As originally featured in Mediaplanet’s Future of Business and Tech edition
How can aspiring business owners set themselves up for success? Jeanette Armbrust, board chair of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), offers expert insight into what it takes to start your own business.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start her own business?
Buckle up for the ride; being a business owner is not for the faint of heart.
First, research, research, research. I did a lot of research before I started my first business. I researched my local market and competitors, and I interviewed fellow business owners in the field to learn more. Knowledge is power—the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.
Develop a business plan. I developed a two-year business plan over the course of about three months before I even took one step in starting the company. The time and energy it took to develop this roadmap was invaluable. My two-year plan gave me my foundation. When the day-to-day grind could have taken me off course, I was able to look back at my original roadmap to reference my plan and make sure I was meeting my projections for budget and income goals. Without those benchmarks, it’s easy to lose focus on the destination throughout your journey.
More time and more money. I received this advice when I started my company from a very smart and successful business owner: “It will take more time and more money than you think to start your company. Plan accordingly!” And he was right. To get you through the initial start-up phase, you need to make sure that you are well capitalized with more money than you plan to last you longer than you think you will need. By being prepared, you can weather the storm.
Find a support group. For me, it was NAWBO. Through this network, I learned ways to better navigate the issues that face all business owners, such as employee issues, financial strategies and operational processes, to name a few. A support network gives you the balance you need, so you do not feel like you are alone.
Is there anything you wish you had known before starting a business?
Honestly, you are better off not knowing. If everyone knew how hard it was to start a business, no one would start one. I would say you are better off diving in headfirst knowing that it is going to be challenging and exhausting but rewarding.
How did you navigate growing your team?
The fundamentals of hiring a team never change. I find that my teams work best when I hire for core values and mindset over skill set. I can teach skills, but I cannot make someone a hard worker or fit into our culture of values. Moreover, after you hire, the most important part is to onboard for success, and by this, I mean, you have to mentor and coach new employees for about a year to have a successful new hire. I hire one new team member at a time, only one about every three to six months, to ensure that I can dedicate enough time to train, teach and set them up for success. As a leader, you must focus on others. If you are diligent and help your employees grow and nurture them into success, you will see your company flourish and you will have high employee retention. And retention equals growth.
What was the biggest challenge in getting your business off the ground?
People are not patient, and the daily grind can get to the best of us. We have to put the time in at the very beginning and stay strong and focused during the early years when our business is the most volatile. I always like to tell people to remain patient until around the five-year mark. For some reason, five years seems to be a turning point. Be resilient along the way.
What qualities do you think make for a successful leader?
To be a successful leader, you must be humble. The strongest leader thinks of others before herself. A leader must lead with integrity and vision, honest in words and actions, while also creating the big picture and future goals for the team.
Moreover, it takes credibility and trust within the team. Without the trust of your employees and your clients or consumers, you have nothing. And finally, you must inspire. You must help your employees realize their true potential and help them strive for goals they believe are outside their reach.
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