Be Your Own Boss! Tips for Starting a Small Business in 2011

VIDEO: Get All You Want Out of Life

If we learned one thing from the job market last year it's that nobody's coming to take care of our careers. We can't wait for a big bailout, a massive economic turnaround or some miracle to grow our paychecks. We're each responsible for taking charge and making things happen for ourselves.

Among the workplace highlights of 2010: small businesses experienced the fastest growth in the private sector.

One of my big goals this year is to help more people launch and grow their own ventures. In fact, I'm so passionate about this that after investing more than 11 years focused almost exclusively on helping people get hired through Women For Hire, I've recently expanded my company by starting a whole new division called Spark & Hustle to guide even more people to entrepreneurial success.

It's enabling me to retrace my roots (I started in the corner of my bedroom, researching and cold-calling prospects with my dial-up connection and an AOL e-mail address) and share what works and what doesn't to hopefully enable others to avoid my mistakes and experience similar successes.

Click HERE to see tips for creating your own business plan.

First step: Be sure you truly want to be a small business owner. This isn't something you should pursue because nothing better has come along. It's not something to seek because of financial desperation. It's incredibly hard work with inevitable obstacles along the way, which means you have to really want it if you expect to be successful. Starting a business must be your primary plan, not your fall back.

Next, figure out the small business idea that you're most excited about making happen. Don't attempt to reinvent the wheel. There's no need to create the next Google or Zip Car; tried and true businesses are perfectly acceptable. When I started Women For Hire, career fairs were (and still are) a dime a dozen. I put my own spin on them and created a very successful business.

Take a look around and you'll see the same thing: People buy cupcakes, we all get haircuts, everyone likes some kind of jewelry. Walk any mall or Main Street and you'll see multiple coffee shops, banks and clothing stores. Competitors can co-exist quite successfully as long as the product or service is sold effectively and delivered with excellence.

Skip the lengthy business plan. Forget the conventional wisdom that you must write a detailed business plan. It's impossible to predict how much money you'll be making three months from now, let alone three years from now, so don't waste your time guessing.

Similarly, if you wait until every I is dotted and every T is crossed, you'll be stuck in planning mode forever. Create a one-pager that addresses exactly what's needed to get going right now. Click HERE for a basic 10-question outline to guide you. A Babson College study backs this up. It found that similar ventures launched with formal business plans did not outperform those that launched without them.

Pinpoint your customer base. Determine exactly who your customers are. Don't say "all women" or "anyone who wears jewelry." Be specific: I'm going to provide bookkeeping services for restaurants. I'm going to create social media campaigns for self-published authors. The more you can pinpoint your targeted client, the more focused your marketing efforts will be to reach them. You'll be able to ask for the right referrals and you'll know who and what to search for on the Internet.

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