How Did You Become Entrepreneur Magazine’s Editorial Director?
I got into entrepreneurship kind of accidentally about almost 40 years ago I moved to Southern California because it snowed too much in New York one winter and I said “I’m done.” I was looking for a job but I couldn’t find one. I almost had to go home because I was going to run out of money, but then I saw an ad in The L.A. Times and it said “Entrepreneur.” My dad had a small business, my grandfathers did, and my uncle did, so I really understood what small business was. I got hired on the spot. I was a research assistant and that’s that’s how I started.
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I was a journalism major so I thought, “Well I’m just going to specialize in entrepreneurship!” Eventually, I worked my way up. I was the editorial director at Entrepreneur magazine.
How Did You Decide to Start Your Own Business?
About nine years ago, I said “I’m tired of covering it. I’m going to do it!” And I quit my job, took some of my editors with me and we started our company which is GLOBUS Media. We have a website called smallbizdaily.com.
We write for a ton of other small business web sites. There are a lot of corporations on their websites such as Microsoft and web.com, Fundera, and other places like that. One of the things we tell all startups is it helps if you can do something within your field of expertise.
I had a good reputation over all those years in the entrepreneurial arena, but didn’t have the money to actually get started. So my colleagues and I did what people do in that case: we raised some money from friends and family. They said, ”We believe in you. There you go.” The success of that route is based on your reputation. We just started making some phone calls to people we knew. These knew who we were and what we did and said, “Oh yeah. This is really great.”
How Did You Know There Was a Market for Your Business?
It was a gut feeling for me. I kind of knew that we could do this, that I had enough contacts out there and enough of a reputation that I thought we could figure this out. The money from friends and family was there to help us get through that time. I didn’t take a salary for two years and that was hard. I depleted a lot of my savings.
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If I had to do it all over again, I’m not sure I would have because nine years later I’m still paying for it, but it was worth it because it got my company through those beginning years when money was tight.
Content marketing didn’t really exist at the time. There were more waves in my industry. There were more and more companies looking to the magazines for advertorials, and I could tell that they wanted to tell their story. I was lucky that this whole thing about content marketing erupted when it did.
What is it Like Being a Female Entrepreneur?
So we had our first white collar recession in the late 80s carrying into the early 90s. Many women had been told in the 1970s “You want to be equal? Go get your MBA.” Well a lot of these women went and got their MBA’s and went on to work at corporations. The recession came, and the last hired were the first fired.
All these women found themselves out of jobs, much like most of white collar America. So they started businesses. And when that entrepreneurial revolution started in the early 90s, nobody thought it was going to be permanent. Most people thought they would only do it until the recession got better, until they could get hired again, until they could find a job, etc.
But what happened is women and minorities found going into business for themselves was a better platform. They were on an equal playing field here. All they had to do was come up with some idea, some service, or some business competitively priced that people wanted.
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Starting a Business Means More Freedom For Women and Minorities
Women actually started starting businesses around 1992 and faster than the general startup rate. It has never ever gone down since then.
I think that a lot of women found there’s a lot more freedom in all of this. There’s definitely a lot more personal freedom in it, but it’s still harder for women to get money. When you look at the surveys, women own about 35 percent of all small businesses in the U.S., but men are making more money. We have to think about why that is the case. Is that a choice?
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If it’s a choice, great because that’s what feminism and equality is about. Or is it partly still the system where it’s still harder to infiltrate the “Old Boys’ Network” to break through and find customers and find suppliers?
Networking Is Crucial
The first thing you have to do is figure out what this is that you’re definitely going to do. Then think of every single contact you have in that industry, with ties to that industry, or people you know with important connections. It’s about working that network. Take advantage of the fact that there are people out there!
There are networks out there. There are groups out there. Joining groups, getting involved, and meeting people is great because you just never know where it will take you.
Should I Seek Out a Mentor?
I think mentorship is crucial. It’s absolutely crucial particularly if you’re starting in the new industry. Think about who in your immediate circle might be able to mentor you. Join those groups in any industry! They have a trade association within those trade associations. Often they have activities that are all for the women in that industry. Join that! Join the women’s group. Participate! Go to your Chamber of Commerce meeting because it might just be some buddies sitting at a table with you. If you are a woman, that doesn’t mean your mentor has to be a woman. In fact, I think that for women I would suggest two mentors: one man and one woman. A woman can mentor you through things that only in other women business owners going to understand. And a man can help you really understand the other side for you.
