stop doing that—I couldn’t do that with an 8 or 9-year-old at home. The loss of income was significant.

 

Before, Sunday used to be my day at home with family, or to help with chores like laundry—unless it was tax season. After, I would have to go into the office at times. But even then, I think it was something my daughter came to understand: Work does not have a beginning and end date. Sometimes you finish when you finish, not when the clock on the wall says you’re finished.

 

I would fill a bag and bring the laundry to a place across the street from my office very early. I’d get it started then head over to my office to try to get 55 minutes of work done. I’m a storefront guy and people in the neighborhood know me. In the year after Debbie died, one of the ladies in the neighborhood realized I’d forgotten the laundry in the dryer one day and took it all out, folded it, and brought it over to my office and said “Mr. Greaves, I know you’re under the gun. Here you go.” That’s one of the best parts about being “the local insurance guy.” You are part of the community.

 

A lot of people just stepped up. Clients who never gave me a referral before were coming with their whole families. So that was a blessing. I had an overwhelming tsunami of people bringing me dinners. But after a while you have to get back to your own life. You have to learn how to do it. And you just do it. You don’t have a choice.

 

EM: Lessons you learned that would apply to anyone in business?

EG: As the owner of a business, you should always be thinking about the possibilities, the probabilities. Wonder to yourself: What do I do if so-and-so leaves or dies? What do I do if they become disabled? If you’re a sole proprietor and you’re married or in a committed relationship with children, make sure your partner has a whole bunch of life insurance. Make sure both of you have a whole bunch of life insurance, and make each other the beneficiaries. Make sure both of you have disability insurance. And these days, make sure you both have long-term-care insurance. And as a sole proprietor, make sure you have overhead insurance. And everyone has a will.

 

Become a better manager of your time and set up a parallel office at home. The two to three hours a day that you have to take care of extra stuff like data entry, filing, thank you cards, marketing—they will be lost to you without one. You won’t be available seven or eight hours a day at the office, so you make the time up at night, after your child goes to bed. Have the same computer, the same printer—have everything there. So if in the morning the kid is sick and you’re not going to the office that day, you can get right to work from there and with thumb drive copies of your office setup. Again, you will figure out ways to do it. You will.

   

EM: And your daughter just finished her first year of college—at Yale?

EG: I think she’d be a different person today, and probably not at Yale, if I wasn’t such a hard case. We had rules: No TV during the week, and only on the weekend if the homework was done by Friday night. Unfortunately, there’s nothing like losing a parent at 8. Life becomes extremely real. This is real life.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and interviewee.  Since the details of your situation are unique, you should always seek the services of a qualified CPA and/or other financial professionals.

Grads_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

It’s cap and gown time. Another generation faces the daunting question: What on earth should I do now?

 

Rest assured, America’s entrepreneurs were there once, too. So what would this wizened and battle-hardened group tell an ambitious young person if they could? We offered a few business owners the chance to proffer some smart advice to future head honchos.

 

What do these entrepreneurs wish they knew when they were leaving school?

 

1. Capitalize on your freedom

Most new grads have life’s weightiest matters still ahead of them: marriage, kids, mortgages. So if you’re looking to strike out on your own, now may be the time—before decisions become more complicated and the risks too great. Twentysomething Nick Ramil and his business partner, Tim Nybo, finished college and headed to Guangzhou, China, to teach English part-time—and start up their consultancy on the side to pursue international opportunities. Now they’re running Royal American Wines, an importer and distributor, and coaching Chinese and global entrepreneurs. “The majority of people are too scared to take action,” Ramil says. “Over time, these people’s dreams and ambitions are slowly extinguished. Even if you fail, you played the game… this will only be a positive or sign of strength on a resume.”

