1. Bring Luxury to the Masses: With his interior design firm, Pret-a-Habiter, Carl Bradford Stibolt is not only tapping the hot luxury market, but he's also banking on a hot idea: offering luxury to the masses. Using standardization, the internet and low-cost products, he provides 30-day interior design services for a low, flat fee. Stibolt, who projects 2007 sales between $100,000 and $150,000, offers these tips for bringing a high-end service to a wider audience:
- Educate your audience. Be clear about what they are paying for and what they should expect.
- Build an identifiable brand by creating an entire experience.
- Standardize the process for efficiency.
- Be flexible, because each job will be different. --L.H.
2. Take it Step by Step: If starting a business seems overwhelming, think small. Cornelia Flannery, co-author of Take 10! How to Achieve Your "Someday" Dreams in 10 Minutes a Day, advises entrepreneurs to start with a clear vision and then break tasks down to the basics. Ask yourself what you can do in the next 10 minutes that will move your business forward, says Flannery. Every step you take is one step closer. --S.W.
3. Get Advice from Your Inspiration: News-hungry friends Adam Rich and Ben Lerer have always admired what e-mail newsletter Daily Candy offers its readers: fun, digestible spotlights on hot products, restaurants and retailers. But they longed for something that spoke to their needs, Lerer says. So they went straight to Daily Candy and its investors for help launching their own e-newsletter, Thrillist. Though Lerer stresses the importance of building their million-dollar company separately from Daily Candy, the advice they received has been extremely valuable. "Going to someone who knows how to do it served us well," he says. "It was good to have a point of reference." --L.H.
4. Start Part Time: Starting a business during evenings and weekends takes serious planning, says Michelle Anton, co-author of Weekend Entrepreneur. "Create a road map [of] all the things you need to do," she says. To achieve work-life balance, set aside time to make calls and send e-mails--even use breaks at work to communicate with customers. Attend chamber of commerce networking functions to meet lots of like-minded people. Says Anton, "Go to [events] where you can get the most mileage out of your time. --N.L.T.
5. Set up Your First Office: When your startup is homebased, it's tempting to just use the first cleared-off table you can find in your house. But take the time to establish an office space separate from your living space. A spare bedroom is a good candidate for conversion into an office, while a kitchen table is a recipe for inviting distractions. It's good to establish a mental barrier between home time and work time, and even better to have an actual door to close. --A.C.K.
6. Think Upscale: From gourmet dog food to designer bottled water, almost any low-end product can be taken upscale. Just ask Andrew and Robin Schiff, founders of Spread, a couture peanut spread line and vegetarian restaurant. "We took the most pedestrian product, [peanut butter], and turned it into one of the most gourmet products in the world," says Andrew, who projects sales of $1.5 million this year. "We saw the opportunity to create multiple flavors, customize and [gain] a private clientele." The flavors cost between $30 and $700 a pound through the company's private client program. Within two years, the company will have a 100 percent private customer base. --L.H.
7. Name Your Business Wisely: Ideally, your business name should summarize who you are, what you do and why you are unique. But naming is not an exact science. Before you start quoting Romeo and Juliet ("What's in a name?"), LogoYes founder John Williams has a few suggestions. "Start with the benefits [your business offers]," says Williams. "Go to a thesaurus. Start listing words and try them out on people. See how they look with .com behind them and stay away from [names] that sound like your competitors." --K.O.
8. Target a Growing Demographic: As demographics grow, so do the opportunities for filling their needs. With the Hispanic population in the U.S. rising nearly 22 percent from 2000 to 2005, Laritza Lopez saw a need for "culturally in-tune Hispanic images." After extensive research, she found that Hispanics, the nation's largest minority group, were vastly underrepresented in commercial photography. "I saw this gap in the marketplace as an opportunity, and the growth of the segment will in turn drive demand," says Lopez, who projects 2007 sales of about $100,000 for her Hispanic stock-photo business, Real Latino Images. --L.H.
9. Nurture Your Startup: After a year of incubation at Drexel University's Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship, LympheDivas LLCis poised to reach $100,000 in sales this year. "It's a great way to start out," says Rachel Troxell, who co-founded the company with Kristin Dudley. The free office space, course work and access to mentors had a significant impact on their company, which creates fashionable, medically correct compression garments for breast cancer survivors. Interested in incubators? Check out nbia.org. --S.W.
10. Start Networking Now: Ramp up your networking fast to find your first clients--by joining not just the chamber of commerce, but also nonprofit boards and community organizations, says Steve Harper, author of The Ripple Effect. "Be a resource, give your time and knowledge, and people [will] begin to look at you as a go-to person," he says. Also, find a connection mentor--someone who already has vast connections in the community that can benefit you--and ask them to make introductions. --N.L.T.
11. Find the Next Big Thing: Cut the costs of development, skip the hassle of patenting and minimize your overall risk by bringing an already invented product to market. Start by identifying hot markets and products, advises new-product marketing specialist Don Debelak. Then attend invention trade shows like INPEX, conduct patent searches and negotiate with inventors. When buying a product's rights, says Debelak, minimize your upfront payments and push for a low minimum royalty, especially for the first year. --S.W.
12. Cut Costs by Sharing the Office: Why foot the bill for an office when you can share the expense? Edward Dubin, the owner of a 10-employee Key Financial Corp. branch that's expecting to do about $10 million in loan volume this year, has a prime location, a receptionist and access to conference rooms and office supplies--all provided by Preferred Offices, a co-working facility. Says Dubin, "The net cost is much lower than trying to do all this on my own." --S.W.
