Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Easy does it

When it comes to building a business, Robert Crayhon, founder of Crayhon Research, has one message: "don't rush the incubation stage." Having launched and sold various companies in his life, this nutritionist, educator and author says that it usually takes more time than you think to figure things out. That is truly music to my ears because I'm constantly thinking that I'm going too slow, that I need to somehow speed up the process. I love the idea of following your intuition, of letting your business evolve organically.

This quote by Orin L. Crain really brings it home for me:

Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.
When we slow down it may seem like nothing is happening but actually there's a lot going on. You can't rush creativity or psychic energy...they need space. I do believe the universe is conspiring to make our dreams come true...all we need to do is keep taking small steps, slowly.

According to Robert, another key to success is building relationships. He says entrepreneurs need to have emphatic insight into what their customers need, so you need to ask yourself: Do I love people? Learn where you connect in society and reach out to your community. Make out questionnaires and ask them what they like and don't like about existing products/services. The more you build relationships the less marketing you'll need in the future!

How do you reach your community? Share your thoughts with us!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Professor Trexler visits the Mogulettes

Jeff Trexler has a PhD in religion, is a lawyer and he teaches social entrepreneurship. Wow, talk about powerful combinations! He came to visit the Mogulettes this week to talk to us about business structures, but he gave us a whole lot more than that.

He says if you're starting out and have little liability risk (ie. there's little potential for getting sued for the product or service you're offering), it's okay to choose the sole proprietorship structure until you have a better idea of where your business is headed. It's the simplest one of all: You don't have to get registered with the state (although you may need to a license to work in your particular field) and you get taxed at the personal rate. One drawback is that you're liable for everything - in the event that you get sued, they could go after your personal assets - yikes!

It's even worse with partnerships, which is when two or more people come together to form an enterprise. With this type of structure the partner with the most money will stand to lose the most in a lawsuit. They'll go after the richer one!

With a corporation, you and your company are two separate entities. There is a legal distinction between the two, and if you get sued, only corporate assets can be seized. The problem here is the double taxation. Profits get taxed at the corporate level and then dividends get taxed as well. And you also have to maintain certain formalities, like you must hold regular shareholder meetings (even if you're the only person in the corporation!) and keep separate books.

According to Jeff, for many businesses the best choice is to become LLCs, or limited liability companies. LLCs offer limited liability to the owner and they get to report the income or loss on their tax return.

Before you make a decision, he suggests speaking with an accountant and/or lawyer to see if there's tax benefits for you associated with a particular structure. Each case is different so you must consider your own unique factors. One great resource he gave us was NOLO Press. They publish all sorts of guides written by lawyers in layman's terms to help you navigate through complicated legals issues. He says the books are so helpful that the State of Texas was at one point considering barring their sale because they took too much business away from lawyers! Jeff gave us a free copy of one of their books, "LLC or Corporation? How to Choose the Right Form for Your Business".

Which brings me to why this dashing professor holds a position of honor at our club - he also donated eight brand new books on business, so that now we have our very own lending library! Aside from the one above, we also have the following texts, all written by Rhonda Abrams, available to borrow:

Winning Presentation in a Day
Business Plan in a Day
Six-Week Startup
Finding an Angel Investor
The Owner's Manual for Small Business
Trade Show in a Day
The Successful Business Plan, Secrets & Strategies
Successful Business Research

And not only that, Jeff believes that everyone should have access to information. He says that if you want to be accredited then by all means you can attend school, but if all you want is to be better informed, then that shouldn't cost you any money. So he's planning on putting all the lessons on entrepreneurship and law he teaches at Pace University online, to make them available to all. What a guy!

Here's two more links he gave us that could save you time and money: The NY Dept. of State has a database where you can check whether the name you want for your company has been already filed by someone else. Then go over to the US Trademark Office to do a national search using their search engine.

Jeff promised to come back to talk about innovation and finding a niche, so I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Walking on red hot coals

I was in sunny Puerto Rico visiting my family last weekend but no matter where I am these days I always end up finding interesting startup stories.