 

2. Build something

Create a website. Or, better yet, an app—it’s a skill that’s in high demand. Along the way, you’ll learn things that are indispensable, like how to code, manage a project, study analytics, or a thousand other tools, says Gabriel Mays, the 28-year-old founder of Justaddcontent.com, a San Diego-based website maker for small businesses, and a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. The bottom line: Work on something that solves a problem in your industry. “If this isn’t your background, it’ll make your mind work in ways you never thought it could,” Mays says. “Can you image someone who conceived of, designed, built, marketed, and supported something completely new? They understand every step of the process. Talk about marketable when you throw that on a resume.”

 

Grads_PQ.jpg3. Your early relationships matter more than you think

Everyone has to start somewhere, but don’t make the mistake of believing that any task is beneath you. Vannessa Wade, now the 32-year-old president of her own Houston-based public-relations firm, Connect the Dots PR, looks back at her early work days and cringes a bit. “You have to learn to volunteer for projects and to be a team player,” she says. On one job, “my mind was always ‘Get me out of here,’ not realizing it was coming out in my actions.’” Instead, learn how to take disappointment and keep adding more skills. “You don’t have to show that you’d rather be out trying to be an entrepreneur,” Wade says. Instead, become a magnet for a mentor: “Work hard and people will want to look out for you.” These days, she often taps into that early network she built for advice. “People actually want to help you,” Wade explains. “I can reach out to other entrepreneurs to pick their brains about what does and doesn’t work, or get an honest answer about what I might be doing wrong.”

 

4. Be a good observer

Watch how other people operate, what niches they occupy, how their systems and organizations work, and zero in on their motivations and goals. It’s the best thing Matthew Zehner says he’s learned from his business. He takes the time “to read people, interpret this information, and use it to communicate more effectively to create the best possible outcome for my clients, my business, and my employees.” Zehner, the 28-year-old chief executive of ZehnerGroup, an interactive media agency, now has a staff of 30 employees, based in Los Angeles. The observational skill set becomes essential when dealing with difficult situations. “That life lesson is invaluable in the business world—whether it’s knowing how to word an email to a potential client to get the response I’m hoping for or how to communicate project risk with a client early on.”

 

5. Know when to ask for help

Georgette Blau was just out of college in 1999 when she started giving weekend tours of New York’s famous movie and television locations, as a sideline to her job in publishing. “Once I hit about $400 a week, I thought I could make a go of it full-time and make it a lot bigger,” she says. There were plenty of in-demand settings, as Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Seinfeld and others were becoming popular. But for about 18 months, she was doing it all: taking reservations, conducting tours, arranging marketing and logistics, and handling the finances. Looking back, she says monopolizing all of these burdens kept her fledgling company from growing faster. She added an office staffer and made it through some difficult times after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then steadily started to build up On Location Tours, learning plenty of management lessons along the way. Now with 50 employees on the job, she’s readying a TMZ celebrity-gossip-themed tour and looking at possibilities for the HBO series Girls. “It’s great to have the experience of wearing different hats, but in order to move forward in a business, you really have to hire at least an office manager to help with more time-consuming tasks, say Blau, now 38.

QAjustinhong_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

Launching a start-up can feel like jumping onto an already moving treadmill—while juggling porcupines and singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” It’s harder than you would ever think it would be, and like nothing you have ever done before. How do you stay focused on the long-term growth of your company while managing the day-to-day controlled chaos of your start-up? Take a few tips from Justin Hong, managing partner of Highly Relevant, an Internet marketing company, and co-founder of two other ventures, Highly Relevant Brands and Venice Fixies. Using his own personal philosophy as a compass, Hong is steering his thriving start-up companies through successful waters, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t encountered a few rough waves. Hong chatted with writer Heather Chaet about how he left the traditional business route to become an entrepreneur and his realization of what business is really all about.

 

HC: Can you tell us a little about Highly Relevant?

JH: Highly Relevant is an Internet marketing company based out of Los Angeles that specializes in search engine optimization [SEO]. We offer a variety of other Internet marketing services—social media marketing, pay-per-click, design development—but we’re primarily an SEO shop. The company was founded in June 2009 and, at the time, I had a similar Internet marketing company that I had started while in business school. I met the founders of Highly Relevant, we stayed in touch, and, about five months later, they asked me to join the company. That was November 2009. We’ve been in business four years now, and we’re still growing.

