Getting Started: Health-Care Staffing
Demand is booming in the health-care staffing sector. Here's a prescription for getting your business off to a healthy start:
- Creative hiring is a must. "You can't just recruit someone who has recruiting experience," says Lisa Dearborn, vice president of health-care services with staffing firm Response Companies in New York City. She suggests hiring candidates with health-care industry experience for their backgrounds and knowledge, then training them to recruit.
- Prepare for competition. You're not the only entrepreneur contemplating a health-care staffing startup. "Five or six years ago, we did not have the competition we have now," says Dearborn. "All of these companies are getting into health care because they see the demand."
- Look to the nursing area. There is need in all areas of health-care staffing, but the nursing shortage is particularly acute. According to Dearborn, "There aren't as many nurses coming out of nursing school. With the baby boomers, we're going to need a lot of long-term care, and companies are preparing for that and expanding their businesses, but they don't have the nurses to fill the jobs." If you can work successfully fill nursing positions, you'll be in demand.
- Don't overlook pharmacies. Nurses and doctors might come to mind first when you think of health-care staffing needs, but there's also a squeeze on the availability of pharmacists. Large chains, local pharmacies and hospitals often need help finding workers to staff their pharmacies. It can be another niche for your new business to focus on.
- If you don't have a medical background, find someone who does. You don't need to have an M.D. degree to work in health-care staffing, but you will need the experience and help of an employee or partner with a medical background. "The only way to be successful is to bring someone onboard who has experience and knows how to speak with the candidates and clients." --A.C.K.
Getting Started: Biotech/Health Technology
Health tech has gone high-tech. Check out these tips for launching a biotech company:
- Be a bit of a daredevil. "You've got to take risks. Getting a therapeutic to market can take anywhere from $25 million to $100 million. You have to understand the process and how much one will own at the end," says Dr. Gary J. Kurtzman, vice president of the Life Sciences Group at Wayne, Pennsylvania, technology and life sciences holding company Safeguard Scientifics.
- Hire smart. It takes a lot of people from a lot of different disciplines to build a successful health-tech company. "It's very hard to do this on your own in the biotech and life sciences space," says Kurtzman. "There's a lot of complexity, and you need a lot of skill sets. Surrounding yourself with the best people is the key." This goes for everyone--from your first employee to your partners and consultants.
- Build a bridge from academia. "There's a lot of work in translating an academic discovery into something that is used every day," says Dan Skovronsky, 34, founder of molecular imaging company Avid Radiopharmaceuticals in Philadelphia. It takes both health tech and business smarts to help commercialize a product or service from a university environment, but that's where many great innovations begin. Adds Skovronsky, "There's a lot of great technology in academia that is ripe for further development."
- Partner up. You can have it both ways: Stay nimble as a growing business and leverage the resources of a large pharmaceutical company. Says Skovronsky, "We were lucky to partner early on with a big pharmaceutical company, and we recognize the value in that."
- Look ahead. You don't have to chase after the next great blockbuster pill to be successful in health tech. Diagnostics and monitoring technologies are growing areas that are seeing a lot more interest. "It's much more cost-effective and more beneficial for the patient," says Skovronsky. "If you pick up the disease earlier, you can get them on the right therapy sooner." --A.C.K.
Getting Started: Web Apps
Web apps are a wide-open business opportunity. Help bring your business into focus with these suggestions:
- Be great from the start. With the speed of web development, there isn't as much room to endlessly tweak your web app. "There is so much going on today that unless you deliver value almost immediately, it's going to be difficult to get that user back," says Jeff Clavier, managing partner of SoftTech VC in Palo Alto, California.
- Keep it simple. Web apps work best when they're lean and focused. You don't need to overwhelm your users with a heap of features and variables. Do a few things and do them extremely well. Easy-to-use, functional web apps will keep customers coming back. Closely consider the needs of your target audience and build from there.
- Look ahead to business apps. Consumer-focused web apps are big right now, but businesses are coming around to the concept. "Web-delivered infrastructure will eventually create some tension with more traditional application providers," says Clavier. "There is an interesting shift in the industry. There will be an interesting set of opportunities in those areas where traditionally entrenched players have owned certain verticals." It's an area that is ripe for innovation.
- Make your startup sociable. Interactive is the name of the game. Find which aspects of social networking and social media fit with your business and put them to work. SaysClavier, "Everything is social now. Anyone building a service that doesn't have some element of social media is building Web 1.0." You definitely need to be looking at Web 2.0 (and beyond).
- Woo with widgets. "One trend we've seen over the past year is the widgetization of the web," says Clavier. Making your web app available in a widget version that can work with web platforms like social networks and blogs is a great way to employ viral marketing. --A.C.K.
Getting Started: Tech Consulting
You don't need a consultant to learn from these tips on starting your own tech-consulting business:
- Set yourself apart. Larry Velez, 33, founder of managed solutions provider Sinu in New York City, has worked to ensure his business stands out in the crowd of tech-consulting competitors. Sinu caters to small businesses and nonprofits with an unlimited tech support and flat-rate fee model that gives his company a lot of incentive to keep their clients' tech up and running smoothly.