While there I met with my new friend Sharon Pica for lunch and when I told her what I was up to with The Mogulettes, she shared how she had started a few businesses herself. After studying at F.I.T. and working for years as a buyer here in the states and in P.R., she decided to launch her own line of clothing. The scariest part, she said, was gathering the courage to disclose her plans to her boss, who owned a chain of stores in old San Juan. He was very supportive and allowed her to work part-time while she put together her line. Although she was great at spotting trends and knowing what designs would sell, her weak point was making patterns, so she was able to find a partner that had experience with that. Their first dress was a disaster - the pattern came out wrong and they had to throw away all the fabric. But then orders started coming in and dresses started selling. They found a very good rep and Sears and JC Penney's placed orders. Little by little the company grew. Her old boss became one of her biggest customers. After a couple of years they were making close to one million dollars in annual sales! Soon after that she and her partner parted ways and Sharon went off on her own - that's when the business really took off.

Sharon at home, getting ready for her next business adventure

It was also during that time that she felt drawn to the spiritual side of life, and after attending a few seminars she decided to start a non profit to bring all the wonderful teachers she loved to the island. Her fist event was with Wayne Dyer and 600 people showed up, then thousands came to see Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and others.

But everything changed when her daughter Gabrielle was born. Sharon put both businesses aside to become a full time mom after realizing she couldn't breast feed and buy fabric and book spiritual events at the same time. That was 9 years ago and now she's ready to get back into action with one of the many new business ideas she's cooking up in her very creative head.

Sharon had a great story about how she overcame her fears when she launched her first business. A week before making the decision, a friend told her about a training that taught people how to walk on coals to work out their fears - Anthony Robbins-style. She agreed to go but once there, she was so terrified she went to the end of the line and was the last one to step into the red hot ashes. Well not only did she walk through the smoldering coals once but then went back and did it again, and again! After that she felt that if she could walk on fire she could do anything - it was a great 'rah-rah!' moment for her. And that's how she found the courage to start her business...

Do you have a 'rah-rah!' moment you'd like to share? I'd love to hear it!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Anatomy of a Startup: Traber Fitzpatrick

Greetings enterprising divas! At our meeting this week we had yet another wonderful fempreneur - Heather Fitzpatrick - give us her account of how she launched her executive search firm, Traber Fitzpatrick. She also touched on some broad themes, like the importance of clear communication with clients (spell it all out in a contract!), and how to compensate for your weaknesses (Heather's great at sales and marketing but she admits she was a bit challenged when it came to keeping her desk in order!).

After a handful of years working at an executive search firm, Heather had gradually moved up to become one of the top recruiters, consistently meeting her sales quota every year, and then moving the bogey up higher for the following year. That’s when the thought came to her: Can I cut the cord and do this on my own? She started paying close attention to what it would take to replicate her office at home. Telephone: check. Computer: check. Desk: check. Expensive database of candidates: Uh-oh... She couldn’t afford the steep annual fees for the database, but she decided to take the risk anyway. If she failed she knew she could always return. So she bit the bullet and started Traber Fitzpatrick with no client base, no network, no website and no business cards. Luckily she got a referral from one of her long time clients and when she placed her first executive, he asked her to fill 9 other positions at the firm. From that came other referrals, and Heather was one her way!

Investing in the business

Another topic Heather covered in her presentation to the Mogulettes was how to initially invest your limited funds. In the beginning Heather lusted for the perfect website that would impress her clients and scream “I'm a big deal!” She was able to find someone that charged her $500 to create her site but soon realized it was money not well spent. The content became outdated quickly and she wasn't able to update it herself. And none of her clients ever asked if she had a website. Her advice: Don’t get carried away with expensive stuff! Before spending money on business related things, ask yourself: Do I really need this? The same thing happened with the database. Once Heather’s cash flow grew, she decided to fork over the $13,000 for the client database she thought she needed, but after years of going without it, she found that her own low-tech system was actually more effective.

Heather’s stories show that in the beginning, if you have a little ingenuity and lots of passion, you don’t need to spend much to get going. It all boils down to youyou’re your biggest asset. Clients come to you because they like you, not your fancy website or expensive office technology. Phew! Okay, I can breathe easier knowing I won't have to break open my piggy bank and spend mucho dinero - at least not for now!