 

We launched another company called Highly Relevant Brands [in 2012]. With Highly Relevant, we know how to drive traffic to websites and we’re making our clients a lot of money. We realized that we could be doing this for ourselves. So with Highly Relevant Brands, we pursue the development of multiple websites of our own and try to generate revenue off of them. The majority has not panned out, but one, FixieBikes.com, actually turned out pretty well, and from that success, we started Venice Fixies, [which sells fixed-gear bikes].

 

HC: Did you always want to start your own company? Were you one of those kids who was an entrepreneur at age 10?

JH: When I was young, I wasn’t thinking about being an entrepreneur or anything along those lines. In college, I thought I wanted to be a consultant. I was focused on getting good grades and finding a job. I graduated in 2003 from Vanderbilt, and got a job as a management trainee out in the Bay area. Then, I read a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad [by Robert Kiyosaki]. It was a complete eye-opener and a game-changer for me. In school, they don’t really teach you how to create wealth. Prior to reading that book, I never had any thoughts about being an entrepreneur. After reading it, I realized I did want to have financial freedom, and I thought, “Well, I guess I should start my own business.” I ended up going to business school at USC where I focused on entrepreneurship.

 

HC: What do you do to stay focused on growing your business when there is so much to do for a start-up on a daily basis?

JH: I created a personal philosophy for myself, and part of that is [defined by] the Aristotle quote, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” I wrote a vision of what I want my life to look like, basically a 15-year plan of goals for myself—and myself as a leader. I have a fairly strict morning routine to check in on how I’m doing to reach those goals, and I try to spend about an hour each day getting prepared and focused on being proactive.

 

I don’t check my email right when I wake up. If you check your email right away, and there is one from a client yelling about something going on, you are automatically in reactive mode. [Instead], I look at my short-term goals, my monthly goals, and the five things I need to achieve in 2013. These things are all just check-ins to make sure I’m in the right spot, focused, and intentional about my day.

 

HC: What is the best advice you received as you started in the business world?

JH: You have to create systems and processes to replace yourself. That is how you are able to really start to scale your business. Let’s say you open a bagel shop. If you’re the person who is doing everything—making the bagels, taking the orders, everything—you can’t be out there growing the business. But, if you document how to make the bagels, you can hire someone to do it for you, which frees up your time to work on high-value tasks like marketing or forming partnerships with coffee shops to sell your bagels and so on. If you are doing all of the day to day work, you can’t do the high-level growth things.

 

QAjustinhong_PQ.jpgHC: In a start-up, everyone wears many “hats.” How do you and your team keep organized so things don’t fall through the cracks?

JH: Being an entrepreneur and business owner, there is no day that is really the same. It’s chaotic. You have to constantly follow up with people and have mechanisms in place. We have a pretty small office, but we use Basecamp [project management software] to keep a handle on who is accountable for what and for uploading timelines. It allows us to check in on what has been done and what still needs to happen.

 

When building a company, the leadership team has to be cohesive on what you need to be focused on—if you can’t deliver a clear message, you won’t have proper focus by your employees. Every Monday, I create a weekly dashboard, and the other partners and I meet to look at the quarterly goals and then the primary action items we need to achieve to reach those goals—the sales pipeline, our clients, every aspect of our business.

 

HC: You handle the human resources component of Highly Relevant. Can you offer some tips for other small business owners as they grow their companies and hire the first few employees?

JH: We had some stumbling blocks with personnel and we learned a lot from that experience. We brought a lot of people on at once—we didn’t know if they were a good fit or how to manage them.

 

Don’t bring anybody on until you are in desperate need to fill a position. You don’t want to hire someone to have around to just help out every once and while, and the rest of the time you are just making up stuff for him or her to do.