- Do your research. You can't be all things to all people, so choose your target market before you launch. Says Laurie McCabe, vice president for SMB Insights and Business Solutions at AMI-Partners in Bedford, New Hampshire, "Research what customer segment you're going to sell to in terms of the kinds of needs they have relative to the kinds of services you're going to provide."
- Don't underestimate your costs. "Don't kid yourself about your costs, and make sure that every role in your company has a competitive salary and benefits behind it," advises Velez. There is still competition to attract and retain talented IT workers, so budget accordingly to bring in the best personnel you can get.
- Talk to your customers. You don't have to guess about what your potential customers are looking for in a tech consultant. Just ask them. Says McCabe, "Have some of these conversations so that when you package up your services and put them out there, you're going to hit the right notes." Find out what they like or don't like about their current provider and ask what services are most important to them.
- Price carefully. This is especially important if you're catering to small and midsize businesses or nonprofits. "You have to come up with a pricing strategy that is really going to dovetail with these businesses because the SMB market is a cost-constrained market," says McCabe. They're extremely price-sensitive, and you'll have to make an effort to be competitive and provide a lot of value for the money. Sinu's flat-rate approach is a great example of how this can be done. --A.C.K.
Getting Started: Beer Business
Interested in beer? Get your head out of the keg and take a look at these important tips:
- Don't underestimate your customer. If you want customers to value you, you need to value your customers. "We've gone through a lot of horribly clichÃ©d beers that kind of play to the idea that beer is still just beer and if we put a pretty lady on the label, people will buy it," says Stephen Beaumont, a Toronto-based beer writer. "That's not the case." According to Beaumont, people have fine-tuned their expectations of the craft beer industry, and consequently, they expect to be served nothing less than the best.
- Get cozy with your customers. Treating your customers with respect is just the beginning. Get on their good side and there's no end to your business's potential. Says Beaumont, "[Beer] is something that people put a social stake into, that people get very passionate about, and building up from an entry level involves creating relationships with your customers."
- Establish a niche to differentiate yourself from the big-name brands. In the beer industry, running with the big dogs might just get you run over. Instead, spend time developing your niche so that you can bring your playing level up a notch. "[Develop] a style, an attitude, a unique brand identity [that] reflects true diversity and imagination in the craft beer market," says Jeremy Cowan, 38, founder of Shmaltz Brewing Co. in San Francisco. "This is generally lacking in the giant beer brands that need to remain bland enough in style and substance to appeal to a mass audience."
- Know your market. It may be basic, but Beaumont assures that by familiarizing yourself with the tastes and needs of your local market, you'll be prepping the business for a steady flow of customers--and beer.
- Sober up your projections. Everyone dreams of sweet success, but to reach that point, you have to be realistic in your expectations. "A lot of breweries have gone down the tubes because they see the potential for growth and they've seized it only to find that it's not a growth wave, it's a spike--the actual growth is about 50 percent less than they forecasted because a new beer always spikes," says Beaumont. "So it really helps in the beer industry to be conservative in your growth [estimates]." --S.W.
Getting Started: Wine Business
Wine might be enticing enough to draw customers on its own, but to ensure your business gets off to a smooth start, check out these pointers:
- Evaluate your startup capital. How much you're starting with will determine your game plan, according to Cameron Hughes, 36-year-old founder of Cameron Hughes Wine in San Francisco. If you're not well capitalized, set your sights on higher price-point wines where you can build a niche for yourself.
- Tap into the available resources. If you lack extensive startup capital, try turning to microcrush facilities like Crushpad and Judd's Hill, advises Hughes. "They set you up on their licensing, and you can pick your vineyard, your varietal and the style of wine you want to make," says Hughes. "You basically come up with a recipe. They execute it, and you can help out to whatever degree you want to. Those are the best ways to get into the wine business right now if you don't have a lot of money."
- Arm yourself with experience by working in a wine shop. "Whether you do it just for a Christmas season or a few hours each week, there will not be a better way in a short period of time to experience a wide range of wine selections," says Michael Green, a New York City wine consultant. "Perhaps equally, if not more, important is [the opportunity] to get to the end user. What are their questions? What are their concerns? Why is the average consumer still completely intimidated by wine?"
- Get educated. It doesn't take a lot of effort to start learning about the industry. Green recommends subscribing to monthly wine magazines. This will give you insight into trends and might even open the door to some kind of new entrepreneurial opportunity.
- Learn by taste. "Grab a bottle and a corkscrew," says Green. "There's no better way to really learn about wine and its possibilities than to pour yourself a glass." --S.W.
Getting Started: Spirits Business
The spirits industry can be a bit daunting, so clear your head with these tips before you jump in headfirst:
- Aim for the top. The super premium category is the fastest-rowing segment. It's also where the opportunity is. David Ozgo, chief economist at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, says, "When you get below super premium, you're really fighting for market share with pretty huge brands that are extraordinarily well-capitalized as well as entrenched in consumers' minds."
