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At least in my eyes, entrepreneurship is like a flowing wild river you have just found in an unknown site. You dive with some expectations and plans in mind, but there is no knowing whether you will sink into its depths...or whether you'll remain on the surface and find something valuable at its end. Nevertheless the ride pumps your adrenaline and is a thrilling experience that leaves you addicted.
This post series is just about people who have been in such a situation - the rising number of internet entrepreneurs. They have remained on the surface and are ready to share their knowledge and advice with all those that have just begun their ride.
Today my guests are Deborah Sweeney, CEO of My Corporation - a leading provider of online document filing services for clients who wish to form a corporation or limited liability company, and Vladimir Gendelman, CEO of Company Folders - the ultimate folder boutique. I'm very happy to have them both share their invaluable experience throughout years of hard work!
How did you decide to start your business?
I was the general manager of the MyCorporation.com when it was a division within Intuit. I presented an offer to spin the business out of Intuit and my offer was accepted. While I did not start the business originally, I became an entrepreneur by way of spinning out a division of a larger corporation. The impetus was that I thought we could be more nimble and successful as a stand-alone business and I also wanted to flexibility afforded to business owners.
I ran a small computer repair company and few of my clients mentioned that they were on the market for presentation folders and couldn’t find anything great. I did a research to see if I could help my clients get amazing presentation folders, but wasn’t able to find anything more than a standard offering. That is when I got an idea of starting an innovative presentation folder printing company that offers a wide variety of standard folder styles, large paper selection, different print methods and all sorts of other options.
What did you struggle with when beginning your journey?
Being an attorney by trade, I am, by nature, an independent contributor. Managing and overseeing many employees was a challenge. Finding a balance between leadership and friendship was difficult.
One of my biggest struggles was to find clients who are looking for something more than a standard presentation folder, that is when I decided to take my business online.
What's a common mistake you think small business owners make? How can they prevent it from happening?
A common mistake small business owners make is not paying attention to Return on Investment. They spend money on the wrong things and they aren't sure what is actually yielding revenue. To prevent this from happening, entrepreneurs need to make sure they are paying attention to what they are spending on and the return associated with each expense. You have to measure the profitability to make good business decisions.
I think that the
most common mistake small business owners make is to try to be all things to
all people. They think of the extra few dollars they can make now and do not
realize that it keeps them from truly growing their business. It is of utmost
importance to put yourself in as tight of a box as possible by identifying your
core product and ideal target audience.
Once you identify who you are, what you do and who your audience is, do not deviate from it. Say “NO” to all business that doesn’t fit your model and your company will grow at a very rapid pace. I have recently published an article in Forbes on this topic.
My greatest mistake was hiring too many employees and not setting high enough expectations with my team. When employees feel bored, they do not feel useful or valuable and this leads to a discontent in the company. When you have fewer, more engaged employees, they do more and feel connected to the outcomes of the business. Sometimes hiring comes in connection with growth, but if you stop to think about it, there may be other ways to do more with fewer employees - these can include monetary incentives and automation.
One of my greatest mistakes was that I was trying to do everything my clients were asking for, including printing other products, promotional items, websites, repairing their computers and setting up networks. My company had no focus and as the result we were doing a lot of busy work that was not scalable. Once I made a decision to only focus on our core - presentation folders and other related materials such as report covers, binders and folder accessories, my business skyrocketed.
Are there any specific risks you are facing in your market
niche? How do you plan to tackle them?
The biggest risk in our market niche is commoditization. Our plan to tackle this is to wow our customers with incredible customer service. We do not want to be the low-cost option, but rather, the best option from a service and value standpoint. We work intensely on our customer service and responsiveness and, with that, we receive referrals and repeat customers that yield great growth and success in a highly competitive market.
One of the risks in my market niche is that there is a lot of talk about businesses going paperless and therefore not ordering as many presentation folders as before. There is some truth to that, but at the same time, businesses that do order folders are looking for a much fancier options than before.
What I noticed is that the more digital people go, the more print they need to support it. Digital doesn’t replace print, they complement one another and therefore create a lot of opportunities for both digital and print companies. In order not to become irrelevant I speak out about importance of print and let people know that print is not dead. For example, I published 3 articles talking about benefits of print and I have also published in numerous smaller publications on and offline.
Share your most valuable piece of advice for starting entrepreneurs!
Treat your team members (employees) and customers as though they are number one. Make sure you respect everyone, as they are the ones contributing to your success. Treat people kindly - what comes around goes around.
valuable advice I would share is to stick to your core product and target audience,
say “NO” to everything else.
Describe your entrepreneur life with one word (can
be a noun, adjective or verb).
Because I have learned so much owning my company over the past ten years, I would say that my entrepreneur life is SCHOLARLY.
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