 

Also, when you are hiring, you have to know what your values are and find people who share those values. Sometimes you can’t tell. We had people working with our company, including some pretty prominent members of the team, and their values just weren’t aligned with ours. Things fell apart. Some people may think it’s a little cheesy, but it really applies. If you have a good team with aligned values, you can do something great—it doesn’t matter what the idea is. But if you have a great idea and don’t have the right people with you, then execution is not going to be there.

 

Start off [new hires] part time, and see if they personify your company’s values. One of our core values is being relentless, which ties in to work ethic. You can’t tell work ethic in an interview, so that is something you have to try out. You can tell work ethic after you work with someone for a month or two.

 

HC: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned so far in running a start-up?

JH: Learning how to manage people has been one of the most challenging aspects of growing a business. Business is really about people. It isn’t what you first think about [when you start a company]. You think about strategy, how are you going to get sales, the customer service you are going to provide, what systems you are going to use, but, really, it is about the people—about who you are working with, not what you are doing. You spend a lot of time at work, a lot of hours in the office and with the people in that office. You want to be around people who are confident and happy. It isn’t worth it to go to an office every single day if you don’t enjoy who is there.

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 Cheekd.com, 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 Amazon.com, as well as retailers like Sur La Table and Solutions.

QAkathymarshack_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

 

For many entrepreneurs, the idea of working alongside their spouse is either terrific or terror inducing. That’s because the arrangement combines two intense undertakings—marriage and running a business—that are each taxing enough on their own. Yet, for those brave souls who are willing to work with the one they love, running a company together can be a rewarding experience—both financially and emotionally, says Dr. Kathy Marshack, a psychologist, business coach, and author of the book Entrepreneurial Couples: Making it Work at Work and at Home. She recently spoke with business writer Susan Caminiti about what to consider before launching a business with your significant other, the importance of boundaries, and why not sharing the car ride to work is a smart idea.

 

SC: What’s one of the things that you see couples overlook in the excitement of starting a business together?

KM: One of the issues that couples need to look at if they’re considering working together is that they’re going to be around each other a lot more than if they work separately. Everyone who has a business cares a great deal about the outcome. So if your spouse does something in a way that you wouldn’t have, there’s going to be an opportunity to argue. I always tell couples, the things that you love about your spouse you’re going to have an opportunity to love and see those things more often. But the things you don’t like, well you’re going to see those aspects of him or her more often, too.

 

SC: So if you have a couple that wants to be in business together but tells you that they don’t want the company to destroy their relationship, what’s the advice there?

KM: Here’s another way to look at it: Running a business together can absolutely give you an opportunity to iron out things you wouldn’t have discovered about each other for another 20 years.

 

SC: Such as?

KM: Maybe you don’t like the ever-so-nice, polite way that your spouse addresses your employees, but then grumbles about them behind their back. When you work together you get to see that whole dynamic and it might cause you to wonder if he or she is grumbling about you behind the scenes. That happens and it’s not good. You might not like that trait and being in business together gives you a chance to discuss it, and perhaps work out another way. Working in separate places would have prevented you from seeing that side of your spouse, or at least not seeing in a work setting.

 

SC: How important is it to define job functions? If you both own the company can’t both partners just jump in where needed?

KM: If you were to go to the bank and get a line of credit for the business, the bank would expect you to have a business plan. Couples tend to believe that because they’ve fallen in love, that being in business together is going to be a snap and that everything will fall into place naturally. It won’t. You really do need to have a plan that spells out what each of you is responsible for. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t change the plan, but you need something written down that is periodically reviewed.

 

SC: Do most couples do this?

KM: Most couples in business never do this. They just go to a lawyer or go down to the bank, open an account and just hope because they’re having so much fun working out of the garage, that it’s all going to somehow be okay. 

 

But what usually happens is that [one partner] will work 60 hours to 70 hours a week at work, and the [other] will work 40 hours, and then another 25 hours a week taking care of the home. That just wears couples out. They begin to feel like drones in the system without a relationship. That’s no fun. You need a better plan than that.