- Don't cut corners. Because the industry is so highly regulated, getting started means wading through extensive paperwork and obtaining the right permits. It might be tedious, but you'll have to do it right if you want your business to be successful. "You can't take shortcuts," says Matti Anttila, 28, founder of spirits brand Cabana CachaÃ§a in New York City. "If you take shortcuts, you might be able to get the brand out there, but then you'll face problems."
- Remember that good things come to those who wait. Looking to make a quick buck? Then go back to the drawing board. Brands don't develop overnight, so if you want to be a long-term player, you have to have the patience and resources to make it happen. According to Anttila, "If you go about it in the right way, staying on course, focusing on what you need to do, and really telling the brand story in the right way, eventually, whether it's one account at a time or one press mention at a time, it will start building."
- Allocate your resources carefully. Adequate capitalization is only half the story. The other half is knowing how and where to spend your capital to effectively build your brand. Anttila depended on editorial coverage and attended consumer and trade events as well as parties to start spreading the word.
- Check out co-branding opportunities. One of the most effective ways Anttila got people talking about his brand was through effective partnerships with Brazilian designers that were trying to represent Brazil in the same high-end, premium luxury way. "Joining forces with them and tying the brand with those other brands has been very valuable because it's cost effective and there's strength in numbers," says Anttila. "We've done a lot of that, and that has generated press coverage, which has been very valuable in getting that consumer and trade awareness out there." --S.W.
Getting Started: Enhanced Beverage Business
Ready to get your feet wet in the beverage industry? Check out these golden rules of advice:
- Pay attention to the packaging. According to Judy Ramberg, vice president and consumer strategist for food and beverage at trend research firm Iconoculture, packaging can't be secondary. Beverages have become an accessory to consumers--therefore, it's more important than ever that the packaging be innovative and enhance the consumer's "overall personal billboard," says Ramberg.
- Stay authentic. Consumers want vitamin-, antioxidant-packed beverages that do more than just quench thirst. But be careful not to serve up empty promises. Consumers are educated, and they'll know when you're not delivering. Ramberg says that you not only have to show what you're made of, but also have to prove it.
- Don't get into business for the wrong reasons. "A lot of people spend time just looking for something they think will make money," says Steve Schneider, 46, who co-founded Malava Beverages in Newport Beach, California, with his wife, Cheryl, 29. "I don't think they're going to put as much heart and time and effort into it. I think they'll run out of fire unless they have some personal connection to whatever that business is."
- Stray from the beaten path. The Schneiders found success by creating a one-of-a-kind relaxation drink. To really be successful, you'll have to find your own special ingredient. "Look for something new and different," says Steve. "Just reinventing the mousetrap isn't as exciting as a completely different industry that hasn't been out there."
- Tell a story. There's nothing like the story behind the product to captivate consumers--and capture their dollars. Celebrate the history of the brand, and your customers will want to join in the fun. The story makes you stand out from the crowd and establish an emotional connection with consumers, says Ramberg. --S.W.
Getting Started: Special Needs Food Business
Food allergies represent a golden business opportunity. Take a look at this recipe for success:
- Remember that it's all in the positioning. Pay special attention to how you position your brand, as it is probably the most important element in the entire industry, according to Stephen F. Hall, a specialty food business development consultant. One common way of doing it, says Hall, is through promoting the health benefits, says Hall.
- Be ready to adapt. Because consumers' needs and diets are always changing, you'll have to be nimble if you want to succeed in this industry. Says Hall, "If you end up going down this road where you become an expert at one aspect of gluten-free products and it turns out it's not sellable, you need to refocus your efforts."
- Don't stop at just one product. According to Hall, you have to be prepared to "innovate like crazy." Hall says trade show attendees are always keenly interested in what's new. So if you want to stick around for a while and keep your customers' attention, constantly developing new products will become a regular task.
- Make your products easily accessible. Please your customers by giving them what they want--when they want it. If you can develop ready-to-eat meals and get your products on supermarket shelves, you'll be doing your part to meet market demand. Scott Adams, 40-year-old founder of Celiac.com, a Santa Rosa, California, online company dedicated to celiac disease and gluten-free diet information, says, "The current trend in gluten-free foods is value-added, finished products like frozen pizzas and entrees."
- Keep an open mind. Be careful to not focus your attention just on those with food allergies. Family members and friends are equally lucrative potential customers. According to Anne MuÃ±oz-Furlong, CEO of The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, "Unlike other diseases, because of the life-threatening nature of food allergies, most families follow the restricted diet of their loved one." --S.W.
Getting Started: Senior Products
Eager to launch a product to help seniors deal with Alzheimer's and dementia? Check out the following tips to launch:
- Get to know them. Spend time in senior communities, engaging with and learning from the seniors you hope to serve. Dan Michel did just that as he was developing the mPower Cognitive Fitness System, which offers users interactive cognitive exercises. He decided to go with a touchscreen design so seniors wouldn't have to deal with a mouse or keyboard. "I realized, based on observing the world of senior living communities, that the system would have to do all the heavy lifting," says Michel. "[I] couldn't expect caregivers to know about technology and computers--the system had to do everything by itself."
- Take your time when developing your product. It took five years of research and development for Santa Monica, California, Dakim Inc. to bring its product to market. "The bulk of that time was in the refinement of our prototype," says Michel. It's important not to rush things when your product aims to help people with health issues.
