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Starting Your Own Company – Tips & Lessons Learned Here are a few of the things I’ve learned while launching two companies and juggling entrepreneurship with motherhood. I hope some of these tips and ideas will help you on your road to success.

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VIDEO – Overcoming Anxiety about Starting a Business

Geobeats invited me to create a number of different videos for their travel & lifestyle network on YouTube. I hope you find this one to be informative. Please give the video a thumbs up if you like it. Thanks!

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VIDEO – Common Pitfalls Aspiring Entrepreneurs Can Avoid

Geobeats invited me to create a number of different videos for their travel & lifestyle network on YouTube. I hope you find this one to be informative. Please give the video a thumbs up if you like it. Thanks!

Getting Started

Have you ever dreamed of starting your own company? I think every single one of us has answered “Yes!” to this question at some point in time in our lives. For many of you, that time may be right now. I know first hand that one of the hardest parts is just getting started – turning the key, shifting into drive and pushing down on the pedal. Are you ready to rev your engine?

I started my first company as a teenager. I invented a chocolate novelty product that I sold to hundreds of stores across the country. Fast forward 20 years and I have just launched my second company, Sweet Peas & Stilettos – The Modern Mommy Guide. I juggled high school & college with business the first time around. After graduating from Stanford I earned my M.B.A. from U.S.C.’s Marshall School of Business. Now I am juggling a full time career, motherhood, a household and family responsibilities in addition to my ‘other life’ as an entrepreneur. It’s crazy and hectic and scary and stressful, but it is actually really fun too. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think everyone should at least give it a try. Here are a few steps to help get you kick it into gear.

Step #1

You need an idea – and hopefully a great one. Running your own company will consume much of your life so you have to honestly love what you are doing. It needs to feel authentic and real so you can truly feel engaged and passionate about your new venture.

So…tuck everyone into bed, get in some comfy clothes, grab a note pad and a pen and go curl up on the couch. It is time to start making a few lists. You’ve got to get all of your thoughts and ideas on paper.

• What makes you happy? Don’t constrain yourself. You might start off thinking about how blissful it is biting into a warm frosted chocolate brownie and later about how happy you are when you are volunteering at a local shelter. Just let the ideas flow and write them all down.

• What are you passionate about? It could be a particular arts organization, a political cause, your child’s education, or a handbag designer – it doesn’t matter.

• What are you good at? Do you have the magic touch with disobedient dogs? Are you an extraordinary public speaker? Do your friends rave about your cheesecake? Are you able to raise thousands of dollars for your local schools?

• What problem would you love to be able to solve? What drives you crazy? Have you identified a much needed product or service?

Now go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, you will certainly be thinking about your lists and not about making lunches and ironing a blouse for work. A few nights later, resume your position on the couch and open your notebook. Be really true to yourself and think about everything you wrote down. What is that one idea that you just can’t get out of your head? Hopefully it is something you love and also something that solves a problem or fulfils a need.

When I did this little exercise I realized how much I loved chocolate, shoes, traveling and my son. I knew there were likely many other women who loved those same things. I also noted how much I hated searching on the Internet or going through hundreds of old emails trying to find the name of a website or product I was looking for. It drove me crazy. I decided to combine the things I was passionate about, family, shopping and giving back to my community, and fill a need for one click access to information, by creating a website with quick links to all of the best resources modern moms would want. That is how Sweet Peas & Stilettos – The Modern Mommy Guide came to be.

Step #2

Think long and hard about what your goals are. Are you trying to earn a little extra cash so you can dash off to Neiman Marcus and not have to hide your bags when you get home? Are you looking to earn enough money to pay for your children’s education? Are you looking to quit your day job entirely? Of course we’d all love to start a company that we ultimately sell for millions of dollars, pay off our mortgage and travel around the globe, but we also need to be realistic.

Think about the financial needs of your family and what you need to earn to make this leap into entrepreneurship doable. Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? Why do you want your own company? Is it really going to get you there or is it going to make things worse for you and your situation?

