From the June 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

First
Dress to Impress
You may have only a small budget, but it doesn't have to look that way.
By Nichole l. Torres

You will most likely have to spend money to make money, but if you are in startup mode, you probably don't have a ton of cash lying around. So how can you give the impression that your company is doing well? "First impressions can be extremely helpful or detrimental to your success as an entrepreneur," says Far-noosh Torabi, Entrepreneur's "TheStreet.com" columnist and author of You're So Money: Live Rich Even When You're Not. "You're trying to build relationships. [And you're] trying to get people to believe not only in your idea, but also in you as someone who will achieve everything that you're promising."

Projecting an image of financial success, even when you're still eating ramen noodles on a daily basis, can help you reach your business goals that much faster. "Success breeds success," says John-Paul Lee, 29, founder and CEO of Tavalon Tea, a high-end tea bar in New York City. "It's about projecting an image that you're already successful, that you can really match wits with people who've been in the industry for a while." Part of Lee's strategic branding involved partnering with strong existing brands, which meant meeting with high-level businesspeople. The good suits he already had from his previous gig as a management consultant were vital, but he also added extra touches, such as cuff links, to really send out a successful vibe.

Even if you have a small budget, try to splurge where it counts. A stylish laptop bag says professional and successful, Torabi points out. Clothing that is tailored to fit well also gives the right impression. A versatile blazer, stylish yet comfortable shoes and a nice watch are all good investments that can be found at midrange prices.

Entertaining clients on a budget can be a challenge, but Torabi suggests talking with restaurant and bar owners (preferably at a place you frequent) before taking clients there and negotiating a group rate or a prix fixe menu for your gathering. Says Torabi, "Explain that you love the restaurant, you're a regular patron and you'd like to introduce your clients to the restaurant."

Even with a professional look and strategic entertaining, the package isn't complete--you also need to walk and talk with an air of self-assurance. "When you present yourself with confidence, it [resonates] with other people," says Lee, who pro-jects sales of $5.2 million this year. "It's an effective tool to convey success."

To Market, To Market
Get your idea out there with help from a product development company.
By Nichole L. Torres

Bringing a product to market is challenging for everyone. You have to think about engineering, production, marketing and many other factors. Whether you have a simple product or a complicated medical or tech product, there are companies that can help you get the ball rolling.

First, do some research to see if your idea already exists, says Sam Zaidspiner, co-founder of Slingshot Production Development Group Inc. Zaidspiner, who specializes in helping businesses launch products, says you should look for a product development company that will be your partner through the entire process. "[As] a startup, you need a partner who will grow with you and help you launch your product from beginning to end," he explains. It's also vital that your development partner is honest with you about the profit potential of your idea. You don't want someone to just tell you the idea is great without critically examining it. And look for a company that provides a one-stop shop of services, from early design to end-time marketing help, says Zaidspiner.

Finally, a good team will help determine if your product is feasible from engineering and market perspectives. "You want someone with enthusiasm for your concept," adds Slingshot co-founder Noah McNeely. "And it should be someone you enjoy working with. You'll be working [together] awhile."

Lean On Me
This women's networking group can help keep your startup from going belly up.
By Nichole L. Torres

With women starting businesses at twice the rate of men, the need for organizations like Ladies Who Launch is growing. Started as a weekly e-mail newsletter featuring a woman entrepreneur, Ladies Who Launch is now a full-fledged media company focused on helping women succeed. Co-founded by Victoria Colligan, 39, and Beth Schoenfeldt, 40, the company hosts Ladies Who Launch Live events and has 50 incubators throughout the U.S. and Canada. "Community is an important component for women launching [businesses]," says Colligan. "Women use connecting as an integral tool in moving their businesses forward. The more connected [they are], the more likely they are to be successful."

Connecting is exactly what Tisha DeShields did when she went to her first Ladies Who Launch Live event in 2006. She attended the conference with the idea to start Original Belly Works, a College Park, Georgia, company that sells a plaster kit for casting a pregnant woman's belly. "It's a great network of women," says DeShields, 37. "Whenever I need some direction, I can reach someone. They taught me how to step out there." She credits that outside perspective with helping expand her vision. Today, DeShields projects 2008 sales of about $100,000 and hopes to develop regional and national markets soon.

The Ladies Who Launch e-mail news-letter is free, the online membership is $240 a year, and the full incubator membership starts at $700 a year. For more information, check out ladieswholaunch.com.

Money Matters
Rest Assured
If you've got a computer, you don't even have to get out of bed to secure a loan for your startup.
By Rosalind Resnick

Question: I've shopped my loan application all over town, but I seem to be getting nowhere. Is there anyplace else I can go?

Answer: Yes, there is, and it's as convenient as your own computer. Similar to websites that let you apply online for mortgages and credit cards, plenty of sites let you apply for small-business loans and lines of credit--no calls, waiting in line or paperwork required. iBank.com, for example, provides access to a network of 325 lenders offering business loans, credit lines, equipment leasing and commercial mortgages from $5,000 to $50 million.

Tom Markel, president and CEO of Virtual Capital Corp., the company that supports iBank.com, says loans made to small businesses through the site topped $81 billion last year. Thanks to iBank's Finance$uite software platform, you can store and organize your business data in a secure, electronic "vault" that you can access any time from anywhere in the world where there's an internet connection. Whenever you need cash, you simply select the type of loan you require, and the information stored in the vault is automatically entered into your application form.

The bottom line: Borrowing costs through iBank are 30 percent lower than applying for loans the conventional way, and funding time is less, with many loans approved on the spot. Says Markel, who likens his site to a matchmaker for banks and borrowers, "You can't get matched up unless you submit the right data the right way." iBank charges $49.95 to $300 (depending on the loan size) to prepare a professional loan application from your online vault.

Rosalind Resnick is founder and CEO of Axxess Business Consulting, a New York City consulting firm that advises startups and small businesses, and author of Getting Rich Without Going Broke: How to Use Luck, Logic and Leverage to Build Your Own Successful Business. Reach her at rosalind@abcbizhelp.com or through her website, abcbizhelp.com.