 

QAkathymarshack_PQ.jpgSC: How do couples that work together do that in a realistic, sustainable way?

KM: Let’s start with the understanding that human beings need money and our income is very important to us. We will put relationships aside, even our parenting relationships, in order to make money. So I think it’s unrealistic to say that we’re not going to let the business ever get in the way. I think it’s more realistic to have a plan that puts you in the best position to guard against these things.

 

SC: What are some specific things a couple can do?

KM: Try not to have the business in your home, and at the very least, never put it in the bedroom. I suggest that couples drive to work separately even if they’re going the same place. It’s a psychological indicator that work is one place and home is another. Also it’s a good idea not to take business calls after a certain hour. Now I’ve seen lots of couples say ‘Oh no, I could never do that.’ They’re so afraid that they’re going to lose a client that way. What I try to tell them is that by operating that way they run the risk of losing a spouse.

 

SC: What else can they do?

KM: If they go on a business trip together, plan two days either before or after to strictly have vacation time. Otherwise they’ll just end up making business their entire lives. When both people are working somewhere else they have a little bit easier time calling an end to the day. When you work together, you work more hours. In fact my research has shown that entrepreneurial couples work more hours than dual-career couples.

 

SC: Why is that?

KM: Dual-career couples see themselves as social partners. They feel an obligation to stop work, come home, and help with the kids. The entrepreneurial couple tends to work more hours overall, but the woman still feels more of a pull to take care of the house and kids and to do it all. The man works hard too, but more of his time is spent tending to the business.

 

SC: What’s the upside of working with your spouse?

KM: It can be extremely positive because you have the utmost trust in this other person, much more than you would have with another business partner. So that kind of energy is really exciting and it’s wonderful to know your spouse wants this business to succeed as much as you do. But when things do start getting stressful, I suggest that they use that love for each other to remind them that they can still be very successful in business and slow things down a little bit to make time for each other. For instance, schedule a breakfast meeting each Tuesday morning outside of the house to talk about the business so that it doesn’t spill over into family time. It’s not that difficult but it does take thought and planning.

 

SC: Any other tips for couples on how to make this arrangement work?

KM: One of the mistakes made by lots of entrepreneurs is that they don’t necessarily have business skills. They developed their company when the economy was booming and so they sort of took credit for that. They didn’t realize they were successful because the economy was booming, not because they brought any particular business acumen to the table.

 

So, one of the things I always talk to couples about is the idea of getting some solid business skills. Take classes or get a mentor who teaches you these things. One of you has to be the business manager who’s looking at the bottom line.

 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

QAWarren_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

It’s tax season again. For home-based businesses, it’s time to round up receipts, invoices, and statements of a year’s worth of work from where commerce and personal life intersect. Business writer Erin McDermott recently chatted with Steven Warren, a CPA at the Minneapolis-based accounting firm Lehrman, Flom & Co., about what’s deductible for entrepreneurs who use home offices, why the risk of an audit for this group is elevated, and the importance of keeping track of what goes on in them and when.

 

EM: Home-based businesses are said to be in the highest-risk category when it comes to IRS audits, with an audit rate as high as three percent. What invites such scrutiny for this group?

SW: The IRS’s audit statistics indicate that this is an area where more incorrect reporting occurs than most due to a combination of taxpayers not understanding how to properly report their activity and intentional misreporting. [Editor’s note: See the IRS’s home-base business information pages here.] 

 

EM: What can a home-based business deduct that a business elsewhere can't? As a refresher, what is the general equation on how much of the home is used, the cost of utilities, insurance, and basic services?

SW: Home-based businesses with qualifying home offices can deduct certain direct home-office expenses and a portion of other house-related expenses. Examples of direct home-office expenses can include office furniture, a dedicated business phone line, and office supplies. Examples of indirect expenses that are deductible based on the size of the office [relative] to the entire home can include depreciation on the home, homeowners insurance, utilities, cleaning service fees, and monthly security system maintenance fees.

