Afraid to Jump? Entrepreneurship takes a Team - Think Large Consulting LLC
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Almost every day I talk to someone who wants to do something they like for a living, or are already trying it, but need some level of help. The process to do this is not always the same, but here are the generally accepted steps that will at least help you get started.

Reasons to consider Entrepreneurship
Some are unemployed and forced to make the leap, some are underemployed or in an unsatisfying job. They all have that dream – and believe me, dreams do come true! But very seldom without help.

So there is hope. But be advised, you will most likely need that help to start and grow the business you’ve always wanted. The time of hanging out a shingle and people flocking to your door is over – there’s just too much competition out there and too much internet to learn.

The days of thinking a full-time job gives you security are also over – way over. No matter how big the company or how small, any loyalty there is gone. Corporate America doesn’t want to hire anyone over 40, and good luck if you’re over 50. They often get rid of the “experienced” for the “inexpensive” and “more focused on career”.

So starting your own business is not as big a risk as you think – as long as you find the resources you need, when you’re in need of them.

Our Story
My husband worked for a Fortune 500 company, which moved us from North Carolina to St. Louis, then after a year and a half laid him off just before his retirement would have kicked in. It was like a train wreck – we saw it coming but just didn’t know how to get out of the way.

I had stopped my corporate consulting several years before to raise our autistic son (another story) and had learned web technologies to keep myself from going brain dead, but then the proliferation of anyone and everyone who thought they could make a buck creating web sites from their basement took over.

The Problem
After applying for any jobs that we thought we might possibly qualify for, we realized that our age was the problem – they wanted young people that they didn’t have to pay as much, who didn’t ask as many questions, who would work long hours and had the newest technical and toolset skills.

That was our problem – yours might be boredom, a feeling of wasting your life away, having to work for someone you don’t like (or who doesn’t like you), or any number of other reasons, but all good ones to explore this path.

What I, personally, didn’t realize at the time was that after 20 years in large corporations, I had a comprehensive understanding of both financials and operations. But even when it dawned on me that someone else might appreciate that, I just couldn’t figure out a way to use it to make money. I had no idea how to go about it.

Once you figure out what you have that might be valuable to others, there is help on how to get started. In today’s market, you have to develop a laser focus and be prepared for the process to take some time.


The Solution
I knew at that point I had no choice but to start my own business. We had a child with disabilities to take care of and we were literally hungry. Even our church didn’t believe us because of our well-to-do address and we were told not to come back – for food that I wouldn’t even eat now! Those were dark days.

The Idea
I knew after working with business software like J.D. Edwards and SAS that most small to medium businesses couldn’t afford that level of software or the hardware it took to run it. Lucky me – the PC got faster and offered more and more stability (I’m old and remember when they weren’t!).

Since what I did was analyze, then customize these types of software packages to fit the larger corporation’s business needs, my thought was to build a better mousetrap – build a base that any smaller company could start with, with the database already designed and created with the typical needs, but then be able to add the data fields and rules, forms and reports that each client needed.

After an idea finally grabs you, and you think you can do it, the next step is to do the research.

Research
There are many novel ways to do this now. Two of the best is using engagement (asking “Should I go this way or that”) and surveys on Social Media, each of which accomplishes two major goals – you get your focus by listening to what they tell you and also get a community involved in your success.

I started by using the search engines. I had some trouble thinking of the right combination of keywords. Custom Software wasn’t it – anyone can start from scratch and build a system, but it costs a fortune and takes time, the opposite of what I was doing.

This was not easy – I couldn’t find anything like my Big Idea. Was it me not looking in the right places or did none exist? I knew that I had a good idea, but I couldn’t believe no one else was doing it.

But here’s what you have to remember – even if it does exist, if you pick a different angle, a more specialized focus, market it better, or just build it better, it doesn’t matter if there are hundreds of competitors – if you find the right team to help you, you can “better” them.

Plan
I did find a business development coach at this time – and it was the right time to do it. I knew what I wanted to do and I couldn’t find where it existed, at least not how I thought it was needed. As a matter of fact, because she believed I could do it and helped me form that first plan, she is still my business development coach to this day.

The key was to develop a plan, with a timeline which would hold me accountable. Without that, you’re never going to reach your goal because it’s not a goal until it’s in writing – before that, it’s just an idea. There are as many different business plans out there as there are ideas, but pick one that is broader in scope – that addresses the major divisions of business.

Execution
Our plan was to build the product, a little at a time, getting clients to pay for development where I could. I had to become under-employed to afford to do this, and I was lucky to find that, so we’ll talk about how to define the criteria to “exit your job” plan a little later.