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Some Useful Ressources to Network and Find a Mentor
Check your College alumni association or SCORE. I don’t know how many people know about score.org, but it is a site that will match you up with a mentor who has volunteered their time and will be happy to help you. And it’s all free.
You can also find great resources and networking opportunities in small business development centers. SBDCs are funded by the government for free counseling. They don’t call themselves mentors. In some cases, depending on where you’re of the same SCORE, and the SPDC will share the same space, they’ll come in do a triage with you and decide which group can help you the most.
People Need Entrepreneurship!
People now realize that entrepreneurship is so vital. We’re revitalizing cities and taking Main Street back. You’ll find that a lot of established successful female business owners will take that extra step to help another woman get started and become a success.
There’s a lot of advice out there, and people will tell you when you’re trying to figure out what to do, “Find your passion and that’s what it is!” They say that to a lot of women, and to me, that’s a very girly thing to say. I think it’s bad advice because you can be really passionate about something that only seven other people in the world care about and you’re not going to make any money.
Solve Problems to Find Your Business Idea
Ask yourself, “If there’s something that I wish existed that would make my life easier as a consumer and then as a business person, what would that be?” And then just list the products and services you can think of!
After you compile your ideas, ask your friends if there might be something on there that resonates with them. Listen to yourself when you complain. Listen to your friends when they complain because when people complain about something there’s a core of an idea in there and nobody on earth is the only person who has that complaint.
What do businesses do? Successful businesses solve problems.
How Do I Get Investors?
It is much harder for women to get VC money. VCs invest in ideas that can go from zero to 60 like a Porsche and in 10 seconds. They have to be instantly scalable and they do expect you to put some money in the game.
If you try family and friends and that’s not working, one of the ways that we used to recommend for the short term is credit card advances. Bartering is really a good way for entrepreneurs to start. Go to a co-working space! Maybe there’s somebody in that space who wants to start their own accounting firm. Barter services with them, have them do this service and you’ll do another service for them for a certain period of time.
Bartering is really a good way for entrepreneurs to start. Go to a co-working space! Maybe there’s somebody in that space who wants to start their own accounting firm. Barter services with them.
I also think, if you are an individual who’s had a relationship with your bank for a long period of time, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with them and see if there’s something they can help you with. So one of the things that women tend to do sometimes, even though we’re known for sharing, is that we keep these business challenges to ourselves because we think someone’s going to judge us.
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Don’t do that! When you ask people for help, someone is likely to know someone. That’s what I mean by using your network. They’ll help you.
Is Marketing Different for Women?
It depends. If your target market is women, then yes. Women are going to feel good about supporting you and being there for you.
If you’re starting a general business, don’t market differently. That’s what the beauty of entrepreneurship is: it’s the great equalizer. If you started a business with products or services people want at a price they can afford to pay, then people who maybe say, “Oh I would never do business with a woman!” don’t care.
Don’t Aim For Perfection
Here’s the thing that I think is inhibiting most women even today: we’re raised to be perfect. Girls are raised to play by the rules and get straight A’s. That inhibits us as we go into business.
I don’t think you have to be perfect. You just have to be good. You have to be good at what you’re trying to do. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a female entrepreneur back in the day was “I was raised by my mother to not talk to strangers and to not ask people for money.” Then she said, “When I grew up I started a business and I found out that what I had to do was talk to strangers and ask some of those strangers for money! And it was really hard culturally to get past that.”
Forget everything your mother ever told you and just go out there and just go do it. And I’m telling you it’s OK to fake it because everybody is faking it.
Believe in Yourself and Make It Happen
You just go out there and believe in yourself. That’s really what it takes. Believe in yourself and believe that you can make this happen. You can get it done. Call on your resources! You’re going to feel bad sometimes, and you’re going to get told “no” more times than you’ve ever been told in your life. And you can feel bad for three days and that’s it. You say, “Let me go cry for three days.” Go cry for three days, but on day four you get up and you say “I’m going to make this happen” and then go out and make it happen.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. She’s a nationally-known speaker, best-selling author, and authority on entrepreneurship and has covered the industry for more than 30 years. Prior to starting GrowBiz Media, she was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur magazine.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business and entrepreneurship for numerous websites. She also consults with and produces content for corporations targeting entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Lesonsky has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart show and Oprah, and can regularly be seen on MSNBC’s Your Business.