Flip the Switch

Shift Gears

Even if you've already set out on one business plan, don't be afraid to change course, especially if you have an idea that continues to percolate in the back of your mind. Kiesner reminds his students that a business plan should be a living document, constantly changing.

"You need to be courageous and nimble enough to shift gears [if necessary]," says Laura Groppe, who started Girls Intelligence Agency, a market research and PR firm in Los Angeles that now has $1 million in annual sales.

Groppe, 41, started out in 1994 with an entirely different business that designed girls' video games and websites for large toy manufacturers and entertainment companies. To figure out what girls liked, Groppe's team started organizing slumber parties and shopping trips for preteen girls. Eventually, she realized that her clients wanted her market research more than her software. The clients wanted to learn more about the psychology of those girls-to find out what was inside their closets and what they really talked to each other about, says Groppe.

In 2002, Groppe decided to take a risk, folding her video-game business and spending several months exploring a plan to launch Girls Intelligence Agency. Today, clients including Capitol Records, Disney and Hasbro glean information from its network of more than 40,000 girls and women ages 8 to 29, who volunteer to be "secret agents," hosting parties organized by Groppe's company to give feedback on new products, music and TV shows.

Groppe's advice about turning your idea into a business: Don't fear change. "You're afraid to leave one career because you don't think you're qualified to do anything else. But sometimes your business plan isn't what affords you the most aggressive opportunities."

Groppe changed paths when the internet bubble burst and software for girls wasn't as viable as she had hoped. At the time, Groppe had become completely absorbed in the research end of the gaming business, and for a while, she didn't even realize she was an expert. She knew everything about girls that her clients didn't. She knew what they carried in their backpacks, and that their answers on surveys were often different than how they actually behaved. She knew why parents were spending more money on their daughters than ever, and she knew what they were buying. She had an inside track on what girls talked about with each other on the soccer field and at summer camp, and how some kids emerged as influencers and trendsetters in those groups. In other words, she had become passionate about understanding girls and knowing what they wanted.

That kind of enthusiasm is vital, says Kiesner. To determine whether your idea will fly or die, measure your genuine interest in the idea. Is this something you are passionate about? If you are, it's easier to get your customers excited. Says Kiesner, "Passion, belief in yourself, fire in the belly--that's all key stuff."

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This article was originally published in the February 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Flip the Switch.

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