- Market to the right people. The decision-makers for seniors with memory issues are most often the caregivers. Says Michel, "Our customers are the senior living providers or the adult children of seniors living at home, or a spouse caring for a senior at home, but the end users are not always the same people."
- Give free trials. It pays to give target customers hands-on experience with your product. For example, when Michel invited prospective clients to try the system, it often resulted in a deal. "We're asking people to make important decisions about the care and well-being of their residents," he says. "Sometimes seeing is believing. When you do something that is so remarkably different, you need to really let people experience that firsthand."
- Watch the price. Especially if the product will be used in the home, consider how cash-strapped many seniors and their caregivers are, says Jacqueline Marcell, author of Elder Rage. They'll flock to a product that is both helpful and affordable. --N.L.T.
Getting Started: Senior Services
If you're passionate about advocating for seniors, check out these tips for starting your own senior services business:
- Network with senior specialists. Getting your name in the mouths of trusted professionals already working with seniors is key. Network with local hospitals, doctors, gerontology centers, community service agencies and the like. They're on the front lines for seniors (and caregivers) who need guidance, and they can often refer seniors to your service. A background in social work and contacts at hospitals really helped Pam Braun earn referrals to her Sun City, Arizona, senior services company, Geriatric Assessment, Management & Solutions LLC.
- Get training. Depending on the type of services you'll be providing, you'll want to get sufficient training and even possible certification (depending on your state). Braun, 44, who has a master's in social work, is also a Certified Private Fiduciary in Arizona, which allows her to handle financial decisions for her clients. "We take health care and mental health power of attorney for people--they're appointing us in their documents," says Braun. "It's a commitment; it takes dedication. You also have to have a passion for the work."
- Become a master communicator. Senior care issues are often very sensitive--health care, independence and financial considerations are even more complex when you start bringing family dynamics into the mix. "It's challenging trying to make sure that all the needs are being met for the clients and for the families," says Braun. "It doesn't stop at five o'clock on Friday."
- Build your reputation. In such a people-centric business, where you're making assessments for seniors, advising families and handling private health and financial information, your good name and reputation are crucial to a lasting enterprise. Braun's sterling reputation has inspired strong word-of-mouth buzz, ensuring her a steady stream of business.
- Market your service as a timesaver for caregivers. Especially for the stretched-to-the max sandwich generation, which is caring for aging parents and children still at home, any timesaving service that can make their lives easier will thrive. Cathy Hamilton, founder of BoomerGirl.com, a media site for baby boomer women, says, "If you can figure out a way to save a stressed-out sandwiched boomer woman time, you'll have a goldmine." --N.L.T.
Getting Started: Sunglasses Business
You're great at wearing shades, but if you want to become the next sunglass mogul, listen to these surefire startup tips:
- Don't fear the classics. Being up on sunglass trends is important, absolutely, but throw in a couple of classic styles (or even revamped takes on classics) to keep your brand relevant through ever-changing fads. Jack Martinez, 42, and Dan Flecky, 51--the co-founders behind Black Flys in Irvine, California--have found long-term success with their trademark Black Flys silhouette. "Sometimes you can jump on a trend, and all of a sudden it's gone," says Martinez.
- Research and develop your sunglass line extensively. Be an absolute stickler for quality, notes Martinez. Taking extra care in your early days can prevent costly product defects later. Black Flys, whose sunglasses are often worn by snowboarders, skateboarders and the like, road tests its designs comprehensively before selling them to the public.
- Develop a close relationship with your manufacturer. You may be the design genius, but you'll need a trusted partner to bring your vision to market. Martinez recalls searching for a manufacturer for six months before finding the perfect match who could deliver on all their desired specs. "You really have to be in bed almost with your factory, too," says Martinez. "Fly to China or fly to Italy and work with them."
- Consider private-label business. To augment their successful consumer retailing business, the Black Flys founders have found private-label retailing to be a profitable venture. They've developed sunglasses for ESPN, Hard Rock CafÃ© and Jesse James of West Coast Choppers, to name a few.
- Be smart about eye health. A fashion accessory, yes, but sunglasses are also a health accessory. Tibor Gross, president of the Sunglass Association of America, notes entrepreneurs need to keep abreast of current trends in UV protection. He also sees more designers adopting polarized lenses into their fashion sunglasses, which reduce glare and can help with driving and sporting activities. --N.L.T.
Getting Started: Handbag Business
Get a handle on your own handbag business with these pointers:
- Create your own look. Women buy handbags to express their unique style, so let that be your license to create a signature look for your line. Mary Frances Shaffer, 48, founder of Mary Frances Accessories in Lafayette, California, found her niche in beaded, embellished handbags. "Create something special," she says. "[Try not] to look like someone else. What turns you on--go with that."
- Closely monitor fashion trends. Shaffer watches all the fashion and accessory trends and what's going on in the industry in general, including European trends. She's then able to interpret and design based on her own sensibilities.