 

Certain types of businesses can have more generous rules apply, such as licensed day-care providers.

 

EM: For most businesses, the tax accountant relationship is a year-round dialogue. During 2012, have you seen rule changes that have come as a surprise for home-based business clients? Anything that may prove a curveball?

SW: There are no new curveballs specific to home-based businesses for 2012 income tax returns. One new item that came as a surprise that affects many home-based and non-home-based business owners is the expansion of the self-employed health insurance deduction as it applies to Medicare premiums, along with the strict procedural requirements that must be followed to qualify for the deduction. Notably, there is a requirement that either the business must pay the premiums directly or the business must reimburse the business owner for premiums paid. [Here’s the IRS’s new instructions.]

 

EM: For home-based businesses buying, say, a laptop, there’s the hurdle of proving it is exclusively for business use. Realistically, here in the age of social media and various online distractions for even the most dedicated entrepreneur, how can you prove or catalog that exclusive use to allow for that deduction? How is today’s Wifi-enabled “work-anywhere” environment translating with this deduction?

SW: You don’t necessarily need to prove exclusive use, but the recordkeeping requirements can be onerous depending on the type of asset in question. For a laptop computer, under audit the IRS would like to see a usage log that demonstrates personal versus business use. This can be done on a sample basis with the ratio during the sample period applied to the remainder of the year when the use throughout the year is fairly consistent.

 

QAWarren_PQ.jpgEM: Home-based businesses face a special challenge when it comes to advertising and promotions—being located in a residential district and not a commercial one makes them somewhat invisible. How does that deduction work and what should those owners keep in mind?

SW: Generally, advertising and promotions are fully deductible. When meals and entertainment, gift giving, and the taxpayer’s personal use or enjoyment of the promotion occur, the rules become more complex and the deductions are often limited.

 

EM: You’ve no doubt seen all kinds of organizational skills (and lack thereof) when it comes to clients’ receipts and recordkeeping. With home-based businesses, this paperwork is even more critical to proving expenses. What have you seen that works? How do you suggest wayward clients get it together? Is technology helping?

SW: The best method for recordkeeping will differ based on a taxpayer’s specific situation. When there is very little activity, a handwritten journal may be adequate, but tracking in spreadsheet software will normally work better. As the business grows and activity increases, switching to accounting software is generally preferable. For some businesses, accounting software is essential. If the business owner does not have the time or ability to work with the software, hiring a bookkeeper may be the way to go. Being organized and keeping up with entries throughout the year can save much time and frustration around tax time versus scrambling to put everything together later.

 

Business owners should keep their business activity separate from their personal activity. For example, separate checking accounts and credit cards should be maintained.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely those of the interviewee.  As always, you should review the advice of a qualified CPA, tax advisor, financial planner, or other professional prior to changing your tax strategy, recordkeeping structure, or making other major financial decisions.

QAchristycook_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

“You know what? The world needs a [insert that fantastic idea about a product here]!” We’ve all said it, heard a spouse say it, or listened to a friend talk about that next great innovation or product. Yet not many go from a brainstorming, off-the-cuff chat to taking the steps necessary to launch a company. Christy Cook, founder of Teach My, a line of award-winning learning kits for babies and toddlers, did just that, however. She saw there was void in the educational toy marketplace and turned her homemade solution into a successful business. Today, her Teach My products are sold on Toysrus.com, Walmart.com and other major online retailers, and she’s cracked the code to creating product awareness, having been mentioned everywhere from The Huffington Post to “The View.” Business and parenting writer Heather Chaet found out how this “mompreneur” transformed her idea into a thriving brand.

 

HC: Your company, Teach My, began because you couldn’t find a basic, all-in-one teaching kit for your son. Tell me about your “light bulb” moment.