I knew I wanted to earn ‘fun money’ to have for family vacations, home renovations, lots of guilt free cute shoes, and heck, a new car one day wouldn’t be so bad either. Of course if someone comes by offering me oodles and oodles of money for my website, I will happily listen to their offer.

Step #3

Research your competition and learn everything you can. Don’t do another thing until you spend a month or two immersing yourself in your chosen industry. If you decided your goal was to open a cupcake store in your local downtown area you need to learn everything about cupcakes (sounds like a pretty good gig!). Check out every cupcake store in your area and in surrounding cities. Check out bakeries, cookie shops and ice cream stores too. How busy are they? Who are they catering too? How much are they charging? Where do they advertise and how often? What other marketing do they do? What products and services do they offer? Look online and see what cupcake companies all over the country are doing. Eat lots and lots of cupcakes!

For each of your competitors, think about what they do well and what mistakes they are making. What would you do differently? Are their cupcakes to dry? Do they have fabulous packaging? What do you think of their logo and signage? Keep filling that notebook with your lists. In the end you will learn a ton when you review the strengths and shortcomings of your competition.

Before I launched Sweet Peas & Stilettos, I spent nearly every evening for 2 months reading every single website and magazine geared towards moms, babies, families and shopping. I kept spreadsheets of every resource – what I liked and what I didn’t. I also looked at companies in different industries that targeted my same demographic to find out what they were doing that I could learn from.

The more research you are able to do up front the better. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you will become. You may realize your idea isn’t such a great one or that you have way too much competition. At that point you can go back to your initial ‘what I love’ list and start again. It is better to find this all out now before you have spent a penny.

Business Basics

You have your great idea, you have the passion, and you have the confidence to put the pedal to the metal. Here are 9 business basics to get you started. A few of these are for women out there who want to keep their day jobs while they are launching their new company.

1. Review your current employment contract. If you plan on keeping your day job while you start your new company you want to make sure you can legally do so. Many companies include clauses that specifically exclude you from doing anything that could be considered competitive to your current employer.

2. Keep your day job and your new venture entirely separate. Do not use your work computer or phone to do anything related to your business. It’s bad business and you don’t need that bad karma either…

3. Everyone will tell you to write a business plan so it is probably a really good idea. I kind of skipped that step – woops!

4. Know your target market or customer inside and out. Whom do you want to walk into your cupcake shop? Learn everything about these people – from what they eat and what kind of car they drive to what magazines they read, what they wear, and what their favorite colors are.

5. Do all of the paperwork. They certainly skipped this part in business school! Who knew there were so many forms, licenses and general paper work to fill out? Start by looking online at your city and county websites. You’ll need a business license, forms for establishing your company name, getting a trademark or a copyright, setting up a corporation or LLC, etc. There is a form for everything. And don’t forget your checkbook! You will be writing out a check with each and every form.

6. Open up a bank account. You need to fill out all of the forms in step 5, and wait to get all of your official records back from the government or your attorney before you can actually open a business bank account. Nobody told me this either. I wasted 45 minutes at the bank trying to open account only to be told I needed certain paperwork I didn’t have yet. I treated myself to a big dish of frozen yogurt afterwards to make up for my annoyance and frustration and everything was much better.

7. Focus on your product or service and really nail it down before you focus on the hype. It is not going to do you much good if you have an amazing advertising campaign mapped out but no real product to deliver. I actually spent about nine months working on my website before I went live. I know how important first impressions can be and I didn’t want to disappoint any of my visitors.

8. Use your friends (and friends-of-friends) to conduct free focus groups and to solicit ongoing feedback. When I was designing the look and feel of my website, I sent out mock-ups to friends whose style I respected and whom I knew would be honest, truthful and actually provide feedback. You don’t want friends who are just going to tell you that everything is great and wonderful. One idea is to give them lots of choices – do they prefer ‘A’ to ‘B’? Sometimes I took their feedback and sometimes I went with my gut. Regardless, it would have been hard to make some key design decision without having others to bounce around my ideas with.

