A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Emira Mears and Lauren Bacon, the women behind The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business. If you have ever considered starting up your own business, they’ve got some great information and advice for you. And if you’ve been in business for years, but feel a little stuck or ready to grow, they’ve still got some great information and advice for you. They were also kind enough to offer up two books to be given away to our readers (see the rules below).
What follows below is a transcript from our conversation.
What made two web designers decide to write a book on starting up and running a business?
What we thought was different about the book we wanted to write was that basically it affirms that it’s okay to define success for yourself. That you don’t need to necessarily to be motivated by the need to make millions of dollars, or having a giant corporation if you want to stay small, or if you want to work out of your home or if having a flexible schedule is a priority for you. There are lots of different ways to define “success” and we really wanted to put together a book that put that forward and celebrated that and the many ways that women were creating businesses. As well as give examples of different models of what success might look like.
In order to be successful, you need to know what success means to you.
We were a couple of years into running our business and we had friends coming to us for advice. There wasn’t really one book that we felt we could refer them to; nothing with a philosophy for small business run by female entrepreneurs and we thought that there was room on the market for another book – even on the crowded business shelves.
You mention that “women-run businesses have a much higher success rate than ones with men at the helm” – do women and men approach starting a business a differently?
I think they do, although we hate to generalize. I think that one of the things that distinguishes women run businesses (and it’s a very basic thing), is that women have less money than men on the whole. And we tend to start business with a lower capital investment upfront. What tends to happen with women is that they don’t take quite so many financial risks upfront when they’re in that kind of situation. If you’re in a situation where you’re putting your own savings at stake, you’re taking less risks that if you had venture capitalists backing you. And that’s just a basic fact of life. It’s no so much about gender, but a great deal of the differences stem from our financial realities and it sort of goes outwards from there.
One thing that women do do differently though is this question of life/work balance. A lot of women that start a business are paying attention to that. So what we’re seeing is that women run business take that sort of balance and lifestyle stuff as a higher priority that we have seen in the past. I don’t think this is exclusive to women by any stretch of the imagination.
You say that not all business need a business plan. I’ve heard many success stories of businesses that have gone on to do great things without a business plan, but yet I’ve also heard the other end of the story, where people say that without a formal plan you’re not really a business, but just a hobby.
In some ways our note about not needing a formal business plan can be taken out of context. While you don’t need a formal business plan unless you’re going to the bank or venture capital, we certainly do think that you need a plan. And what our book does with the exercises is have you put together the most important parts of the plan without feeling like you’re doing the “business plan thing” – it’s kind of like hoodwinking you into having fun in the process. It’s kind of like slipping your peas under your mashed potatoes, tricking you to get you plan done. It doesn’t need to be a big, boring, dry plan. When are those thing valuable to you? No one is going to grade you on it unless of course you’re going for funding. If you’re going to be more inspired to go back and look at your business plan while it’s up on a bulletin board with pretty pictures, than do that. If you’re more auditory, then try recording it into your computer and listen to it. The point is to have a plan that you can revisit and revise.
What should a person consider before going solo? I have found that you wear a lot of hats. And my most dreaded “hat” is the accountant. How do you recommend working around the multitasking and those dreaded areas?
We do really recommend that you take stock of the skills you have, the skills you’re willing to acquire and also those skills you have that you hate using. Figure out what you actually want to do and then figure out where the gaps are. When it comes to things that you’re good at, but don’t enjoy doing…you may have to suck it up in the early days just for the sake of finances. Have a plan for when you can hire out for those tasks and make sure you budget for it. Be really honest about where your weaknesses are. If they’re really central, like accounting, then make sure you have the budget and the resources to have someone come in and help you with that.
You do wear a lot of hats. Especially if you’re going solo and don’t have a partner to split things up with. You have to really honest about it. A lot of this is about facing up to cold hard reality, sort of confronting your personal demons.
I can see how the “elevator speech” is something you should figure out and have at the ready, but why do we need a mission statement? When do we refer back to or reference it?
The mission statement is the vision of the company. The value in having a mission statement, I think, is to do long range planning. We don’t start every day by reading through it. We mostly look at it every couple of months when we meet with our business coach, and once a year when we do our long range planning work. We sit down with it and think “what are we going to do this year that’s going to bring us closer to our grand range vision for the company. What do we need to do to lay the groundwork for where we want to be in five or ten years.” That’s the value of that stuff.
One of the challenges of being a small business person is as you said, you wear a lot of hats and you do a lot of things throughout the day. The day to day busy-ness can really wear us down and we don’t necessarily get our heads above water to look at the long term all that much. I think one of the really fabulous things about a mission statement is that it allows us to do that. It brings us up to a higher level, to look out over the plain and see what’s coming. It allows us to prepare for that and make sure we’re preparing for that.
The other thing that is true for most companies is that that statement may need to be revisited. It may last you and serve you well for the last few years, but then you may out grow it. You may find that you’ve achieved your mission. Of that you may have grown beyond it. You might be offering different services or services than you used to and you need to shift and change. It should be a dynamic thing just like every other aspect of your small business.
Is it possible to still be out in the public, blogging, twittering, using other social media to get your business out there, yet be “separate” from your business? This is a tough one for many of the soloprenurs that I know.
It’s a really interesting question. Everyone has different challenges with it and the answers will be different for everyone. In this information age – or the age of instant information as it may be – those boundaries between personal and professional are getting very blurry. We advise our clients that pretty much, if you don’t want information about your personal life out there, then probably, you don’t want it on the web. If you do put it on the web, you probably want to do it under a pseudonym or anonymously, or whatever. There are websites out there that allow you to filter lists of contacts such as Facebook and Flickr, so you can have an “inner circle” and higher privacy settings for people who you don’t know as well.
It’s a tough question though because everyone has different boundaries around it. In the end, what I would always say is to find your comfort zone and stick to it, Don’t let people convince you that if you’re not on Facebook that your business is going to die or something. Unless your business is makingFfacebook applications, I just don’t think that that’s true.
Principal #3 in your marketing credo, don’t always try to please everyone…This is something that many businesses get tangled up in – can you elaborate on this?
It’s really easy to do – to try to please everyone. It’s really tempting to say “oh yeah, we can totally do that. You sound like a nice person and you’re offering me money, I should totally do that.” At the same time, you need to be strategic and build on your strength. While it’s good to be learning new things sometimes, it’s also strategic to do what you do and do it best.
Keep this in mind when doing advertising and speaking with your customers. Messages are much stronger when you’re willing to take a stand on something. That doesn’t mean it needs to be totally political. Be comfortable with the fact that if you’re speaking to a 20 year-old demographic, that 40 or 50 year-olds may not get what you’re talking about. You’re better off to get your message across to your demographic than you are trying to water it down so that everyone understands what you’re talking about.
What are five or so tips that every business person should consider even before ever taking on their first client?
- Think about what success looks like for you – sketch it out have a vision to work towards.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses – it’s important to know what stuff to delegate as you get busier.
- Crunch those numbers – it’s a really valuable process. If you do it right it can be fun. Make friends with money and your finances.
- Trust your gut – if you’ve gotten to the point that you’re confident enough that you want to start a business, then you’ve got some knowledge and expertise, you know your business.
- Don’t be too scared of it all – there’s nothing more fun than being your own boss.
To learn more about Lauren and Emira and how to be the Boss of You, visit their blog.
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