CC: When my son was 18 months old, I wanted to teach him the basics. I began going to education supply stores to find teaching tools. I was hoping for one kit that would have tools to teach the alphabet, numbers up to 10, colors, and shapes. I didn’t find one, so I bought several tools that were expensive and outdated in style. I played “Mama’s School” with my son, and [used] the teaching tools for 20 to 30 minutes a day. By the age of three, my son could read, which caught the attention of parents at nursery school and playgroups. I realized there was a gap in the market and knew that other parents would benefit from an all-in-one learning kit. So, I created Teach My Toddler.

 

HC: What next steps did you take to turn that germ of an idea into a business?

CC: It took six months from the time I decided to move forward with the idea to actually going into production. I tested a prototype on many moms’ groups in my local area. The testing process didn’t have to be rigorous because [similar] products exist in the marketplace already. We updated them, made them more stylish, and put them all in one kit. I like to call it “evolution not revolution.” I spent a lot of time looking for overseas suppliers, trademarking the name, and setting up a business—thank goodness for Google! I manufactured 1,000 kits and exhibited at a local consumer show, [selling] 90 kits in just three days.

 

HC: What obstacles did you encounter as you built your company? Any that surprised you?

CC: I was surprised by how difficult it has been to build relationships and connect with store buyers. Buyers are a tricky breed. When working with buyers, you need to be prepared to take criticism and grow your product line accordingly. I needed to ‘check my ego at the door.’ The buying process can take up to six months to get underway, and there are long approval processes and many forms to fill in to become a vendor with large corporations. [It takes] a lot of persistence—a key trait for every entrepreneur—and patience. 

 

QAchristycook_PQ.jpgHC: Describe your first triumph as a small business owner.

CC: In 2009, at our first New York Toy Fair, a top buyer from Toysrus.com came by our booth and loved the products. He was instrumental in championing the products at Toysrus.com in the early days. He gave us great placement on the website in our early days. This alone created amazing sales numbers and exposure, and [I was able to use] the sales figures to attract the attention of other big box online retailers.

 

HC: Do you collaborate with other small business owners?

CC: I work with lots of small business owners. In the early days, it is important to find a group of business owners at the same stage. We collaborate on social media efforts and giveaways, and share contacts and stories.

 

HC: Your Teach My products have been mentioned on top parenting web sites and national talk shows. Any advice on attracting that ever-important word-of-mouth “buzz”?

CC: If nobody knows about your product, it will not sell. My corporate background was in marketing and public relations, and [I’m] thankful for my public relations experience. Public relations is an essential part of launching any product and also important to keep it on the market. In the “old days,” marketing professionals said that a brand or product had to be seen by a potential customer seven times before they would consider buying. Due to all the noise in the current marketplace, that number has increased 10-fold. Now, it’s essential to build “layers of awareness.” Using both traditional media (TV, radio and print), as well as non-traditional media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Google+ and blogging), build layer upon layer of awareness by getting your story out to the public at every possible opportunity. Through building the layers of exposure, customers will be able to find you among all of the other brands.

 

HC: What are one or two other tips to get a product noticed?

CC: Tradeshows are key. They put your company in front of hundreds of buyers over a course of three or four days. I also think a professional image is important.  [From my days] in public relations, I knew the importance of image. Although you are a small company, you need to look and think like the big guys.  Therefore, we invested in a great website, a stand-out tradeshow booth and high quality sales materials to represent the brand. 

 

HC: Many of us dream up ideas for products or companies, but rarely follow through with it. Share your thoughts on what others need to keep in mind before they begin a venture like this.

CC: [Ask yourself] do you have money and passion? Unfortunately, start-up businesses take more money than anyone ever expects. Be prepared to invest or find investors. We have private investors in the form of friends and family. Also, you need to have a relentless amount of passion—don’t listen to the naysayers, and don’t ever give up on your dream.

QAbrianmiller_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

Having spent 15 years as a franchise executive with Snelling Staffing, one of the nation’s top franchise staffing firms, Brian Miller knows first-hand the world of franchising. In 2003, he joined FranchisEsource Brands International (FSBI), which specializes in multi-brand franchising and business consulting, and then three years ago Miller was promoted to president and chief operating officer for FSBI’s family of brands that includes Zor Source, which provides coaching services to franchisors. Recently, Miller took a breather from his busy schedule to talk with writer Iris Dorbian about the intricacies of the franchising process and the most common mistakes he sees franchisees make.