13. Barter to Save Money: Strapped for cash? Sometimes the best way for a startup to start up is to trade goods and services. By joining a trade exchange, you can keep cash in hand and gain access to a valuable database of potential customers. Krista Vardabash, executive director of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, says a good barter exchange will market your business to its members as well as assess your needs to maximize your bartering experience. --S.W.
14. Launch a Website: Get your website launched fast and cheap with a do-it-yourself template and hosting service like those offered by Netidentity, Web.com and Yahoo! Small Business. Starter plans come in at around $10 per month. What's less than cheap? Free. Microsoft Office Live has a Basics service that gets you a free domain, hosting, e-mail and templates. All these services offer options to upgrade as your business grows and your web needs evolve. --A.C.K.
15. Find a Mentor: Mitch Schlimer, host of the radio program Let's Talk Business, knows the value of good mentoring, because it's been his job for the past 13 years. He recommends finding a mentor who understands not just you, but also the minute details of your business. Your mentor doesn't need to be your mental clone, but it's important to pick someone you trust who can challenge you in a positive way, says Schlimer. Finding a mentor can even be as easy as flipping through your favorite business book, which is what Schlimer did. Says Schlimer, "That experience the mentor has gone through firsthand is often invaluable." --K.O.
16. Get Creative in Your Marketing: When Pete Bonahoom started Galactic Pizza, he was taking on 13 competitors. But by equipping his delivery drivers with electric cars, dressing them in superhero costumes, and actually going through with his crazy marketing ideas, he has taken the market by storm--he estimates his pizza joint will deliver about $800,000 in sales by year-end. Says Bonahoom, "To break through the clutter, you need something that's going to set you apart from everyone else." --S.W.
17. Create an Add-on Product: So maybe you didn't invent the wheel, or the iPod wave passed you by. But other people's hot products can mean an opportunity for you to thrive with accessories and add-ons. With the popularity of plasma TVs, Justin and Derek Ostensen saw potential to personalize them. Ever the art connoisseurs, the founders of Ambiance Visuals reached out to galleries and artists worldwide for artwork that customers could display on their plasmas via customized DVDs. Says Justin, who projects 320 percent growth this year, "We're taking technology and seeing the bigger picture." Literally. --L.H.
18. Get Help from the IRS: Get a grip on accounting and taxes with free publications from the IRS. Starting a Business and Keeping Records (Publication 583); Tax Guide for Small Business (Publication 334); Business Expenses (Publication 535); Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses (Publication 463); Circular E, Employer's Tax Guide (Publication 15); and Employer's Supplemental Tax Guide (Publication 15-A) can all be downloaded at irs.gov.
19. Target Big Corporations: Market your products or services to big corporate clients instead of individual consumers. Deborah Sable founded CoreFit so she could market her personal- training services to corporations to offer as an employee benefit. "I find out who the owner or CEO is and find somebody who knows that person--that's how I get in [at] the top," says Sable, whose annual sales are close to $250,000. "I always offer a free seminar. If I can get the employees hooked, it's a done deal." --N.L.T.
20. Tap the Senior Market: Target your business to the escalating senior market. Julie Hall founded The Estate Lady LLC to provide estate appraisal and sales services to seniors. With projected sales in the mid-six figures, Hall notes, "Seniors are extremely sharp. The worst thing you can do is attempt to pull the wool over their eyes." Be honest, and develop a rapport with them.
Hot senior businesses include grand travel (grandparent trips with grandkids) and products and services for active seniors, such as spiced-up vacations, educational opportunities and stylish clothing for the aging figure, says Ann A. Fishman, founder of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. --N.L.T.
21. Get Your Personal Finances in Order: Launching a business takes cash, but before banks will cough it up, they'll scrutinize your personal finance history. Mike Peterson, author of Reality Millionaire, advises you to check your credit report. "Creditors like to see a lot of open space between your debt and [your] open credit limit," he says. Correct errors, pay down your personal debt and track your personal expenses for 30 days before seeking a business loan. --N.L.T.
22. Connect with Other Entrepreneurs Online: Try one of these sites.
- Biznik: This site emphasizes collaboration and encourages members to attend local Biznik networking events.
- Go BIG: Members range from entrepreneurs to investors to freelancers looking for work. It's free to sign up.
- PartnerUp: Partner-Up's members include entrepreneurs and investors, as well as consultants, board members and other professionals.
- Spoke: An online database featuring more than 900,000 companies for business networking or sales prospects --J.P.
23. Create a Spinoff Product: Try capitalizing on an already existing product by spinning it for a new market. "Look for opportunities where the concept is easy to understand but is presented in a way that it hasn't been before," explains Jamila White, founder of J.blossom and Co., a producer of natural bath and body products for girls age 2 to 12. "[Then] do lots of market research!" Because White saw an industry saturated with bath and body products for women, she introduced a kid-friendly line, which will bring in $60,000 this year. --L.H.
24. Market to Moms: Look to moms for their stamp of approval. Stacie Mindich-Jordan did just that with her company, BabyDish, and its popular BabyBeReady Diaper Bag Survival Kit, which should help the company bring in $150,000 this year. As a mom herself, she knows her market is hot because:
- Moms are always looking for the best products for their kids.
- Moms are doing more than ever, so they're willing to pay for products or services that make their lives easier.
- Moms will spread the word. "Their opinions can make or break you," says Mindich-Jordan.
For more on how to target the mom market, see the "Mom Biz," column in this issue. --L.H.
25. Get on the Shelves of Small Stores: When it comes to getting your products on store shelves, sometimes the key to getting your break is establishing a good track record with smaller, independent stores. New-product marketing specialist Don Debelak recommends targeting stores that have complementary products and price points, as well as pitching your product to the stores' sales representatives. Come prepared with the product packaging, price schedule and any information that indicates your product's success. --S.W.