Melinda Emerson is known as the Small Biz Lady. She's been a thriving entrepreneur since 1999 and is an internationally known speaker and author. Melinda’s small business advice is widely read reaching more than 3 million entrepreneurs each week on the internet. A pioneer in social media marketing, she is the creator and host of #Smallbizchat, the longest running live chat on Twitter for small business owners. Read on to see how her entrepreneurial journey began.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.
I am a native of Pittsburgh, PA. I am also a graduate of Virginia Tech. When I was in college, Oprah Winfrey started HARPO Studios. Her actions to become a business woman inspired me to consider entrepreneurship. I was a sophomore in college, and I knew that one day I could start my own production company. But I knew that I needed to learn the business first. So, I spent six years in the television industry as a news producer. Then I started my first company Quintessence Multimedia in 1999. Quintessence provides social media strategy, marketing consulting, video production, web development, and multimedia content development.
In 2007, I wrote my book Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months and started my second business MFE Consulting, LLC. That company develops audio, video and written content to fulfill my mission to end small business failure. I am a wife, mother and business owner and I still operate both companies. I currently reside in Philadelphia, PA.
How did you fund your business?
I started my business initially with $5,000. I saved my money and paid off all my non-recurring bills, including my car payment before I started my business with a home equity loan. Then, at the end of the first year, I took out a microloan for $25K which I paid back by year three in my first business. People need to understand that the money to start their business will come from their right or left pocket, family, and friends. If you can get a loan, it will most likely be from a non-traditional lender such as a CDFI or non-profit microlender.
What did you do before launching your own business?
I freelanced for almost a year for a business like the one I wanted to start. I worked weekends as a television producer, so I had Mondays and Tuesdays off, which allowed my flexibility to work 20 hours a week for someone else to learn. I benefited a lot from working for another production company.
How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent is your home office?
I work 60 hours a week, primarily from my home office.
How would you rate your success?
I think early on in my first business I always measured success by revenues; now I measure success strictly by profits and whether or not there’s a constant demand for my resources and speaking services to help small business owners.
I had the CEO of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Andrew C. Taylor, call me and leave me a voicemail message about how much he appreciated the work I had done for his company. He also sent me a letter which I had framed on my wall. When your customers take the time to call you or write you to tell you about how much your work has helped them that’s real success.
What has been your biggest business struggle as an entrepreneur?
I think all small businesses struggle to keep the pipeline full, and early on I had the same challenge. It’s easy to work on getting your deliverables done and look up after finishing a big project and have no customers. One of the things I did was set aside time weekly to work on sales. I started using CRM or Customer Relationship Management software, and I hired a sales coach to help me develop processes for generating sales. I focused on a monthly sales goal only. I made follow-up calls twice a week, developed target lists, and value adds to up sell my existing customers. I also made sure I attended three events a month so that I was constantly meeting new sales prospects.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
My book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, is based on a month-by-month planning system for how to transition from a job to small business ownership.
I tell would-be entrepreneurs to start with developing a life plan first. You need a life plan before you ever write a business plan. It's important to figure out what you want out of life and then build a business around that.
The second step is developing a financial plan so that you can determine if you can afford to become an entrepreneur and start developing a saving plan to break your addiction to your paycheck.
Step three is to validate your business concept and examine what skills you have and need to run your particular type of business. It is during this step that you need to evaluate.
The fourth step is developing a marketing plan. You must determine who's going to buy and why. It is important to know how you will stand out in the marketplace.
Then the fifth step is writing the business plan, which I suggest start with business plan software and then take a course at the local community college, small business development center or a local SCORE chapter.
Then finally it’s time to start the business. The best way to start a business, once you’ve done your research, is to start while still working your job. You should put effort into the business working evenings and weekends until the business hits breakeven. I believe you should do both your paycheck job and your business until it hurts.
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?
I am present wherever I am. I cut off my smartphone once I come home from daycare with my son unless it’s Wednesday night when I’m doing #Smallbizchat on Twitter. I try hard not spend time on what didn’t get done yesterday. And most importantly, I do not sweat the small stuff, and everything is small.
Thanks Melinda for sharing your story!
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