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


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.

The majority of your time must be devoted to sales. Getting clients is the most important aspect of your business. Instead of looking for a bank loan, an investor, a grant or some kind of infusion of cash from a stranger, put all of your effort into getting clients and customers. It's the best source of capital -- and it's the one that is absolutely within your total control.

Keep costs down -- way down. If you're starting a business that needs a ton of cash that you don't have, find another business idea. Until you start bringing in sales, you must keep costs down. Think creatively: it would be great to rent a fancy commercial kitchen to bake those cupcakes, but use an inexpensive (or free) church or community kitchen in off-hours instead.

I worked with a woman to launch a series of art classes for kids, but she didn't have money for supplies. The solution: she required parents to purchase the supplies and pay for the courses upfront. Within a couple of weeks, she was in business, generating a profit.

Forget hiring a fulltime staff; ask friends for help, train interns and use hourly talent. Barter for key services. Put off incidental expenses until you're making money.

Price for profit. Your pricing shouldn't just cover your costs; it must also generate a profit for you. Don't undervalue your time and talent. Work the numbers from the top down: What are you looking to make annually? How does that break down monthly and weekly? How many products must you sell or how many clients will you need to bring in to meet those numbers? What are all of the costs associated with delivering that product or service?

None of this requires fancy charts or advanced accounting skills. Figure out the numbers so you know what's realistic. (Hint: avoid businesses that rely on gigantic volume or low margins. Those won't generate a profit for a first-timer.)

Get moving now. And perhaps most importantly for everyone trying to do something new this year, keep this top of mind: dreaming is good, but doing is great. Start exactly where you are. Make smart decisions and take action every day. When you start hustling, you'll see great results.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America." Connect with her at or or

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