9. Marketing is key – you may have a great talent or idea but if you can’t market it, you won’t be successful. When you have your product or service nailed down, you can start to think about how you plan to tell the world all about it. Public relations can be a powerful and inexpensive way to attract attention. You never know what doors it may open for you. In high school the local Santa Barbara paper wrote an article about me and my chocolate spoons that was picked up by the AP wire and reprinted all over the country. A food buyer from Bloomingdale’s read my story in the newspaper while on vacation and called me within days to place an order. It was all wonderful serendipity.

10. Think about how lucky you to be doing this and how you can give back to your community. My mother was always incredibly generous with her time and resources in supporting great causes in our community that she cared deeply about. I learned from her the importance of giving back from a very young age. Do your part and think about how you can use your new venture to improve the lives of others. It is easier than you think.

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VIDEO – Time Management Tips for Busy Moms

Geobeats invited me to create a number of different videos for their travel & lifestyle network on YouTube. I hope you find this one to be informative. Please give the video a thumbs up if you like it. Thanks!

Juggling it All

So you are off and running, heading down the highway in light speed doing it all, or at least trying to do it all. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way on my entrepreneurial adventures.

1. Establish a regular work schedule that will work for you. I work on my business about 5 nights a week from 9pm to midnight. It has become my second workday. When my son still napped (I miss those days!) I used those extra few hours on weekends too.

2. Set mini goals and celebrate along the way. When I got my content loaded into my site – my husband and I enjoyed a bottle of champagne. When my site went live, I splurged a little at J.Crew. You get the idea….

3. Know everything will take 3-4 times longer to get done than you planned. You just don’t realize how much there is to do and it all takes time.

4. Realize up front that starting a business will likely cost 2-3 times more than you think it will. Make a budget and know up front how much money you are willing to invest and know what you can really afford. I was hoping to stay under $5000 and it just proved to be impossible.

5. Recognize that you will have to shift gears – things won’t be perfect out of the gate. All the planning and organizing in the world won’t put you on a completely steady course. There will be of ramps and potholes along the way and a few detours too. Don’t let a few bumps in the road get you discouraged.

6. Learn to compartmentalize your life. From 9-5 (or 8-7) focus 100% on your day job, don’t get side tracked, be in the moment, be present, don’t check emails for your company while you are at work. When you are with your family, focus on them 100% and keep the Blackberry out of site. When you are working on your company – focus on your company.

7. Define your priorities and stick to them. I knew that my son was my number one priority and I wanted to start a company without impacting the time I had with him. With my 9pm to midnight work schedule I was willing to give up watching The Hills and American Idol (until they were down to the final 8, and I would skip the results shows). I would ‘multi-task’ only to watch The Bachelor – somehow I convinced myself it was market research.

8. Try to create balance in your marriage. Check in with your husband or partner to make sure he is supportive of you every step of the way.

9. Find a network of other women who are striking out on their own too. There are many working moms out there supporting one another.

10. Outsource whatever you can afford to give you some much needed time and peace of mind. You can usually justify outsourcing the house cleaning and gardening knowing you can spend that time on your company. And you are creating jobs for others!

11. Check in with yourself, your family and friends regularly to evaluate the impact of juggling two jobs with everything else in your life. I realized I hadn’t seen my closest friends in months. I took a few weeks off to catch up with my friends, have people over for brunch, host a swim party, and just live and breathe. It really helped me recharge my batteries.

12. Every two or three weeks do a sanity check about how you are performing in your day job. Make sure you are still working hard and delivering there too.

13. Be patient…success takes lots of hard work and perseverance. You have to really want it. Success will happen eventually if you truly love what you are doing.

Best wishes to you on your road trip to entrepreneurial success.


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