I built the menu and list functionality so that once the data (contact/client, item, order, etc.) was input, along with the descriptors, it would automatically display – no programming needed. I built a Dashboard to access the portal options or any outside links the client wanted to keep handy. I added their tasks, calendar, the weather and date/time, our Help Desk and their company based training – everything on One Dashboard (get it – OneBox Technology, One Dashboard?).

I knew that if I displayed the data tables with Menu Options (Workbooks) and used Views (Worksheets), it would be simple to comprehend for anyone who had ever used Excel – and most business people had – but with the added functionality of those data tables working together to form a coherent flow (logistics). With this base, I could develop custom forms and reporting (analysis) and be able to underbid my competition and satisfy requirements.

This took over three years and two different professions on the side to accomplish. I always thought patience was not my long suite until I had a child with special needs, then had to take care of my aging mother on top of all I was trying to accomplish, so I really understand the challenges. If you do call me for help, understand that I don’t accept excuses from anyone else, either.

Budget, HR Requirements and Exit Strategy
I built in Administrative functionality so that the base system could be built by anyone who could follow instructions and had a basic understanding of their business,therefore taking myself out of the equation.

Eventually, I wanted to have the option to sell the company, so it could not be based on my expertise alone. It had to be a product – a wise person once told me that if you have a service, you basically charge by the hour and there are only so many hours in the day. If you have a product, you can make money while you sleep.

I wanted to be able to staff inexpensively, with a short training period. I researched and found a firm of programmers overseas so I can pass those savings on to my clients. We also use Fiverr extensively and use other resources where needed, so we can handle all the business needs of entrepreneurs of any size.

Be aware that somewhere along the line you may have to decide if you want to succeed in business or just keep it as a hobby. My goal was to offer a custom system not only faster, but also cheaper than any competition could do it. And still take care of my family.

I finally had a product. Now what?

How do I market it?
Ha – I saw this coming. Two of those years while in development, I studied internet marketing. I did all kinds of tests and trials – compared all kinds of templates, techniques, tools, ads, studied and tested search engines and social media, developed videos, articles, posts, learned how to make Facebook pages with everything from surveys to forms that updated seamlessly into the clients databases and then I focused on LinkedIn.

I followed and watched Frank Kern and Jeff Walker make millions by giving away free Internet Marketing strategies based on Social Psychology – which is my degree and graduate study focus, so I understood it, they just put it in perspective for me. Jeff Walker’s Launch is a must read along with Michael Maher’s 7 Levels of Communication. If you’re shy and need to network, read Harvey Mackay’s Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten.

I’ve incorporated these basic strategies, from our perspective, into our programs and/or software so that you get the benefit of years of study without having to do it yourself.

The “Give, Never Sell” approach is the basis for marketing now – you absolutely have to show your value first before anyone will trust you with their hard-earned cash.

I talked people into being my guinea pigs for a small sum – just enough to get by. And I had phenomenal success at this, especially being able to get any keyword ranked on the search engines and a spectacular ROI from Adwords, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do in itself. I wanted to give the small business every edge I could. That’s what kept me going on the custom business software – that and people telling me I couldn’t do it.

Undervalued (insecurity takes it’s toll)
Here I was thinking I was so smart, but I still wasn’t making any money to speak of. I was afraid to ask what I was worth and I had no self-confidence – I had just finished the product to the point I could sell it and had no real customers to speak of, no real bio or credentials since the days I worked for IBM and Caterpillar from when my son was small.

I made some really bad deals that actually cost me money. We almost lost our house – in fact, there was one point that they actually sent us a foreclosure notice and we didn’t know at that time that we’d get our refinance approved in a couple more days.

The good news was that everyone I talked to and got to watch a demo appreciated, needed and wanted what I had. They had almost all tried another system and had not been able to get what they wanted from it – from Excel to Salesforce to many CRMs and industry based packages. They all forced them to change their business model or were just lacking what they needed. I replaced duplicate entry and multiple products and monthly fees with the OneBox Technology.

But, keep in mind that my “side” job, an actual 8 to 5 type job, was eating up my time for basically minimum wage. I was not getting any sleep at all, not even on weekends, because I often had to work straight through. We hadn’t been on a vacation in years – hadn’t been able to spend time with our families either.

Alone and Afraid – Building a Team
it was just me still at this point. I kept looking for a partner – someone who would help me stay positive, to help me make decisions, to share in my successes, to keep me going when I made a bad decision and had to live with it.

Here’s where some mistakes came into play – BIG ones – doozies! I tried working with many people who were trying either to find or work on their own “Big Idea”, but they all faded out of my picture to work on painting their own. If they didn’t have their own canvas, some actually tried to take mine with them – they failed quickly of course, but it made me furious.

Some tried to get me to change my idea – market to only one type of business or change the name and rebrand, but they didn’t get the big picture. Everyone wanted in, but no one wanted to bring anything with them.

