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From Big Idea to Business

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The co-founder of Austin’s Small Business Festival, Mikaela Berman, confides how to turn your next ingenious idea into a full-time job.

By Alessandra Rey

For most people, the idea of starting a business is intimidating. For Mikaela Berman, the co-founder and director of marketing for the Small Business Festival—taking place May 1 through 5 in Austin—building your own venture is a great way to solve a problem, meet a need and get to know an entire community of creative, dedicated and hustling entrepreneurs.

Throughout the past 12 years, Berman has worked as a consultant for companies both big and small, from startups to multinational enterprises, helping define their business models and marketing strategies. In familiarizing herself with the who’s who of women business owners in Austin, Berman has become somewhat of a go-to expert in dishing out both business and career advice to eager ears, offering counsel on everything from how to build lasting relationships through networking to how to make your next ingenious idea a reality.

“Starting a business can feel like an impossible journey,” Berman says. “So, I’ve put together some helpful tips to get started.”

Solve a real problem. “There are so many problems worth solving out there. Another social networking site or an Uber for ______ won’t cut it anymore. Figure out what causes you are passionate about and pursue those.”

Talk to 100 customers. “My former professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Rob Adams, probably taught me one of the most valuable lessons of business. Go out to the market and ask them questions about the problem you are trying to solve to [learn]: 1. Is this problem I am solving a real one? 2. How painful is the problem? 3. Are potential customers willing to pay money to resolve the problem?”

Hyper focus. “Focus on your core competency and outsource the rest. You don’t have the time or energy to do everything that’s required to run a small business. Delegate any and all tasks outside of your skill set so you can focus on whatever it is you do best: sales, marketing, engineering, etc.”

Sales and marketing come first. “Everyone in the beginning stages of your company should be involved with marketing and sales. Once you have done some market research, go back to those 100 people and sell your concept to them. Turn those people into your biggest champions.”

Cash is king. “Your equity (and IP) is the only valuable thing you have as a small business. I would advise taking on debt before thinking about taking on any investment.”

Great lenders for small-business owners include:
1. peoplefund.org
2. Able Lending
3. Capital One (“A sponsor of the Small Business Festival and a huge supporter of small businesses”)

Use SBF currency. “When we started the Small Business Festival in November 2015, we had no budget and no sponsors. So, we came up with a collaborative system of trading favors and bartering for services with fellow entrepreneurs. Provide value to others up front and others will be inclined to provide value back to you and your business. Building a network like this is very important in the early stages.”

Finally, persist and don’t give up. “You will fail—a lot. You will face a lot of rejection in the initial stages. Don’t be discouraged. The only way to succeed is to make mistakes, learn quickly, iterate and keep going.”

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