- Market to all possible demographics. Look at all the women who could be interested in your bag. Shaffer brought her handbags not only to retailers like Macy's and Dillard's, but also to resort and vacation areas. Wealthy consumers can afford her $150 to $300 bags easily, but other demographics can buy them, too. "If you don't have as much disposable income, you can stretch up and get my bag, so it's attainable," she says. "I look at us at that midmarket, [and] we fit really well. I don't want to be the most high-end, and I don't want to be in the low end."
- Look for ways to expand your brand. Once you find your niche, don't be afraid to explore other possible design categories. Shaffer has made her name in beaded bags but has also expanded into leather bags and day and street bags. "[It's] the bag that can be your best friend, but still with the Mary Frances look," she says.
- Be ready for market fluctuations. While the handbag market is growing, the whims of fashion can always cause fluctuations in popularity. Beaded bags exploded in 2005, for example, and sales for Mary Frances Accessories boomed that year, too. Business returned to more normal levels the following year and taught Shaffer the importance of being prepared for expansion and contraction in the fashion accessories business. --N.L.T.
Getting Started: Specialty Shoe Business
These steps can help you walk into your own profitable shoe empire:
- Seek retailers in line with your brand image. It was important for Jeffrey Fitzhugh, 45; Mike Ray, 36; and Joe Croft, 37, to get their Jeffrey Fitzhugh line of fashionable, ergonomic men's shoes into trendy, upscale stores like Fred Segal and American Rag. "Their brand is important to us as our brand is important to them," says Fitzhugh of his Newport Beach, California, company. "It's kind of a happy marriage between the two when you have a very cool brand that you've established productwise, also with a branded store."
- Secure a good manufacturing partner. Creating quality shoes is not an easy process. "You're making a three-dimensional, weight-bearing object--it's a lot harder to make than a shirt or a jacket," says Diane Stone, COO of WSA Global Holdings LLC, a marketing company for the footwear and accessories industry. Your manufacturer needs to be an expert in the structural elements that make up a quality, comfortable shoe.
- Consider selling online. Even shoe industry veterans were surprised that online shoe retailing has exploded the way it has. It's one of those categories no one thought would be successful online, but this segment especially is seeing huge growth, says Stone.
- Research holes in the market. When watching businesswomen walk to work in their sneakers while carrying their dress shoes, Jennifer Lovitt Riggs, 36, was inspired to research the shoe market for stylish yet comfortable designs. "I discovered a real gap in the market," she says, so she launched Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, Nota Bene Shoes to fill that niche.
- Be innovative and inventive with your designs. Combining fashion and function creates an incredible opportunity for shoe designers to innovate. Stone has seen inventive designs like shoes with interchangeable straps or a shoe that becomes a handbag. Says Stone, "People who devise things like that are able to come up with new ways to do things that nobody has seen before." --N.L.T.
Getting Started: Specialty Lingerie
Before launching your hot new lingerie business, let these tips help your venture take shape:
- Start small. As a new lingerie company, you can get your foot in the door at trunk shows, trade shows and independent boutiques, advises Rosalie Regni, assistant professor of merchandising at Virginia Commonwealth University. Establish your name with smaller contracts at first, she says. Only then can you pitch larger retailers.
- Think pretty, but comfortable as well. Sexy lingerie is great, but if it's binding or itchy or otherwise ill-fitting, they're not going to buy it in droves. "The thing about underwear in particular is, it can't be just pretty," says Regni. "It's got to fit well and it's got to feel good because you have to live in it all day."
- Conduct a focus group. Find out what women are really looking for in their lingerie. Whether your niche is plus size, over-35 or maternity, you'll get golden information that money can't buy. Victoria Roberts, founder of Zovo Lingerie in Seattle, conducted a focus group to get inside info from her target market. "We found in the focus group that what was being offered was geared toward a younger person," says Roberts, 47, who targets her lingerie to women ages 35 to 60. "People were frustrated with not only the store experience, but also what was being offered in the stores."
- Find a niche. Roberts found her niche in servicing that over-35 customer base by going back to the basics, "but doing it in a way that's styled a little more hip and has a younger-at-heart baby boomer in mind," Roberts says. She also uses top-quality natural fabrics like cotton to create her comfortable yet highly fashionable designs.
- Build a long-term relationship with customers. Her store's relaxing ambience allows customers to feel comfortable. Roberts and her staff provide their lingerie expertise but are quick to point customers to other resources if she doesn't have exactly what they're looking for. She gains their trust that way--and they keep coming back to her when they want her specialty pieces. "Realize who you are and who you aren't," says Roberts. "Building relationships is a strong way to gain clientele. It's also a way to do business in the future." --N.L.T.
Getting Started: College Planning
Ready to help out some of the more than 17 million students applying to college every year? Consider these startup tips:
- Understand your audience. Obviously, your clients have one thing in common: They're college-bound and don't know where to start. Aside from that, their demographics can run the gamut. Maybe they need help finding loans or scholarships, or maybe they're financially set but are struggling with the application process. So understand your clients' needs and how you are poised to meet those needs, says 33-year-old Monisha Perkash, co-founder with Paul Wrubel of San Mateo, California-based TuitionCoach.com, which provides college-planning consultation.
