Entrepreneurs Share Three Essential Secrets to Their Success
Above all, here's how to turn your genius idea into a product customers will love.
Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.
The secret to success? There are many, of course. But these entrepreneurs and career experts—who are also business owners—swear by three things: launching a business you love, putting yourself in your customers' shoes, and learning to embrace and regularly take calculated risks. Here, they share how these secrets to success have helped them create thriving businesses.
Launch a business you're passionate about.
Creating a business for profit alone—or one that you simply have lukewarm feelings about—won't lead to success over the long term, as they emphasize. "I always tell my clients, 'Don't build a career or business you don't want to be a part of,'" says career strategist Jena Viviano. "Many people will gravitate toward what they think other people want them to do or what they think will make them the most money or will be the safest option. But the reality is, if you aren't excited about what you're working on, you aren't going to work on it. You have to believe in what you're building—or you won't be building for very long."
Passion enabled Lora DiFranco, founder of paper products company Free Period Press, based in Cleveland, Ohio, to start her business while working full time at another job and taking graduate classes. "I was so excited about creating products to encourage people to slow down and unplug that it never felt exhausting," she says. "I was energized by the work, and that's still true today." Of course, "starting a business is not easy," says career coach Angela Copeland, who points out it's often toughest at the outset. But, "picking a business you're passionate about will allow you to go in to work and keep pushing ahead, even when things are hard," she points out. "If you aren't fully committed to your business, you ultimately won't have the energy to keep going."
For Lex Monson, CEO of Punkpost—a digital company that allows you to send custom, hand-written greeting cards from your phone—passion wouldn't let her quit, even when things got tough. "Passion has allowed me to work through many sleepless nights because I'm determined to get that press hit or make sure customer orders go out on time," she describes. "Passion has allowed me to be told 'no' by investors and keep going. Passion has allowed me to give great customer service, even when we've made mistakes. Passion—and the drive and determination that come along with it—is the steam I need to get through the ups and downs [of business]."
Put yourself in your customers' shoes.
A common mistake business owners make is focusing on everything and everyone—rather than identifying their dream customer and what he or she really wants and needs. "When I started in my business, I was trying to be everything to everyone," admits Viviano. "Woof! I realized quite quickly that was a recipe for burnout." Instead, to be successful, "I got laser-focused on my specific demographic, conducted informal market research interviews, and then created products for that specific market. Too many entrepreneurs will create an offer and realize that it's not for any specific person. I now think of my customer first before even creating a product or service."
To make sure she's creating things her customers really need, Viviano audits her business and her customer base four times a year, she says—and to her, that's just the right amount. She says, "Reassessing everyday will drive you crazy and doing it once a year may make you irrelevant." Copeland suggests conducting thorough research to make sure your ideas are meeting customers' needs. "Talk to as many people as you can. Create surveys. Test out sample products," she says. "The more people you get feedback from, the more data you'll have when you make decisions."
Learn to take calculated risks.
Risk is simply part of doing business, these entrepreneurs say. But it's all about taking smart risks and avoiding thoughtless chances. Copeland says the difference between risks and chances is that risks are calculated—done after you've conducted research and talked with mentors "who have been there and done that." What you want to avoid is chance, which "happens when you start a business without thinking through your ideas," or doing ample research, she explains.
Torrance Harrington Hart, owner of Teak & Twine, an online brand that helps customers build the perfect custom gift boxes, says that when she first launched the company's "design-your-own gift" feature, she took a huge financial risk. "It also tested the core competency of our business—whether we could maintain our level of service and the personal touches that our customers had come to expect," she explains. But her team had done it's research, and the risk paid off, literally: "Our 'design-your-own gift' feature is by far our most popular on the site," she says.
DiFranco admits she's taken a chance or two on her business that didn't pan out. "I used to get so excited about a new product that I'd invest a ton of time and money into it, launch it, and then— crickets," she says. But she's learned to take calculated risks instead. "Now, we test products slowly over time. A new product might start as an Instagram post. Once we see what resonates with our audience, we might develop that idea further in a workshop, and eventually a product."