Friday, June 8, 2007

What Agatha Christie taught me

Often I get discouraged when I feel that my business isn't forging ahead as quickly as I'd like, or when something unexpectedly falls through. My mother recently shared an interesting anecdote with me that helped me put things into perspective. She recounted how, as a toddler, I would fall repeatedly as I clumsily attempted to walk - but then I would get right back up and try again, over and over, until one day, at 9 months, I took my first steps. That was a true revelation to me. Even back then I had the determination to not give up. Which means that it's gotta still be somewhere inside me...I just need to bring it out!

That reminds me of another related story. I watched a documentary on Agatha Christie that detailed how the author of the famous murder mysteries had a daily routine she never strayed from: she would sit down and write every single morning. She was an incredibly prolific writer but what's interesting to me is that her writing got better with time. It's as if the universe rewarded her for having faith in her art, for being dedicated to her craft. By not giving up she received the gift of mastery. So we just need to keep at it, and tell our internal critics to talk a hike!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Legal Eagles

Are you unsure about what business structure to choose for your company, or have doubts about a lease or contract you're about to sign? Maybe you've spent all your budget on marketing and have little left for consulting with a lawyer before making decisions such as these...

Well if you live in or around New York City, you're in luck. The Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) was created exactly for this reason. They assist low to mid income business owners in Manhattan with legal issues - at no charge. Akira Arroyo is their program director and she graciously agreed to attend this week's meeting to talk to us about their services. They have partnered with volunteer attorneys that can advise you on whether your business should be a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, etc. They'll also review your lease or sales contract before you sign it, plus they'll give advice on protecting trademarks and copyrights, and on what licenses and registrations your company will need. They also offer seminars and legal clinics - like right now they have one on commercial leases. She can be reached at 212-382-6633. (That's her below)

Here's 2 other free legal services offered by the New York City Bar Association: the legal hotline (212-626-7383, Mon.-Fri. 9:00am-12:30pm, or which is part of the City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono arm of NYCBA, and the Monday Night Law Project, a clinic held on the 1st Monday of every month where you get speak to an attorney who will help you assess your legal issues (you'll need to schedule an appointment in advance: call 212-626-7373). One caveat: both of these services only cover family law, landlord/housing, consumer fraud/credit issues. For small business issues your best bet is NELP.

After Akira's presentation we all had a chance to chat and catch up on things. Fellow Mogulette CarolynTownes shared that she now has 4 blogs that she's posting to! This fabulous fempreneur is a Spiritual Life and Leadership Coach who also runs a inspirational group entitled Becoming a Woman of Purpose. Her most recent post is about how to deal with gremlins. Yes, gremlins, those pesky killjoys that shoot down your ideas and rain on your parade.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Who's your action partner?

Fat, Broke and Lonely No More! That's the title of a new book by Victoria Moran, a woman I had the pleasure of meeting about a year ago and who has been an true inspiration to me. She did a book signing yesterday at Barnes & Noble which was delightful. Not only did she grace us with tidbits of her own brand of humorous wisdom from the book but she also had her friend sing a beautiful song that soothed our stressed out New York souls.

During the Q&A she spoke about how, when she's in writing mode, she usually works from Starbuck's because there's a lot of people around her but they want nothing from her (unlike at her home!). As a solopreneur I often feel isolated spending so many hours by myself in front of my computer. When my family stayed over for a visit recently I realized that even though they were a bit distracting, I still managed to get things done. As a matter of fact, I was even more productive. I get a lot of positive energy from people, and one way I can incorporate that into my routine is how Victoria does it: she has what she calls an action partner and they call each other every morning at 6:30am to share their actions for the day. Afterwards she has a good breakfast (one of the reasons she's so slim, she says), exercises and finds time to meditate, most days. That routine gets her ready for the work of the day.

The Mogulettes are my action partners, but I also have a wonderful list of supportive friends that I need to remember to call to keep me focused and on track on a daily basis. How do you stay connected and motivated? Please share your thoughts!