- Create a professional image. Because your college-planning services won't require a brick-and-mortar location, Justin Baer, creator of college-prep DVD Cracking College, advises building a professional website as your business's first impression on the public, then renting a small office in a professional building for meeting with clients.
- Provide free services. TuitionCoach.com offers most of the advice on its website for free, as well as some complimentary workshops and services for schools and nonprofits. But premium services, like e-mail consultation and personalized reports, require a yearly fee. If you can't provide free services, help students and parents understand why they should pay for yours when they could get them free elsewhere, says Baer, who compares this to the hand-holding, pain-free experience of shopping at a clothing boutique vs. the chaotic and stressful experience of shopping at a discount liquidator.
- Don't do it alone. "Work collaboratively with partners who can help you reach large numbers of families," says Perkash, citing examples like schools, employers, nonprofits and other companies that provide services that complement yours. "Other companies have vested interests in helping families with college students," she explains. "Find and leverage them."
- Follow up. Baer suggests checking in with past students and parents and sending a card, gift basket or even a care package wishing the students well on their upcoming year at school. "This is a service business," he says. "Going the extra mile will get the extra referrals." --L.H.
Getting Started: High School Athletes
We asked Jim Kaufman, CEO of Rise, a national teen sports magazine, for his top five tips on getting into the game:
- Understand the high school sports market. For example, female athletes are a growing demographic within the market. And sports outside of football and basketball (lacrosse and running, for example) are being picked up on a national level and becoming increasingly important for marketers, explains Kaufman.
- Raise more money than you need. Whether you've got a popular energy drink, innovative running shoes or a high-traffic scouting website, unknown obstacles can arise and require additional funds quick. Says Kaufman, "If your concept works, don't be left out in the cold because you couldn't withstand the storm."
- Avoid fads. Teens will be teens and fads will come and go, so know this audience inside and out, says Kaufman: "Make sure your product [or service] caters to their general interests and tastes but doesn't chase their whims." First understand the core of your business offering, then use market research to support it.
- Be prepared. Don't limit yourself with services that are too targeted or products that will become obsolete. "It's much easier to adapt your business model than to adapt consumer demand," says Kaufman. "And thinking through scalability early on will be critical to long-term success."
- Stay one step ahead of the curve. "It doesn't take long for entrepreneurs to identify untapped markets, and high school sports is no exception," says Kaufman. So dig deeper and look ahead to identify the needs within the market that are not currently being met. --L.H.
Getting Started: Solar Energy Products
Gary Gerber, a solar expert of 31 years who has seen many changes and much growth over the years, offers his tips on how to tap into the solar energy market without getting burned:
- Do your homework. Getting into solar energy can be highly profitable, but there are a lot of details in the woodwork. "People getting into this should be prepared to do their homework and get well-educated," says Gerber, who's also the founder and president of solar contractor Sun, Light & Power in Berkeley, California. Make sure you're clear on all the state and federal regulations and tax credits, understand the technologies and thoroughly research the supply end.
- Get funded. "A huge amount of VC money has been moving into solar in the past few years," Gerber points out. The money is out there, so get going on your business plan.
- Build and train your team. Because the industry lacks highly qualified people who know how to install any kind of solar unit, Gerber stresses the fact that you'll have to train your own team.
- Educate your customers. Gerber says many consumers are undereducated about the possibilities of solar technologies. "Most people who own a home have enough roof area to satisfy [nearly] all their energy needs," he explains, but many just need help understanding the long-term value, especially with "the barrier of coming up with the funds to pay for it all upfront."
- Look at the bigger picture. Because the solar energy market is still young, Gerber sees plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs, especially those who want to take it to the next level. "The only way we're going to have [change] is for more people to get involved," he explains. "The planet needs this to happen throughout the country--and soon." --L.H.
Getting Started: Green Apparel
Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, turning green-friendly apparel into a hot commodity. Here are five tips for stitching up your own green clothing line or boutique:
- Don't just jump in. For Callie Smith and Ursula Stahl, both 26, launching their green boutique, Envi, required extra research. "It's really important to understand what you're doing," says Smith. "Know the fabrics, keep your eye on all the new designers and visit the green section at trade shows."
- Have a passion for your business. Both Smith and Stahl were brought up with a concern for the environment as well as a passion for fashion. So they've managed to combine and stay true to their shared passions.
- Educate people. Help your customers understand that something as simple as buying organic cotton shirts can have a positive impact on the environment. "[Give people] the comfort and feeling that even the most ordinary part of life can be part of a practice that improves life for everyone," says Bo Breda, academic director for fashion design at The Art Institute of California in San Francisco.
Adds Smith, "It's showing them that there is another choice, then helping them make that choice."
- Think green all around. Envi not only sells green clothing and accessories--the boutique itself is also environmentally friendly. The Boston store has bamboo flooring, environmentally friendly paints and wallpaper, vintage furniture and 100 percent recycled packaging and hangers. Says Smith, "Any little thing that we can do, we've done."
- Commit long term. While trends in fashion come and go, green apparel is not a passing fad and "will be more and more a part of ordinary life choices for everyone," says Breda.
Stahl agrees. "It's something that's here to stay, so our business is about a lifelong commitment." --L.H.