Even though you might be losing business because it’s just you, no matter if you’re looking for a partner or a salesperson or a CEO, don’t accept the wrong person. Give them a clear time frame to prove themselves. If you don’t, it will cost you time, frustration, money and may even cost you your business.

Finally, I had a product with a technical team and proven marketing skills –
a Product (with scalability/deliverability) and the right tools – my own tracking system!

 

FINANCES! Taking a hobby to a business.
After many years of searching, I finally found the CEO I was looking for. I was walking on Cloud 9 until I had another planning session about my finances with my business coach.

I had been pricing out projects so low that now I was faced with a decision on whether to go back and tell clients that my costs had gone up to better serve them and I needed to re-negotiate, or let my CEO slip away to another job.

Here’s where you have to make some financial decisions. Do you go for investors? How about crowd sourcing? Did I want to lose control of my idea, or get into heavy debt that would take years to pay back? Or do I want to continue working two jobs and keep it a hobby rather than a business? Attracting investors needs a proven idea – mine was not at that time, even though experience, networking and surveys told me it was needed.

Two marketing experts I worked with told me I had to take my idea and focus on one segment of the market. One told me that my product wasn’t “flashy” enough – but my answer to that was that Excel is not flashy, but millions are using it to run their business. The use of formulas can extend it’s capabilities, but who has time to learn that? It’s basic functionality is easy to learn and use, so replicating the “look and feel” only made sense. Extending it’s tracking and analysis by using forms and reporting was a no-brainer.

My choice was to continue getting customers to pay for upgrades to the system – it has worked for me, but it’s a slow process. After a while, the product has to live on it’s own and attract larger clients or die.

Smart marketing investments made up for not having a lot to invest. Don’t kid yourself though – it takes money to make money. Your finances have to be carefully analyzed, especially your marketing dollars so that you can see which is working and which is not.

When tracking and analyzing costs, don’t forget to include your time! It’s one of the most undervalued investments that you will make in your business. You only have so much of it, and you need that team so you’re not trying to do everything yourself – the largest mistake you’ll ever make or best step you’ll ever take. You make the choice!

Exit the Job – Jump or Die
I promised earlier that I’d give you a few tips on when to quit the “day job” so that you can work for yourself. I’ve heard many people warn that starting a business is not less pressure, but it has different stressors. It’s the type I’m willing to deal with. I could never go back and work for someone else – not for any amount of money.

There are a ton of articles out there, but what I’ve found is that it depends on how risk tolerant you are and if you have a family to support or not. Finances are the decision factor.

In my case, I knew I had to get the number of contracts it would take to at least equal my salary for at least five to six months. You have to do the math: income minus costs based on previous months – don’t be overly optimistic! To do this, remember that you have to keep good records from the beginning.

I also had to know that I had all the support in place that the business needed so that I could be free to market the business myself – remember that no one else is going to have your knowledge or your passion to promote your dream. You will always have to do it or be involved in it to a great extent.

Passive Income
Of course, not every business can have a recurring income as part of the business model, but in our case, we have been building a program starting with the Basics of Business (from Startup to Exit Strategies), Marketing (The 4 T’s: Tips, Tools, Techniques and Templates), with Finance and Tax Strategies modules written by experts in their field.

It may take an outside look to see your opportunities for a recurring income so that you, too, can make money while you sleep – I’ve known many who took unconventional services and products to market with this model and did exceptionally well.

But to my self-gratification, my Big Idea has proven itself – my dream is being realized.
All I have to do now is keep reminding myself when I price a project not to give it away – that I have acquired great references, a referral program that’s working, the help I need to scale, clients all over the world, and a simple, flexible, affordable product that’s in demand, plus a budding marketing and consulting business – and I am looking forward to my first real vacation in years.

My three questions to my readers are –

1) Are you finding yourself in need of any level of help with your “Big Idea”?

2) Where would you look for help –
1) Referral
2) Internet – searches or ads
3) Articles
4) Other

3) What would make your decision easier on who that person or team would be?
1) Free consultation that provides actual answers
2) Proven success
3) Price
4) Expertise in all aspects of business and marketing
5) Other

Dawn Cassara began Cassara Systems, Inc. in 1990 and has stayed true to the dream. Her team has grown to a group of five of the top business, marketing, tax and finance professionals in the St. Louis area, plus an extended technical support team. Her philosophy is to first offer a free consulting session to prove value, then supply the consulting and technology tools that micro to medium businesses need at all stages of their growth.

 

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Dawn Cassara
What Dawn is passionate about and speaks on:

– How to Run Your SMB like a Large Corporation
– TIP – the Time Invested Principal
– Why Your Website is Not Working!
(Is it just a poster or is it a big, bright LED sign on the highway?)

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