 

ID: What are the most common mistakes you see franchisees or potential franchisees make? Can you provide an example?

BM: In the beginning when people are looking to invest in a franchise, they look at the business through the eyes of a consumer as opposed to a business owner. For example, they may have an affinity for a particular product or service but that doesn’t mean they would necessarily be good at that business. So one of the first things that people need to do is look at what they want that business to do for them because the business is a vehicle to get them where they want to go. They need to step back and say what do I want my life to look like in three to five years? What are things that are important to my family and me? Do I want to involve my children in this business? Am I getting into business for myself to have a more flexible lifestyle? Once they have a better understanding of that, then they can begin to look at businesses that more closely align with what their business goals and expectations are.

 

With franchising, what it takes to be successful is following that franchise’s operating system. The biggest mistake that new franchisees make is that they don’t follow it.

 

QAbrianmiller_PQ.jpgID: If someone was interested in becoming a franchisee and he/she went to you for help, how would you guide him/her through the process?

BM: I would start by asking them what they like most about their current career and what they like least. Then I would ask questions about what they’re looking to accomplish by being in business for themselves and a little about their family, their personal life, and how that plays into what they’re looking to accomplish. It’s really a coaching process, a discovery that we take people through to help them determine what they want the business to do for them.

 

Let me give you a good example. Some people come to me with preconceived notions of what they think they want from a franchise. It might be something that their brother-in-law told them was the next hottest franchise, but, again, that might not be the best for them. A lot of people are stay-at-home moms or stay-at-home dads and they’re looking for a more flexible lifestyle because they’re tired of working 60 to 70 hours a week and having to turn in a permission slip to take two hours off. And they might want a business that will fit their lifestyle. That’s why it’s very important to ask people what do you want this business to do for them rather than just repeating something they’ve heard.

 

ID: What type of demands should franchisees expect the franchisor to make on them? How about marketing support?

BM: They need to be properly capitalized. In the front part of the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) there’s information on costs and initial investment. Typically, it gives people an idea of the liquid capital they’ll need for six months or up to a year to operate that business. They need to understand what the expectations are in terms of financial requirements.

 

A franchisor can provide three things: The first is the brand name; second, it provides an operating system, which is a track to run on; and third, a franchisor should provide ongoing support, basic marketing materials, and performance enhancement coaching to help franchisees ramp up their businesses successfully.

 

ID: What type of person is the best candidate to become a franchisee as opposed to an independent small business owner?
BM: If you can’t follow a system, if you’re a maverick, then you will not be able to do well in franchising. Because one of the criteria that a franchisor is going to look for in a potential franchisee is how well he/she believes you’re going to follow this system. Some people don’t want to follow a system; some people want to go off and create their own system and there’s certainly a lot of opportunity with that, but there’s certainly a lot of risk because you don’t have a system that’s been tried and proven and you don’t have the resources.

 

We’re seeing a lot of military men and women coming back from years of serving our country and they’re coming back to a very tight labor market. Veterans are good for franchising. The reason is, when you’re in military, you’re taught to follow an operating system. Veterans are driven, passionate, and motivated. They like having a track on which to run. They’re used to following a system. They have a fire in the belly and they’re used to getting a job done and doing it right.

 

ID: What would be your best practices for success in becoming a franchisee?

BM: Be a student of the business and be what we call a “strong request for coaching.” That is, someone who when they start their franchise asks for coaching from whomever their mentor is in the corporate office. The people who are typically successful are the ones who are hungry to learn and want to improve themselves.

 

Also pick someone who’s been successful in the system and who’s positive as a mentor, a fellow franchisee for example, maybe someone who’s a consistent award winner in the organization and constantly gives back to the franchise. And seek out a peer mentor, somebody who is following the system and doing it the right way.

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