Getting Started: Green Business Services
Whether you're launching a consulting firm or a green consulting firm, offering shipping services or eco-friendly shipping services, you're starting a business. Here, two experts offer some tips for doing the latter:
- Do your due diligence. "A green business adheres to the same basic business principles as any other business, so do your research first," says Chris Manning, executive director of The Green Chamber, a national organization focused on environmental stewardship and business initiatives.
- Be passionate. "Be sure that you really care about [being] green and pick an area within green that you are really passionate about," says Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger.com, a green media outlet and information resource. Manning warns against "greenwashing"--putting more time and money into advertising the greenness of your business services than implementing actual green practices.
- Stick to your core competency. Focusing your time and energy on the core of your business service company and its green efforts is more effective than taking on numerous tasks with little end result, explains Hill. "Be very clear about what problem you're solving," he adds, so you'll know where to focus your efforts.
- Practice what you preach. You can offer eco-friendly printing or packaging services, but the meaning is lost if your company doesn't use those services, too. "Integrate green principles deep into your business strategy," says Manning, who also suggests getting involved in both your local and national green communities.
- Think long term. Global climate change and concern for the environment aren't going away, and being green isn't just a fad, so your green business services will increasingly be in need. Make sure you're in it for the long haul, says Manning, and "realize both the tangible and intangible benefits of a green business." --L.H.
Getting Started: Household Services for the Rich
The rich are getting richer, and they need help. Whether you offer butler services, domestic employee placement or upscale concierge services, here are five tips for getting started:
- Do your homework. Even if you have experience taking care of your own household or in a similar field like cleaning, be open to getting schooled in the ways of the rich. "Go to a school and keep an open mind and learn what they have to teach you," suggests Carol S. Scudere, founder of Professional Domestic Services and Institute, a Columbus, Ohio, training institute and placement agency for upscale domestic employees.
- Get experience. Scudere suggests working in the industry for three to five years before launching. "Without experience or training, the rich will not trust you to know what their needs are," she says. "You need to impress the wealthy with your knowledge and abilities, your business location, how you present yourself, etc."
- Know thy customer. The ultrarich are--how shall we say this?--not like you and me. They only buy the best--and don't bother to ask the price. They expect perfection 100 percent of the time. They have neither the time nor inclination to train staff, so whether it is you who's offering the domestic help or an employee you've placed, you had best plan for perfect at all times. Errors aren't acceptable.
- Remain professional at all times. To be successful as a purveyor of domestic services, you must take a step back from your clients and always be professional. Mary Starkey of Starkey International Institute for Household Management in Denver says you need the ability to work on another person's agenda rather than your own, and the ability to create nonjudgmental, professional relationships.
- Pick a niche. There are a wide variety of businesses to start--from concierge services, domestic placement agencies and educational institutions to part-time domestic help companies and cleaning businesses. If you offer the services yourself rather than place help, Starkey suggests you take an inventory of your own skills. "[You need] a real understanding of your own abilities and the style of position that is right for you," she says. This can even extend to a regional style of service, Starkey says, like traditional British style, Southern style or California casual. --L.T.
Getting Started: Crafts Business
Making a product with your own hands can be an incredibly rewarding pastime. Here are five tips for taking your crafts from hobby to business:
- Tout thyself. Social networking sites abound where you can show off your goods and make a name for yourself. "Personal websites like Etsy, blogs, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, MySpace pages and mailing lists are all ways crafters are creating a buzz around themselves and their business, helping to brand their image and name," says Mary Andrews, a top seller of jewelry and mixed-media paintings on the handmade goods site Etsy.com and an employee of Etsy Labs, a craft center in Brooklyn, New York.
- Professionalism is in the details. "One of the best pieces of advice I can offer an artist looking to start selling is to create an image for your business," says Andrews. She suggests learning how to take professional photos of your work using natural lighting or a lightbox, and consider packaging as well. "When you go shopping and receive something well packaged and presented, doesn't it make that product seem more valuable to you?"
- Keep your mind on the money. One of the biggest snafus crafters run into when doing business is pricing products. "Don't undersell yourself! Find out how much time it takes you to make each piece and make sure you give yourself a good wage," says Danielle Maveal, another Etsy.com jewelry seller. Be sure to include your materials and overhead costs as well as a decent hourly wage. Remember that items sold wholesale are usually priced at 50 percent of the retail price.
- Bring in the pros. "Get help where you are weakest, be it accounting or management," says Tracy Lolita Healy, 42, owner of glassware company Designs by Lolita in Savannah, Georgia.
- Don't fear success. What happens when you can no longer keep up with demand? Many crafters hire help for non-craft tasks, like order processing or shipping. Healy found the demand for her painted martini glasses quickly outpaced her ability to make them by hand, and so she licensed her designs to a manufacturer. Healy, whose company now sells more than 2 million glasses a year, says, "I knew more customers could enjoy my products if I could just get them out there in a more mass-oriented way while still maintaining the integrity of the product." --L.T.
Getting Started: Executive Recruiting
Executive recruiting can put your people skills to the test, as well as your business acumen. Follow these five tips for startup success:
- Keep an eye on demographics. Following key trends in demographics will show you where the next boom industries are--and therefore provide guidance on how to specialize your services. "I see a market for military personnel--there will be an abundance of candidates once we start exiting Iraq," predicts Hope Wilson, vice president of professional services for Snelling Professional Services in Dallas. "There will also be more of a focus on the drug industry since the boomers are getting older and more illnesses can be treated with medication."
- Articulate your message. Being able to answer key questions about your executive search firm not only solidifies your expertise for clients, but also gives you the confidence to court corporate clients. According to Brad Costello of BSG Partners, a Haverford, Pennsylvania, executive recruiting firm, you should be able to answer questions such as: How can your firm add value to the recruitment of executives for a corporation? What value can you offer candidates who need to trust you during the sourcing, assessment and selection process?
- Consider the competition. It's crucial to recognize--and project--why your firm is a better option for clients than an online job site. "[Online job boards] only connect a sometimes very active job seeker with an employer," says Glenn Manko, another partner with BSG Partners. "However, an executive search firm must be able to seek out the 'passive' or 'inactive' job seeker and then add value to the selection and hiring process through in-depth interviews, assessments, references, development planning and compensation negotiations."
- Go overboard. It isn't enough to select and interview candidates. You must go above and beyond to minimize the risks of bad hiring choices for your clients. Manko says this means focusing on assessment through "rigorous and numerous interviews" before you ever introduce the candidate to your client. And "focus must be placed on ensuring that the candidate is positioned to be successful beyond the first year of employment and be able to create value."
- Seek diversity. Diversity used to be considered a specialty. Manko says this is no more: "It must and should be integrated into every search plan and slate of candidates that is presented to a client." --L.T.
Social entrepreneurs are turning their business acumen to social issues, making a difference instead of just a buck. Both experienced and new entrepreneurs are finding that what works for business can also work for social change. The academic sector is helping drive this change, as well as the media and the funding field, says Lara Galinsky of Echoing Green, an angel investment firm that seed funds social entrepreneurs.
Like many social entrepreneurship organizations, Echoing Green was started by General Atlantic, a wealthy private equity firm. "They wanted to apply what worked for them to social change," says Galinsky. "Because there are so many people who've become wealthy quickly in the past [several] years, we're seeing more early adopters of social entrepreneurship." Examples: The One Laptop per Child project led by Nicholas Negroponte, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's Omidyar Network, which invests in microfinance institutions.
But this isn't just a rich man's game. Many new entrepreneurs are starting social enterprises, and business schools are helping. According to a survey conducted by the World Resources Institute and The Aspen Institute, 54 percent of the 91 business schools surveyed required students to take a course in ethics, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, or business and society. Organizations like Echoing Green are the next step, helping young activists fund their social entrepreneurship dreams. There are more resources than ever to help you get a social enterprise off the ground. --L.T.
Good news for businesses seeking their fortune in government contracting: Federal procurement spending rose from $377.5 billion in 2005 to $412.1 billion in 2006, and 40 cents of each discretionary dollar spent went to a private firm.
"We clearly see the trends shifting [to a] breakout for small business. It's unmistakably clear," says Tim Walsh, president and CEO of ePipeline Inc., a federal contracting opportunity research service. Based on the contract opportunities ePipeline is tracking, Walsh sees growth in the operations and maintenance arena--small-business set-asides there grew from 54 percent in 2002 to 64 percent in 2007--as well as IT, where he says large contracts are being unbundled for small businesses.
Women- and veteran-owned businesses, especially those owned by service-disabled veterans, are also on the government's radar. Tom Johnson, publisher of Set-Aside Alert, a government contracting newsletter in based in Bethesda, Maryland, believes a set-aside for women-owned small businesses should be a reality in 2008. "That's been in the works for more than five years," says Johnson.
Regarding the SBA's recertification of small companies that got acquired by large firms so they will no longer count toward small-business contracting goals, Johnson doesn't see a widespread impact: "As far as small business, most of the agencies are meeting their goals. The impact is going to be on those companies that have grown and are being acquired more than [on] the companies that are still small." --L.T.
Saying "I do" will never go out of style, if the $72 billion-per-year wedding marketplace is any clue. Brides and grooms seek goods and services to make their day special--and are willing to spend an average of $27,000 to get it right. Even second weddings are becoming more popular. Ann Nola, founder and director of the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants, says, "If they didn't have the wedding of their dreams the first time, they're having it the second time."
And with the nearly 80 million echo boom kids starting to hit marriageable age, look for this market to continue to grow. Weddings are also going green, notes wedding planner Loree Tillman of Tillman & Co., who says couples are purchasing everything from natural fiber wedding gowns to recycled paper invitations to organic food and wine to show their environmental savvy.
Today, 85 percent of couples use the internet to help plan their weddings, and Kristin and David Ciccolella, , 38 and 40, respectively, are smack in the middle with WedAlert.com. Their Hackensack, New Jersey, online directory matches couples with local wedding vendors. With $3 million in sales, Kristin notes, "No matter what is going on in the world--whether the economy is booming or in a recession--people are still getting married, and we want to capitalize on that." --N.L.T.